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Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—Predestination

Notes & Transcripts

In Isaiah 45:11, God decrees His superintendency over all of history: “ ... What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” (Isaiah 46:11, NIV84). God will do all that he has planned by providentially bringing his decrees to pass! This is known as the Doctrine of Predestination. As you know, that’s a loaded word! Throughout the history of the Christian church, few doctrines have been so hotly debated as the doctrine of predestination. Yet, when we come to a passage like this, we are forced to deal with the doctrine.

Last week, we looked at an introduction to the topic and I gave you a working definition of the word. Predestination means that God freely chooses some people to be the special objects of his grace and thus to receive eternal salvation, and then He providentially guides real-time world events to bring about that choice.

Predestination simply means that God has a plan, and that God works His plan to bring it to fulfillment.

    • Some, of course, deny that God has a plan for this world.
    • Others believe that God has a general plan, but that it is not specific.
    • Some, like myself, believe that God has a plan which embraces all event in all ages.

It is unthinkable that a God of infinite wisdom and power would create a world without a definite plan for that world. And because God is infinite his plan must extend to every detail of the world’s existence. If we could somehow see the world in all its relations, past, present, and future, we would see that it is following a predetermined course with exact precision.

As creatures created in the image of God we see the doctrine of predestination operative in our own lives. Before we take a trip or undertake a course of action all of us set our goals and then work to obtain those goals in so far as we are able. Before an architect begins his edifice, he makes his drawings and forms his plans, even to the minutest details of construction. In the architect’s brain the building stands complete in all of its parts before a stone is laid. The larger your enterprise is, the more important it is that we have a plan; otherwise all our work ends in failure. If this is true of men, who were mere mortals, how much more is it true of the Creator of the universe?

Unlike ourselves, God has no limitations in his planing or His ability to carry out His plans. He is all-wise in His planning and all-powerful in His performing.

It is a doctrine that reminds us that God is sovereign in His choices. The Bible clearly reveals that the Lord announces future events, and then through the centuries, guides the movement of history to the fulfillment of what He has decreed. “ ... What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” (Isaiah 46:11, NIV84).

I. THE DOCTRINE: ILLUSTRATIONS OF GOD’S PROVIDENTIAL HAND IN HISTORY

            1. in the infinite wisdom of the Lord, each world event falls with exact precision into its proper place in the unfolding of God’s eternal plan
                1. nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering or permission or without its peculiar fitness for its place in the working out of His purposes
                2. and the end result of God doing what He has planned is for the manifestation of His glory, and accumulation of His praise
            2. let’s consider some examples of God’s prophecy fulfilled through providence
              • ILLUS. After man’s Fall in the Garden, God intervenes and declares that the ‘seed of the woman’ shall bruise Satan’s head. Generations come and go. A flood ensues and a single family survives. The sons of Noah repopulate the Earth. In time, God calls a man named Abram and sets him upon a journey to a land that the Lord promises to give him. Abraham’s descendants will become as numerous as the stars in the sky. Then, just when it seems that God has reneged on His promise, Isaac is born, and from Isaac’s loins comes Jacob who becomes Israel and through his progeny a nation emerges. Hundreds of years go by and God decrees His plan to provide an Anointed One through the line of King David. A thousand years go by; prophets proclaim, the fortunes of the nation waxes and wanes. Then one night an angel appears to a young Jewish maiden named Mary. She miraculously conceives a son and when he is delivered names him Jesus. Thirty-three years later he dies on a cross, and fulfills the prophecy that God made to Adam and Eve 5,000 years earlier. He crushes Satan’s head.
              • ILLUS. We also see God’s hand plainly in the preparation of the civilized world for the proclamation of the Gospel. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, a man named Alexander conquered the Mediterranean world and taught the whole world the Greek language and Greek culture. After the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples began writing gospels and letters to local churches that eventually became the Scriptures of the Church. They were all written in Greek which means everyone could read them. To the west of Alexander’s empire a nascent league of tribes clustered along the Tiber River in central Italy began to expand. By they time of Jesus’ birth, Rome ruled the Alexander’s old empire and a whole lot more. And everywhere Roman armies went they built highways and established the rule of law. On those highways Christian missionaries went to every corner of the empire preaching the Gospel and establishing churches.
            3. only the most skeptical of unbelievers can look at world history and not see the evidences of God’s sovereign purposes around us
              • “ ... What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” (Isaiah 46:11, NIV84)
            4. the very essence of biblical theism is that ...
              • God would have an exact plan for the world ... that
              • He would foreknow the actions of all the creatures He proposed to create ... and through
              • His all-inclusive providence would control the whole system
                1. I will tell you that some Christians really struggle with this
                2. if God is not in control of all things, then God is not sovereign
                    1. you’ll never hear God say, “Wow. I didn’t see THAT coming!”
            5. if God foreordained only certain events—the ‘big stuff’—God would constantly be having to develop new plans of action to counteract the unexpected actions of His creatures
            6. even the sinful acts of men are included in this plan
                1. they are foreseen, permitted and have their exact place in His providential plan
                  • ILLUS. All of us would agree that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus was the worst crime of human history. God the Son was despised and rejected of men. Yet, we are told that this event was a necessary part of God’s plan.
                  • “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you,with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23, NIV84)
                  • “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’ Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:26–28, NIV84)
                2. the crucifixion of Jesus was not ‘Plan B’ that God implemented after the Fall of man in the Garden
                    1. God’s decrees and plans are not successively formed as the emergency arises, but are all part of one all-comprehending plan
                    2. your salvation was part of that plan!

II. THE DOCTRINE: SOME ASSUMPTIONS - Romans 9:18-28

            1. it is tempting to focus on the controversial aspects of the doctrine of predestination and to forget the human reality behind the words
            2. it helps to remember that in Romans Paul is grappling with the difficult problem of Jewish unbelief
                1. why have so many Jews rejected Christ if he is indeed the Jewish Messiah?
                    1. this was no abstract theological issue to the Apostle Paul
                    2. his heart was broken by the reality that so many of his friends and loved one were going to hell
            3. I'm convinced that Paul wept when he wrote Romans 9
                    1. these words come not from some theoretical discussion in a seminary classroom; they come streaming from a broken heart
            4. let's plunge into this text and discover together God's answers concerning the difficult question of predestination

A. ASSUMPTION # 1: God has the right to do as he wills

    • “One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (vv. 19-21).
            1. These verses sound harsh to modern ears tuned to talk of personal freedom
                1. we live in a "Do your own thing" era in which the highest human value is to seek your own happiness
                2. the heroes of our culture are those who did it my way
                    1. those men and women who have put personal success and happiness above every other consideration in life
                      • ILLUS. If you don't believe that, when was the last time you heard someone say they were getting a divorce because they weren't “happy in their marriage”? You hear it all the time.
                3. personal happiness is our national excuse for doing whatever feels good to us at the moment
            2. against all such me-centered thinking stands Paul's unanswered question, "But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?"
                1. there is no answer because the question answers itself: No one can talk back to God
                    1. Job tried and received the first recorded smack-down in the bible
                      • ““Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4–7, NIV84)
                    2. Job never talked back to God again
                2. the illustration from the world of pottery-making is clear enough
                  • ILLUS. The potter sits at his wheel watching the lump of clay as it spins in front of him. With one tiny touch, he creates an indentation; with another slight touch he produces an intricate swirl. By the barest changing of pressure, the potter radically alters the shape of the clay. What emerges may be an object of dazzling beauty, such as a decorative vase. Or it may be a rather ordinary, unremarkable coffee cup. Both come from the same clay. One is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars; the other is worth 25 cents. What made the difference? The potter's hands.
            3. don't overlook the main point
                1. the coffee cup can't say to the potter, "I wanted to be a decorative vase prominently displayed in the entryway, not some nondescript cup in a cupboard!"
                    1. it doesn't work like that
                2. from one lump the potter has the right to shape the clay any way he likes
            4. the same is true for us. We're not all the same
                1. God makes each one of us unique from everyone else in the world
                    1. some have more intelligence, others less
                    2. some are born into one race, others into another
                    3. some are tall, others short
                    4. some have musical skill; others can repair diesel engines
                    5. some love to fly kites, others prefer to knit sweaters
                    6. some will become leaders, others will live mostly in the shadows
                2. that's the way life is
                    1. and that's not just the result of sin in the world
                    2. you're different because God made you that way
                3. no one can talk back to God and say, "You blew it."
                    1. #1, He didn't blow it
                    2. #2, even if you think he did, he's not taking any complaints from you or me
            5. God has the right to do whatever he wants to us and in us and through us and with us.

B. ASSUMPTION #2: God delays his punishment to some in order to show his mercy to others

    • “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory?” (vv. 22-23).
            1. these verses teach us that although God is always just, he doesn't always treat everyone in precisely the same way
                1. that almost sounds un-American because we are used to hearing that all men are created equal
                2. that's true in one sense and not true in another
            2. it's true that we are all created in God's image which gives us dignity and worth
                1. we're "equal" in that we are all significant to God
            3. but these verses specify two different groups within the human race.
                1. one group is called the "objects of wrath"
                    1. they are said to be "prepared for destruction"
                2. the other is called the "objects of his mercy"
                    1. they are "prepared in advance for glory"
                      • ILLUS. W.H. Griffith-Thomas has a helpful word at this point: “The contrast here between "vessels of wrath" and "vessels of mercy" should be closely examined. The "vessels of wrath" are described generally as "fitted to destruction," that is, fitted by themselves, through their own sin. On the other hand, the "vessels of mercy" are described very significantly as those which "He had afore prepared," that is, God through His grace and mercy prepared them. Men fit themselves for hell; but it is God that fits men for heaven." (Romans, p. 148)
                3. because of the Fall all men are lost and are pre-destined to hell—God has to do nothing to them
                    1. their sinfulness and lostness fit them to hell
                    2. the Apostle Paul reminds the believers at Corinth that some were such of you
                4. but in order to become vessels of mercy God has to do something in us–God has to actively work to make us a new creation
                    1. the Apostle Paul says that He quickens us
            4. I’ll be honest, there is a great mystery here
                1. however, these verses make it abundantly clear that not everyone is going to heaven
                2. some people are simply "fitted" for destruction
                    1. they live in such a way that their only possible destination is hell
                      • ILLUS. It's easy to think of examples: Hitler comes to mind. Or we might think of someone like Saddam Hussein.
            5. but Paul's thought isn't limited to those we consider gross sinners
                1. it really includes all of us
                    1. left to myself, I deserve to go to hell
                    2. left to yourself, you deserve hell
                    3. no one deserves heaven
                    4. if you go there, you go as a gift because someone else paid the price of admission for you
                      • ILLUS. Charles Spurgeon applied this great truth to himself: “I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that doctrine.”
            6. Paul's point is that if God were just and not merciful, we'd all go to hell together
                1. but since God is just and merciful, he delays his judgment on sinners in order to show mercy on those he is calling to salvation
                2. He gives everyone more time to be saved

C. ASSUMPTION # 3: God determined to show mercy to both Jews and Gentiles

    • “even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ” Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.” It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”” (Romans 9:24–29, NIV84)
            1. many people think that predestination means that only a few people will be saved
                1. nothing could be further from the truth
                2. God has determined to open the doors of heaven to sinners from the whole wide world
            2. any sinner who believes in Jesus can be saved
              • “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9–10, NIV84)
              • “for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”” (Romans 10:13, NIV84)
            3. in Paul's day that meant that salvation was not just for the Jews, it was also for the Gentiles
              • ILLUS. Today there are approximately 13 million Jews in the world out of a total population of 6.5 billion people. Who are the Gentiles? That's everyone who isn't Jewish, which is roughly 99.999% of the world.
                1. if God had said, "I'm only going to save the Jews," he would still be fair because no one deserves to be saved
                    1. we couldn't complain if salvation were limited to a small group if that's what God had decided to do
                    2. remember, no one can talk back to God
                2. but he didn't do that—these verses teach us that God opened the door of salvation to sinners from every nation, tribe, peoples, and tongue
                3. the Prophet Hosea prophesied of a day when God would say to those who were not his people (that is, the Gentiles), "You are now my people"
            4. will there be any Jewish people in heaven?
                1. absolutely
                2. but not every Jewish person goes to heaven
                    1. the Apostle Paul also quotes Isaiah who speaks of a "remnant” who will be saved
                3. Jews enter the Kingdom of God the same way that Gentile do—by committing their lives to God’s Anointed One
            5. don't miss the greater point—God is so determined to populate heaven that he has invited the whole world to join him there
                1. sinners who come to Christ will go to heaven

Next week will look at some conclusions to the Doctrine of Predestination--what is the practical meaning to the believer?

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