Aug
25

The Riches, Wisdom, and Power of God

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[podcast]http://www.zion-umc.org/home/audio/sermon_08142011.mp3[/podcast]

God Extends His Mercy to More and More People

“God has locked up all people in disobedience, in order to have mercy on all of them. God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths!”  (Romans 11:32-33, Common English Bible)

Paul certainly hit it on the head: Sometimes, God can be very hard to understand! Some things are so simple, they’re stunning: God’s love is so complete that He gave His Son for our salvation.

Other times, when there seems to be no other option for God than to be an angry, destroying God who wipes out all unholiness… only to show mercy to the worst of the worst – and then include them in the family!

This happens all across the Old Testament – the story of the children of Israel.  The stories offer a testimony to their humanness and how they were so unfaithful so many times it boggles the mind.  They also remind us that God is faithful and merciful – and human failing sometimes leads to greater miracles.

In what we’re studying this morning, Paul puts these two things together to remind us that two things apply to the Body of Christ: God’s people are all people who would follow him, and God continually extends his mercy to more and more people.

We Christians are evidence of how God’s mercy expands.  Gentiles were definitely not in the family for a long time.  Because Israel was so persistently unfaithful, God decided to open the door and give others the opportunity to experience the riches of His grace.

Isn’t that hard to understand? I think so!

In our world, it seems like almost anything can be undone – we live in a world of “do-overs.” If we don’t like something, there’s just about nothing that we can’t throw out and “do over,” or get another one.

If you’re sitting in a restaurant and don’t like what you ordered off the menu, just complain and the manager will bring you something else on the house to make up for it. Playing sports and don’t like what the referee accused you of? The judgment might not stand – football coaches have red flags and extra officials assigned to video replay every call.

Because the customer is always right, we have 30-day return policies on widescreen televisions and typewriters and white-out have been replaced by the UNDO command on our computers.

Don’t want to be married anymore? Look at the statistics: marriages end in divorce more often than they survive. If you don’t like your name after all these years, you can legally change it. Too much consumer debt? Erase it through bankruptcy.

In our world, it doesn’t seem to make sense that God would do something “un-undoable.” Yet, that’s exactly what He did!

God Calls Us to be People of Mission

“I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing … all the families of earth will be blessed because of you.” (Genesis 12:2,3b; Common English Bible)

Verses 30-31 say that Israel’s disobedience is the cause for God’s inclusion of Gentiles among His people. God altered salvation history to include more people!

God was very disappointed with Israel: Their worship and their justice were thin and token, a problem dating back to the beginning. Yet, His mercy goes back to the beginning, too.  Read in Genesis 12 the foundational promise for Israel as God’s people: “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing … in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (12:2,3).”

God Calls us to be People of Mercy

“Godly sadness produces a changed heart and life that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets, but sorrow under the influence of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, Common English Bible)

It is true that seasons of blessing can be temporary. Rains come and go, crops flourish and fail; the riches you have today may vanish tomorrow.

This is not true of God’s mercy.  Despite disobedience, God still offers all his people mercy (11:32). You might remember the prophet Hosea.  In faithfulness, he obeyed God’s command to marry an unfaithful woman, who bore a son.  God told Hosea that this son was to be named Lo-ammi — meaning “not my people” — to serve as a reminder of Israel’s unfaithfulness, and that  He had disowned them.  But, this was not the final word of the Lord on prostitute Israel. They would again be called the children of God (1:10).

If you’re a parent, you probably understand this kind of mercy very well.  No matter how frustrated we are with our children, there’s always something in our hearts that longs for relationship over punishment, a desire to hope for the future instead of dwelling on the past.

I believe we could live in a much more peaceful world if we all practiced this kind of mercy with one another – 2 Corinthians 7:10 sums it up pretty well: “Godly sadness produces a changed heart and life that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets (irrevocable), but sorrow under the influence of the world produces death.” (Common English Bible)

Godly grief over sin connected to repentance is something we should desire – and celebrate. It’s how we claim and proclaim God’s unending mercy.

The bottom line of this all? God doesn’t give up on us when we don’t work out the way He planned. God is God; the grace and mercy that has been given cannot be taken back because it goes against His very nature.

It might not always make sense to us – but it is good news all the same!

Sources Consulted

“The Irrevocables,” Homiletics, August 2008

Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans (IVP, 1989)