“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, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:22-23)?”
I’ve known many famous “evangelical” leaders, and discovered that almost all of them secretly hope, or simply believe, that God will have “mercy on all (Romans 11:32)” and yet go to great pains to avoid the topic in public. It seems we all want someone to blame and for many, “vessels of wrath” fits the bill rather nicely.
So, what is a “vessel of wrath?”
Adam is a vessel; he’s an earthen vessel.
Vessels contain stuff, or they don’t, which makes us kind of angry.
A vessel’s worth isn’t defined by what it is, but by an empty space meant to contain what it is not.
Vessels can be sealed or opened . . . even at both ends like a blood vessel.
Eight years ago, one of mine got clogged. It made my whole body angry with that one vessel, then grateful for that one vessel, once it was unclogged and once again began to bleed.
So, what is a “vessel of wrath?”
Wrath is a crazy thing in Romans and all of Scripture… especially the Revelation.
Wrath (orge) is the expression of a deep passion and, check it out: God plans his wrath.
Wrath comes to an end, and Jesus is the End, and so he cries “It is finished.”
Wrath comes in bowls; it’s blood that burns like fire, which is also wine.
It flows like a river from a slaughtered lamb standing on a throne which is a winepress which crushes “grapes of wrath,” transforming the blood of those grapes into the wine of God’s Mercy.
“Vessels of wrath” are “prepared for destruction,” and yet, “Whatever God does, endures forever.” Apparently, God predestines these vessels but doesn’t prepare these vessels, as he does prepare the vessels of Mercy “beforehand.”
So, what is a “vessel of wrath?”
For months this spring, I have endured an angry bird.
It kept flying into our kitchen window making us wonder if the bird was possessed.
Eventually we learned that in spring, when male Robins are jacked up on testosterone, they’ll sometimes see their own refection in a window and “reason” that this reflection, which they have produced by looking in the window, is a competitor, and so, attack, and attack, and attack.
“You must consider (reason: logizomai, from “logos”) yourself dead to the sin and living to God in Christ Jesus” wrote Paul in Romans 6:11.
“The sin” is taking the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil in order to make oneself in the image of God. The law is like a mirror. We take knowledge and use it to construct an image of what we think we should be, but then realize we are not, and then try even harder to become.
That image, that false self, stands before each of us as an idol we serve and an accuser we can never appease. I try to be him but can’t be him and so constantly beat myself up, and beat him up, for he’s my own projection of me. I blame myself, then blame others, and then blame God for others and myself, but that self is not actually who I Am; it’s the vessel of my own wrath in which I am imprisoned.
The bird was angry, and I was angry, and I couldn’t bring an end to all this anger.
To do that, I’d have to enter the psyche of that bird and give it a new thought, a new idea, a new word, implanted in it’s bird brain like a seed.
Well, Paul talks about vessels of wrath in Rom. 9:21-24, referencing some amazing stories about Jeremiah the Prophet, a Potter in the Potter’s field in the valley of Gehenna, and God’s amazing ability to do things with earthen vessels that no mere human can do.
Then Paul references Hosea the Prophet in Rom. 9:25-26: “In the very place (topos), it was said to them, ‘You are not my people (that would be a vessel of wrath),’ you will be called, ‘sons of the living God (that would be a vessel of Mercy).’”
Every vessel of wrath is an imprint (tupos, Rom. 5:14) created by the Eternal Vessel of Mercy, our Lord. And yet every vessel of wrath is prepared by us in space and time: “The law came in to increase the trespass (tupos)… but where sin increased (a vessel of wrath) grace abounded all the more (That’s a vessel of Mercy).” There is no vessel of wrath without an eternal and corresponding vessel of Mercy.
“In Time, we are vessels of wrath” writes Karl Barth, “In eternity… we are vessels of Mercy.”
Then Paul references Isaiah the Prophet in Rom. 9:27-29. Isaiah was told to preach Israel down to a remnant and then a stump, which is a seed—the promised, eternal, and imperishable Seed. Through the Seed God redeems all Israel and all creation. Isaiah ends with all humanity (Adam) looking down on the corpses of all humanity being consumed by eternal fire in the Potter’s Field in the Valley of Gehenna, while these vessels of Mercy, that were once imprisoned in those very vessels of wrath, worship God without ceasing for having saved them from themselves.
Many years ago, Susan and I prayed for a friend who had suffered at the hands of men and in the presence of fire. In a vision, Jesus appeared to her in the last place that she expected to see him—standing in the fire. She confessed, “I’m so angry!” (She was angry at herself for her failures, and she was angry at Jesus for letting it all happen.) Then I said, “Well, I’m angry too!” (I had just been through the worst year of my life.) Then Susan said, “Well, I’m angry too!”
Susan, and my friend, watched Jesus motion for all of us to join him in the fire. So, we held hands, “presented our bodies a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1),” and said, “Jesus baptize us with your fire.”
After a time, I asked “What do you see?” “You’re ugly,” my friend replied. “I mean we’re all ugly, charred and burnt up.” Susan said, “Peter, ask Jesus to blow on us.” I did. He did. My friend began yelling, “I’m not fragile. I’m not fragile. I’m not fragile!” Then she and Susan both described what they had seen: Jesus had blown the ashes from our skin, exposing these eternal, brilliant, and indestructible beings within.
We were eternal vessels of Mercy, hidden in, and born from, vessels of wrath, which we had prepared for destruction in time, although they had been the very imprint of eternity.
Before you know it, you will see Jesus. And I imagine that he’ll be filled with fire and shining brighter than the sun. And you’ll be tempted to run and hide in the outer darkness for you have been a vessel of wrath and you will see that all your wrath has been directed at him.
But look again and you will see that all his wrath is directed against your wrath with which you keep yourself and him imprisoned. For he has descended into your prison of unbelief and anger as a Seed of indestructible Hope. His wrath upon your wrath, is infinite Mercy. . .
All your wrath is the product of attempting to justify yourself and your world.
And his wrath upon your wrath is the revelation that you have always been justified—it’s Grace.
Never run from the Judgment of God; Step into the Fire.