“Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans.
‘But thus says the LORD: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt” (Jeremiah 24:4–5, 8).
Those God drove out, He will bring back. Those who remain, will be driven out.
The Scriptures are often paradoxical and surprising. One reason for this is that they are a revelation of God’s grace and His grace is a surprise. Problem is, most are surprised for the wrong reason. Today, fallen man isn’t so much surprised by grace as he is shocked by judgment. The Bible still catches him off guard, but he’s like the pedestrian who is stunned that there are cars driving down the highway. Twenty three chapters into Jeremiah this much should be plain, man is rebelliously ignoring the crosswalk. He’s defiantly walking into the oncoming traffic of God’s judgment. What’s surprising isn’t that man is doomed to die, but that he lives as long as he does. It is judgment that is to be expected. Every second of life in this fallen world is an incredible mercy. How much more surprising then is His saving grace?
Judgment is due. Grace is the surprise. Grace is not only the surprise, but it comes in a surprising way. God reveals what He is going to do for His people and still they jump when He does it. God is like that friend that lets you know he is going to get you, and even though you are on guard, you’re still pleasantly jolted. It is as though God loves to rub his grace in in that way. “Gotcha!”
Part of the shock, is that we, like the world, sometimes think we can predict where the rains of God’s grace will fall. “Certainly God will save that soul” we think, but there is never an indication that He does. “That person is surely doomed for hell,” and then Saul becomes Paul. We might be more conservative in our forecast than the world is. We don’t think it will rain everywhere! Still, we’re often running the wrong metrics. Our models are skewed such that we’re left standing with an umbrella in the middle of the Sahara. It should be no surprise that when we try to predict the God’s surprise of grace we’re left surprised that it didn’t play out how we thought.
Because judgment is expected and grace is a free surprise, there is no way we can predict where the rain may fall. None are owed grace. None are beyond it. We can expect rain. That is promised. We should labor and love in the hope of it. But we expect it not because of who we are or who they might be, but because of who God is, and He is not only gracious, but sovereign and free.
Do you meet the truth of surprising shower of God’s sovereign grace with humble gratitude? Or are you irately agape? To be delighted by the surprise of God’s grace, one must not only taste of it; they must drink deeply. Drinking deeply means recognizing that in this sovereign surprise, God remains above us and not below us; that is to say, He remains righteous and not unjust. This is not the kind of surprise where we come off looking like the innocent victim of God’s prank. In this surprise, God remains faithful to his covenant, not unreliable. He is immutable, not erratic. God does nothing out of character, and yet, we are surprised. The surprise is not that God judges many, but that he has mercy on any. R.C. Sproul deals with this masterfully,
“The saved get mercy and the unsaved get justice. Nobody gets injustice.
Mercy is not justice. But neither is it injustice. …
There is justice and there is nonjustice. Nonjustice includes everything outside of the category of justice. In the category of nonjustice we find two subconcepts, injustice and mercy. Mercy is a good form of nonjustice while injustice is a bad form of nonjustice. In the plan of salvation God does nothing bad. He never commits an injustice. Some people get justice, which is what they deserve, while other people get mercy. Again, the fact that one gets mercy does not demand that the others get it as well. God reserves the right of executive clemency.
As a human being I might prefer that God give His mercy to everyone equally, but I may not demand it. If God is not pleased to dispense His saving mercy to all men, then I must submit to His holy and righteous decision. God is never, never, never obligated to be merciful to sinners. That is the point we must stress if we are to grasp the full measure of God’s grace.
The real question is why God is inclined to be merciful to anyone?”*
Why? There are mysteries here we cannot probe, but this much God has made clear, the showers of grace fall where they do, so that our only boast is Christ.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31).
*R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God (Tyndale, 1986) p. 27