The Potter’s Hand
Gordon MacDonald writes, Gail and I were in an airplane, seated almost at the back. As the plane loaded up, a woman with two small children came down the aisle to take the seat right in front of us. And behind her, another woman. The two women took the A and C seats, one of the children sat in the middle seat, and the second child was on the lap of one of the women. I figured these were two mothers traveling together with their kids, and I hoped the kids wouldn’t be noisy. The flight started, and my prayer wasn’t answered. The air was turbulent, the children cried a lot—their ears hurt—and it was a miserable flight. I watched as these two women kept trying to comfort these children. The woman at the window played with the child in the middle seat, trying to make her feel good and paying lots of attention. I thought, Boy, these women get a medal for what they are doing. But things went downhill from there. Toward the last part of the flight, the child in the middle seat got sick. The next thing I knew she was losing everything from every part of her body. The diaper wasn’t on tight, and before long a stench began to rise through the cabin. It was unbearable! I could see over the top of the seat that stuff you don’t want me to describe was all over everything. It was on this woman’s clothes. It was all over the seat. It was on the floor. It was one of the most repugnant things I had seen in a long time. The woman next to the window patiently comforted the child and tried her best to clean up the mess and make something out of a bad situation. The plane landed, and when we pulled up to the gate all of us were ready to exit that plane as fast as we could. The flight attendant came up with paper towels, handed them to the woman in the window seat, and said, “Here ma’am, these are for your little girl.” The woman said, “This isn’t my little girl.” “Aren’t you traveling together?” “No, I’ve never met this woman and these children before in my life.” Suddenly, I realized I had just seen mercy lived out. A lot of us would have just died in this circumstance. This woman found the opportunity to give mercy
· What comes to your mind when you hear the word mercy? What does this word mean?
· What is the meaning of the word grace? How is it different than mercy?
· For Paul the word ‘grace’ generally when referred to God has the idea that He gives people his undeserved favor.
· The meaning of ‘mercy’ for Paul is related to God’s judgment and that everyone is a sinner unable to achieve salvation on their own. Mercy is choosing to save us even though we do not deserve it.
· The connection between grace and mercy is close. Mercy is what God gives each one of us because of his grace or his unmerited favor.
· It is important for us to understand what mercy is all about for it is because of his mercy-his choice to save us that we have any eternal hope.
· His mercy has some lessons to teach us that I hope will come out in our study
Ø God’s mercy should draw us to worship Him
Ø God’s mercy tells us some things about who he is.
Ø God’s mercy tells us what should be the focus of the Christian life.
· We live in a world where we have become accustomed to thinking we deserve things or have particular rights.
· We sometimes feel that the world owes us a favor and we transfer that perspective over to our relationship with God.
· What would our Christian lives be like, if we for a moment stopped, reflected carefully about our lives and who we believe God to be? How could it change our lives if we understood better what God’s mercy really was?
God’s Mercy is Discretionary (14-18)
9:14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! 9:15 For he says to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 9:16 So then, it does not depend on human desire or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. 9:17 For the scripture says to Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may demonstrate my power in you, and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 9:18 So then, God has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy, and he hardens whom he chooses to harden.
· The basis for understanding this passage is taken from the previous verses in chapter nine.
Ø Paul is taking about the nation of Israel and God’s mercy that is upon them.
Ø He clarifies that God’s favor is not upon them just because they are Israelites but because they have been children of the promise-living by faith.
Ø He cites the example of Jacob and Esau-both Israelites but rejecting one and accepting the other.
Ø The context for Paul is one that is trying to clarify the mercy of God not only in the lives of the Israelites but for the rest of the world
· Verse 14 opens with a question on the minds of Paul’s readers which questions God’s fairness in his calling of both Jews and Gentiles.
· Paul uses the example of Moses just before he receives the Ten Commandments in Exodus 33:17. where by God states that his mercy will be given to whom he wishes.
· Paul provides clarification in verse 16 in the context already mentioned that God’s mercy to people is based on his discretion. If God desires to be good to people even if we have trouble with it, it is God’s right to do so. If He wants to bless a person who is the greatest of sinners or leave in despair the person of great faith it is his discretion to do so.
Ø Our desire for God’s compassion and mercy does not obligate him to provide it.
Ø Also our good works or efforts do not earn God’s mercy.
Ø God’s mercy is dependant purely upon him and his care.
· Paul then in verse 17 refers to Pharaoh from Exodus 9:16 that Pharaoh was placed in his position and given mercy in his reign.
Ø So that God may demonstrate his power.
Ø So that God may be glorified in the earth.
· The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and his destruction (God’s lack of Mercy) was for these two reasons.
· It is important to note the motivation God has for his mercy upon us. It is not because we desire it. It is not because we have done anything to earn it. It is not even particularly because of his love for love is not even mentioned by Paul.
· God wishes that his power may be shown and that he may be glorified in the entire world. The existence of people is not merely because God wants someone to love but because he wants to be glorified.
· When he shows mercy it is so he will be praised and when he decides to take away mercy it can be so he may show his power.
· God’s decision to include us in salvation was not about us and what we needed but rather it was about his glory and the praise he would receive because of his mercy on us.
· We need to come to an understanding that the Christian life (the life God has given to us by his merciful inclusion) is not about us and our wants and desires but entirely about God’s glory and what honors him.
When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding. Graham admitted his quilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court. The judge asked, “Guilty, or not guilty? ”When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, “That’ll be ten dollars—a dollar for every mile you went over the limit.” Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. “You have violated the law,” he said. “The fine must be paid—but I am going to pay it for you.” He took a ten dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Graham out and bought him a steak dinner! “That,” said Billy Graham, “is how God treats repentant sinners!”
· God’s decision to give mercy is completely upon his choice. He can give it to some and not others, when and where he chooses.
God’s Mercy is independent (19-21)
9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who has ever resisted his will?” 9:20 But who indeed are you – a mere human being – to talk back to God? Does what is molded say to the molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 9:21 Has the potter no right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special use and another for ordinary use?
· Paul has just explained God’s sovereignty and control over everything and this brings him to pose another question that his readers may be thinking.
· If God is in control and we are subject to his mercy then what room is left for human responsibility?
· This rhetorical question is posed in light of his earlier statement regarding Pharaoh and the inclusion of the gentiles in his redemptive plan.
· If the nation of Israel is compared to Pharaoh and used in the salvation of those outside Israel why were they held to account? The answer in part to this question is given by Paul later in verse 22.
· Paul does not take the time to respond to this question but admonishes his readers with reference to creation.
· He uses the idea of making a pot or vessel
Ø We as ones who are created have no right to question God.
Ø We cannot begin to understand all of God’s plans and ways and there fore to question him on why things are the way they are or why he has shown mercy is to try to make God’s mercy subject to us.
Ø God’s mercy is independent of us and therefore he can use someone for one purpose and another for something completely different.
· Before we get alarmed at the seemingly cruel nature of Paul’s statement we must understand that his analogy contains a great deal of care on the part of God
Ø The process of creating a bowl for instance is labor intensive
Ø It takes time to create just the right shape designed with a specific purpose.
Ø It is not done carelessly or without thought.
Ø It takes a personal and caring touch to create a piece of pottery that will be able to function properly.
· Paul is simply laying out an absurdity which is how can the one who is created ever question the reasoning for God’s mercy. God will give mercy or withholds it according to his glory independent of any kind of moral code, justice or fair play that we may think should work.
· What we should be is thankful that he has provided the mercy of his salvation to us. We should praise him for his willingness to have us for a special use.
Personal journey of not going to Ohio, going to California and then to Ohio…
· I questioned God’s decisions and believed he should do things in a particular way.
· This distorted view of God caused me a lot of pain and troubled my relationship with him
· He still decided to show his mercy to me, to help me to recover from a painful ministry, to ignore my wrong view of Him.
· His mercy is independent of us and he does what is best for him and it is by his benevolence that we benefit from his mercy.
God’s Mercy is Just (22-24)
9:22 But what if God, willing to demonstrate his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath prepared for destruction? 9:23 And what if he is willing to make known the wealth of his glory on the objects of mercy that he has prepared beforehand for glory – 9:24 even us, whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
· Verse 22 is difficult to understand but it is part of Paul’s discourse that God’s mercy is always justified.
· The reference to wrath is a direct reference to an eternal destiny in Hell apart from God.
· The power mentioned is the same power for which God can cause destruction or decide to have mercy. It is tied closely to his ability to control all things
· Part of God’s mercy is that even though he could have brought judgment and exercised his power he chooses to restrain it and endure those prepared for destruction.
· The word ‘prepared’ is in the passive tense which indicates that although this verse is referring to God, it is not God that is preparing people for destruction.
· The destruction that is occurring comes from people’s own decision to walk away from God.
· Paul follows in verse 23 by describing those who God has favor. God had chosen the Israelites just as he has chosen all those who would believe and his glory is displayed in the mercy he provides for them
· Part of his mercy is that the rebellion that so consumes our lives in the form of the vessel challenging the authority of the potter is stayed by God’s patience born from his mercy.
· The fact that we are chosen by God for glory (Salvation) is based in this mercy.
· Again we see the purpose of God’s decision to show his power, and patience is so that he may be glorified.
· Verse 24 provides more clarity. Paul states that God has called both Jews and Gentiles. That is he has extended his mercy to both.
Ø The Israelites were chosen by God but they took this privilege for granted and rebelled against God.
Ø In his mercy he has provided patience for Israel so that they may return to him
Ø The product of his merciful patience is that those who are prepared for Glory (those who accept Christ) will be glorified because of the wealth of his glory (mercy).
Ø Israel needs to accept that God’s mercy that stayed God’s wrath is the same mercy that has opened up salvation to the Gentiles.
· So although Israel may not have a history of inclusion of other people in the covenant relationship with God. It is God’s mercy which is justified because he is the creator of all humanity that decides who he will save. God’s mercy is not a mistake determined by his creation.
· If God decides to have patience, or provide mercy on people who seem to have been rebellious towards him that is God’s right to do so.
· If he decides to exercise his mercy in ways that seem unfair to us that is his decision and it is always right.
A socialist once came to see Andrew Carnegie and soon was railing against the injustice of Carnegie having so much money. In his view, wealth was meant to be divided equally. Carnegie asked his secretary for an assessment of everything he owned and at the same time looked up the figures on world population. He did a little arithmetic on a pad and then said to his secretary. “Give this gentleman l6 cents. That’s his share of my wealth.”
· If God were truly fair to us it would not be a good scene. True justice on God’s part would mean we would not get much at all.
· In fact if God were truly fair, giving just what we deserve
· God’s mercy is subject to his choice-thankfully he has chosen to give us his mercy.
· God’s decision to give us mercy is not obligated by what we think or feel should happen-thankfully he knows exactly what we need and when to give us his mercy.
· God’s mercy; when he gives it is always right and perfect-thankfully God’s fairness includes giving us his mercy.