God’s Ultimate Purpose
Vessels of Mercy Knowing the Riches of His Glory (Romans 9:23-24)
by John Piper
"What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea, "Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’" 26 "And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’" 27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay." 29 And as Isaiah predicted,, "If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah."
Let’s begin and let’s end today with the wonder of being vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory. Whatever we may not fully understand about the way God works in this world, one thing is clear and wonderful in verse 23: His ultimate purpose – in all his wrath and all his power and all his mercy – is this: "to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory."
If you are a Christian today – if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead – this is what you are: a vessel of mercy prepared before the creation of the world for glory – that is, to know the riches of the glory of God.
Open your heart to the wonder of this in your own case as you ponder with me three aspects of it. Let’s look at 1) "vessels of mercy," and then 2) "prepared beforehand for glory," and then 3) "knowing the riches of glory."
1. VESSELS OF MERCY
God’s purpose in verse 23 is "to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory."
As a Christian you are a vessel of mercy. You were called out of spiritual deadness and sinful darkness by mercy, through mercy, and for mercy. By mercy, because in our rebellion we didn’t deserve to be awakened and opened and subdued to God. Through mercy, because every influence that worked on us to bring us to Christ was a mercy from God. For mercy, because every enjoyment that we will ever have, forever and ever, will be a merciful enjoyment. And mercy itself will be supremely pleasant to taste and know.
We are vessels of mercy. Which means that in all our thinking about election, and why we are saved and another not, we must continually focus on this: We do not deserve to be Christians. We do not deserve to be chosen or called or saved or transformed or heaven-bound. It is all mercy. Undeserved. Oh, may believers hear this as humbling, and unbelievers hear it as hopeful! Nothing in us was the decisive influence on God to make it happen. That we have received anything good – any forgiveness, any acceptance with God, any glimpse of his glory, any hope of everlasting joy – this is all mercy.
And here the words of the Lord Jesus fly over our lives like a great banner, and ring in our ears like a great trumpet-call to sacrifice: "Freely you received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). Oh, may the glorious doctrine of unconditional election – election unto mercy! – never, never, NEVER lead to pride, or cliquishness, or bigotry, or provincialism, or smug indifference to the perishing. Test yourself to see if you are in Christ: Mercy produces mercy and receives mercy again. We become merciful by being shown mercy. And we show mercy to obtain more mercy again. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matthew 5:7). Freely you received mercy, freely give – and you will receive more and more, "pressed down, shaken together, running over" (Luke 6:38). Mercy upon mercy.
That is what it means to be a vessel of mercy. It means being able to say, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me – pursue me – all the days of my life." There will not be one day – neither the day of my delight nor the day of my death – when mercy does not track me down and make me a vessel for his blessing.
2. PREPARED BEFOREHAND FOR GLORY
We are still in verse 23, God’s ultimate purpose for your life: "to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory."
I think the focus here is on being prepared for God’s glory, not our glory (though that too is part of our hope – Romans 8:30). I say this because verse 23 says the purpose of God is "to make known the riches of his glory." That is what we are prepared for.
The word "prepared" underlines that this is all of mercy. We did not make ourselves fit to know God’s glory. God did. And he did it out of "the same lump" of clay that others came from who do not see or love the glory of God (Romans 9:21). If you see and savor the glory of God today, you didn’t get to be that way on your own. You were shaped and molded and sometimes pounded into a vessel able to know the glory of God. This word "prepared beforehand" simply underlines and emphasizes that our ability to see and savor God’s glory is all because of his mercy.
If you are a Christian – or willing to become one by faith in Jesus Christ – you were prepared beforehand for glory – that is to know the glory of God. This is the ultimate purpose of God for your existence: Verse 23: "to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy." Oh, how I plead with you, let this sink into your heart. Because once it penetrates to the deep part of your heart – once it takes hold of you – you will never be the same again. You were made to know the glory of God.
Now be careful here lest you intellectualize the word "know." "Know" here cannot mean "be aware of intellectually while feeling indifferent." That would not mark you as a vessel of mercy. It would mark you as a vessel of wrath. What does chapter one say? "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who . . . exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man . . ." (Romans 1:18, 23). That is, they know the glory of God but did not treasure it. They exchanged it.
God’s purpose is not to be known as glorious and then exchanged for images. His purpose is to be known as glorious and treasured as glorious. When Paul says God’s purpose is to make known God’s glory he means make known as infinitely precious and infinitely pleasing. You were made to know the glory of God, to taste and see the glory of God, to treasure the glory of God, to enjoy the glory of God.
Do you live for this? Do you hear this design for your life and feel a passion to pursue it?
If not, I wonder why.
"This is Impossible for Me"
Perhaps you feel it’s impossible for you. If that’s how you feel, please remember it is all mercy. Impossible to you, yes, but not to God. "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God" (Mark 10:27).
"I Don’t Want to See Glory, I Want to Be Glory"
Or perhaps you don’t pursue this purpose for your life because you don’t want to see glory, you want to be glory. I could say some very scary things to you about that. But perhaps I should just say, "If you seek your own glory rather than seeing and savoring God’s glory, you will be bitterly disappointed in the end. Because in the end you will not be glorious, and everyone will see that and turn their face away." For your own souls, don’t make that mistake.
"I’d Rather Accomplish Something Great Than Behold Something Great"
Or perhaps you turn away form God’s design by saying: I don’t want to be lost in the crowd of ogling spectators standing in front of a work of art, saying, "Oh, look at the glory, look at the glory. I want to do something and accomplish something great." To you I would say two simple things: first, beware how you speak about those who praise the glory of God; and second, in all of history the people who have seen the glory of God most, accomplish most for this world. Remember the words of Paul, "Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18), and glory-reflecting people are not fruitless.
"I Have Never Tasted the Glory of God"
Or perhaps you don’t pursue with passion to know the glory of God because you simply have no taste for it and don’t know what it is and therefore cannot feel drawn to it. To you I would say: The glory of God is shining everywhere. You live and move and have your being in God. When the psalmist says, "The heavens are telling the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1), it does not mean that sunrises and sunsets are the glory of God. It means, their magnificence across the bow of the earth, and their spectacular array of colors, and their evocative power to awaken deep emotions are tiny reflections and mere shadows of the glory to which they point. God is reaching out to us to say: it’s like this, only better – lots better!
C. S. Lewis once said:
Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me. I do not see how the "fear" of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential efforts to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags. And if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the "love" of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed. (The Four Loves [London: Fontana Books, 1960], pp. 23-24)
In other words, to you who say, you have never tasted the glory of God, I say, you have tasted many of its appetizers. Have you ever looked up? Have you ever been hugged? Have you ever admired anything? Have you ever sat in front of a warm fire? Have you ever tasted sexual desire? Have you ever walked in the woods, sat by a lake, lain in a summer hammock? Have you ever drunk your favorite drink on a hot day or eaten anything good? Every desire is either a devout or a distorted enticement to the glory of heaven.
You say you haven’t tasted God’s glory. I say. You have tasted the appetizers. Go on to the meal. You have seen the shadows; look at the substance. You have walked in the warm rays of the day; turn and look at the sun itself. You have heard echoes of God’s glory everywhere; tune your heart to the original music.
And the best place to get your heart tuned is at the cross of Jesus Christ. "We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). If you want the most concentrated display of the glory of God, look at Jesus in the Gospels, and look especially at the cross. This will focus your eyes and tune your heart and waken your taste buds so that you will see and hear and taste the glory of the true God everywhere.
That is what you were made for. I plead with you: don’t throw your life away. God made you to know his glory. Pursue that with all your heart and above all else.
3. KNOWING THE RICHES OF HIS GLORY
Now thirdly focus for a moment on the word "riches." Verse 23: God’s final goal is "to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory."
Why does he use that word? The point of using that word – the word for wealth and riches – is to waken in us a sense that our inheritance in God is infinitely greater than the greatest riches on earth. Oh, how foolish we are to labor for the bread that perishes. Oh, how foolish we are to lay up treasures on earth when the glory of God is our portion. If we had all the money in the world we would be paupers compared to those who have only the glory of God.
Paul said these riches are unimaginable: "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined . . . God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). He said these riches are immeasurable: "In the coming ages he [will] show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:7). In other words, because the riches of glory are infinite it will take ages for us to know it fully – eternal ages! In other words, we will never know it fully, but will know it more fully every day forever and ever. Our knowledge of the riches of the glory of God will increase forever and ever, world without end. And therefore, so will our joy. His mercies will be new every morning. And there will be not one boring day in heaven. Nor one day without fresh awe-inspiring discovery. Not one day without the accumulated weight of old glories ripening in memory, and the thrill of new glories breaking on our sight every day.
Therefore, Christ commands us, mercifully, in view of these infinite riches of glory, not to seek earthly riches but to seek the kingdom; and he promised us this: "My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
You were made to know the riches of the glory of God.
Jew and Gentile! The people of this inheritance are not defined by ethnic relations. They are defined by God’s call. Do you see that in the way verse 23 flows into verse 24? God’s great purpose is "to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles."
The issue for you this morning is not your background or race or your ethnic connections or your denomination or your parents’ faith. This issue is: do you hear in this message the call of God? If you do, obey it and believe in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. All the riches of God’s glory are in him. They can be had nowhere else.
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