December 10, 2015

Clay pots and the Potter

Jeremiah 18:1-18, Romans 2:12-29, Proverbs 16:12-33

At a craft show in Alaska, a tall woman wearing a floor-length burlap cape welcomed visitors to her pottery booth. She had a wheel in the center and was making a vessel. She was not happy with the pot, so stood back a few feet and hurled small chunks of clay at it, hoping to knock the uncooperative piece on the wheel into a better shape. I think of her every time I read this:

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done?’ declares the Lord. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’” (Jeremiah 18:1–6)

This image vividly points to God’s plan of chastening His people. Through Jeremiah, He said, “Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.” But the people said, “That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” (Jeremiah 18:11–12)

Through Jeremiah, God replied, “But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway . . . .” (Jeremiah 18:15)

The people gave a typical response: get rid of the messenger: “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.” (Jeremiah 18:18)

How many of us hear a convicting sermon and criticize the preacher? How often has the life of another Christian made me feel inadequate so I became critical of that person? Pride is at the root of such folly. It is as Solomon says: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:18–20)

Often I feel like that broken clay pot as God throws things at me. I know His marring is designed to rework my life and make me more like Jesus, yet the hits are not to my liking.

It is easy enough to critique others, but even though I call myself a Christian, rely on the Word of God, boast in Him, know His will and approve what is excellent, that can (has often has) led me to think of myself as “a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth” yet God says to me, “You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’” (Romans 2:17–24)

The last parts of these verses show that Paul is writing to Jews who have elevated themselves above Gentiles, but the principle is true for any proud person. I am no less guilty of sin, either in deed or in thought, as those I criticize.

Besides, the Bible also says, “No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart . . . .” (Romans 2:28–29)

God does not measure me by my outward appearance, nationality, creedal statements, or anything else but by what Jesus Christ means to my heart, and whether or not I am being changed by my divine Potter. All who pass this test are His people. This means that whatever God said to Israel, He also says to me.

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