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Unless you are on the verge of retirement the experts suggest that you do not check your 401k or similar retirement accounts at the moment. Last year and the beginning of this year have not been particularly good for the market and the more often you pay attention to such things the more stress you will endure. There have not been any new contributions to my retirement account since 2009 but every once in a while I check to see how much it has grown. The other day I made the mistake of looking and saw that mine was down ten percent just since the beginning of this month. That is rather alarming. Yet since I have a long time before retirement I imagine that I shouldn’t worry so much about it. My bigger concern should be that I’m not making any new contributions to it. After all, it is not like retirement income is full pay. When you retire, you get paid less than you did before and hopefully you have saved enough to be able to maintain at least the same standard of living. So it would be a nightmare to discover upon retirement that after saving up for your whole working life that all of that money was worthless, your company’s retirement plan had gone under, and Social Security no longer existed. This was what it was like for many of the Jewish people who had been saving their whole lives. Paul tells us in our passage that they had been pursuing a law that would lead to righteousness as if it were based on works. So the currency that they have been putting away for their everlasting retirement is works. Then they hear the message of righteousness-by-faith-in-Jesus-alone. What this meant for Paul’s fellow Jewish people was that the currency they have been saving and thought they would be able to retire on is worthless and the only currency that counts is Jesus Christ. Many had so much invested in righteousness by their own works that they rejected Jesus Christ. You might think that it isn’t fair that God showed mercy to those who did not even try to do good works but not to those who have invested so much of their time and energy to be able to retire well, but Paul tells us:

Romans 9:18-33 

  1. God in His great mercy has prepared beforehand many to be declared righteous-by-faith-in-Jesus who were not His people.
    1. Paul does not take the mystery out of election, but he does make it clear that God’s goal is mercy. He anticipated that the Christians in Rome would have the same question of fairness that is common to us all since God has mercy on whomever He wills and hardens whomever He wills. It just does not seem fair that God has no reason for choosing one person over another for salvation. It does not seem fair that God chose to love Jacob and hate Esau for no reason in either Jacob or Esau as Paul showed us from the text of Genesis earlier in the chapter. ‘But who are we,’ Paul asks, ‘to talk back to God as if the clay being molded could talk back to the potter?’ Then with our mouths shut Paul says there are people in the world who will never be saved because God is putting up with them. Indeed, God is enduring those prepared for destruction with great patience because there are still more to whom He will show mercy. Before it was all even – ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,’ (9:13) and ‘He has mercy on whomever He wills and He hardens whomever He wills’ (9:18). Now there is a direction and goal. The vessels of wrath are endured and the vessels of mercy are chosen and called and saved for glory. Thus Paul does not even try to answer all of our questions about election, but we see that the goal of election is mercy for those prepared beforehand by God for glory.
    2. In God’s mercy many who were not His people are declared righteous-by-faith-in-Jesus. Some Greeks and Romans welcomed the good news of righteousness by faith in Jesus. We might say that some Greeks and Romans stumbled upon righteousness. They weren’t trying to be righteous, they weren’t trying to earn their way into heaven, they weren’t trying to keep God’s law that had been given to the Jewish people, but then they heard the good news of Jesus Christ and His righteousness and now God considers them righteous-by-faith-in-Jesus. So some Greeks and Romans stumbled upon righteousness. They weren’t looking for it but they found it. However, many of the Jewish people stumbled over Jesus. They had been doing good works, trying to keep the law of God, desiring and seeking righteousness, but then they heard that their works weren’t enough and that Jesus Christ is all that matters and they stumbled over the stumbling stone named Jesus. Seeking your own righteousness by works is an exercise in futility if there ever was one since you will never succeed in reaching that law. But some today continue to stumble over Jesus as they seek righteousness and some stumble upon righteousness by faith in Jesus. (God is merciful. He is enduring vessels of wrath so that the vessels of mercy will come to faith in Jesus. For…)
  2. God in His great mercy is sending you to those who were not His people so that those He has prepared beforehand to be declared righteous-by-faith-in-Jesus will hear the good news and believe.
    1. We can all be part of a mission of mercy to those clay vessels in pagan lands who are molded for mercy just as all of the Christians in Rome could help Paul to be able to take the gospel to those that they considered barbarians. God will even send some of you to share the gospel with people living far from here who have never heard the gospel. But you can all participate in helping such people to stumble upon righteousness by faith in Jesus. They do not even know that they are looking for the good news that you have to share. They were not God’s people, but those who believe in Jesus will be called sons of the living God. They were not Christ’s beloved, but those who believe in Him will be called His beloved bride. God has prepared them beforehand for glory while others God hardens. You are not responsible for other people receiving or rejecting Jesus Christ. You just do your part so that we can share the message of righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ alone with people in another part of the world. Then we get to see what happens next.
    2. But with all of this emphasis on those who are not God’s people in other places I would imagine that you might wonder about the great need all around us in this nation. After all, it appears that our nation is quickly becoming identified as ‘not God’s people’ at an alarming rate. In this respect we are not unlike the apostle Paul for as a Jewish believer he saw so many of his brothers and sisters in the flesh reject Jesus as their Savior and become ‘not God’s people.’ But all is not lost, for those who were not His people He will call His people. In other words, as our nation becomes more and more ‘not God’s people,’ we can still hold out hope that as has happened many times before and as we see it happen in other places in the world that those who are not God’s people may yet become God’s people. Indeed we are all sent to those who are not His people in our communities. We are sent with the good news of righteousness by faith in Jesus. Then we get to see those molded for mercy joining us as they begin following Jesus. May God get all the glory. After all, He prepared us beforehand for glory.
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