Jeremiah 18: 1-6
Luke 3: 21, 22; 7: 36-50
Those of us who were at the fellowship meetings yesterday will recognise the first passage; it was also read first in the reading yesterday. Our brother used it very profitably to lead a discussion on what God can make us. It is a word suitably addressed to Christians, those who belong to the Lord Jesus, and such would have accounted for most of yesterday’s company. There would, nevertheless, have been different stages of development, different distances along the Christian pathway, differences in detail of experience with God. I feel, however, that a word on what God can make us is one which can also be spoken in a way which carries hope and reassurance as to the attitude of God to someone who does not know anything about the Christian way. The prophet is told to “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words”. The word was not available to him where he was located at the time of God’s speaking to him at the beginning of the chapter; it was to come to him in the potter’s house. So he went down to the potter’s house and his first experience was to see something; he saw the potter in action: “...and behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made was marred, as clay, in the hand of the potter; and he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make”. The prophet followed the instruction of God but it was not at the instant at which he crossed the threshold of the potter’s house that he got the word which he was promised.
He was given a demonstration before he got a word. I think that it is useful for anyone who comes to hear the preaching of God’s glad tidings to have some sense of an individual demonstration of the necessity for the word. There needs to be a condition where the word is seen as significant and having force for the one who hears it. What was demonstrated, then, to the prophet was the potter making a work on the wheels which “was marred, as clay, in the hand of the potter”. Now the word recorded by the prophet is skillfully phrased. He does not say that the potter made a mistake, everything went wrong, the clay had to be collapsed into a lump and he had to start all over again. The account is not written in a way that suggests that the potter was at fault. It might be contended that this can be the only conclusion but I should like to convey that, when the prophet says that the vessel was marred, he is very deliberately avoiding any indication of fault on the part of the potter.
I should like to apply the word in this way, that every one of us is the creation of God and, because of this, He has the Creator’s claim on each of us. In the creation account in Genesis, mankind is represented as the high point in God’s creation. The early part of Genesis, however, also gives account of the way in which the present circumstances of humanity came about. Early Genesis describes what is spoken of as the fall of mankind and this was not the consequence of any action of God. It was the result of the activity of an intelligent being, who already existed in the universe and was hostile to God. This, of course, is Satan who presented himself to man and beguiled him so that man should listen to him instead of to God and to act according to Satan’s suggestions. Adam had had communication with God; it is His will to communicate with man, as our passage in Jeremiah indicates, but Satan intruded with another communication which raised a question as to the nature of God and Adam chose to listen to Satan. As a result of this we are part of a fallen race, and the whole of creation suffers as a consequence, chap 3.
We cannot, however, attribute our circumstances simply to the fact that there is no escape from connection with the fall of Adam. We must look within and see that our own condition, our marred condition, is a result of our own failure, and we must do this because we are responsible persons. This is a central part of the word of the glad tidings, that men, women and also children, in increasing degree as they grow older, are responsible. We have an adversary, who exercises evil influence in the world, and, in failed responsibility, we have responded as Adam did to his blandishments, instead of finding a pathway directed by the will of God. I think that this is represented in what Jeremiah sees in the house of the potter. The pot is initially formed perfectly; there is nothing wrong with God’s creation but it has subsequently become marred. How grateful we must be, however, that the Potter does not withdraw His hand when the vessel becomes marred. Sin is attached to every one of us. Adam knew immediately that he had sinned and knew that this made him unsuited to the presence of God. God wished to communicate directly with Adam in His presence and Adam knew that he was unsuited to this. The circumstances of God are divine glory and Paul’s word to the Romans is that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”, Rom 3: 23. However, the potter does not discard the vessel; ”... and he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make”. That conveys to me something of the wonderful grace of God that the second vessel is one which can be described as seeming good to the potter to make. God sets requirements and addresses a word to you, to which you have a responsibility to respond but, as doing so, you can come into the sense of favour that is conveyed in the making of another vessel “as seemed good to the potter to make.” This one is not marred; it will go through the processes that are required to turn it into something of permanent pleasure for God, according to His purpose.
I have read in the gospel according to Luke, because the word which we preach is not about the prophet Jeremiah and it is not about the way in which a potter operates. The word of God’s glad tidings refers to the person of Jesus Christ. This is the key to the Old Testament. Much of it is occupied with the way in which God takes up the nation of Israel but the elaborate system of religious ritual prescribed to the nation only makes sense if you discern in it the way in which God would, in the person and work of Jesus Christ, ultimately solve the question of evil. What is foreshadowed is someone who would be completely different from anyone else who had lived on this earth. All others, because of their histories as viewed from a moral perspective, are represented as marred vessels. Jesus was completely morally distinctive. In chapter 3 of Luke’s gospel there is a clear statement from heaven of the distinction of Jesus Christ. He associated Himself with those who submitted to the baptism of John, who were repenting in recognition of their moral condition before God. Luke gives His Father’s appraisal of Him: ”Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I have found my delight.” Every other person who had ever lived is represented by the marred vessel. This acclamation from heaven was not the response to a single incident. It was a statement on the thirty years of Jesus’ life up to this point and God declares without qualification that He had found delight in Him; this required perfection.
In the Jewish law there was provision for a ritual reconciliation with God by the offering of a sacrifice and there is elaborate specification of the perfection required of the sacrificial animal. The purpose in giving the detail of the perfection required in this animal is solely to represent the way in which Jesus would provide a perfect offering for sin. At the end of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi takes issue with the offering of animals which were blemished, chap 1: 7, 8. This was offensive to God because the value to Him of a sacrificial animal was its representation of the flawless perfection of Jesus. The potter made another vessel as it seemed good to him: thus God has dealt so completely with the moral condition of those once unsuitable to Him that they can become the objects of His pleasure. God found complete satisfaction of His requirements for the resolution of the issue of sin by the perfection of the sacrifice of Jesus. You may find this hard to understand; the only approach to understanding it is by accepting what God pleases to make known. The word of scripture is that “the wages of sin is death”, Rom 6: 23. Jesus took the burden of sin upon Himself, bore the judgment of God upon it and went into death as bearing the penalty attached to sin. Paul also tells the Romans, however, that “...death has dominion over him no more” (chap 6: 9) and in His resurrection there is the evidence that sin no longer attaches to Him. Sin has been removed completely from before God. The moral obstacle, to which the marring of the vessel in the hand of the potter refers, has been removed and it can be made again in a way which pleases the potter.
I read in Luke 7 because I think that the scene in the house of Simon exemplifies the process through which the prophet was put. We are shown the house of the Pharisee, Jesus invited there, and a woman also there, but not invited. According to Simon the Pharisee, she was a sinner and Luke has already characterised her in this way. It was unthinkable that such a disreputable individual should be found in the house of a Pharisee; social convention was being turned completely on its head. However could this woman find it possible to act as she did? She did so because Jesus was there. We have considered the divine assessment of His distinctiveness in chapter 3 of Luke, the impact on heaven, might we say, of His life of obscurity, and in this chapter we see the exceptional power of the impact of this Person in the ordinary affairs of men. The hostility radiating from Simon and those with him would, in other circumstances, have been formidable but it was silent because of the extraordinary force of the presence of Jesus. For the woman, the power of this presence was powerfully attractive and more than sufficient to give her liberty to overcome the impediments which, in the absence of Jesus, would have been overwhelming.
Luke tells us that she took “an alabaster box of myrrh, and standing at his feet behind him weeping, began to wash his feet with tears; and she wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the myrrh”, v 37, 38. This was her service to the Man who had had the acclaim of heaven in chapter 3 and her perfect harmony with it is declared by her activity. In principle, everything she possessed was devotedly and intelligently bestowed on Him. She was silent. She mentioned nothing of her history to Jesus, nor did He raise any detail with her but, in anointing His feet with myrrh, she acknowledged that He must take a suffering way for her and she expressed how greatly she appreciated Him. Simon’s self-righteous instincts could not be suppressed but he restrained the expression of them in the powerful presence of Jesus. Having had the demonstration, just as Jeremiah had in the house of the potter, Simon was given a word. The word referred to two debtors and raised the question with Simon as to which of the creditor’s two debtors would love him most. Jesus did not say to Simon, 'You saw what she did'. Rather, He went over the detail of the woman’s activity towards Him by which she expressed the love of the forgiven five hundred pence debtor. She had not entered the house as one proud of her history. The position she took, standing behind Him weeping, was not that of someone who was proud of her history. This was a woman who was evidently repentant and this is one of the calls in the word of the glad tidings. Paul announced in Ephesus “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20: 21), and how clearly the woman’s actions reflected both. Simon had expressed unease earlier because the woman was a sinner and Jesus concluded His word to Him with the clear statement that her moral condition was resolved. Jesus then turned to the woman and she received the word directly: ”Thy sins are forgiven”. The others who were at table have another question, again restrained in its expression, because it was clear to them that, if He was administering forgiveness of sins, He was taking the place of God. The woman’s homage to Him made it evident that she was clear as to who He was. No word is offered to the questioners; His response is a further communication to the woman, “Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace”.
So the vessel that was marred remained in the hand of the potter and we see the process by which it was made again according to the pleasure of the potter. My desire is that you will have some sense of personal encounter by faith with this extraordinary, immense Person and that you will have the sense of this word being addressed to you: “Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace.” Wonderful, simple word, especially in a world of turmoil and conflict on every hand. If the whole world could have this, it would be the greatest transformation in history. This transformation will occur on the earth in a time yet to come, when the Lord Jesus will establish His rule on earth as Prince of Peace. With Jesus as your Lord, that rule of peace can be yours now. May it be so for His Name’s sake.
6th January 2008