Scripture Reference: Jeremiah 18
In The Potter's HouseDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | February 7, 2009
Selected highlights from this sermon
When we face disappointments in life, do we remember that God is at work? The prophet Jeremiah was taken to a potter’s house so that he could see how God relates to us through our circumstances.
Like a potter, God is shaping us, through both good and bad experiences. While we often try to resist His desire for us, His grace is able to remake even the most scarred vessels. Let us submit to the Potter’s hands and become an honorable vessel that suits His purposes.
We’ve just sung a wonderful prayer, but let us pray one more time.
Our Father, we do want to ask sincerely that in these next moments You might change our hearts. May we be in the Potter’s house, and may we be that vessel that has been transformed and remade by Your power. Make this an astounding experience of transformation by Your blessed Holy Spirit. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Today I am speaking on the topic In the Potter’s House. All of us have gone through experiences in life, I am sure, that have been disappointing. Our dreams have been shattered. If we could go up and down the aisles we’d find people today who would say, “I hoped for a happy marriage, but it hasn’t happened.” Someone else might say, “I hoped for good health,” or “I hoped for a satisfying career.” What is God doing in the midst of our pain, in the midst of our disappointments and in the midst of our shattered dreams?
Well, today I want you to come with me to Israel. How many of you have been to Israel? Can I see your hands please? There are not nearly as many as I thought, but we’re all going to Israel today. And I want you to bring your camera. You know everywhere people have digital cameras nowadays. In fact, they even have cameras on their phones. So bring your camera along because what we are going to do is we’re going to go into the potter’s house. We’re going to take four snapshots so that when you get back from Israel you can show your friends what you saw in the potter’s house.
Jeremiah 18 is the passage of Scripture where Jeremiah was asked to go into the potter’s house. “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.” I know that the context is a reference to the nation Israel, as Jeremiah explains in the next verses, but today I want us to see this passage from God’s standpoint and our standpoint, and what God is doing in our lives, and what it’s like to be a vessel in the potter’s house.
Now I told you to bring your cameras because the first picture that we’re going to take as we walk into the potter’s house is a picture of the potter himself who, in this particularly story, is God. But let’s look at a potter that you might find in Israel. He is so intent on what he is doing that he doesn’t even know that we have walked into his store or into his room. He is very intent, and as we look more carefully, we notice that he is working purposefully. He has a plan in mind. He has a good idea of what this vessel is going to look like, and he determines whether it’s going to be a flowerpot, whether it’s going to be a water pot, whether or not it’ll have handles, or how big it will be. All of that is in his mind as he works purposefully.
He’s not like pre-school children playing with Play-Doh who are just making things that perhaps have no particular shape, and he’s not blindfolded, as the evolutionists say that he is, working blindly throwing things together. There is a plan, and there is a plan that God has for your life. Clearly in the book of Romans it says that that plan is that we should be conformed to the image of His Son.
Today as you are listening to me, whether here, or on the Internet or on the radio, keep in mind that God has a purpose in what He is putting you through because He sees you in a way that you don’t see yourself. He has a plan in mind. He is working purposefully.
Let us also realize that he is working patiently. We may think that, as we see the potter go through all of the various motions as he is looking at that vessel, it might seem as if it’s good to us. But it’s not yet good to him and he’s taking his time. He does not want to sacrifice beauty for speed, so there he works. And the Divine Potter sometimes works that way too. Have you ever noticed how long it sometimes takes God to remake somebody? And we’d like to be able to put it through the assembly line. “Do it quickly, God. Do it in a few weeks. Do it in a couple of months. Surely not years!” But God is working patiently.
But He’s also working authoritatively because He has in mind the kind of vessel that He wants, and we’ll see this when it comes to the second vessel, the remade vessel. It says that He remakes it as it pleases him, as it seems good to him. God works with authority. Doesn’t this bring to your mind Romans 9, that very difficult passage that all of us struggle with regarding Pharaoh? It says, “For this purpose I raised Pharaoh up, and I hardened his heart that I might show my glory throughout all the earth.” And of course an objector says, “Well, wait a moment God. This doesn’t make sense. Doesn’t Pharaoh have free will? How come you are still blaming him if You are the one who raised him up?” And you remember what the Apostle Paul said. He said, “Who are you to reply to God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, ‘Why have You made me this way?’ Does the vessel say to the potter, ‘Why have you made me thus?’ What if God wants to make His glory and His power known? Does He not have the right to make some vessels unto honor and some unto dishonor?”
He works with authority, and God works with authority. And yet, as we look at the text, we notice that from our standpoint at least it looks as if the potter has a mixture of success as well as a mixture of failure, because clearly this vessel is not turning out the way in which he intended.
So naturally we face the question, “Does God ever fail? Does He intend to do something and want to do something but then He’s blocked because of our stubbornness? Well, there are two ways that we must view this. First of all, let us understand that God’s hidden purpose is always achieved. There’s no doubt that He works all things after the counsel of His own will, and the will that you and I do not see, because there is so much that we see that we do not understand. And we cannot understand God’s purposes. That hidden will is always achieved. “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven and amongst the inhabitants of earth. And none can stay His hand or say unto Him, ‘What doest Thou?’” His eternal hidden will is always achieved.
But there’s another sense in which His visible purposes here on this earth are sometimes thwarted by us. It's by a hardness of heart, by our rebellion, by our failure to take human responsibility. So that’s the other side of this coin. But as the potter sits there working, he is working authoritatively because he does have an end in mind.
Do you now have a picture of the potter on the camera of your mind? Do you see him there, sitting on a stool, working intently, dressed in brown clothes, working with brown clay? That’s the first picture – the picture of the potter.
Well let’s move on and take a picture now of the wheel. You’ll notice it says, “And he was working at his wheel,” in the last part of verse 3, and he was making a vessel on the wheel. So what is the wheel? The wheel is real life experiences in the analogy, and He is working in our lives through two different venues broadly speaking. The first venue is circumstances. God brings circumstances into our lives and the Bible says that all things work together for good to those who love God. And that little word all should be emphasized and underlined. All things work together for good. All the circumstances of life, including your struggles with your health, and, as we shall see in a moment, struggles with other people.
But notice circumstances. It says in the Old Testament regarding Joseph (when he was exalted and next to Pharaoh, because he was working with Potiphar who was Pharaoh’s secret service agent), “And the Lord was with Joseph and he was exalted in Egypt.” And then he becomes falsely accused. Do you remember? And he was thrown into prison. And then it says, “And the Lord was with Joseph when he was in prison.”
May I say to you today that God is with us in our promotions, but He is also with us in our demotions? The potter uses both. He uses health as well as sickness. He also uses not only circumstances but also people. Have you ever noticed how God irritates us with people? (laughter) You know, we all love humanity, as Charlie Brown says. It’s just people that we can’t stand.
To live above with the saints we love,
Oh, that will be glory,
But to live below with the saints I know,
That’s another story.
And here it is. God puts us all together and He says, “Enjoy one another.”
Now how does God use people? God uses people to teach us and to mold us. If we were to look at that potter, as we would see the clay spinning around on his wheel, we’d notice that he has a knife, and he is using that knife very guardedly and very carefully so that the excess clay might come off. And he is doing that, and that’s exactly the way in which God tests us and develops us.
To you students that are here today, the roommate that God in His providence has given you for this semester may be the very knife that God intended to use to make you into the vessel He wants you to be. But you know, the vessel has no right to tell the Potter, “You can’t use that person or that circumstance.” You have no right to do that. The Potter can use whomever he wishes.
Think of it this way. In the case of the Apostle Paul, the Potter used Satan - a messenger of Satan to trouble Paul and to give him the thorn in the flesh. In the life of someone like Peter, what you find is that God used somebody else, namely his own deception and his own unwillingness to follow Jesus Christ. And in the case of Joseph, of whom I spoke about earlier, God used his brothers. His brothers were the wheels that God used to produce within him Christ-like character, because that’s what God is after. And indeed, the Bible says that all things work together for good. That’s the wheel.
There was a very wise Chinese man. I read this story some time ago. He had a son and a horse, and that’s all that he had, but his son let the horse out of the barn, and so the horse ran away. So this man’s friends gathered together and they said, “We want to sympathize with you over the bad thing that happened.” And the man said, “How do you know that this is bad?”
The next day the horse returned and brought 10 stray horses with him. All of his friends gathered together and they said, “We want to celebrate with you regarding the good thing that happened to you?” He said, “How do you know that this is good?”
His son was trying to break one of those new horses and the horse threw him off and the boy broke his leg. Everybody gathered around and said, “We want to comfort you regarding the bad that has happened.” And he said, “How do you know that it is bad?”
The next day soldiers were coming through the countryside looking for young men to fight, and his son was exempt because he had a broken leg. “Oh, let us gather together.”
Well, you know this story could go on for a long time. (laughter) As Christians we do not make superficial judgments. All things work together for good to them that love God. That’s the wheel upon which God places us.
All right, we have looked now, and back behind that wheel, my friend, is God. So we’ve taken two pictures. We’ve taken a picture of the potter. We’ve taken a picture of the wheel. Now it’s time to take a picture of the first vessel. That’s the third picture that we take.
Notice what it says. “He was working at his wheel (verse 4) and the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand.” We look at this vessel and there was something within it that resisted the potter. Possibly it has some lumps within it. It is as if this vessel was rebelling against what the potter wanted to do, and these lumps were creating difficulty. The lumps showed that there was also a lack of symmetry. Symmetry is very, very important to the potter, and as a result of that, this particular vessel, despite the fact that the potter was working authoritatively, was marred. It was spoiled. It was ruined in the hands of the potter. And by analogy, what the text is teaching us here is that there is within us the possibility (Now we’re looking at the human side.) of rebelling against God, rebelling against His intentions, rebelling against His plan, and so you find that we are standing against God rather than submitting to God. And the vessel is lumpy, and the vessel does not have symmetry but is marred or spoiled in the potter’s hands.
We could give many illustrations. I’m thinking, for example, in the Old Testament of King Saul. God gifted King Saul. He was drop-dead good looking. He was taller than all of the other people. He seemed to even have humility. He had the gift of being a prophet. They all said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” He was able to win victories and yet he was filled with rot. And think of how he ended. He ended without God’s blessing. He ended trying to keep the Kingdom, which God took away from him, and he is a sorry blot on the history of Israel.
And you and I can also be a King Saul. I’m not a poet but I’ll throw this in. There’s a little bit of Saul in us all. And we need to be careful because even this vessel was spoiled in the Potter’s hands. I’ve met people who think they know better than God as to whom they should marry. They know better than God as to what their vocation should be. They know better than God the path that they should take in life and they keep bumping into one briar patch after another, and God takes them through one circumstance after another, and they are marred in the Potter’s hands because they will not submit to His authority.
Well, we’ve looked at the first vessel, but there’s a fourth picture that we have to take and that is the remade vessel. Notice it says, “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.” Now what would you do if you had this piece of clay that was lumpy, that was not fitting together and being formed according to your specifications? Well, I know what I’d have a tendency to do. I’d just take it and pitch it against the wall and then get a new lump and say, “If that’s not going to work, this is.” But the potter very patiently takes that lump and squishes it.
And there is such a thing as the breaking of the people of God. There is such a thing as brokenness, of taking our lives and reordering them, taking our agendas and making them quite different, and bringing into our lives that which we could never anticipate. And God does that because He is after something. He wants to reshape us and remake us into another vessel.
You look again at the Scripture and you find that God was doing that all the time. Here is Abraham who was a pagan in Ur of the Chaldeans, and God calls Abraham. Yet Abraham has lumps. Abraham lies. Abraham disbelieves God. And what does the Potter do? The Potter continues to work with Abraham so that as he goes through his life and the older he becomes, the more sanctified he becomes, the more truthful he becomes, and the more faith he begins to have because the Potter has worked in Abraham’s life and has remade him.
You have, for example, in the Scriptures David with all of his potential and all of his love for God, and all of his sin of murder and adultery. But though he committed those sins, God was still not finished with him. Marred in the Potter’s hand, spoiled in the Potter’s hand to be sure, but God remakes him into another vessel. God brings about a spirit of repentance, and even though David’s consequences continued and the impact of his sin reached future generations and ultimately eternity, the fact is that as for David himself, if you read Psalm 51, he was being remade into another vessel. “Renew within me a right spirit.” God remakes spoiled vessels, and so what we have here is a crushing of the child of God, and the vessel is prepared to be used.
Now, what does a potter do? He has this vessel that he has made, and it has symmetry. The lumps are out of it. Is it ready yet? No, it’s not ready to be used. If a potter made a water pot, and didn’t put it into a furnace, it would become a cracked pot. And so what he has to do is he has to put it into the furnace, into the kiln. So he takes this vessel that he has made and he puts it in a furnace, and he knows exactly the temperature that the vessel needs, and how long the vessel has to be there. He has it all worked out according to his timer. And if the vessel could speak it would shout, “No, this hurts.” But the vessel has to be there because the potter has something in mind. He wants a vessel that is going to hold water, a vessel that will be able to keep flowers, a vessel that will be worthy for the treasure that he’s going to put into it. And some vessels in those days were made specifically that they might be able to hold treasures.
And so what God does in our lives and says is, “I want to glaze you (That’s another part of the process.), but I put you through the fire.” And we shout, “No, it’s too much,” and God says, “I have My hand on the thermostat and I know what you can take. I know where you are at, but I also know what I am after.” And there we find ourselves frequently in the furnace of affliction, but it is there that God helps us. In fact, to refer again to Joseph, he says when he has his second son, “You have made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It is in the affliction – in the furnace – that God makes His vessels. And so the dream is realized.
You’ll notice that the text says that he made it into another pot – another vessel – with the same material, to be sure, because he reshapes it, but he remakes it into another vessel even as it pleases him.
I need to share with you today that God loves to remake spoiled vessels. In fact, there is more grace in God’s heart to do that than there is ability for you to confess your sin that it might be done. God’s grace outweighs our sins, and He loves to remake people as it pleases Him – His shape.
A number of years ago Rebecca and I had the privilege of having lunch with Jim Bakker. Now some of you who remember him back in the 80s during the PTL scandal. Jim Bakker ended up spending about 4 or 5 years in prison, as a matter of fact, because of some deceptions that went on at PTL. And then he wrote a book later entitled I Was Wrong, in which he detailed his experience in prison and what he learned in prison, and all of the good changes that God made in his life.
And we were there having lunch for perhaps an hour and a half, or two actually, with him and the wife to whom he is now married, namely Laurie. And I looked at Jim, and I thought, “You know, despite all the past that I used to have questions about, that process in prison remade him into a vessel that honors God.”
And today many people listen to our ministry in prison, and I want to say a word to those of you who are listening to this broadcast. It is oftentimes in the crucible of that furnace that God remakes and reshapes and redirects the vessel that has been spoiled.
And then we think of Jim’s wife, Laurie. Now I’m telling you things that are actually in her biography, though she shared those things with us too. She met Jim when he was working in a rescue mission in Los Angeles, I believe it was, or in some city in California, and she had five abortions before the age of 21. When she accepted Christ as Savior, she said, “I memorized 400 verses just to get my mind cleared and my mind straightened out.” And together today they give their lives really in their new ministry of service for Christ and trying to win as many people as they possibly can to Jesus Christ. Now when you look at those lives, Jim was converted before his prison experience, but in that experience God remade him. His wife was converted later, after her terrible experiences of sin, but God remade her because God loves to remake spoiled vessels.
And where you are sitting today and listening, God is talking to you and giving you hope, and saying, “No matter where you find yourself, you submit yourself to the Potter and be willing to do whatever the Potter wants you to do, and God will remake you into a vessel as it pleases Him.” And that will be for your good and for His glory, and those two are connected. Your good and the glory of God are directly tied together.
Now what happens when a lump of clay absolutely refuses all direction? What happens when a lump of clay stands against the Potter and says, “I will die rebelling against You?”
We can see this story played out in the New Testament in the life of Peter and Judas. Peter was a vessel that needed to be remade, but after he committed his sin of saying that he didn’t know Jesus and denied Jesus, he was deeply repentant. And God remade him into the man that we admire today, who wrote two books of the New Testament and is so prominent in spreading the Gospel, as it is given in the book of Acts. So from that standpoint, Peter was remade into a vessel as it pleased God.
Judas also denied Christ, but Judas had so hardened his heart that he was no longer pliable. The Potter could no longer work with him, and what eventually happens to the clay that will not submit to the Potter is it is cast aside, and what you get are called potsherds. And if you are there in the potter’s house you can see over in the corner there are these lumps of clay, totally dried, totally worthless to be thrown out.
The bottom line is this: Where are you on the continuum? Are you willing to submit to the Potter and to say, “Oh God, You are the Potter and I am the clay? Thank You for using people. Thank You for using circumstances. Thank You for using disappointments and shattered dreams that You might remake me into a vessel even as it pleases You.”
Now I need to emphasize that the point of beginning for those of you who are here who may not realize this is, of course, your relationship with Jesus Christ. If you want to connect with God, that’s the first step because Jesus came to save sinners to connect us with God, to take away our sin so that God can declare us as righteous as Jesus Himself is. That is the process of, first of all, being remade. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. All things have become new.” That’s the beginning point, but it’s not the end. It’s the beginning. The end is saying, “Lord, here I am. Make me into whatever You want me to be. Thou are the Potter. I am the clay. All rebellion ends here.”
And our Father, we want to thank You today that You work in our lives with purpose. You have something in mind, namely that we might look more like Jesus. Thank You for circumstances. Thank You that behind that wheel that seems to run so aimlessly is Your eternal purpose for us. Cause us, Father, to submit to that.
And we ask for those who may be here who have never even entered into a life that has been transformed by You. May they come to Jesus. May they acknowledge their sins and receive Him as their Savior. Help us, Father, we pray.
And now before I close this prayer I want you to pray. What is it that you need to say to God today? What have you been resisting? And if you’ve never trusted Christ, why don’t you reach out to Him right now and say, “Jesus, I want to believe. I want to receive. I want to be changed by You.”
Father, the work that You have begun in our lives, please complete it. Despite the temperature of the furnace we ask, Father God, that You might grant us the grace to be who You want us to be, the vessel You have in mind. May that be true of us as individuals, as well as true of The Moody Church! We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.