Lights In the Dark #4: Shaped By God’s Hands
Text: Jeremiah 18:1-17, 19:1-2, 10-14
Introduction: Alter Your Course
The captain of the ship looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message ahead: "Alter your course 10 degrees south." Promptly a return message was received: "Alter your course 10 degrees north."
The captain was angered; his command had been ignored. So he sent a second message: "Alter your course 10 degrees south--I am the captain, Harold Hornblower!" Soon another message was received: "Alter your course 10 degrees north--I am seaman third class, Paul Jones."
Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: "Alter your course 10 degrees south--I am Captain Harold Hornblower of the battleship Virginia." Then the reply came: "Alter your course 10 degrees north--I am seaman 3rd class, Paul Jones of the Cape Dread lighthouse."
Sometimes people can be like that captain when it comes to God. Proud in our authority and choice but sometimes never realizing that we are way out of our league when it comes to the one we are dealing with.
God’s Design Jeremiah 18:1-6
The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. 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. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
God Has A Design For Israel
God tells Jeremiah to go the potter’s house. There Jeremiah watches as the potter works the clay into the shape of a vessel, then just as the vessel is almost shaped into the what the potter envisions, it is marred. Something in the clay, or in the process causes a flaw in the vessel and the potter remakes the pot. He breaks it down, and then remakes and reshapes it until if becomes the vessel he desired to make. God’s design was to make Israel into a vessel fit for His service.
It is not hard to see the symbolism of the potter’s house.
God through Jeremiah is telling his nation, Israel, that He is like the potter, while Israel is like the vessel on the wheel being formed by the potter.
It is up to God, the potter not the Israel the pot what the vessel will be, how it will look and how it will be finished. If in the working of the pot it is marred or misshapen into something the potter did not envision, then potter remakes it.
God plainly says in verse 6, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.”
Then in vs 7-11 God offers Israel, the clay, a choice. This is where the symbol breaks down. A real potter doesn’t offer his clay a choice, but God is not dealing with clay, or puppets or those with no will, he is dealing with his people and they must choose.
This is the choice God gives them, 18:7-10 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
God tells the people of Israel, here is your choice respond to my voice and let me build you up or reject my voice and I will pull you down. They are given the choice of willingly being remolded by Him who is their creator to correct her flaws or of being destroyed by Him.
God has a design for Us
Just as it is easy to see the symbolism for Israel it is also easy to see the application for us.
Like the potter’s, uses both harsh and gentle means to make us into a vessel fit for His service and for the blessings He will pour into us.
Have you ever seen the way a potter in the time of Jeremiah would make a vessel. Let me give you a quick rundown.
First the potter uses a hammer to break dried lumps of clay so that the clay can be made ready to be worked.
Then potter then takes the pulverized, dry clay and mixes it with water to bring it to life.
He then puts the clay on the wheel.
As the potter spins the pot upon the wheel his hands are constantly working the clay, feeling for hard spots, dry spots or foreign material that has no place in the pot. If he finds it he either applies more water to get rid of the dry spots or he may pulverize it again to break up the hard spots or probes with his hands to find those elements that have no place in the pot and remove them from the clay.
Sometimes the flaw is only on the surface sometimes it requires probing down into the very core of the clay, sometimes it may require the pot to be completely remade in order to be free of the flaw.
And sometimes the pot is shattered in the hardening process and must be thrown away.
Let’s make the application, God take us and then uses the hammer of the His Word to beat upon our heart, shatter our own ideas and bring us to a place of surrender and repentance
God then mixes our old dry shattered and useless life, with the Holy Spirit and brings us to eternal life.
As God works in our life, sin, weakness, fear, stubbornness, jealousy, and all manner of other flaws and weakness will become apparent. God will apply His Holy Spirit as the potter would apply water to soften the clay. Gently He will wash over us and water the dry places in our lives. But if we do not respond then yes, God brings the hammer into our lives to break up those things which do not yield or need greater force. The Word of God is God’s main hammer, but He has many others as well.
There is the hammer of finances, the hammer of sickness, the hammer of loneliness, the hammer of sorrow and God knows just which hammer to use. If in His working of us He finds those things which should not be in us, he removes them. If he finds sinful habits, anger, bitterness, harshness, immorality, laziness, unfaithfulness or anything else that should not be in a vessel fit for God’s service, He works to remove it. It may be near the surface and easily dealt with or it may be deep within our character but God never stops probing trying to rid His vessels of those things which could make them unfit for His service.
As the potter works upon the wheel, he has in mind what he will make of the clay of the shapeless worthless clay. It may be a vase, or cup, or a bowl or a basket, only the potter knows how he will make the shapeless clay into a vessel or worth and beauty.
As God works our lives, He also has a plan in mind. Some are being fashioned for one task and some for others. Some are being prepared to go to the furthest ends of the earth, others for service right here. Some are being prepared to lead churches, others to lead families, others to lead friends to Christ, but all are being formed by God’s hands with His purpose in mind.
For us as individuals Ephesians 1:9-14 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
For Us as a Church Ephesians 4:11-13 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ
The divine goal as Paul states it is to grow to spiritual maturity, live for God and live for others but to achieve this goal we must be willing to let God shape us. Willing to let Him remove the flaws and even willing to let Him remake us from the ground up if necessary.
Illustration: Peter, Thomas, Apostles after Pentecost
Peter was a flawed vessel who was made pastor in Jesus place but only after being broken from his pride by the denial of Jesus and cursing His name. Thomas was marred by his doubts and fears but he was the one who kneels before the risen Christ and calls out “My Lord and My God. The apostles were so weak that they fell asleep in the garden, fled from the mob that arrested Jesus and hid in the upper room afraid of the authorities. They were as shattered as any group could be but God worked and shaped them into a vessels that changed the world and filled heaven with the redeemed.
Transition: How did Israel respond to the message of Jeremiah? Look in chapter 18 verse 12.
Man’s Desire Jeremiah 18:12-17
And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart. Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing. Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken? Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up; To make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head. I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.
Israel chooses her own way. vs. 12
There is no hope, but we will walk after our own devices We will do all the evil our heart imagines.
Israel is saying, “It is too late, we are already going to be punished, so we are going to follow our own plans and desire and we might as well sin as much as we can.
To this God replies and tells Israel, you are unbelievable stupid. vs 13-17
Even the Gentiles know better.
Who would leave cold pure water for unknown waters?
Who would choose a worthless idol instead of the living God?
They choose to stumble on small rocky footpaths instead walking on the highway God has built for them.
Worst and most stupidly they chose God's wrath instead of His grace love and mercy.
Jeremiah 18:17 I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.
God says I will turn my back on them when their choices bring calamity. Then they will be those shattered vessels thrown away.
How do we respond to God's hand reaching out to touch our life?
Are we as arrogant and proud of ourselves as Israel was? Are we guilty of being fools by going our own way instead of following God?
Are we so willfully ignorant as to say to God, "I know what's best for me, I don't care what You say?"
If we choose our way in salvation we will discover hell as their final destination.
If we choose Our way in our lifestyle and morality then in the end all we will have is emptiness, sorrow and a wasted life. Our way in finances and will bear us down until we break. Our way in our marriages and we will discover hard bondage instead of blessing.
Proverbs has a lot to say about refusing to listen to God. Proverbs 10:17; 12:15; 14:12
Proverbs 10:17 He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth.
12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.
14:12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
Many of us are being described in those verses. We are choosing to reject God, his love, his grace, his mercy and one day we also will find ourselves as shattered broken vessels thrown away.
There is just one more part to this story and it take place in chapter 19
God’s Destruction Jeremiah 19:1-6, 10-12
Thus saith the LORD, Go and get a potter's earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests; And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee, And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle. Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind: Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter.
Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee, And shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again: and they shall bury them in Tophet, till there be no place to bury. Thus will I do unto this place, saith the LORD, and to the inhabitants thereof, and even make this city as Tophet:
God Shatters Israel
Jeremiah again uses a pot but now instead of building or repairing it, he shatters it in the presence of the leaders of Israel.
The difference between shattering and reshaping was in the pot. Once it was soft and pliable, but now it was hard and unyielding, beyond correction. In its hardness, it now stands as a symbol of Israel’s coming destruction.
Even this valley, the valley of Hinnom, was symbolic because in Jeremiahs time and for decades before it was a place of child sacrifice. The place where the worshippers of Moloch gathered to worship their god by burning their children alive.
Later, the valley of Hinnom became known as Gehenna and in New Testament time it was the city dump constantly burning outside the gates of Jerusalem and Jesus used it as a symbol of the eternal fires of hell. To the Jew of Jeremiah's day, it was a place where they worshipped and walked as they pleased, but by their choices, it would become an emblem of their shame and horror.
Hard hearts or soft souls?
Let’s make the final application. The potter while making the vessel never destroys it until it has become hardened, as long as it is pliable, he will continue to work it.
So it is with us, the greatest danger to our relationship with God is becoming so hardened to His touch that He can no longer move and shape us.
We can be hardened by many things like indifference and apathy, or by tragedy, by neglect and many, many times by our own choices and rejection of God’s way.
If we do not let God have His way with us, then our best hopes will become our greatest shame and sorrow. Just as it was for Israel, it will be for us.
Now let me tell you something very obvious but very important, People aren’t pots, if we choose our hearts can become soft again. We can choose to be reshaped by the touch of the potters hand, I believe that the fact God gave this message to Jeremiah and that I am preaching it today is proof that it is never too late. Pots can’t repent but people can.
Isaiah 1:18-20 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
Are you listening, the choice is ours we aren’t inanitmate pieces of potter, we are people, with a will and freedom to choose. What will you choose? And never believe it is too late to make that choice. God is always willing. Have you ever read…
Illustration: Psalms 136:1-26
Psalm 136:1-5 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.
26 times, in 26 verses the Psalmist shouts, "His mercy endureth forever." Is there any clearer way that God can tell us, It is never too late, he is still willing to forgive.
Conclusion: Will we yield to God's design?
God has a plan, a design for us as individuals and as a church. He desires to hold you forever in His hands. He plans for you to share in a future of joy and peace in heaven. He has a design for us to be a growing, loving church that is filled with his children, impassioned to reach their community and the world. But this is true, only if we don't become inflexible and hard, unable to let God mold our heart into what He knows is best.
And yet, I believe that the Bible teaches, it's never too late, God never stops calling, never stops reaching out. Let our pray be, "God soften my heart, let me feel your Spirit, let me hear your Word, let me grow in your fellowship and let me share the love I find with all those around me. Lord, remake me. Shape me to be what you want me to be, a vessel that brings honor and glory to You."
Adelaide A. Pollard, 1907. Pollard believed the Lord wanted her in Africa as a missionary, but she was unable to raise funds to go. In an uncertain state of mind, she attended a prayer meeting, where she heard an elderly woman pray, “It’s all right, Lord. It doesn’t matter what You bring into our lives, just have Your own way with us.” At home that night, she wrote this hymn.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master, today!
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence humbly I bow.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!
Power, all power, surely is Thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy Spirit ’till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.