Many of the Bible’s images are challenging for us to understand because we live in a culture which is so radically different from that of the ancient Middle East.
But here’s an image that doesn’t need much translation.
Even young children who make finger bowls from clay at home or in an art class or in Camp can identify with and feel the force of this image in their fingertips.
Both young sculptors with their Play-Doh and master sculptors in their studios are intimately involved in their creations’ beginning. This is hands-on work.
And that tells us something about God our Creator. The biblical image of the potter challenges us not to picture God as an aloof or isolated figure, but busy.
No, when God deals with an individual, a nation, a people group, a community, a neighborhood or a church, he engages in some intimate, hands-on creativity.
Picture God as the ‘busy’ One who molds and shapes your community of faith.
Picture God as the One who sometimes chooses to remold and remake that community into something that no one would have ever guessed possible.
Considering the state of our churches right now, how can we live as good clay?
For starters, we can be pliable, flexible, moldable. Brittle clay is almost useless.
Miraculously, we can also somehow figure out how to actually begin living in hope and expectation, full of wonder about what God is forming us to become.
Jeremiah 18:1-6Amplified Bible
The Potter and the Clay
18 The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will make you hear My words.” 3 Then I went down to the potter’s house and saw that he was working at the wheel. 4 But the vessel that he was making from clay was spoiled by the potter’s hand; so, he made it over, reworking it and making it into another pot that seemed good to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” says the Lord. “Look carefully, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
The prophet Jeremiah lived at a very difficult time in Judah’s history.
The revivals led by King Josiah were a distant memory.
Idolatry and immorality plagued the nation.
They were following in the footsteps of the Northern Kingdom and soon the judgment of God would meet them – walk right into their faces and slap them.
In Jeremiah chapter 18, God issues a very solemn, yet fruitless plea beckoning His people to return to Him.
History tells us they refused to repent and would not return to the Lord.
As a consequence, Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people were taken captive by the Babylonian Empire.
From that tragedy, however, the beauty of this passage (chapter 18, verses 1-6) worthy to be noted: that God while God’s own judgement is upon them, is also God who is yet busy reaching out unto His people –even well into the 11th hour!
The message God had for Jeremiah was a poignantly visual sermon at the potter’s house.
From the visually nondescript impact of outside the potter’s house, to in the potter’s house, God is busy offering His people a fresh start – a new beginning.
We all want a new beginning. We have all said something or acted in a particular way and afterward wished we could take it back or do it differently. We have all had times, happy times and wonderful memories that we would like to re-live.
We are the Body of Christ – the Church – God’s Church in the year of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – 2022. Could we be anymore broken and or fractured?
Our brokenness and our division and chards of controversy are perpetually at our feet – piled chard by chard miles and miles high – like the Tower of Babel.
We raise them ever higher as “altars of our own self-righteousness” unto our grieving God in the undeniably vain hope our altars will be ‘more’ acceptable than those altars being raised by those we have great and growing contentions.
Contention? Whose ‘altar,’ whose “Tower of Babel” is more “self-righteous?”
The arguments go on and on – and their “self-reported” unobstructed views to the Potter’s House becomes more and more distant, more and more obstructed.
Both declare their steadfast belief their “view” and “vision” of the outside of the Potter’s House – is the most accurate and correct, ‘viable’ representation.
Meanwhile, somewhere, who really knows from where anymore, is God’s Word of Judgement upon His church from HIS Weeping Prophet Jeremiah Chapter 18.
The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will make you hear My words.” 3 Then I went down to the potter’s house and saw that he was working at the wheel. But the vessel that he was making from clay was spoiled by the potter’s hand; so, he made it over, reworking it and making it into another pot that seemed good to him. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” says the Lord. “Look carefully, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.
But, amidst all of the rancor and contention, the ‘altar’ and ‘tower’ building, who is actually paying attention to the Word of God, wondering about whether or not the Potter is still at His house, working clay into His image of the church?
When was their last visit to the Potter’s House to see the Potter at work at the Potter’s Wheel? When did they last try to knock on the Door to His House to see HIM at work? Do they see all the “empty” wheels waiting for HIS new students?
Do they see The Master Potter at work? Do they see that they are the ones being shaped and reshaped, molded and then molded, moistened and remoistened?
Do they see it is their “so called,” “self-reported” “self-righteousness” altars, towers sitting on top, in the center of all things on the Master Potter’s Wheel?
Do they hear the whirring of the Master Potter’s Wheel calling them to account?
Hearing the “Not so Silent” invitation of the Master Potter – “Please sit down?” (Isaiah 58 Amplified)
58 “Cry aloud, do not hold back;
Lift up your voice like a trumpet,
And declare to My people their transgression
And to the house of Jacob their sins.
“Yet they seek Me day by day and delight [superficially] to know My ways,
As [if they were in reality] a nation that has done righteousness
And has not abandoned (turned away from) the ordinance of their God.
They ask of Me righteous judgments,
They delight in the nearness of God.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You do not see it?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’
Hear this [O Israel], on the day of your fast [when you should be grieving for your sins] you find something you desire [to do],
And you force your hired servants to work [instead of stopping all work, as the law teaches].
“The facts are that you fast only for strife and brawling and to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You do not fast as you do today to make your voice heard on high.
“Is a fast such as this what I have chosen, a day for a man to humble himself [with sorrow in his soul]?
Is it only to bow down his head like a reed
And to make sackcloth and ashes as a bed [pretending to have a repentant heart]?
Do you call this a fast and a day pleasing to the Lord?
“[Rather] is this not the fast which I choose,
To undo the bonds of wickedness,
To tear to pieces the ropes of the yoke,
To let the oppressed, go free
And break apart every [enslaving] yoke?
“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not to hide yourself from [the needs of] your own flesh and blood?
“Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your healing (restoration, new life) will quickly spring forth;
Your righteousness will go before you [leading you to peace and prosperity],
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry for help, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away from your midst the yoke [of oppression],
The finger pointed in scorn [toward the oppressed or the godly], and [every form of] wicked (sinful, unjust) speech,
And if you offer yourself to [assist] the hungry
And satisfy the [a]need of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
“And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your soul in scorched and dry places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
“And your people will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up and restore the age-old foundations [of buildings that have been laid waste];
You will be called Repairer of the Breach,
Restorer of Streets [b]with Dwellings.
As much as we, the Body of Christ, the Church, in God’s neighborhood, all would like to turn back time to re-live a happy moment or take back hurtful words, forget the debts and sins of the people against us –we do not, cannot.
You and I, the Body of Christ, the Church, in God’s neighborhood, are at this very exact moment the complete sum of every decision we have ever made.
No matter how much to sit down in Pottery School with the Master Potter – (Isaiah 2:2-4 Amplified)
Now it will come to pass that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be [firmly] established as the [a]highest of the mountains,
And will be exalted above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house (temple) of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go out from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will mediate [disputes] for many peoples;
And they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up the sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.
Verse 4 (for “our” “contemporary” Church)
And He will judge between the CHRISTIANS,
And will mediate [disputes] for many CHRISTIANS,
And they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
CHRISTIANS will not lift up their swords against FELLOW CHRISTIANS
And never again will they learn war ….
As much as we may profess that want to make a brand-new beginning for ourselves – rewrite Isaiah 2:1-4 for our “modern contemporary church,” it is probably next to, if not, virtually impossible in the mindset of too many.
Too many “self-righteous,” “humbled” “Christians” from all the theological spectrums are standing too far distant, too far apart from the Potter’s House.
Too few dares to look for or dares to explore, discover, see a need to get closer.
The good news is: “with man it is 100% impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). God is able to keep His wheel moving, give you and I, a fresh start! That is the message our God is preaching unto His Church today.
This visual message has but three main contributors. Consider them briefly.
The Master Potter
Perhaps Jeremiah had seen this particular potter before.
No doubt Jeremiah was familiar with the work of pottery as it was very common in that day.
In fact, the Hebrew Testament uses no less than 30 references to this skill in conveying spiritual truth.
But on this day, it was radically different for Jeremiah.
This day, God was preaching to him.
At the potter’s wheel we see the potter’s ability.
Not everyone can make a piece of clay into something desirable. And even smaller number of people are able to create a piece of artwork that is highly sought after by museums and collectors. The potter is a man of ability.
At the potter’s wheel we also see his sovereignty.
That wheel is the potter’s universe in a sense, and he is in complete control of whatever is taking place within. The speed of the wheel; the shape into which the clay is molded and shaped and worked –all are completely subject to him.
These are valuable lessons for Jeremiah to learn.
Because the potter he was learning about was no ordinary potter.
The master potter in this poignant sermon was not the man in the shop.
The Master Potter has a different identity. Consider Isaiah 64:8
“But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.”
The Master Potter is GOD the LORD.
He has infinite ability and sovereign in all things.
The Marred Clay
It takes 9-12 months to prepare the clay.
As it is found, it is completely unsuitable for the potter’s wheel. The clay is dug out and goes through a detailed process of filtration and refining to remove all the unwanted debris. The clay is trodden under foot to increase its plasticity and then it is left to weather for months. So much care is given to preparing the clay.
Even though such attention is given to its preparation, sometimes small rocks and other debris remain in the mix.
These go completely unnoticed until placed upon the potter’s wheel. As the potter begins his work of shaping and molding, suddenly the rubbish is brought to the surface and in a moment the new creation is marred. A deep groove is cut into the vessel and the smooth surface is suddenly out of shape.
I heard of a man who was stuck in the mud at the bottom of a steep hill and needed to be towed to the top. At the top of the hill, the driver of the tow truck said, “I didn’t think we were ever going to make it to the top that hill.”
The driver in the other car replied, “Neither did I, so I kept both of my feet on the brakes to keep us from rolling backwards!”
That may sound silly, but you and I behave that way more times than we would like to admit. God desires to mold us and shape us and make us after HIS will, but as God looks forward, we are “stomping on the brakes” looking backward.
The apostle Paul, said,
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” in Philippians 3:14.
But before he could press forward, in verse 13 he declares: “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before.”
Let go of the past, relinquish your plans and yield yourself to the hands of the Master Potter! Sometimes the clay is marred –not because of a mistake of the Potter, but because of a bit of debris left-over from the former life still in it.
The Miracle on the Wheel
What happens when God finds a little rubbish in the clay?
It’s obvious. He annihilates it. Utterly destroys it and casts it away. Right?
No. He does the exact opposite.
Note again Jeremiah 18 verse 4.
“And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so, he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.”
The Master Potter did not throw the clay away.
He started over with the same lump of clay!
We have all made a mess of things at times. Attitudes and actions of the old man, the sin nature, comes to the surface and we lack wisdom to do anything.
But God in HIS grace and HIS mercy, with tender hands removes the rubbish.
As we confess our sins to Him and miraculously yield to His plan,
–He enters the breeches in the walls, He rebuilds and restores OUR ruins.
John 3:16-18Amplified Bible
16 “For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] [a]only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge and condemn the world [that is, to initiate the final judgment of the world], but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Whoever believes and has decided to trust in Him [as personal Savior and Lord] is not judged [for this one, there is no judgment, no rejection, no condemnation]; but the one who does not believe [and has decided to reject Him as personal Savior and Lord] is judged already [that one has been convicted and sentenced], because [b]he has not believed and trusted in the name of the [One and] only begotten Son of God [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind, the One who alone can save him].
God has a definite plan in mind for HIS Church.
2 Timothy 2: 20, 21
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.
We are embarking on a brand-New time and season in the church. In many ways it is a clean slate –a fresh start. We cannot tell what 2022 will hold for us.
We do not know what challenges we will face, what mountains we will climb (other than God’s) or what hard lessons from deepest valleys we will endure.
But I do know this: God is still God, and His ways are perfect.
I know that He is still at work at HIS wheel and His hands do not rest.
The wheel of time continues to turn and as I will yield to the Master Potter, He can make something beautiful within me and in you and within HIS CHURCH.
I know that I am prone to failure,
I know you are prone to failure,
I know the Church is prone to failure.
But the Good News is this: God will not throw the clay away.
God will continue His work; day by day, making and remaking me into a vessel that is fit for the Master’s use.
God will continue His work in and within the Church, day by day, making and remaking, shaping and reshaping, molding and remolding, it into a vessel that is 100% fit for His Son, Jesus, to return to one day and reclaim as His very own.
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
Prayer to the Holy Spirit
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, Who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy Your consolations.
Through Christ our Lord.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.