By Charles Price
Jeremiah 18: 1-6
If you have got a Bible with you I am going to read from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah Chapter 18 - one of the Old Testament prophets.
Now Jeremiah Chapter 18; I am going to read to you in a moment the first six verses. Before I read them, let me set the context for this because, for a number of weeks, we have been talking about living in the will of God.
And before we look at some of the issues of personal guidance, which are probably important to many of us, we are looking at some of the big picture issues of how God works out His will in our world.
Last week we talked about a dilemma Scripture presents us with. In 1 John Chapter 5, John wrote there that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
Jesus three times called Satan the prince of this world. Paul called him the god of this age. He also called him the ruler of the kingdom of the air.
And these, you will agree, are lofty descriptions. And we see the fingerprints of Satan all over the place. We see the evidence of these statements all over the place. Yet at the same time we looked at Job's confidence when at the end of the book of Job, having been subject to explicit satanic attack, he wrote this - he said to God,
"I know you can do all things and no purpose of yours can be thwarted."
And we tried to draw a distinction between processes and purpose. There are many processes of our experience of life that have the fingerprints of Satan on them and his activity. We live in a fallen world. We are ourselves fallen. We are ourselves corrupted. And yet in the midst of those processes, which involve evil, there is a purpose that Job says of God, "No purpose of Yours can be thwarted. You are working out a purpose in all of this." And we talked a bit about that last week.
And the reason why I remind you of that because I want to build on that this morning a little bit. In talking about the sovereignty of God in situations that are wrong or situations that have gone wrong or situations that are self-imposed as wrong things, and I want to do so by reading this story in Jeremiah Chapter 18.
Reading from Verse 1:
"This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 'Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message.'
"So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
"Then the word of the LORD came to me: 'O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?' declares the LORD. 'Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.'"
That is as far as I am going to read but don't close your Bible; we are going to pick up later parts from this passage as well.
I knew a man extremely well who believed that when he was a young man as a student at an agricultural college he had disobeyed God in such a way that he believed he had destroyed what had been God's purpose for his life.
I don't know the details of what had actually happened, but I do know he lived with a sense of being second best and living, not the plan that God had for him, but an inferior plan.
He continued to love God. He continued to read his Bible every day. He prayed every day. I don't know anyone who was more diligent in his daily devotions with God, both morning and evening, as he was.
I knew him well because he was my father. And he died about four years ago. But he lived most of his life with this sense, "I stepped out of the will of God and I can't get back in."
I don't know whether there is anybody here this morning who feels that, maybe not in the same measure or the same set of circumstances. But maybe there are things you look back on in your life that you feel have disqualified you from being what God wants you to be.
Of course it is true we can disobey God. We can move out of His will; that is true. But the question I want to ask and address this morning is what happens to the will of God when you have stepped out of what you sensed was His will and purpose for you?
And the answer to that is what we'll talk about this morning from this story in Jeremiah Chapter 18 where God sent Jeremiah down to visit the house of a potter. And he watches the potter at work and in the course of his work the clay becomes marred.
It doesn't tell us why it becomes marred because that is irrelevant to the point. The point is it becomes marred.
And what the potter does is he remoulds the marred clay into something else. And I love the qualification attached to it:
"...as seemed best to him."
This is the best thing I can do. It's not the original purpose and it's not the second best.
Jeremiah 18 follows Jeremiah 17 and in order to interpret any part of Scripture well, we have to look at the context for it. And I am going to just pull out one or two things that will have give some clarity to this I think.
But the focal point I want to look at with you is the work of the potter with his marred clay. But in Chapter 17, the previous chapter, and Verse 12, there is this statement that says,
"A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary."
A sanctuary is a place where you go for refuge, a place you can go to hide, a place you can go to be protected. And he says, "This is what we have, a glorious throne." That is, the sovereignty of God on His throne - that is the place where we go to for refuge, he says. That is the place of our sanctuary. That is where we find our security.
And what is that glorious throne? What is the sovereignty of God? Is it a fixed rigid pattern that if you break out of it, you are out of it forever like a map on the wall which you can't change?
Well in Chapter 18 he explains it to us. That the sovereignty of God, the place of our refuge is that God in His sovereignty, as the potter with the clay, has all through history (and I will show you this in a few moments) and He does in your life and mine, He remoulds according to whatever the clay is that is in His hand.
You see Jeremiah is watching the potter at work here. The focus is on the potter. And because it becomes marred, something goes wrong with it, he forms it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
And he gives an explanation in Verse 6 where He says,
"O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does? Like clay in the hands of the potter, so are you in my hand."
And if that clay has become marred and if that clay has become damaged in some way, then the potter remoulds it into something that is good, that seems best.
In Verse 9 and 10, a little bit later there, in Jeremiah 18,
"If at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it."
So here's the situation where He says, regarding the nation of Israel, "If it does evil in my sight, if it does not obey me", what does the potter do? Does he throw it away? Does he discard it? Does he put it on the trash heap?
No. "I reconsider the good I had intended to do for it and remould it into something that seems best." He remoulds the clay into something else.
You see I have no doubt that this building this morning is full of marred clay. I myself am marred clay.
There are things in our lives, things in our history we cannot undo. There are times we have rebelled against God. We are all by nature sinful. We start off on the wrong foot. We start off with a bent towards rebellion and going our own way and doing our own thing. We start off marred.
And the picture here; what is the will of God in that situation? Is it, well, you can descend into some kind of second class living; yes, it will be okay but it's only second class.
No, the picture is here that if the clay is yielded (and we'll talk about the clay needing to be soft and pliable) - when the clay is yielded, he forms it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to Him. Not shaping it second best but as seen best to Him.
I don't know what lies in your past but there are folks here who carry in your life secrets - maybe they are secrets - or you carry a history that has been damaging to you. Maybe you have been through an abortion; maybe you are the father of the fetus, or the mother. You can't go back and undo that.
Maybe you have been through a divorce and it was painful to you and painful to your spouse and painful to your children, if there were children involved. And going back seems out of the question - it may not be, but maybe it seems it is.
I get letters quite often from people in prison because our television program, Living Truth, is shown across the country and other parts of the world. It seems that in Canada and the United States prisoners can watch TV on Sunday morning, and maybe more often. But several have told me in letters that a group of them meet together Sunday morning and they watch the program and I get letters from people.
And I am in correspondence with one or two folks in that situation, and some of them in horrendous situations. One man I am in communication with who is in prison for life. He murdered his own wife and he has come to know Christ in the prison, and writes beautiful letters. He can't go back; he can't undo that.
Maybe it's things that have been done to you. Maybe you were molested as a child and out of that has grown a confused sexuality and all the repercussions of that. Or you were damaged in earlier years and there is a legacy from that damage and it's impacted your ability to trust.
The clay can be damaged in many ways. It says the clay is damaged in the potter's hand - not damaged by the potter, though it was in his hand. Many of the damages are self- inflicted.
But here is the message of this story, and it is a message of hope: that the potter does not take it off the wheel and discard it. He re-works it, forming it into another pot. Yes, different, because this history is now part of this new pot, as seen best to Him.
You see, nobody, and no experience is irredeemable in our lives. I didn't say everything is fixable because it is not.
And sometimes we have to walk through life with a limp like Jacob. Do you remember Jacob who wrestled with God? And Jacob, the very name Jacob, means twister and cheat, and he was all of that; he lived up to his name.
And one day God met him and in that intriguing story when God takes on physical form, as often in the Old Testament Scriptures you have that in what we call a theophany where God is incarnate in human form.
And He meets with Jacob and they wrestle and they throw each other to the ground and they fight on the ground and eventually God knocks his thigh out of joint. And eventually Jacob clings to Him and says, "I will not let You go unless You bless me." He had been the antagonist; now he clings to Him and won't let Him go. And Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his days.
Yes, you may walk with a limp; most of us do in some way or other. But the picture is here that despite the fact you might walk with a limp, and you carry the legacy, that God is making another pot that is good and fulfills His purpose.
Now He is talking about the nation of Israel here in Jeremiah and their history prior to this already demonstrates this. When Israel came into the land of Canaan, God set them up as a nation and they were to be a theocracy, not a democracy - there was no such thing - nor a monarchy; they were to be a theocracy.
What that meant was that God was to be their king. And what that meant was that He would raise up men or women, He would put His Holy Spirit on them, people would recognize God's anointing on them and God's empowering of them. They were known as judges and for over 300 years, Israel lived as a theocracy.
You didn't know where the next judge was coming from; the next leader was coming from. When one died, you looked around, "Who is it that God has put His Spirit on and has called to this task?"
But after awhile the Israelites became very insecure and unsettled about this and they decided they wanted to be like everybody else around them. And in 1 Samuel 8 they came to Samuel, who was the last judge, and they said, "We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations with a king to lead us and to go out before and fight our battles."
This was good strategic thinking on their part. "Let's align ourselves the way everybody else operates. Let's be able to predict who the next king is going to be so we can start to train him from the time he is a boy, or the next queen and start to train her from the time she is a little girl. Let's be gone with this uncertain speculative 'who is going to be the next leader.'"
And so to their own thinking this was a good move forward. And God spoke to Samuel about this in 1 Samuel 8:7 and said to him, "Listen to the people that are saying this to you. It is not you they have rejected; they have rejected Me as their King. Samuel, don't take this personally. You are the last judge; it is not you they are rejecting; it is Me they are rejecting."
So God is unambiguous about that. And then He says this: "So I will give them a king."
And He tells Samuel who that king is going to be. He was to go and find him. His name was Saul. And Samuel anointed Saul and as he did so, the Spirit of God came on him. This is God anointing this man now. Not just, "Oh well, you go and do your own thing and you are going to get into a big mess."
No, God anoints him. The Spirit of God comes on him. Saul demonstrates the evidence the Spirit of God is on him by being given victory in a battle, the first battle he goes into.
And then you know the story of Saul, how he did mess up of course. But then God said to Samuel, "Because Saul has disobeyed Me, I want you to go and find another king. He is a man after My own heart. Go down to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse." And he found the man. His name was David, the youngest son of Jesse.
David became king. The Spirit of God came upon David. He gives us some of the most beautiful texts of Scripture in the Psalms, in the poetry of the Psalms.
Every succeeding king is described either as a king who walked in the ways of his father David and obeyed the Lord or as one who did not walk in the ways of his father David and disobeyed the Lord.
And when you open the New Testament, the very first word of the New Testament, the very first sentence is "the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David."
Now David should never have been king of Israel in God's original purpose for the nation but because they rebelled, because they turned away from God's plan and purpose and demanded their own king, God remoulded the clay.
Was David second class? No. David becomes the hero. And Jesus the Messiah is known as the son of David, in the line of kingship because God remoulds the clay.
This is the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God is not that everything is in a fixed predetermined pattern that will never be changed, but the sovereignty of God is His working in the midst of a broken world, in the midst of rebellion, disobedience, remoulding clay - including you and including me.
After Jeremiah, Jonah was sent to Ninevah. And you know he ran in the opposite direction but then eventually he went to Ninevah and God gave him a message.
"Thus says the Lord: Forty more days and Ninevah will be destroyed."
And in those forty days that Jonah preached that message, the people became so fearful of the judgement of God that they repented and they believed. And then it says God repented of His plan to destroy Ninevah. Why? He remoulded the clay; this time from something negative to something positive because the circumstances, the context changed. And God remoulds the clay according to how it is.
You know sometimes people talk about God having a primary will and a secondary will or an absolute will and a permissive will. All these are attempts to deal with the fact that when we are out of the will of God we are not abandoned and that is fine, whether those terms are good and helpful I am not sure.
But I do know there are many of us here this morning and if God has a primary will and a secondary will, we are definitely in the secondary will, if not the third, fourth, fifth. We would feel that.
But no, it's not a question of first and second; it's a question of dealing with the realities of the situation. And you may have gone in the wrong direction; you may have married the wrong person.
See, if somebody came to me and said, "I have a girlfriend and I am a Christian; she is not a Christian. Do you think it is okay for me to marry her?"
I would say, "Well, if you wanted to know the will of God on that, turn to 2 Corinthians Chapter 7 and you will find a passage there which talks about a believer not being unequally yoked to an unbeliever. And that applies to marriage. And no, it would not be the will of God for you to marry an unbeliever."
But if you then went ahead and did it anyway and you came back a week later and you said, you know, "We did get married a week ago and boy, I realize what a huge mistake this was. What is the will of God for me now?"
I would tell you the will of God for you now is you stay married and make that marriage work. Did God change His mind before you got married and after you got married? No, you changed the situation.
And the will of God works out in whatever context and situation that you are in. But if He is talking here about moulding and remoulding clay, then the clay has to be soft in order to be mouldable, to be pliable, to be submissive.
You see this is not a case of, well, live any old how and God is constantly correcting you and making it work out okay anyway even though you mess up. No, don't understand that from this. That is not the message that Jeremiah is giving here. But that when somebody comes with that spirit of humility and surrender and submissive, pliable heart, then God moulds into something that seems best to Him.
What happens if you stay hard and you don't become soft and submissive and you don't confess, because that's all involved in that is confession of our sin and humble receiving of forgiveness when we have gone wrong.
What happens if you stay hard? Well look at Chapter 19 of Jeremiah, the next chapter. It gives us a warning about hard clay because Verse 1:
"This is what the LORD says: 'Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you...'"
I am not going to read the words. I will summarize them in just a moment. But He says, "Go to the house of a potter." (Maybe the same potter.)
This time don't go to the potter himself who is at work at the wheel - that is the focus of Chapter 18. Now go to a pot that is in its hardened final state and take this pot and go and stand in front of the people and declare this word.
And basically the message is - and you can read it in the following verses - "that you have forsaken Me," says God, "you have replaced Me with foreign gods. You have built alters to Baal. Your hearts have become hard against Me and therefore, as a result, it is not now remoulding the clay that is the option; it is breaking the clay. It is the judgement of God.
So in Verse 10:
"Then," He says, "Break the jar while those who go with you are watching, and say to them, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter's jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.'"
And in Verse 14:
"Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the LORD'S temple and said to all the people, 'This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and they would not listen to my words.'"
In other words, they have gotten beyond the stage of being soft; they had become hardened.
You know, I was meeting with somebody yesterday who is not a believer, though when he was young he used to go to a Sunday school in a Gospel Hall out near Mississauga. But he has not been in church for many years. And I met him yesterday for breakfast. We had had some contact and we met before; we met again yesterday.
And he asked me an interesting question. He said, "Why are you Christians afraid to talk about the judgement of God?" He said, "When I used to go to that Gospel Hall Sunday school, we heard that God was a judge as well as a friend. But you folks never talk about that these days. Why not?"
That is a good question from an unbeliever (though he is going to be a believer soon). Because I explained to him the cross yesterday and the judgement of God and when I finished explaining the cross he said, "You know, that makes forgiveness totally logical because somebody else has borne it." So he is not far away from the Kingdom.
But it was a good question. You cannot read the Biblical record and stick your head in the sand about the fact that God is judge and that God in His grace and mercy will remould the clay that is soft and pliable but He will smash the clay jar that is not.
That's the picture God gives to Jeremiah to give to the people of Israel. They didn't like it. If you read Chapter 20, a man called Pashhur, who was the chief officer in the temple in Jerusalem, was indignant about this and he had Jeremiah beaten up and put into the stocks.
"We don't talk about a God who is going to smash us as a nation," he said. "We are called by God to be His nation. Jeremiah, don't you dare talk like that."
But the two pictures that are given in Jeremiah 18 and 19 about living in the will of God is this: that when things go wrong, when our hearts become softened again before God and we come in humility acknowledging all the mess and the failure that is part of our lives and we confess it so we know His forgiveness and we become pliable again in His
hands and responsive again in His hands, He does re-work us into another pot that seems best. It may not be the original version but it seems best to Him.
But the message goes on. If you remain hard and you become resistant and you become rigid then He has to break the jar. The judgement of God is a very real thing. And the judgement of God is associated with hardness.
Remember Pharaoh, how that fourteen times in the book of Exodus it tells us that Pharaoh's heart was hardened.
Now people pick up the fact that it says God hardened Pharaoh's heart and they get all worked up about that. But there are 14 times it says Pharaoh's heart was hardened - 8 of those times say Pharaoh hardened his heart and 6, which include the last 5 times it's mentioned, it says God hardened his heart.
Because you see, Pharaoh had set the disposition towards God of resistance and hardness. So every time God came again to Pharaoh, the impact of God coming on Pharaoh is that his hardened heart was hardened even more. And God had to smash him, in the language of Jeremiah 19.
There was a king called Zedekiah and it says of him in 2 Chronicles 36 that,
"He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the LORD, the God of Israel."
So God had to smash him. He would not turn; he would not become responsive and pliable in the hand of God.
Ezekiel 3:7, God said to Ezekiel: "But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to Me,"
"...for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate."
"Ezekiel, they won't listen to you because they won't listen to Me, and here's the reason: they are hard, they are obstinate." And God had to smash them.
And in the New Testament - there are other occasions of that - Nebuchadnezzar, when Daniel writes that his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride and he was disposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. His hardened heart - he was smashed.
Mind you, it is still never the last word because Nebuchadnezzar himself, from his brokenness, began to seek after God. And one of the great testimonies of the Old Testament Scriptures is Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon actually turned to the God of Israel.
And Daniel (Chapter 4 is it) is a tract that was distributed throughout the whole Babylonian empire and has found its way into our Bibles when Nebuchadnezzar says, "I want the whole of my kingdom to know how I came to know the God of Israel." But he had been broken and smashed before that.
So it is never the end. There is always the possibility of restoration when the heart itself begins to soften again.
And Hebrews Chapter 3 warns us as believers in Verse 13 to
"Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."
And the hardened heart becomes resistant to God and resistant to the will of God. And by the way, he is warning believers in Hebrews 3 about that possibility where you do not find your life being used and purposeful because the hardening of your heart has prevented the moulding of the clay.
I ask you this morning, how about your life and my life? There is hope here you see, that no matter what it is that had gone, no matter what it is you have done, no matter what it is that my father had done and got involved in when he was a student, whatever it was, a softened, pliable submissive heart can be moulded again into something good.
The moulding can be painful - of course it can be. But it brings something that is good at the end of it.
I want to finish with reading you a little fable that I had picked up. It says,
A husband and wife were in a gift shop looking for something to give to their granddaughter for her birthday. Suddenly the woman spots a beautiful vase. "Look at this lovely piece of work," she said to her husband.
And he picked it up and said, "You're right! This is one of the most beautiful vases I have ever seen."
At that point the vase talks (this is a fable, remember) and it says to the grandparents, "Thank you for the compliment. But I wasn't always beautiful."
And the grandfather said, "What do you mean you weren't always beautiful?"
"Well," said the vase "once I was just an ugly, soggy lump of clay. But one day a man with dirty wet hands threw me onto a wheel. Then he started turning me around and around until I got so dizzy I couldn't see straight. 'Stop! Stop!' I cried. But the man with the wet hands said, 'Not yet.'
"Then he started to poke me and punch me until I hurt all over. 'Stop! Stop!' I cried. But the man said, 'Not yet.' Each time I thought he was finished he would crumble and roll me up and begin to poke and punch me again.
"Finally he did stop. But then he did something much worse; he put me into a furnace. It got hotter and hotter until I couldn't stand it. 'Stop! Stop! I cried. But the man said, 'Not yet.'
"Finally when I thought I was going to burn up the man took me out of the furnace. Then some lady began to paint me and the fumes got so bad they made me feel sick. 'Stop! Stop!' I cried. 'Not yet,' said the lady. Finally she did stop.
"But then she gave me back to the man and he put me back into that awful furnace. This time it was hotter than before. 'Stop! Stop!' I cried. But the man said, 'Not yet.' Finally he took me out of the furnace and let me cool.
"When I was completely cool a lady put me on this shelf next to this mirror and when I looked at the mirror I could not believe what I saw. I was no longer ugly, soggy and dirty. I was beautiful, firm and clean. It was then I realized without all of that pain I would still be the ugly, soggy lump of wet clay. It was then all I'd had to endure took on new meaning for me."
It's a bit twee I know, but it's the picture of God taking the clay and moulding it.
I don't know where you are this morning of course. I don't know what marring of the clay has gone on this week. I don't know what knots have built up in the clay that make it difficult for the potter to make what He was making. But He will work on it and remould it with all the history and all the past and all the experience, good and bad, that your life has consisted of, because He is forming it into another pot that seems best to Him.
You see the will of God is not some fixed indelibly written plan that you and I have no hope of ever getting into because we have fallen. But the will of God is a living, dynamic moulding of your life, moulding through your circumstances, moulding through the experiences of life into something that is good.
And we are going to conclude this morning by singing again the hymn we sang earlier. It's a prayer.
Have Thine Own Way Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter,
(It's old English of course but that's okay)
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
And here's the invitation as we pray in response. We're saying to God,
Mould me and make me after Thy will
While I am waiting yielded and still.
And as we sing this seated, I am going to ask that we sing it as a prayer. And maybe some of us in a new way, because there are things you have felt, you know, that has so spoiled my life.
And as you sing it, say, "Lord, take that thing, that bad thing, that wrong thing, that thing that maybe was done to me that marred me. Mould me and make me after Your will, while I am waiting yielded and still."