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In the Beginning God Created! - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Genesis 1

  • 2005-04-03 PM
  • Systematic Theology
  • Sermons


Well tonight, we come back to the issue of evolution versus creation. We've learned over the last several weeks that the primary contemporary religion, and it is right to call it that, is naturalism; that is, that form of materialism that rules out the supernatural and says this is all there is.

Naturalism, this religion of our world, has produced an entire family of bad seed. For example, naturalism is opposed to the concept of ethics. Thomas Huxley, who was a devoted follower of Charles Darwin, argued back in a lecture in the 1800's, "The practice of that which is ethically best, that which we call goodness or virtue, involves a course of conduct which in all respects is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for survival." Let me just cut through everything Huxley said and say what he said in a nutshell. That is, ethics is absolutely opposed to the survival of the fittest. The fittest is going to survive by doing whatever it takes to survive. And we see this absolute opposition to the concept of ethics played out in our culture, and it's an exact result of naturalism.

Naturalism also produces the worst kind of racialism. It argues that racial and class distinctions are nature's way of recognizing the superiority of certain races and classes. You may not know this, but ultimately Darwinian naturalism gave birth to the Nazi movement in Germany.

Naturalism also produces utter hopelessness. You know, the leading popular scientific voice for naturalism until his death was scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan. John MacArthur, in his book 'The Battle for the Beginning' recounts an episode that happened with Carl Sagan. Listen to what he writes. "In December of 1996, less than three weeks before Sagan died, he was interviewed by Ted Koppel on Nightline. Sagan knew that he was dying and Koppel asked him, 'Dr. Sagan, do you have any pearls of wisdom that you would like to give to the human race?'" Fortunately, we don't have to rely on Carl Sagan for pearls of wisdom, but this is what he said, "We live on a hunk of rock and metal that circles a humdrum star that is one of 400 billion other stars that make up the Milky Way Galaxy, which is one of billions of other galaxies which make up the universe, which may be one of a very large number, perhaps an infinite number of other universes." That is a perspective on human life and culture that is worth pondering.

In a book published near the end of his life, Sagan wrote this, "Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves." That is ultimately where naturalism leads - to utter, hopeless despair. There is no one out there who is going to hear our cries for help.

But when we talk about evolution, you have to understand that evolution is one of several different approaches to origin. Now I just want to make sure you understand this, there are various views of origins. The first is the one we've been talking about, materialism or naturalism, that is, that the origin of the universe can be explained entirely on the basis of purely natural forces. Typically the groups that hold to this are atheists and pure secularists who don't deal with the issue of whether there's a god or not because it doesn't really concern them. This view of origins says that every law and that every force in the universe is natural, rather than moral, spiritual or supernatural. Practically, they argue that matter is eternal. Carl Sagan began each episode of his television series 'Cosmos' by saying, "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." You see, naturalism is inherently anti-theistic.

By the way, this morning someone came up to me and said how do you respond to an atheist? How do you share the gospel with an atheist, someone who embraces pure materialism or naturalism? Let me say don't ever start by granting them that you need to prove there is a God. Don't ever start there because what does the Scripture say about that man or that woman? Romans 1, they know there is a God. Romans 2, the law of God is written in their conscience. Don't ever grant them that you have to prove there is a God. Start with the fool has said in his heart there is no God. You know there's a God, God has put that within you, and you are according to Romans 1:18 suppressing the knowledge of that truth.

It's actually naturalism passes itself as scientific, but it is a huge leap of faith. That's what I told the young man who asked me this morning. You know, this atheistic friend of his wants him to believe that he's being logical and scientific. This is a huge leap of faith! Michael Ruse testified in the 1980's creationism trial, the famous trial in Arkansas, McLean v. Arkansas. He claimed that creationism is a religion because it's grounded in unproven philosophical assumptions, but he argued that Darwinism is a science because it requires no philosophical or religious presuppositions. Well guess what? Ruse has now admitted that evolution is "metaphysically based," in other words, outside the physical. "It is grounded on the same kind of unproven beliefs on which creationism is built," he admits. Absolutely. It's faith. You can't prove any of that happens, and an atheist certainly can't prove that there is no god. It's faith. But this is one of the views of origins we've been looking at over the last several weeks.

Another view is pantheism. Pantheism says that the universe and its constituents are products of successive emanations from God's being. Long and short of it is the universe is God and God is the universe. This is embraced by Buddhism and many other eastern religions.

A third view of origins is dualism. And that is that there exist two distinct coeternal self-existent principles in the universe. And dualism takes two forms. The first is that those two principles are God and matter, that is, that they have always existed side by side. God didn't create matter; instead, He exists along with it coequal. Plato and Aristotle, the Greek philosophers, taught this, and some forms of Gnosticism teach this. The other form of dualism is that there are two eternal spirits, one good and one evil. A number of new age religions and Zoroastrianism and so forth teach this view. By the way, this view was popularized by a number of movies that some of you have probably seen, and that's the Star Wars series - dualism.

Another view of origins is polytheism, and it, depending on what version of Hinduism you're talking about, essentially this is Hinduism, that there are all of these gods, and everything that came into being came into being somehow through the workings of these gods.

Fifth is theistic evolution. Theistic evolution says that evolution is the means by which the universe and life began and developed just as the secular evolutionist would or the naturalist would, but the entire process was superintended by God. This is where the liberals go, and the leading evangelical proponent of this view is Hugh Ross, whose books you may have heard of or seen. We will come to theistic evolution next week.

And then finally, there's creationism as you and I believe it. Let me give you a definition of creationism that I like a lot. This is Louis Berkhof's definition of creationism, "that free act of God whereby He, according to His sovereign will and for His own glory, in the beginning, brought forth the whole visible and invisible universe without the use of pre-existent material, and thus gave it an existence distinct from His own and yet always dependent upon Him." That is a great definition. I'll print out these notes for next week and have them in the back so that you can have this definition because I think this is absolutely essential. And what we're going to be doing the rest of tonight and really over next week is taking apart this definition in one manner of speaking.

This is what we believe. We believe that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. He brought forth the whole visible and invisible universe, and He did it ex nihilo. You've heard that expression, out of nothing. That means not what the evolutionists would teach, and that is that there was this nothingness out of which there was an explosion, but God didn't use pre-existent material; instead, He spoke into being that which had not yet been, that which had not yet existed. And it is distinct from Him. Not like pantheism where it's sort of part of His body or something. The creation is distinct from God, and yet always dependent upon Him.

You know, it's interesting. When you think of those false theories, Henry Morris in his book 'The Genesis Record' argues that Genesis 1:1 answers all the false theories of the origin of the universe and the character of the being who called it into being. Think about it for a moment. What about atheism? Genesis 1:1 says the universe was created by God. What about pantheism? It teaches that God is transcendent to what He has created. In other words, He's distinct from what He created. What about polytheism? Only one God created all things. What about materialism or naturalism, modern evolution? We learn in Genesis 1:1 that matter is not eternal; matter had a beginning. Dualism – God was alone when he called everything into being, when He created. There wasn't eternal matter nor was there another co-eternal, self-existent being - Satan or some other evil being. God was alone. Humanism, which I didn't mention before but certainly is a major factor in our world - God, not man, is the ultimate reality. And I could add here God, not man, is the ultimate goal of the existence of everything. And evolutionism, God created all things. Genesis 1:1 addresses every single false theory of origins in a simple, straightforward statement, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Now what I want us to do is the rest of our time tonight, I want to begin to lay a case for you. I'm going to take a little time to do this and next week, Lord willing, we're going to look, we're going to flow through Genesis 1, and it really is thrilling to me as I've studied it this week and looked into all that Genesis 1 contains. But tonight, what I want to do in the time that remains, is sort of build a case as to why it's appropriate to approach Genesis 1 the way we approach it.

Let me give you, first of all, a brief introduction to the book of Genesis. It's important that you understand a little bit about this book. In Hebrew, the title of the book is simply, "In the Beginning." It's the first word of the book, the first Hebrew word. It's a book about beginnings; the beginning of the world, the beginning of the Jewish nation in the person of Abraham; it's a book of beginnings. As we saw this morning, it's the beginning of marriage, filled with the beginning, the firsts in our world.

When you look at Genesis, it breaks into two parts, essentially. First of all, in chapters 1 through 11, you have universal dealings, that is, God's dealings with all of mankind. Genesis 1 through 11 goes from creation to the birth of Abraham. The year 2166 is when Abraham was born. So we'll talk next week about the age of the earth, but from whenever the world was created, whenever the universe came into being until the birth of Abraham, you have chapters 1 through 11. Chapters 12 through 50 summarize the patriarchal period, that is, the period of the patriarchs, from the birth of Abraham in 2166 until Jacob goes to Egypt in 1876, a period of about 290 years. So you have from creation to 2166, several thousand years, in chapters 1 through 11, and 300 years in chapters 12 to 50. And as you come to chapters 12 through 50, the reason that it begins to focus down and more time is spent is because God selects one man and his descendants through whom He'll set His glory on display. And that man, of course, is Abraham.

Now in terms of the author of Genesis, Moses is the author of the entire Pentateuch. There are a number of arguments for that, I'm not going to take the time to set that up for you. But when you look at Moses, you realize that Exodus through Deuteronomy, most of Exodus after chapter 1 beginning with his birth and following, Moses was a contemporary of the events that occurred. But Genesis, this wasn't true. Genesis ends with Joseph's death, which was about 1876. This covers, as I said, from creation until 1876. That was 356 years before Moses was born and creation was at least 2,500 years before that.

And so how is it that Moses came to understand all that's recorded in the book of Genesis? Well there are three possibilities as far as how Moses came to understand these things. The first is direct revelation. Remember, Moses was alone with God for 80 days on Mount Sinai, and there were other occasions recorded when Moses had fellowship with God. It's possible that everything we see recorded in Genesis came to him simply by direct revelation on the mountain.

Another option is that there was some oral tradition that had been passed down through Adam and his, and the godly line of Abel and others. A third possibility is written records, that Moses used written records. Now the evidence isn't conclusive and in the end, whatever we have as Moses wrote it is inspired by God. We know that it's accurate and true, but the evidence seems to lean toward this third explanation. There is evidence in the book of Genesis of eleven such documents. The structure of Genesis is based on the recurring Hebrew word "toledoth." It's usually translated "generations of." Now when you look at the book of Genesis and you look for this expression, "these are the generations of," you find it eleven times. Let me just give these to you, you don't need to get them all down. I just want you to see this. In 2:4, you have the heavens and the earth; 5:1, Adam; 6:9, the generations of Noah; 10:1, the generations of the sons of Noah; 11:10, the records of the generations of Shem; 11:27, the generations of Terah; 25:12, the generations of Ishmael; 25:19, Isaac; 36:1, of Esau; 36:9, also of Esau; that expression in 37:2 of Jacob.

So when you look at the book of Genesis, you can see that there appear to be these documents. There are two interpretations of this expression "generations." It may be introducing the section, in other words it's a heading for what follows. Another view sees it as a signature, that is, it occurs at the end of the section. But regardless, you can see this structure.

So Moses, under the inspiration of the Spirit, either through direct revelation or through written documents or a combination of the two, writes under the inspiration of the Spirit what's recorded for us in the book of Genesis. He gets his information from the only eyewitness to creation, and that is God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Now that brings us to the first eleven chapters of Genesis. These are the battleground of the book of Genesis. Very few people argue with what follows from chapter 12 and on. Oh, they may take issue with things that are miraculous, but in terms of the basic history, no one undermines the historicity of chapters 12 through 50. The battle for Genesis occurs in the first eleven chapters. Think about what occurs in those eleven chapters. There's creation, there's the fall, there's the flood and there's the table of nations and the tower of Babel. All of those things are hard for some people to swallow. Some people who reject supernaturalism, who reject that God could intervene in human history, reject all of those things. And so they want to do something with Genesis 1 through 11.

Before we look at some of the approaches they take, let me just give you a brief history of how the church has looked at Genesis 1 through 11. First of all, and this is important to understand, the early church, that is the early church fathers, unanimously taught creation ex nihilo, and that these first eleven chapters were genuine history, a genuine historical record. You don't need to get these names. I just want you to see that some of the greatest names in the history of the church teach this very thing - Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and so forth. Theophilus was the first to stress that the days of creation were literal days, but this seems to be the view of several of these other men as well, and it was probably the view of the rest of the church, that the days of creation were literal days. Every evidence seems to indicate that.

A couple of these men, Clement, Origin and Augustine with some variation, thought that creation may have happened in a moment of time and that the description of several days was merely a literary device. In other words, they didn't see, as some modern theistic evolutionists do, that there were these long periods of time that constituted these days; instead, they said no, creation happened by divine 'theot,' that is, by divine words spoken at a moment in time, and the days are just to help us understand what God did in a moment in time.

When you come to the reformers, they held firmly to creation ex nihilo. They believed the days of creation were six literal days. Almost universally, this was embraced by the reformers of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.

When you come to the 18th century, then you have the first real attack of naturalism. Soon theologians tried to harmonize Scripture with the discoveries of science, and this is when Genesis 1 particularly comes under attack. Prior to this, there was no substantial attack on Genesis 1 through 11.

So how have people, in light of this, tried to approach Genesis 1 to 11? What are the different approaches they had taken to it? There are essentially three approaches that people take. The first is they make it allegorical. They say, for example, well you know Adam's not a real person, but he's simply the symbol of all men. And they say the fall is not an actual event, it's not an actual act of disobedience by the first man and the first woman, but it's a figurative expression of the experience of all men. I mean, after all, we all ascend, and so it's like an allegory of the sins that we commit. It's a poetic description of God's creative work.

There are several problems with this allegorical view. The first and most obvious is that the narrative is presented as history. There's no reason to suspect anything but history here. And I'll talk about that in a moment. Genesis 1 has almost no elements of Hebrew poetry, and it's seamlessly connected to the following history, which everyone agrees is history. So where do you draw the line? Where do you say poetic description stops and history begins? It's purely arbitrary.

A second view is typological. They see types in this passage, very similar to the allegorical view. It simply deemphasizes the historical.

And that brings us to where we come in and how we approach Genesis 1 to 11, and that is historically. We say Genesis 1 to 11 is history. If you're like me, you've had people argue with you about this. So how do we know that Genesis 1 through 11 is history? Well, let me give you a number of reasons, arguments for the historicity of Genesis 1 through 11, or a historical approach to these chapters.

First of all, the character of the Hebrew, the character of the Hebrew language that's used. It's the same construction, if you could look at it in Hebrew, you would see it's in the same construction as in other historical narrative - the kind of language that's used to describe sequential events. All of the stylistic and syntactical characteristics are of narrative, that is, historical narrative and not poetry.

Secondly, we know it's historical because of the use of "these are the generations of", that expression "toledoth,", the Hebrew word. Five times this expression was used to introduce the patriarchs. Six times it's used in Genesis 1 through 11 to introduce new blocks of material - identical expressions used for what is undoubtedly history from chapters 12 to 50 is used of Genesis 1 through 11.

Thirdly, just look at the proper nouns. Christ told lots of allegorical stories, they're called parables, but the parables didn't have what? They didn't have proper names. Look at Genesis 1 through 11. You have 64 geographical terms, you have 88 personal names, you have 48 generic names, you have 21 identifiable cultural terms. This is not parable, this is not typology, this is not allegory, this is history.

There's another argument for the historical approach to Genesis 1 through 11, and that is the Old Testament's testimony to its historicity. And I'm not going take you to these verses. I just want you to see that these are just a handful of references in the Old Testament that illustrate the reality that the Old Testament looked back on Genesis 1 through 11 as real history. Probably the one that stands out, there are two that stand out here to me, the first one is in Exodus 20, verse 11, where God, speaking from the mountain to Moses, Moses did witness this, God says to him as He lays out the fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath day, He recounts the history of the creation of the world. In six days, God made the world.

The other is in 1 Chronicles 1, where you have a genealogy that goes back to Adam as the first man. All those other names in that genealogy are real people, so why isn't Adam a real person? Same thing in Luke 3. So the Old Testament is absolutely clear in its endorsement of Genesis 1 through 11 as real history.

Look at the New Testament's use of Genesis. This is, stay with me because this is crucial to understand what the New Testament writers under inspiration did with Genesis. First of all, Genesis 1 through 11 is quoted or directly referred to more than a hundred times in the New Testament. Every chapter from Genesis 1 through 11 is alluded to in the New Testament. Every New Testament author refers somewhere in his writings to Genesis 1 through 11, every New Testament author. And folks, in not one of these instances is there even a hint that the writer regarded the persons and events as anything but real historical persons and events. The New Testament is absolutely clear on this issue. Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, the disciples of Christ, the apostles of Jesus Christ said it's history, it happened the way it's written there.

And that brings us to the final argument for Genesis 1 through 11, and that is the ministry of Christ Himself. Christ quoted from the creation account as history. We saw that even this morning in Mark 10. You see it also in Matthew 19. Christ quoted the story of the creation, particularly the story of the creation of man, as historical fact. If Genesis 1 through 11 can't be trusted, let me say this as strongly as I can, if Genesis 1 through 11 cannot be trusted as the history that it represents itself to be, then Jesus Christ cannot be trusted. So that means that Genesis 1 records the historical record of the creation of the universe, the historical record from the only person that was there, and it does so in such straightforward, comprehensive terms.

Turn to Genesis 1. You know, sometimes I think we're so familiar with passages of Scripture that our eyes just trace right over them and we miss the import of what they teach. One eminent scientist remarked that the universe could be reduced to these elements – time, force, energy, space and matter. Now he's not entirely correct because that's an oversimplification. There's no place in his little scheme there for intelligence. So it's an oversimplification, but nevertheless, I love the fact that here in Genesis 1:1, you have all of those elements in the simple verse that introduces God's revelation. "In the beginning," time; "God," force; "created," energy; "the heavens," space; "and the earth," matter. All of those compacted into that tight little verse that contradicts every other theory of origin. What an amazing revelation of the mind of God.

What I want us to do in the time that we have remaining this evening is I want us to look briefly at the first of a number of applications I'm going give you. And I'll give the rest of them next week in terms of why this matters. Why does it matter that God created? It matters first and foremost, and folks, understand, this is the reason creationism is attacked, because as Creator, God has the right to govern His creation. Simply put, it goes this way. If God is the Creator, then God is the owner. Think about it. If you create something, it belongs to you by right. If God created, then He owns. And if He owns, then He has the right to say how that thing will behave and how it will be used, that is, He's sovereign. And if He's sovereign, then in the terms of moral agents, He is our moral governor, He's our moral lawgiver.

And folks, let me tell you. It's not the fact that God created that bothers most evolutionists. Oh, that's ultimately where they have to draw the line, but that's not the issue. The issue always comes down not to an intellectual issue, but to a moral issue. This is where they reject creation. It's not because evolution is more intellectually satisfying, you saw that in the video. It's absolutely not. It's because it grants them a moral excuse to live the way they want to live.

Let me just go through several of these passages with you. Turn with me to John chapter 1. We won't spend a lot of time here; I just want to set the stage. Obviously, we saw in Genesis 1 that God is Creator. John 1, verse 3, "All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being (speaking of Christ here) that has come into being." God is undoubtedly, in the person of His Son and through His Holy Spirit, that is the Trinity, working together, they are the Creator. He, our God, is the Creator. Hebrews chapter 1, also speaking of Christ, says that through Him, God made the world. Through Him, God made everything that is. God is the Creator.

So what does that mean? It means that He's the owner. Notice how the Psalmist makes this point, he ties the two together. Psalm 104, verse 24, "O Lord, how many are Your works…" This is a great psalm, and we'll come back to it a number of times because it rehearses the creation in some powerful images, but notice in verse 24, "O Lord, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all;" there it is, God is Creator, but watch this, "The earth is full of Your possessions." You made it, so You own it. You see the net that's being put around men here. God is the Creator and therefore, He's the owner. Well, if He's the owner, then He's also the sovereign over everything that He owns. You have a right to dispose of what you own in whatever way you choose. So does God.

Turn to Nehemiah, Nehemiah chapter 9, verse 6. As the people are confessing their sin to the Lord, crying out, the Levites, and they're named in verse 5, begin to pray, "Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed and exalted above all blessing and praise!" Verse 6, "You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them." Here's God as Creator, Sustainer. So what's the implication? The end of verse 6, "and the heavenly host bows down before You," acknowledging the sovereignty of God. If you admit that God is your Maker, your Creator, then you are admitting that He owns you in every sense. And if He owns you, then He has a right to be your Sovereign, to tell you what to do. You bow down before Him.

Notice 1 Samuel chapter 2, this same point is made. First Samuel chapter 2, verse 6, in Hannah's great song of thanksgiving for the promise for the birth of a son. Verse 6, "The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts. He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor." Why? Why does God have the right to decide who's going to be rich and who's going to be poor? Why does He have the right to decide who He's going to bring low and who He's going to exalt? That He's going to bring some people to sit with nobles and inherit a seat of honor and others not, how does God have the right to determine that? Look at the end of verse 8, "for (because) the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and He set the world on them." Hannah's saying listen, because God created, He has a right to sovereignly dispose of His creatures the way He chooses. He has a right to decide the circumstances of your life, to decide the circumstances of my life.

It gets very personal when you realize that God is Creator, that He created you. Therefore, He owns you. Therefore, He has every right to be your Sovereign and to do with you as He chooses. And that ultimately comes back to God having the right to determine what we do morally, to our everyday ethical and moral choices. And this, folks, is why the evolutionist hates creationism. It is because ultimately if God is Creator, it gets to this. And this is what he will not have. In the words of those who crucified Christ, "We will not have this man to rule over us." That's the bottom line.

Notice what Isaiah writes. Isaiah 29 and verse 15, "Woe to those," Isaiah says, "who deeply hide their plans from the Lord" (the word "plans" is literally the word "counsel," their decisions), "and whose deeds are done in a dark place." In other words, they want to plan their lives the way they want to plan them, they want to live the way they want to live, they want to do what they want to do. "And they say," verse 15, "'Who sees us?' or 'Who knows us?' You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, that what is made would say to its maker, 'He did not make me'; or what is formed say to Him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'"? What's Isaiah saying here? He's saying listen, when you decide that you're going to live your life the way you want to live it, you have misunderstood the most basic aspect of creation, and that is let's remember who's in charge. Let's remember that you are the clay and God is the Potter. God is the Creator and you are the creature. Therefore, He has a right to decide what your plans will be and what your deeds will be.

We all understand this as believers, but this is absolutely foundational to understanding why people oppose God as Creator. You cannot understand the irrational nature of their arguments, how intelligent human beings can walk outside on a star-filled night and come to the conclusion, as Carl Sagan did, that all of that just happened. How could that be? It's irrational. Yeah, it's irrational; it's back to Romans 1 where we started. Men do what with the truth? They suppress it. And they suppress it because they want to do what they want to do.

In fact, turn to Romans chapter 1. I want you to see where Paul goes with this. Romans chapter 1, you'll remember he talks about the reality of God made evident in the creation. Verse 19, "that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." How? Verse 20, here's how He revealed it, "since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature (that's what He means by His invisible attributes - God's power, His omnipotence and His deity), have been clearly seen." How? Well they're "understood through what's been made, so that every man is without excuse. For when they knew God, they didn't honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and of four-footed animals and crawling creatures." By the way, this isn't just about making an idol of these things; this is about what evolutionists do when they essentially deify creation.

But why? Why do they do this? Verse 28, "God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things that are not proper, because they are filled with all of these sins." This is the issue, this is why they're not willing to worship the true God, this is why they suppress the knowledge of the true God that's in their hearts, this is why they suppress the conscience that God has given them – because of these things that they want to do that they're filled with. Verse 32, here's where it ends, "although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but they give hearty approval to those who practice them." They want to do it, and they want others to do it with them, and they want everybody to agree that this is a wonderful thing. How dare you limit my freedom? They don't want a moral lawgiver.

Now turn back to Jeremiah 18. Jeremiah 18, verse 1. Here is the extended metaphor of the potter and the clay.

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, 'Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will announce My words to you.' So I went down to the Potter's house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that He was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?', declares the Lord. 'Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, 'Thus says the Lord. Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.' But they will say, 'It's hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.'

This is the issue. Men don't want to be the clay; they want to be the potter.

When Timothy McVeigh died just before he was electrocuted, the man involved in the Oklahoma City bombing, he quoted the words from that famous poem, "I am the captain of my fate." That's where men want to be, that's how men want to live.

But there's good news, and this is where we come in. Turn to Romans chapter 9. God has a right to do what He wants to do, and He does something absolutely remarkable. Romans chapter 9, verse 10, "there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger.'" Here, God gives illustration of His sovereignty, His ability to make decisions as the potter over the clay with Jacob and Esau. Verse 13, "Just as it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'" Remember they haven't been born, they haven't done anything good or bad, and God chooses the younger, Jacob.

What's the immediate response when you read that? What's the immediate human response? Wait a minute, that isn't fair! Well, Paul anticipates our objections, verse 14, "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there?" God isn't really unfair, is He? "May it never be! For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."

And he goes to the story of Pharaoh, and he says in verse 18,

He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (Verse 19. Wait a minute,) 'Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?' On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this', will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And he did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among the Gentiles.

What's Paul saying here? He's taking this point and he's turning it on its head. He's saying God is your Creator. Therefore, He is in the position of the potter over the clay. He's the Sovereign. We have all violated His moral law as we saw in Romans chapter 1, but God, in His amazing grace and goodness, determines, He determined in eternity past to choose us.

I don't know about you, but I'm grateful that God is the Creator. Because God is the Creator, He's the owner. Therefore, He's the Sovereign. And therefore, He can grant grace and mercy to whom He chooses for His own purpose and for His own glory. And I'm just grateful that in God's goodness, He allowed me to be a part of that, and I know you are as well. Let's pray together.

Father, we come to you as our Creator, the one who has every right to dispose of us as You choose. You are the sovereign God. You are the Potter, we are the clay. And Lord, we'll never understand why, in Your grace and mercy, You chose to make us to be vessels of mercy for Your glory.

Lord, we praise You and thank You. We honor You as the great Creator God, as well as our Redeemer. We praise You for Your grace and mercy shown to us in Christ. Lord, help us this week as we walk around, as we behold the beauty of Your creation, to be constantly reminded that You are Creator, but more than that, that the fact that You are Creator implies ownership and sovereignty. Help us to live our lives in humble service and submission to you, our Creator, Redeemer and Friend. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Systematic Theology