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God Displays His Power in and through Pharaoh (Romans Sermon 68 of 120)

God Displays His Power in and through Pharaoh (Romans Sermon 68 of 120)

May 08, 2005 | Andy Davis
Romans 9:17-18
God's Purpose for the World, Justice of God, Providence and Sovereignty of God


Turn your Bibles to Romans chapter 9. We'll be looking this morning at verses 17-18. We come in these verses to one of the deepest and hardest mysteries of doctrine that we're going to ever face in the Bible. And so I prayed for a measure of God's grace, and for Him to pour out His spirit on us, both in the speaking and the hearing of the word.

In the last over 100 years, many mysteries have been solved by human ingenuity, heavier than air flight, for example, by Orville and Wilbur right here in this state. Enrico Fermi, was able to look into metaphorically at least, but also physically to look into the nucleus of the atom and split what the Greek said was un-splittable. Watson and Crick, looked into the nucleus of the cell and found a double helix, the DNA, and unlocked, at least some of the secrets of life.

But you know, for all of our ingenuity and our cleverness, our ability to probe into mysteries and solve them, we will never fully solve this one. We will never fully understand how it is that God sovereignly deals with human hearts, in such a way that he makes his unconditional election certain, while at the same time holding human hearts responsible for their sin, calling it sin, whatever the inclinations of their heart that they are responsible for them. We'll never be able to solve that ultimately. It's the ultimate mystery. But it is important for us as believers, to embrace the word of God, and to go as far as the word goes, to understand what it says. The basic lesson of Romans 9, is that God is totally sovereign over human salvation, from beginning to end. And that means that God is totally sovereign also over the human heart.

We're coming here this morning to one of the deepest themes of the Bible, the hardening of the human heart by the sovereign hand of God. Look at verses 17-18 again, "For the scripture says to Pharaoh, 'I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.' Therefore, God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom He wants to harden." So it all comes down to this one mysterious encounter, between the sovereign God of the universe and a wicked Emperor who sat on a human throne, Pharaoh. And the simple command from that emperor of the universe to that human emperor, "Let my people go." There's nothing in there too complicated, and Pharaoh knew exactly what God was commanding him to do, but what did Pharaoh say? "Who is the Lord that I should obey Him? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go."

So God gave him a clear command, and yet the scripture says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not obey the very command that He had given him. And the scripture also says that Pharaoh sinned in not obeying that command. Can you put all that together? It seems to make no sense that God would command one thing, harden against it, then hold the person accountable. And that's why I say to you we'll never fully understand it, but that's precisely what's going on here.

I. Understanding and Preparing our Hearts

Now, before we understand this, it might be helpful for us to stop and try to understand a little about ourselves, try to understand our own hearts. John Calvin, at the beginning of the institution of the Christian religion said, "Nearly all the wisdom that we possess that is good, true and noble wisdom, consist in two parts, the knowledge of God and of ourselves."

Well, I think it's good for us to try to understand both, and this is a good text to do it, to try to understand God and ourselves. Let's try to understand ourselves for a moment. What are our natural tendencies? Well, there's a desire for autonomy, self-rule. You know it's mother's Day. These children almost immediately are going to begin to exert their own will in the house. You know what I'm talking about. And so there's a struggle right on through parenthood in there. A desire for autonomy. I want to rule my world, and I want to rule yours too if I can. So there's that desire for autonomy and a desire for reason over faith. If I understand it, I'll believe it. If I don't understand it, I'm not going to believe it. That kind of thing, so my reason becomes the rule of everything.

There's also that pride and there's a love for evil, and we see it, we call it sin, but we have a taste for it which God does not have an either do the holy angels in heaven. That's who we are. What is our proper position before God? We are finite created beings. We are mortal as sinners and we love sin, and as a result we stand before God and try to understand these eternal truths. We also have to understand the Bible's depictions of God. There's not just one portrait of God in the Bible, is there? There's the picture, for example, of the father of the prodigal son, and what's he like? Patiently waiting, at the end of the driveway it seems, for the son to come to his senses and come back home, and when he does, he embraces him and he welcomes him, and he kills the fattened calf, and they have a party and a celebration. That's a picture of God that is valid and accurate, but it's incomplete. Why? Because there are other pictures of God.

For example, there's a picture of God as a good shepherd, who goes and leaves the 99 on the hills and goes to look for the one that wanders off. It's not contradictory. It's complimentary. They go together. The one I think represents how the father is when the prodigal son comes back, the other how the father is before he comes back, what he does to go get him to come back. But then there's a dread picture of God sitting on the throne of the universe pouring out fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. Also a biblical picture of God. All of them are true. Just as it seems that lion and lamb in revelation is contradictory, but it's not, it's complimentary. Jesus is both lion and lamb. And so, we have to come as we're trying to understand not just ourselves, but understand this eternal God that we want to love and worship. We have only one source and that is revelation.

We will know God as far as He reveals Himself to us and no further. And His greatest revelation is in the Bible. And so we must accept what God says in the Bible about Himself. A. W. Tozer said this, "If you have never faced mystery in your study of God, I doubt whether you've ever heard a single word from God at all." God speaks mystery to us, doesn't he? This doctrine sores above us and we'll never reconcile all of it's details. Whilst understanding ourselves in our own context, let's try to understand Paul's context.

II. Understanding Paul’s Context

You've heard Romans 9:14-18 read, we're zeroing in on verses 17-18. What is the context in Romans? Well, Paul gives an incredible picture of the greatness of God's Mercy in eight chapters of doctrine, culminating in Romans 8 with incredible promises of mercy and grace. But then immediately deals in Romans 9 with the problem. If God has promised all of these things to us in Christ, what about the promises He made in the Old Testament to the Jews, who are it seems almost universally rejecting the Gospel of Christ? Has God's Word failed concerning the Jews? He answers, no. In Verse 6, God's Word has not failed. "It is not as though God's Word has failed." why? Because "not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." So we have this group of physical descendants of Abraham and within them a true Israel, the elect of God.

He brings up the example of Isaac and Ishmael, and then again the second example of Jacob and Esau, and in that he's dealing with how God shows mercy unconditionally. Verse 11-13, "Before the twins were born, or had done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose and election might stand, not by works but by Him who calls, she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written, 'Jacob I loved and Esau I hated.'" Well that immediately brings up the issue of the Justice of God in unconditionally showing mercy to Jacob. How can that be just. Is God unjust in showing mercy to Jacob unconditionally, and so we deal with that whole issue of, "I will be merciful to who I will be merciful." And the issue of Moses up there in the mountain. God has mercy on whom He chooses to have mercy. He doesn't owe anybody a revelation of Himself, and so it is just and right for Him to be free in giving mercy to sinners.

But now we come to the other side of it. What about the Justice of God in hardening the Esau's of the world. We have the mercy side and He deals with that. Now we turn to the hardening side. It's not just "Jacob I loved," but it's also "Esau I hated." And so we're dealing now with the issue of Esau, and so Paul is reaching for Pharaoh and God's encounter with Pharaoh. And just as he said plainly in verse 16, "It does not therefore depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's Mercy." That's the Jacob's side. But then the balance, the full picture in Verse 18, "Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden."

Now, in order to prove this, he reaches for this encounter between God and Pharaoh, and he's seeking the answer to deeper question of why? And so it says in verse 17, "the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'" So that's the context in Paul.

What about the context in Exodus. Well, put a pen or something here in Romans 9 and go back to Exodus Chapter 9. We're going to be working a little bit in Exodus, to try to understand why Paul chose this quote. Now the issue is the hardening of the human heart. That's what Paul is going to talk about, that's what he is talking about. Paul could have chosen, by my account I think, 16 different verses to talk about hardening in the Exodus account. Remember that Moses had been sent by God to Pharaoh to give that command, "Let My people go." And so there was the issue of the hardening of the heart that comes up in the text.

Now, God states the burning bush in Exodus 4:21, before he ever sets foot back in Egypt. God says to Moses, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart." Very important statement, Exodus 4:21. Then God unfolds 10 plagues culminating in the dreadful plague on the first born, and then after that, the amazing passage through the Red Sea, and Pharaoh's army chasing and then destroyed in the Red Sea. That's the whole account and you know it well. Now, already by the time the statement comes, six plagues have occurred. The water has turned into blood, there's been frogs, there's been gnats, there's been flies, there have been plagues on cattle, there have been boils on man and beast. Six plagues. And after that there's going to be four more plagues. They're going to get hail, they're going to get locust, they're going to get three-days of thick darkness. And then finally the plague on the first born, in which all the first born of Egypt are slain. That's 10 plagues altogether.

Now, in between plague six and seven, in Exodus 9:13-16, God makes this incredible statement to Pharaoh, "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrew says, 'Let My people go, so that they may worship Me, or this time I will send the full force of My plagues against you, and against your officials, and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth, for by now I could have stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose. That I might show you my power and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'''"

Now in his book, The Pleasures of God, John Piper has an interesting subsection of a chapter entitled; Why didn't God make short work of Pharaoh? Why didn't God make short work of Pharaoh? It was certainly no lack of power. God says, directly, "I could have stretched out my hand and wiped you from the face of the earth." Instead, what we see in the plagues is really the equivalent of a surgical strike here, a reduction of a full display of God's power, each one to achieve a certain purpose. God could have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, a number of ways. I thought of some of them, He could have paralyzed all the Egyptians, so they just watch them as they go, they're all just watching, what can they do? He could have done that. God, anything is at His disposal, why this? Why the 10 plagues, culminating the dreadful plague on the first born, and in the Red Sea passage? Why?

The text seems to indicate that Pharaoh would have relented if God had not hardened his heart, I think at some point, don't you think enlightened self-interest is going to kick in and you're going to look around and say, "Wow this is not going well. I'm losing, and just go." And I think that's exactly what happens, except that God hardens Pharaoh's heart to get through the last plagues, because his counselors, even tell them, "How long is this man going to be a sneer to us? …Do you not realize that Egypt is ruined?" His counselors are saying, "Let them go, or there's going to be nothing left." At some point he would have given in. Well, why did God do it? Well, that's what the text is dealing with. So that He might display His power on Pharaoh and that His name might be proclaimed in all the earth, He hardened Pharaoh's heart. Now, the most common escape from the force of this text is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and then God in response and afterwards then just judicially hardens Pharaoh's heart.

John Wesley makes much of this. I won't read any of his comments, but this is a very common theme not just with Wesley but with many. Now in one sense I'm telling you it's absolutely true, that Pharaoh did hardened his heart, there's no doubt about it. We'll talk more about that in a minute. There's no question about it. However, if what we're saying is that God is passively waiting to see what ultimate self-determination man is going to make about his own case, and then based on that ultimate self-determination, He's going to act or respond, that the text utterly repudiates. The emphasis in Romans 9 is on God's sovereignty. "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will harden whom I harden." And the most important thing, I think if we look into the actual account in Exodus, you're going to see it doesn't really stand up.

First of all, the most important statement concerning this is in Exodus 4:21, if you're there in Romans, or Exodus just look back a few chapters, Exodus 4:21, "The Lord said to Moses, 'When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh [Listen] all the wonders I have given you the power to do.'" God wanted all 10 plagues and the Red Sea crossing. He wanted the whole thing, "See that you perform before Pharaoh all of the wonders I have given you power to do. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go." That is a vital, vital statement. Now, what Wesley and others say is that Pharaoh first hardened his own heart, and then God at plague seven or eight hardens Pharaoh's heart afterwards. But if you look at the first hardening, look at Exodus 7:13, After Aaron's staff became a snake, it says there, "Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened and He would not listen to them as the Lord had said."

Now, I looked in the Hebrew. I'm not a Hebrew expert scholar, but I know this much. The text doesn't say who does the hardening at all, in 7:13, it just says Pharaoh's heart was hardened. It's not passive in the Hebrew, it's just left out who the active agent is. And so for those who say, "First Pharaoh hardened his heart then afterwards... It's not absolutely clear who does the hardening, but what's interesting is 7:13 says, "Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened and he would not listen to them." Listen, "As the Lord had said." Now I want to tell you something, God never mentioned anything about Pharaoh hardening his own heart, never said a word about it. What he says in Exodus 4:21 is, "I will harden his heart." So if it doesn't say he will harden his heart, why are we assuming that Pharaoh did it first and then later God did it?

The fact of the matter is there are three different types of statements about hardening in Exodus. There's one in which it clearly says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, no question about it. There's one in which it clearly says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, no question about that. And then there's a third category in which it doesn't say either way. But what you do notice is that six times it says, "As the Lord had said," "as the Lord had said," "as the Lord had said." And that statement, "As Lord had said," attaches to all three of the types of the accounts. Pharaoh hardened his own heart, as the Lord had said, Pharaoh's heart was hardened, as the Lord had said, God hardened Pharaoh's heart, as the Lord had said. The account in Exodus is clearly putting it on God, on His word, His will concerning Pharaoh's hardening. The fact of the matter is, Pharaoh's heart was hard long before the first encounter with Moses occurred, wouldn't you agree with that? He'd been trained years before he met Moses, trained from infancy and being the mightiest Emperor on earth. He knew how to be a hard guy. We'll get to that more in a moment. But the hardening went on long before Moses ever showed up. He was used to giving commands and being obeyed. He was used to having people's lives in his hand, he was used to all that, that was all part of who Pharaoh was. He was trained in arrogance, power, control and tyranny.

Secondly, second problem is this idea of God or Pharaoh first hardening his heart, and then God comes afterwards and just gives him over to what He wants. It doesn't escape the problem, God still does something to the human heart. It cannot be denied, that at plague eight, God commanded Pharaoh, "Let My people go," and then hardens so that Pharaoh will not let the people go. There's no escaping that. Everybody sees it, people wrestle with it. But there it is, the command is given and God hardens against the command. Now the strange thing about that is, as we look at it, we think it makes no sense at all. You would think that God would exert a command, and then exert all influence to try to make the command come true, but that's exactly the opposite of what's happening here.

Also, as we mentioned, Pharaoh says, that it's sin. After God hardened Pharaoh's heart, it says in Exodus 9:27, "Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, 'This time I have sinned, the Lord is in the right and I and my people are in the wrong.'" And then again in verses 34-35 of Exodus 9, after the next plague is announced, he hardened his own heart and the text calls it sin. And again, ascribes it to the statement of the Lord, verses 34-35, "When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again. He and his officials hardened their hearts. So Pharaoh's heart was hard, and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had said through Moses." So here you have the three parts of the mystery. The simple command is given, God hardens Pharaoh's heart, so that he will not obey the command.  And then he calls it sin and condemns him for it. And that's where we're at, folks. And it doesn't really matter whether earlier than that, Pharaoh had hardened his heart and all that. The fact is God still exerts influence contrary to the command that He gives.

And then finally in Romans 9:18, "Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden." Bottom line is, in the same way that God unconditionally has mercy, there's a parallelism to the issue of hardening. That's what the text plainly says. And so, in one sense, you might think it's an out or an escape to say, "Well, Pharaoh hardens his own heart and then God judicially hardens it." I think, A. W. Pink put it best this way, "That Pharaoh did harden his own heart the Scriptures expressly affirm, but they also declare that the Lord hardened his heart too. And clearly this is not one and the same thing, or the two different expressions would not have been employed. Our duty is to believe both statements, but to attempt to show the philosophy of their reconciliation is probably to attempt to fathom infinity." So the ultimate self- determination, of Pharaoh is denied, in Romans 9. God is the one ultimately who chooses.

III. Understanding the Text: Romans 9:17

Now go back, if you would, to Romans 9:17, and let's try to understand it phrase by phrase. Romans 9:17, begins with an interesting expression. It says, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh…" First of all the word "for" connects it back to verse 16, in which it says, "It does not therefore depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." So we're going along that same line. And then he zeroes in and says this statement, "Scripture says to Pharaoh." Now I find this fascinating. You know why? Because Scripture hadn't even been written yet. Think about it. When was the Exodus account written? When was the Genesis account written? I believe Moses wrote it, when he had those 40 years to wander in the desert. Certainly this account itself hadn't been written yet beause it was going on at that moment. It's really God that says to Pharaoh. But Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit uses this interesting phrase, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh," personifying Scripture, and you know why? Because frankly, this doctrine, the doctrine that Paul's laying down is so contrary to human reason and inclination, that we would never have come up with it if the Scripture didn't teach it. So Paul, by this phrase is highlighting, the role of the written word of God, in our understanding of difficult doctrines. It is Scripture talking to Pharaoh now.

And as Augustine said, "What scripture says, God says." We're not wrestling with something that the Apostle Paul thought and he may be wrong, we're dealing with something that God has said. Ultimately, it is God that speaks to Pharaoh but Paul says Scripture speaks to Pharaoh.

Four Implications of "I raised you up…"

Secondly, note the phrase, "I raised you up." This speaks of God's sovereignty over Pharaoh's position. And I want to talk about various aspects of this phrase, "I raised you up." First we can say it this way, when God says, "I raised you up for this very purpose," we would look at it this way, that God put him in his throne. I raised you up to be Pharaoh, I raised you up at this time for this purpose. You would not be Pharaoh, if it weren't for My sovereign power. This is constantly taught in the Bible. No one can be a king, except from the sovereign power and rule of God. This is a very big theme in the Book of Daniel.

In Daniel Chapter 4, the lesson that Nebuchadnezzar, that mighty tyrant had to learn, concerning that dream in which this huge tree which represented his sovereign power as a king was chopped down, the lesson was in Daniel 4:17, "That the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men. He sets over them, the kingdoms, the lowliest of men." What does that mean? That God can take somebody from any family, He can take a Abraham Lincoln from a log cabin in Kentucky, and raise him up to the White House. He can do that, God has the power to take anybody, even the lowliest of men, and raise them up to a position of incredible power. Says in Psalm 75:6-7, "No one from the east or the west, or from the desert can exalt a man, but it is God who judges, He brings one down and He exalts another." In other words, nobody can put someone in power except ultimately God. You know what that means? It means that our God is in fact King of kings and Lord of lords, they would not be king, if he hadn't said so, they would not be Lord if he hadn't put them in that place. I raised you up, He says, for this very purpose.

Secondly, "I raised you up" also, I think, implies, I shaped and molded you like a potter does to clay. This is the exact same image that's going to be used in verses 19-23. The potter shapes the clay. So through my sovereign control of influences, circumstances, and things that came into your life, you were ultimately made to be the kind of man that you are. Now throughout history there have been really weak Kings, I mean, wilting pansy type kings. I was reading about in England, King Edward II. He was King in the 14th century, had absolutely no interest in affairs of state. What he liked to do is play on a little play farm, and he'd pretend to be a peasant. And he had peasant girls and all kinds of things. That's what he liked to do, he liked to play farmer. Meanwhile, there are wars going on and there were other things and his counselors, were looking for some... And they ultimately just made the decision in the vacuum of leadership. That was King Edward II.

Let me tell you something, Pharaoh was not that kind of man. He delighted in being Pharaoh, and he wanted the slaves there to build the cities for him, He was that kind of a king, not the King Edward II, type. You get another example of a weak leader, even in the pages of the New Testament. I'm thinking of Pontius Pilate. Do you remember how Pilate three times declared, "I find no fault in Christ." Three times he declares "I find no fault in him," but one time he says "I find no fault in them, but I'm going to scourge him." Why, what did he do? Show some backbone, if you think he's innocent, then set him free. The culmination, I never forget John McArthur's preaching a sermon on Jesus' trial before Pilate, and the culmination comes when Jesus standing in front of them will not say a word to Pilate. It reached that point where Jesus isn't saying a word. Pilate gets incensed, and he says, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Don't you realize I have the power to free you, and the power to crucify you?" And McArthur said, "and the courage to do neither."

Couldn't do either one. He was a weak and vacillating guy, he was like a ping pong going from the Jews back to Jesus and back to the Jews, he couldn't make up his mind. Weak and vacillating, but ultimately, he valued his position, and his neck more than he valued Christ's life. And so he did what he also was set to do. And so, "I raised you up" means you're the type of man that you are, because only that kind of man is going to give me 10 plagues and a red sea crossing.

Thirdly, "I raised you up" meant: "I have kept you alive up to this point. By now, I could have unleashed the full power of my plagues and you'd be dead, but I kept you alive to serve a purpose. I kept you alive for this very purpose." Do you realize that in God we live and move and have our being, whether we love him or not, whether we believe in him or not, whether we respect him or not, he holds our lives in his very hand, and I think this is the plainest meaning in context of Exodus, "I kept you alive right to this very point for this very purpose."

And the fourth is, "I raised you up," meaning "I have hardened your heart so that you would stand up to me, though your arm is too short to box with God, you're going to think you can, you're going to think, even after the 10th plague, you're going to think you can take me on, and you're going to chase me with your whole army." I raised you up for this very purpose.

The Purposes

God’s Purpose #1: “That I May Display My Power in You”

Now, the next thing we notice, and this is for this very purpose. God is a purposeful being, He raised Pharaoh up for a purpose. Everything God does is for a purpose. You know, God made the universe out of little things called atoms. You know what that means? Little things mean a lot. Tiny, tiny little things mean a lot to God, He can take lots and lots of little, little things and make incredible things out of those lots and lots of little things. And you know the same thing that works in the physical universe, works in history too, doesn't it? Little events, little encounters, little conversations mean something. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost. God knows that better than any of us, He knows the connection between the nail all the way to the kingdom, He knows how that works. And therefore, history is this tapestry made up of all these tiny little threads that God alone fully understands.

And so, a sparrow doesn't fall to the ground apart from the will of our God. It says in Ephesians 1:11, it speaks of the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. No man becomes a king or Pharaoh or an emperor apart from His will. And every conversation Pharaoh had, every encounter with his mother, everything that happened when he was seven years old, all of it swirling around to accomplish something in the end. None of us is smart enough to figure it all out, we can't. It's too complex. Now what was God's purpose? Well, purpose number one, "That I might display my power in you." The terrifying power of God's wrath is on display in Egypt. Is it not? And you know why, because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. God can control the fresh water of a whole nation, even the mighty Nile River, so that it all turns to blood, even the water on the pitcher in the table you got yesterday, turned into blood. That's scary, a God that can do that. God can control all the living creatures, He can control the birds. Aren't you glad the birds don't attack us every day? Alfred Hitchcock made a movie about that. We would stand no chance, that's scary. He controls the bugs, He controls everything.

He can make 153 big fish swim into a net so big that it can't be pulled in the boat, John 21. We started at this morning. He can do that. He controls nature, He controls storms, He can make it hail, He can make the sky turned black, He can do all these things, that is scary and he means for us to feel the force of His power, to put His power on display, so that we would fear Him. And not only that, but the king's heart is like a water of course in the hands of Lord, Proverbs 21:1, He directs it whichever way He chooses. He has that kind of power. God can make a pathway through the Red Sea, so that the water walls up on the right and the left, and two million people, perhaps, pass through it. And then the army comes through and it gets stuck in the mud and the water crashes down and they're all dead. He can do that, and that is scary.

Now why does God want to display his power in Pharaoh? Well, ultimately, I think it's the power to save He wants to put on display, with the backdrop of the power to condemn and bring wrath. If God wanted not just to wipe out the Egyptians, if He wanted to wipe out, us, we descendants of Adam, we sinners, he could have wiped us out already. That's not what He's doing, that's not why He sent His son into the world. That's why I'm against that group that stood out in front of us because they missed that. If God wanted to pour out wrath, he had done that. What is He doing? He's working salvation, amen and amen. And so behind the scenes, yes, we see the wrath and we fear it. But in the middle of it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. And that was put on display beautifully in the 10th plague, wasn't it? Do you remember that?

The plague on the first born, when the angel of death moved through Egypt, and he came to the house of the Israelites. And you get the feeling he would have gone down except for one thing, The blood of the Lamb. And why? Because they're sinners too, but when he sees the blood of the lamb, what does he do? He passes over. God wanted that picture. You know why? Because there's Rahab the harlot who's going to hear about the Power of God and the plagues, and have a hope of forgiveness and salvation, and she's going to get saved. James 2 say, she believed by faith she was saved. 40 years later we've heard what you did at the Red Sea, we heard what you did in Egypt, we fear you and we believe in you. Let me tell something, God is a dreadful dreadful enemy, but oh, what a sweet savior He is. And so we should behold the goodness and the severity of God, and he laid down 10 plagues of severity plus the Red Sea crossing, so that we would see His power.

And is that all? Well, so that we could have a picture of Christ, our savior. Jesus the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the one who drank God's wrath at the cross. Do you realize that this power of the 10 plagues is nothing compared to what Jesus drank on the cross, ain't that incredible? Oh, the love of Christ for us. He stood in our place and took our wrath, that we might be forgiven, that we might have eternal life, God put His power on display in Egypt.

God’s Purpose #2: “And That My Name May Be Proclaimed in All the Earth”

And then finally, so that His name might be proclaimed in all the earth that's it. So that preachers like me for 20 centuries, really 35 centuries now, 3500 years, we've been talking about this, that God's name might be proclaimed in all the earth, and why? So that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This incredible thing, isn't it? So if we call on this mighty name of God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Moses, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will be saved.

IV. Understanding the Doctrine: Romans 9:18

Well, that's Romans 9:17. What is the doctrine? Well we've been talking about it, it's very plain, I don't think that it's impossible to understand. Verse 18, "Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom he wants to harden." God has ultimate power over human hearts. Focus here is absolutely on God's will, not on man's will, verse 16, "It does not depend on man's desire or will, effort, but on God's mercy." Basically it says God has mercy on whomever He wills and He hardens whomever He wills. God has absolute power over human hearts and He Has absolute freedom in salvation. And along with that God hardened sinners against the gospel. Isn't that why he brought up Pharaoh in Romans 9? What question is Paul seeking to answer? Why are the Jews almost universally rejecting the Gospel of Christ? In context, at least part of the answer is God has hardened them to do it. That's why it's brought up here.

And that may make no sense to you, you may not understand that, I don't. But I know that God commanded Pharaoh, "Let my people go," Hardened Pharaoh against the command and then held him accountable for what he did. And I know also that God does the same thing in the Gospel. Now, we have to put certain boundaries around this. God never ever actively and directly tempts anybody to sin. It says in James 1:13-14, "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." So how God does it, I don't know, I never pretended to know, but I do know this, that God does it in a way that He never entices or drags anybody to evil. Now, to end here, I want you to look at parallel texts that I printed in your bulletin. It's quicker if you just look at your bulletin rather than you look them up in the Bible. As a summary of all of God's miraculous dealings with Pharaoh and with Egypt.

It says in Exodus 11:10, "Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country." That's a summary statement, right? All of these miracles were done, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart and he wouldn't let them go. Okay? Well, we get a similar... I think parallel statement concerning the miracles Jesus did and the Jews not believing in Christ, and that's in John 12:37, and following, "Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him." Do you see the parallel with the Exodus statement? Moses did all these miracles, Pharaoh wouldn't let them go. Jesus did all these miracles still, they would not believe. Verse 38, "This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: 'Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?' [Look at verse 39] For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere, 'He has blinded their eyes and deaden or hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn and I would heal them.' Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about Him." That is the connection in Romans 9, John draws it, it's the same connection that Moses got. Moses and John and Paul, are all teaching the same thing. These people did not believe, because God harden their hearts, so then God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.

V. Application

Now, what application can we take from Romans 9: 17-18. Well first God's total sovereignty over human hearts means hope in prayer. For those of you that they care about lost loved ones.

And then let's talk about Mother's Day. Is there not a power in the tears and prayers of a mother for a lost son or daughter? Can you imagine God saying, "Don't come to me with that problem, I've done everything I can do, or will do. The only thing you need to do is go persuade that hard-hearted sinner to believe in the gospel. There's nothing more I can do." No. You crying and praying moms have come to the right place when you prayed to God concerning that problem. You've come to the right place. God has power over the human heart. The human heart isn't a Holy of Holies that God doesn't enter into. He has the power to take out a heart of stone and put in a sweet heart of flesh, a soft heart to the word of God. That gives us hope for prayer, not just as mothers. But take a missionary working in an Islamic country, seeing almost no fruit. He can get down on his knees and say, "Oh God, work on the human heart. Oh, God, grant repentance. Oh, God, grant faith, oh God, work in their hearts." And God is not going to say, "You do have your theology, right? I don't do any of those things, that's up to the individual to do, I don't know." We've come to the right place. Hope in prayer.

Another thing I get out of this is to look at history differently, to realize that every one that's ever sat on the throne was raised up by God for a purpose. Everyone. And God holds each one of them accountable for what they did with their power, but He raised them all up. It's not just Pharaoh, it's all of the rulers. And God uses pain and misery and suffering in that great tapestry of history to accomplish His ends for His glory, the salvation of His people. It's a marvelous thing.

And so thirdly, we should learn to bow humbly in God's presence and just give Him the thanks, and the praise and the glory for our own salvation, which the more I study, the more amazed I am. It soars far above my ability to comprehend, far above. So to Him be the glory. And then finally, can I ask you please trust in God confidently, if you're going through some trials, don't think that God's going to say to you, "Look, I didn't do it. Satan did it. I didn't do it, these free will folks did it, they brought it into your lives and I can't do anything about it." God is not a kind of a sympathetic grandpa who is limited in power, but has a really good ear and listens a lot. And just says, "Well I want to help, but I can't." That's not our God. When you're suffering, you're going through struggles, some of you are struggling with cancer, some of you struggling with relatives that have cancer.

Others are struggling with the unbelief of a husband or a wife, a parent, a child, come to God in prayer. He is mighty to save. May be that some of you are here you've never trusted in Christ. You've never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm standing to tell you today, that Jesus' blood is sufficient for all of your sins. Trust in Him, come to Him, believe in Him and you will be saved. Close with me in prayer.

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