Selected highlights from this sermon.
God uses ordinary people to glorify Himself. We are just “jars of clay,” but we contain the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. God puts us wherever He needs us to share that light with others, and we have to be open to what God wants to do through us.
With the world that’s walking in darkness, we need to grasp the glory of God, His plan for redemption, and the Gospel which can lead people out of the darkness into the light that saves.
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Someone sent me a picture. It was a group picture and before I looked at anyone else in the picture I found myself. I wanted to see how I looked, and after I looked and saw myself then I began to look at how everybody else looked. We’re all that way. We want to always see ourselves in the picture and we want to see ourselves in the picture first.
Well today I want to promise you that we will see ourselves in the picture, but it’s going to be a little further down the line. Today we are going to begin in heaven and end on earth. We’re going to look at God’s picture and then we’ll find out where we fit within the picture. I have to warn you in advance that today we are going to jump into the deep end of the swimming pool, or to change the figure of speech, I have no doubt that I am going to stir up a lot of rabbits that I am unable to shoot, and I hope that you follow with me through this. Even if you are here as a young person–as a teenager–I want you to get this, because if you get this message you’re going to understand a lot about God, a lot about yourself, and a lot about redemption. It’s critical that we get it.
Let me begin today with a question: Do you believe that God enjoys being God? Does he just take delight in the fact that He is God? And the answer of course is yes. Of course He enjoys being God. Imagine this. Psalm 135:6 says, “But our God is in the heavens. He has done whatsoever he has pleased.” How do you like that? Strength is not an obstacle because He is omnipotent and can do whatever He likes. Knowledge is not an obstacle because He knows all things, both actual and possible. Wisdom is not an obstacle because He knows how all the events of the world hang together, and He understands the eventual outcome. He understands cause and effect within His universe, and so He can do whatever He likes because there is no rival and He is God.
Now there are some things that God can’t do. For example, He can’t decide to no longer be God. God cannot lie, the Bible says, and so God is limited by His nature. He has some limitations. He cannot do that which is contrary to who He is and, by the way, He didn’t choose the attributes that He has. He has these attributes and so it is not up to us to try to craft a God that is more to our liking. God is God and beside Him there is none other.
But I have another question and that is, what motivated God? What was His big idea in creating, for example? And if you should ask the question what God was doing before He created the worlds, the great theologian, John Calvin says that He was preparing a hell for people who ask such questions. (laughter) The fact is we have no idea what God was doing before He created the worlds. But why did He create anyway? What’s the big idea? Well, you look at the Bible and from start to finish there was a grand idea and there is a grand idea, and the whole idea has to do with the glory of God. There are so many passages of Scripture that teach that, that I will not even begin to list them. For example, just to choose one, in the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, God says, “Call them from the north. Call them from the south. Call them everywhere, my people who I created for my glory.” If you need a New Testament reference it could be as simple as Colossians 1:16: “For by him were all things created both which are in heaven and which are on earth whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created by him and for him.” It says in the book of Revelation that “for his pleasure they are and they were created by his will.” The book of Ephesians repeatedly says that we should live to the praise of His glory, the praise of His glory, the praise of His glory. Nothing else matters except the glory of God.
Why did God raise up none other than Pharaoh? It says in the book of Exodus, “I have raised thee up (and then of course God judged Pharaoh) that I might declare my glory and that my name might be known throughout all the earth.” And we look at that and we see that God wants fame, God wants glory, and nothing else matters except Him and His glory.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer (because you are thinking to yourself, and I want you to think with me during this message as well as all the messages I preach), “that sounds very egotistical to me.” I mean, could you ladies imagine marrying a man who believed that the end of all things was his glory, his fame, his knowledge, and that everything existed for him? Could you even imagine that? Some of you ladies say, “Yes, I can.” (laughter)
You know that old story, don’t you, about the woman on the plane. She was a Christian woman who gave lectures on various topics in churches, and the woman next to her said to her, “What do you do?” and this woman didn’t know exactly how to answer so she said, “I work for God,” and her seat companion said, “Yeah, I know. I had a boss like that too.” (laughter)
Is God egotistical? Well you know the writings of John Piper have helped us here to understand that it is very different for God than it is for you and for me. Very different!
Now we have to think. The Bible makes us think, so we’re going to be thinking about this and realize, first of all, that if God didn’t honor Himself above all else, He’d be an idolater. I mean, could you imagine God honoring something that wasn’t the highest being in the world to honor? Or to change it just a little bit, if God loved something more than He loved himself He would be indeed an idolater because if the value of a person is somehow determined, if the state of one’s soul is determined by what one values and loves (for example a man who loves wickedness, that says a lot about him; a man who loves righteousness, that says a lot about him.), if God loves that which is most supreme, of course He must love himself. After all, the first commandment applies to God too. Thou shall have no other gods beside me. So God is God and we aren’t. What a wonderful revelation to learn at this time in our lives.
Now the point is simply this: Is God a happy God? Does God delight in what He is doing? Of course, the answer is yes because we couldn’t rejoice in the Lord if God were sad. The Bible continues to say that we should rejoice in God.
Now I’ve said this before years ago. Some of you will remember it and you’ll get the implication when I say, “How could we be happy in God if God were moody?” You know, we wouldn’t know exactly what He was thinking from time to time and what mood He was in on a particular day. I think that blew past some of you, but the point is that God is happy with who he is.
Now, let us take a moment and let us see four ways in which God is glorified.
First of all, God is glorified in what He planned. Now think about this. Here is God. All of His needs are met because of the Trinity. There is love that exists within the Trinity. There is relationship that exists. But God as an overflow of His glory decides to create the world. Now if all that God did was create the world, if it were nothing but a perfect world that He created, we, as human beings that He would create, might admire His great power. We may say, “My, God is a very powerful God,” but having said that we wouldn’t know anything about His mercy, His justice, and maybe not even His love. So God created in order that He might be able to redeem because redemption becomes the centrifugal force. It is the center of how God is going to get glory.
I told you that we were in the deep end of the swimming pool but let me remind you of just a few verses of Scripture. Ephesians 1:6 says, “God chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” We were in God’s mind as long as God existed. Second Timothy 1:9 teaches the same thing-the mercy of God and the grace of God and the salvation of God given to us from all of eternity. Wow! And then there’s that surprising verse in Revelation 13 speaking of the Beast. It says, “All that dwell upon the earth shall worship him except those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life from before the foundation of the world.” Do you realize that redemption is the heart of who God is? It wasn’t an afterthought. The world was created for Calvary.
Now you say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, what about those who aren’t chosen?” Well, the good answer is that the Bible does give an invitation to everyone. It does say, “Whosoever will.” Listen to me carefully. If you are worried about whether or not you are chosen, it’s amazing just to think that you can find out, and you can find out by receiving Jesus Christ as your savior, and proving that you are. There’s no such thing as somebody who would like to believe but can’t because he isn’t chosen. The fact that you desire belief shows the powerful work of God in your hearts, and I invite you as sinners, whether you are listening on the internet or by radio or other means, to receive Christ as your savior even while I am speaking. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. God gets glory because of what He planned in ages past using all of His knowledge, using all of His wisdom, and He planned redemption that we might not only see His power but His mercy and His love.
So God first of all gets glory by what He planned. Secondly, God gets glory by what He did, and here we’re thinking specifically of what Jesus Christ did when He died on the cross. Here was the dilemma. On the one hand you have God whose glory is unmistakable and great. His glory is beyond our ability to conceive it. Trajan, the emperor, said to a Christian, “You say your God exists everywhere. Let me see Him.” And the Christian wisely said, “Before you can see Him you have to look upon all of His creation,” and Trajan said, “All right, I will,” and the Christian said, “I want you to stare at the sun.” And the emperor knew that he couldn’t do that, and then the Christian said, “If you cannot even stare at all of God’s creation–the sun–how will you expect to stare upon the Creator if you cannot even look upon one of His creation?” The glory of God is magnificent and beyond all that we can ever comprehend.
Now here’s the dilemma. On the one hand God has glory. On the other hand, His mercy wants to save sinners, so the question is, how is that going to be done? Remember what sin is. All of us, the Bible says, have sinned and we come short of the glory of God. That’s the problem. Sin is opposed to the glory of God, so God instituted a plan. God said on the one hand, “I want to redeem.” Mercy wants to redeem but it cannot redeem until justice and glory are satisfied. Jesus came to relieve that tension between two of God’s attributes. On the one hand Jesus would indeed meet all of God’s requirements for justice and for glory. He would take the penalty so that God can set aside sin, and even though we come short of the glory of God, we can experience that glory and will do so forever (which is another story), and God can show mercy to sinners. Even great sinners God can redeem. And so the Lord, through Jesus Christ, shows us what can happen because of God’s redemption. It was God’s finest moment.
You say, “Well, did God take delight in the death of His Son?” The answer is yes. Isaiah 53 says, “It pleased the Lord to bruise him.” Ephesians 5:1 says, “The death of Jesus Christ was a sweet aroma to God.” You say, “Well how can God delight in evil?” Another excellent question! Thank you so much for thinking it and for asking it. I can actually just read your minds here. How can God delight in evil?
The fact is that God does not delight in evil for evil’s sake. He does not delight in the death of the wicked. He does not take delight in the little boy who was killed here in Chicago–the two-year-old who was abused to the point of death that I heard about on the news yesterday. God takes no delight in that. God understands that and He is hot in His anger against all sin and evil, but if you can think about it, when God sees the ultimate purposes to which everything flows, when He sees eternity and not just time, God is delighted with what is happening in His world. We don’t understand that–exactly what sense God can look at the big picture and take delight in it. Certainly one delight to God was that this little boy would arrive in heaven where he will be taken care of in a wonderful family that will accept him and show him love. And then of course there is the justice that will be due the perpetrator, and so God does not delight in evil as such, but when God looked at the death of Jesus, though He did not delight in the evil that was done by wicked men, He saw the big picture, and that’s what gave Him the delight.
It’s an inadequate example to be sure, but maybe it’s a little bit like taking delight in surgery. It is painful. It hurts. You don’t want to have it happen, but you choose to have it because you know that some good will come as a result of it, and so there is God doing what God needs to do. And the world was created so that redemption might explain and highlight the glory of God. The book of Ephesians is very clear about this. God says that He chose the Church that throughout all ages the Church might show the wisdom of God, and, we might add, the glory of God. That’s what it is all coming to.
Well, God is glorified by what He planned. He’s glorified by what He did in Christ. He’s also glorified by what He now does. I told you that we would eventually come into the picture, and for this I do want you to turn to 2 Corinthians 4. I wish I could take more time to paint the context but I’m going to simply begin in verse 3 of 2 Corinthians 4: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ, as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Now notice this breathtaking passage: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
This is now the application of what Jesus did on the cross. The God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” (follow carefully) the God who created (and here you have darkness over the face of the deep, it says in Genesis 1) said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. That God is the same God who redeems, who shines the light of the glory of Christ into people’s souls because if He doesn’t speak, there would be no resolution to the darkness of creation. If He doesn’t speak, there’s no resolution to the darkness within the human heart. The Bible here speaks of darkness within the heart that needs to be dissipated, and only God can do it. Think for a moment of what it’s like to walk in darkness. First of all, it affects your values. When you pick up a stone, you don’t know in darkness whether it’s a stone or if it might be a piece of gold, or maybe it’s some coal with diamonds. You can’t tell the difference when you are walking in darkness. And some of you know what that’s like. You keep stumbling over the same thing because it not only affects your values; it affects where you were going because you have no idea as to where you are going.
Was it not Alice in Wonderland who told us that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there? And so your whole life is bound up with this problem of what the meaning of life is all about.
Darkness also means a selective memory. How do I know that? Look at what the text says. It says, “In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not.” Wow! Jesus told a parable in which He said, “A sower went forth to sow,” and He talked about the different kind of soils and then He said, “The wicked one comes and snatches the word from their minds.” Can you imagine that so that they can’t even remember what they heard? They can’t remember what the sermon was about. The other day somebody told me about someone (I’m not sure if it’s here at Moody Church but it could be.) who the minute the sermon begins, he falls asleep. Now, I can understand that if I am the one that is preaching. What I don’t understand is he evidently even does this when Bill Bertsche is preaching. (laughter) And the situation in the human heart without the light of the Gospel is worse than I have portrayed it, because not only are they blind and dead and deaf but they think that they are alive, that they can see, that they know where they are going and that they have the right tags on the different values, and they are deceived. And it’s that deception that keeps them bound, and Satan is there to blind the minds of those who believe not.
I still remember explaining the Gospel to one of our neighbors. I’ve always thought that God opens doors and if you walk through those doors you find an opportunity to explain the Gospel, but I was explaining how that it can’t be by works because all human works are tainted. It has to be of God, so if he believed in Jesus Christ and acknowledged his sinfulness, God would give him salvation as a free gift. I prided myself on the clarity of what I thought anybody should be able to grasp. I finished the talk and what does he say? “Yeah, I agree with you. I’ve always thought that if you do the best you can, you’re okay.” (laughter) You know people like that. They just don’t get it. Does anybody know anybody who just doesn’t get it? What does the text say? Satan blinds the minds of those who believe not lest the light of the glorious Gospel… but the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ He shines in human hearts through the preaching of the Gospel. And I am praying that God is doing that right now while I am speaking so that you who are in darkness might realize it and you might receive the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, which is what Paul is talking about. It is God’s glory in Jesus.
You see, people like that have a wrong opinion of Jesus. They don’t think of Jesus like you and I do. They don’t see Him as glorious. They see Him as a good teacher. They see Him as a prophet. They see Him maybe even as a savior, but they’re not desperate for Him, and it is the light of the Gospel that makes them change their minds about Jesus, and they suddenly see Him in His glory. They suddenly love Him because the light of the Gospel has come to them. God has spoken and said, “Let there be light,” and the bulbs go on and they say, “Oh yeah, now I get it and I believe in Jesus.”
Isn’t this what Charles Wesley was referring to in that wonderful song that we love to sing–And Can It Be That I should Gain an Interest In My Savior’s Blood? It seems to me that the third stanza goes this way. Let’s see if I’m able to quote it.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray.
I woke, the dungeon filled with light.
My chains fell off. My heart was free.
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
That is conversion. That is the Gospel. (applause)
Now we come to perhaps one of the most surprising and interesting aspects of what I have just been talking about. God is glorified in what He planned, by what He did, by what He does today when people believe–mainly to cause the light of the Gospel to come into their hearts, and now the surprise is that God is glorified by whom He uses because it is his intention, as He said to the Apostle Paul, “I have converted you that you might open the minds and the eyes of the Gentiles.”
Can you and I open anybody’s eyes? Of course not, but we are co-workers together with God. We are in God’s vineyard, and now are you ready for this? Notice what the text says. Verse 7: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” And then Paul goes on to show his humanness. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.” What he’s saying is that the treasure that we have is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and the good news of the Gospel that we can enter into God’s glory because of what Jesus did. That is the treasure. And where does God put it? It makes us smile. Where does God put it? We would probably want to read this text, “Now this treasure is in the silver chalice,” or “this treasure is in a pot of gold,” so that there would be some reason to think that the wonderful, beautiful treasure has some place to be that is worthy of it. And Paul says we have this treasure in jars of clay–common peanut butter jars. And that’s what God delights to do.
God says, “What I am going to do is I am going to use imperfect people, just common jars of clay (and by the way, you may be here today and you may be intelligent, you may be beautiful, you may be well-educated, and you may be wealthy, but you know what the news is: You’re just a jar of clay. That’s all that we can say about you today, but if you are a believer, you house the depository of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ because God shone the light into your soul and gave you the ability thereby to believe and to see the glory of Jesus, so you are very, very special. And in a future message I may comment on what Jesus said, that someday when you die (John 17) “that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me for thou lovest me from before the foundation of the world.” We’ll spend all of eternity enjoying, loving, and rejoicing in the glory of God.
What are the implications? There are two. First of all, human weakness is not a barrier to the power of God. Today I am speaking to you and if you were honest and told me, “I just see myself as maybe an average Christian, or maybe a below-average Christian,” I would say, “Great. You look like a pot of clay to me, and we can all rejoice in the fact that God loves to use ordinary people–just very ordinary people.”
I don’t know if I should tell this story, but one day I was at a conference and people were bringing some books that they wanted me to personalize, and my daughter said, “Dad, why are people wanting to have you to write your signature in a book or a Bible because, Dad, you are so ordinary?” (laughter) I am very, very ordinary. If you want to check how ordinary I am, check with my wife and check with my kids. They know that I am very ordinary, and you are too.
Do you realize how freeing this is? Last night, in fact, I listened to a CD by somebody who is a great preacher. I mean, he was able to string the words together. He was able to make the people laugh and almost make them cry, and I shut it off and I thought, “You know, I can never preach like that,” but do you know what? I don’t have to. God says that the treasure is in the earthen vessel, and what God wants to do in this passage is to contrast the fact that here you have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in people that are so common. Clay pots were everywhere during the time that this was written, and Paul says, “That’s all that you are, but that’s all you have to be.”
And you know, God places you in banks, in hospitals and factories, and in neighborhoods, and in a hundred different places for you to be able to share the light of the Gospel, and you know there are some people who don’t know how to witness and who are intimidated. Give them a book to read, or better yet, buy them an expensive book in some area in which they have interest. Build a relationship with people. Be winsome. We’re not shoving the Gospel down anyone’s throat but we are simply saying, “God, today I am open for someone whom You bring to me to share the glorious light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” And you don’t have to close the deal. You know, someone may think, “Well, I witnessed but he just didn’t get it and so that was a failure.” No, no, no–most people who believe have at least five, six, maybe ten exposures to the Gospel before it begins to click and the light begins to dawn.
Winnipeg, Manitoba: I am a college student years ago (before the prairies were settled), and I am working in a mission, just like some of you students. You have your PCM assignments. I’m assigned to the mission in Winnipeg. I go there and we have a service, and we’re shutting it up now. The auditorium area–I’m surprised the door was even left open because everybody had left. People were cleaning up in the kitchen. I still remember it with clarity. A guy comes down the aisle. He wanders in and he says, “Would somebody here please lead me to Jesus Christ? I want to accept Jesus as my Savior.” And I’m thinking, “This is too good to be true. (laughter) What has he been doing before he came in here?” So I asked him a couple of questions and he said, “You know, I was hitchhiking and a trucker all the way from wherever to Winnipeg witnessed to me. He told me about Jesus.” He said, “I rejected it but he told me that someday when I was desperate I was to go to the Mission and somebody there would be able to lead me to Jesus.” Talk about ripe fruit falling off the tree.
You know, I have often thought of that trucker. I have no idea who in the world he was, of course. He probably thought to himself, “You know all this witnessing–
I’m telling this guy about the Gospel and it’s going right over his head. He’s not getting it. He glazes over. He finds Jesus boring and irrelevant.” That’s probably what the truck driver thought, but God, through the Word, planted a seed in that young man’s heart, and he remembered the words of the trucker: “Go to the mission and somebody there will lead you to Jesus,” and I had the privilege of leading that man to Jesus.
You don’t have to close the deal all the time. We just need to be open to what God wants to do through us, so human weakness is not a barrier. If you feel weak today, join the club. We all do. Do you realize how freeing this is? You know, if God wanted to make your vessel a lot more beautiful you know He could have done that? He just loves you looking the way you are. Now we can clean it up a little bit and we can make it look a little better–add a little bit of paint–do a little bit of this and that, but you know, at the end of the day who are we trying to kid? We are earthen vessels that house the knowledge of the glory of God. Wow!
There’s a final lesson and that is the need for us to see that the glory of God is that for which we should live. John Piper has pointed out many times in his writings, and we all appreciate what he has to say, that God is most glorified when we find our happiness in God. That’s what really glorifies Him because when we begin to find our happiness in God all of the other things that become so important to us begin to drop off. We can then live with hardship. We can live with bad news. We can live even with injustice.
I’m thinking of Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s premier theologians, who was voted out of his church. It’s an interesting story that I don’t have time to tell you, but there he was voted out of his church by people who rose up against him over some false things, and some people were angry, and they made other people angry, but his biographer said of him that Edwards’ happiness in God was beyond the reach of his enemies. His happiness in God was beyond the reach of his enemies. No one understood the glory of God better than Jonathan Edwards. In fact, he wrote a book about it.
There is a place of quiet rest near to the heart of God. There is a place of forgiveness. There’s a place of hope. There is a place of confidence as we pursue God with all of our hearts, and all that we say is, “Lord, you know who we are. We’re not trying to kid You. We have issues that we don’t seem to be able to deal with, but all that we care about is to make You look good, and for You to be the centerpiece of our lives because we have a treasure in earthen vessels.” And God uses our proclamation to send the light into people’s souls to overcome the darkness, to overcome the power of Satan, so that they also may see the light of the Gospel and be saved. God is glorified by the vessels that He chooses for us to be and to house His glory.
What about you, as I conclude? Have you trusted Christ as Savior? Has the light dawned? Maybe while I was preaching the light dawned and you say, “I saw Jesus as a wonderful teacher, as a wonderful example, but now I see Him as glorious, dying on the cross for sinners so that we could meet the requirements of the glory of God even though we’ve all missed the glory of God, and God is honored through His mercy as I respond to Him.” Whatever God is saying to you, do it. Let’s pray.
Father, may we never lose sight of the wonder. May we never lose sight of the glory. Thank you, Lord for our ordinariness. Thank you, Father, that the light has shone into our hearts and we pray that it may shine right now into the hearts of many who know right well that this message was for them. We love You and we thank You, and in You alone we have our strength and our hope. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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