Preached by Dr. Gene Scott November 27, 1977
TURN IN YOUR BIBLES, PLEASE, TO JEREMIAH 18. “The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there,” circle that word, “there I will cause thee to hear my words.” God speaks in diverse ways. “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he,” that is, the potter, “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.” G. Campbell Morgan has corrected the third verse, and you should write the correction in the margin of your Bible: “he wrought his work on the wheels.”
God wants this passage to speak to us as individuals. Yet, this is one of the most difficult areas of God’s Word for any preacher to communicate. Anyone who is a voice of God, and anyone who really loves God, cannot speak on a subject like this without being made aware of his own need of this message. Throughout God’s book, the mark of qualifying for God’s work is a vision of God and His will that produces an inevitable result to a sensitive soul: everyone called of God feels inadequate. And, the closer you get to God, the more you are aware of the distance between you and God. This is why the spirituality of a person is indicated by their attitude about their own spirituality. If they feel that they are adequate, they have never gone beyond their own righteousness; they have never really seen God.
This Bible contains a record that lets us know those of whom God approves. I dare you to find a man who ever did a thing for God anywhere in this book who thought he was adequate. It is not there. Isaiah was the best man in the kingdom. He was the only man who saw God, “high and lifted up,” while everybody else had their eyes elsewhere, and Isaiah’s cry was, “Woe is me!” (Isaiah 6:1-5) When Moses was finally ready to lead God’s people, his response to God’s call was, “Who am I . . . that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) David, at the time when God gave to him the greatest covenant given to anyone up to that point in God’s book, said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD? And what is my house, that thou has brought me hitherto?” (2 Samuel 7:18) Jeremiah, when called of God, said, “I cannot speak: for I am a child.” (Jeremiah 1:6) There are no exceptions. The glaring witness of contrast is the apostle Peter, who immediately assumed to himself “okayness”: he would make it; he would be the last to fail. If anyone were to fall, it would be somebody else, not him.
When the light is turned on, we know it to be true: in the midst of receiving God’s grace and the benefits of faith, we inevitably come to a presumptuous relationship with God whereby we think we deserve something. We think we’re doing all right. We think we deserve a little more than we are getting. We think God ought to go along with what we want. It is a twisted point of view that wreaks insidious devastation to the work of God. That is where the breakage in the communicative channel and the flow of God’s Spirit occurs. The key that unlocks our understanding is a recognition that I do not have the rights that I so eagerly assume to myself.
There is a principle that God wants to teach in the potter’s house; the principle is highlighted by what G. Campbell Morgan did when he changed the third verse. The Potter, a type of God, “wrought His work on the wheels.” Whether or not the original text supports this change doesn’t matter, because verse 4 gives license to that change: “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.” Underline those words. That is the principle of the potter’s house, which can be stated in a sentence. Write it in your Bible: “God has a right to do whatever He wants to do with the clay.”
Isaiah looked at the potter’s house and he asked the question, “Doth the clay say to the potter, what makest thou?” (Isaiah 29:16, 45:9) In other words, does the clay have a right to talk back to the potter and say, “What are you making out of me?” No. I will add as a parenthesis that there is no retirement of the clay; there is only the retirement of the pot. In the Old Testament frame, until the potter got the pot shaped exactly as he wanted it, he would make it again, another vessel. He kept working and kept working until finally, if that clay would not produce the pot he wanted to make, the pot went into the potter’s field, forever rejected.
I have seen potter’s houses around the world, and they always have three elements: there is a wheel, there is clay, and there is a potter. In this lesson, where the Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, the Potter is God, the clay is you and me, and the wheel is where He puts the clay to work on it. And if we will let God’s Word speak to us through the potter’s house, every marriage problem will cease, every family problem will cease, every friction in any area of your life or work will cease; every problem will cease, because the problem is . . . you! Not your wife, not your husband, not your life’s circumstances, not the people at your workplace; the problem is you. It’s the clay that is the problem.
The principle is that God has a right to do what He wants to do with us. What is sin in its root? The traditional church gets so wrapped up in definitions of the sins of the flesh, they cannot even comprehend the biblical frame of reference. The easiest sins that God has to deal with are sins of the flesh, which doesn’t mean He isn’t concerned with them. He can deliver a drunk 10 times easier than He can deliver a Pharisee. He can deliver a heathen savage from demon possession much easier than He can deal with somebody who has grown up in the church, serving himself through a funnel of ego. The hardest people in the world to preach to are “enculturated Christians, “the second and third generation, who grow up in the church but never truly die to self. Spiritual pride is the hardest sin God has to deal with, and it doesn’t matter what kind of mask it wears when it comes out. This is sin at its root, as Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to . . . “ What? Our own way. (Isaiah 53:6)
That is what the matter is in every church in this land. That is what the matter is with every family. What is at the root of every problem? “I want my way. I want recognition. My ego has to be fed; my needs have to be ministered to; my wants have to be catered to; my likes have to rule the day. Me! My! Mine” God’s problem from day one has been finding a man or a woman who will say, “Here, Lord, use my vessel. Here’s my hunk of clay; do with it what You want. Make it what You want it to be; shape it the way You want it shaped.”
That is why Jesus was the out-raying of God’s glory. He brought a will that was equal to God the Father. He brought a Person who spoke and the worlds were formed. (Hebrews 1:2-3) he moved into a tent of human flesh wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn, and was rejected by those in His own town at Nazareth. (John 1:14, Luke 2:4-7) In that hunk of clay, His meat was always to do the will of the Father that sent Him. (John 4:34) In that hunk of clay, He had one purpose: He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death. (Philippians 2:8) How many of you have done any dying the last seven days without complaining, “it hurts?”
Remember, the principle is “I have no rights.” We live in a world that is totally alien to that principle. This generation has been brought up in an educational frame that has completely inverted it. Today’s frame of reference is pragmatism: value is that which works for me and satisfies me; truth is that which works to solve my problem; and spirituality is that which makes me feel good. Even the church world has succumbed to that frame of reference: Jesus is my Baptizer, my Healer, my Savior, and my Mansion-builder. God didn’t start it that way. He unleashed in mankind the capacity to choose, and all we like sheep have still continued to astray; we have turned every one to our own way. The potter’s house teaches us that God the Potter wants to work His work on us. God is not going to change. He will not make you become what you want to be; He will make you into what He wants you to be. Period. He is the Boss, and you have no rights.
The principle applies to your children as well as to you. When you want to raise your child in God’s house, it can be tough. You are willing to say, “Okay, God, work me over. But, let me tell you, God, what I think You ought to do with my boy. You gave him to me, and I know where he ought to be placed.” Or, “Do what You will with me, God. But, my daughter, I brought her into this world. I know her and she’s better than she looks, and You should not be so tough on her, Lord.” God alone is able to add up the shipwrecks of dedicated lives lost because of catering parents who will say, “God, You can work on this clay that is my child - if You do it through me.” Remember the principle: you don’t have any rights! God alone is the Potter, and there is no hand between His hands and yours, nor between His hands and your child’s.
Now, since He is the Boss, what does He want to do? Remember, He has never changed. He said, “Let us make man in our image.” (Genesis 1:26) You may say, “Okay, but, Lord, I want a career; I’m going to be an attorney. I know how much You need good Christian attorneys, and You do what You want with me as long as I attain what I want to attain as an attorney.” God said, “Let us make man in our image,” not “attorney image.” “Well, but, Lord, I want to be the ideal wife, the perfect woman.” Again God said, “Let us make man in our image.” Turn the illustration around: “But, Lord, I want her to be the perfect wife.” No. It is much harder to say, “God, make her in Your image.”
“Well, he ought to be a better husband to me.” Let God make him in His image. “Well, I want to be a good musician - He needs good musicians.” God has singers in Heaven so good you can’t match them. Let God make you in His image. “Well, I want to be a good preacher.” Again, let God make you in His image. Or, “I’ve got this business, which is just about to succeed. And, when it does, then I can retire and I will have nothing to do but just follow the fire around that’s burning in revival. Then God can work on me.” Now, if you will hear His voice today, Romans 8:28 says that God enters in to all things to work His good, “to them who are the called according to his purpose.” The next verse names the purpose: that we might all be “conformed to the image of his Son.”
God built a church, redeemed all us dumb sheep who were going the wrong direction, and bound us together in a single criterion of oneness. I know there are some in the modern charismatics saying that if we all talk in tongues, we will all be one. Well, there are Shinto sects whose members talk in tongues and they are not receiving an utterance from the Holy Spirit. That is not the criterion of oneness. Speaking in tongues may be an energizing force that facilitates coming together, like the bdellium spoken of in Genesis; something that makes us stick together. (Genesis 2:12) But the criterion is Jesus.
The church is bought with His price, they are redeemed, they have repented. What is repentance? It means to turn from my way to His way. Without repentance, there is no entering into His Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not something out there; it is now. It is in the hearts and lives of those who have said, “My way is wrong; I haven’t got any more sense than a dumb wad of clay flung up in the wind that thinks it’s going to come down looking like a canary or a swan.” No, it’s going to come down looking like a bent-out-of-shape mess of clay. God is the Potter! You enter into His church by accepting that He is Lord.
“God gave some, apostles; prophets; evangelists; pastors and teachers . . .” I don’t care how inadequate a struggling pastor may seem to be in the flesh. When he begins to speak, “Thus saith the Word of the Lord,” he is God’s instrument and is flowing forth God’s Word. He is God’s gift to the church with one view in mind: “the perfecting of the saints, to the work of the ministry . . . Till we all come in the unity of the faith,” no longer each of us pulling our own way with our own views of what ought to be done. We come to a unity of the faith. There is one pattern that brings that unity out of the diversity: the “knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man,” and that perfect Man is Jesus. There is only one criterion of perfection: Him! (Ephesians 4:11-13)
It makes no difference how successful your career may be, how much you may think you deserve more than somebody else or what a self-proclaimed hotshot you may believe you are. God is only interested in one thing: getting rid of that hotshot, self-styled, sympathy-seeking, self-directed, petty, dying self. He does this so that the natural man might be crushed and bent and made malleable, in order that the new man who is in Christ Jesus might come out in power. You can find many reasons for identifying with a church, but only one is valid in the courts of Heaven: you had better find a church that carves away at that old man and crystallizes with sharpness the new man in Christ Jesus.
There are all kinds of churches in competition today, and people give all kinds of reasons for choosing a church. Some want to go where they can have room to waive their arms, jump up and down, and yell. Others want to go where they get massaged and petted all day long. Others want to go where there is a playpen for their kids. You had better go where the unity of the faith is brought forth as the old nature is carved away every day. When you leave, you leave with a better understanding that your compass has been re-fixed and your attitude has been re-honed. You had better be part of a ministry that has clarified what it means to be like Jesus, because that is the whole business of the church.
I am concerned that, in the midst of the building for God, some of us are liable to get it in our heads that because we lift a brick or two, or stay late a few times during the week, that we are okay. No, we’re not. When the pattern of Jesus is laid down, He is interested in one thing, and that is making us over. God doesn’t like your nature. He likes you, but He doesn’t like what you’ve made out of yourself. There is only one place for you, and that is on a cross to die. The dying that Peter speaks about is “the trial of your faith,” our being put into a pressure cooker. (1 Peter 1:6-9) We can never die as Jesus did. He paid the price for our sins completely, but every time we get in a pressure cooker that squeezes out of us that old man that Jesus had to die for, we should shout, “Hallelujah! At least I can kill this part of me that caused Him to die.” Instead, what do we do? We stroke that nasty, little, bitter self that we’ve catered to for so many years; we stroke that little ego of ours and we decide, “I can find a place where he won’t be bothered that much.” God wants to knock that out of our system.
It is like Jesus dealing with Peter. I’m sure Peter thought he was something special, because Jesus had chosen him. Peter had walked on water. Yet Peter went to sleep on the Mount of Transfiguration when Elijah and Moses appeared. (Luke 9:32) After Peter’s many failures, including denying his Lord, Jesus sought out Peter and restored him. But Jesus said, “Peter, you have girded your loins and done what you wanted, but now another is going to gird you and is going to lead you to death.” Peter gets the message, but then he turns around, sees John, and says, “What about him? If that’s going to happen to me, tie the same noose around John’s neck.” Those who might imagine that Jesus was always sweet and gentle should listen to His rebuke. In modern language, He said, “Shut your mouth! It’s none of your business what happens to him. If he stays with Me until I come again, you just follow me.” (John 21:18-22) We don’t have any rights except to let Him do what He wants to do with us, and He knows what He wants to do: He wants to make us over like Jesus.
That brings us to the wheel. The wheel is the circumstance into which He puts that clay so He can work on it. “Well, I want an upholstered wheel: this one doesn’t fit; I don’t like the speed it’s spinning. I don’t mind getting hit with His fingers as I go by, once, but if you could, slow it down a little. I mean, it’s going too fast; I’m getting bent out of shape. I have rights. Nobody asked me about the speed of this wheel or how it fits me.” It’s a spinning wheel and He just goes smack and throws the clay on the wheel. Don’t just mouth Christian platitudes. If you give your life to God, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” When you put your life in His hands, He orders your steps. (Psalm 37:23)
Our problem is that we like to be in His hand when He delivers us from a problem, but not when He takes that clay and goes splat! We think, “I like being in His hand; He just delivered me out of a problem and gave me a victory. Now, shouldn’t I be able to preach and be a hero and lie on a beach and write books about how great it is to be shaped by God?” Splat! He puts me on the awfulest wheel on Earth. Then He makes it worse, He puts some unmixable clay, in my judgment, on the same wheel with me. I don’t want that clay on my pot. I think I deserve to be a pot on my own, in my own orbit, on my own wheel. If He doesn’t know how to build it, I’ll tell Him how to build it.
“Oh, Lord, get me off of this wheel! I get seasick looking at a wheel spinning.” God knows the speed you need, He knows the wheel you need, and, say what you will, you will never be shaped without the wheel. God put you there. Nobody who ever leaves one of God’s wheels, voluntarily choosing another wheel, will find one that will shape you a little better. We want to leave a wheel to get on a shelf. How many of us want to jump to a wheel that is going to bend us out of shape? Instead, we take our misshapen self and justify its beauty by our own projected image, and say, “I deserve to be on this shelf. In fact, I deserve to be on this display counter.” How many are guilty, and honest enough to admit it? The rest of you need a few spins more. God knows where you are.
Some of us need to kiss the wheel instead of complaining, in the knowledge that we are sheltered in the arms of God; you never move outside of His presence. When you come into His care, He leads you. God has never changed: He is the Boss. He will not give His Son from Heaven’s glory for a bunch of clay that will argue the rest of their days with Him. The price of salvation is Lordship. He has never changed in His purpose: He wants to make us in His image, and the surest way to avoid it is to get off the wheel where He’s working on you.
Finally, I want you to see His care. The wheel is not just spinning by itself. It’s not a random kind of treatment. Have you ever watched a potter at work in an old-fashioned potter’s house? They never take their eyes off that pot. It is one of the most attentive activities done by skilled artisans. Their hands and their fingers are on it every moment. The spin of the wheel is only part of the story; the shape of the wheel is used, but the potter is on control. He is working. I don’t know how to explain the mystery, but in God’s omniscience and in God’s wondrous power, the God who sees a sparrow fall and numbers the hairs of your head gives each pot, each and every one of us, that kind of attention. (Matthew 10:29-31)
God does know. He knows your problem. He knows where you are. He knows every spin of the wheel. He knows every pressure point on that wheel. If we would just let Him do His job - if we would just recognize that God is more interested in you than in what you can do for Him. He is more interested in you than in any of those substitutes: career, family, mother, husband, wife.
What about your failures? In the Old Testament, the broken and rejected pot was thrown into the potter’s field. In the New Covenant, it’s never too late to start over with Him. After Judas betrayed his Lord, he was stricken in his conscience. Smitten with guilt, he threw down those pieces of silver, the price he was paid to betray the Lord. We read in the Gospel that those pieces of silver were picked up and used to purchase a potter’s field. God doesn’t do anything by accident in His book. The price of Jesus’ life bought up the field where all the rejected pots were thrown. (Matthew 27:3-10) What does that tell you? God will never change His terms: He’s going to be the Boss. His purpose is to make you like Jesus; and the circumstance you are in is the wheel that He utilizes with His hand on your life to shape you.
Forget your career, forget your family for a moment, forget your marriage. Forget everything, and ask yourself, what have you been trying to escape from in your circumstance? Then, commit it to God and let Him work on you instead of your problem, because you are the problem. Make up your mind here and now that, if God never works on another pot again, He paid a price to buy you out of the field of rejects to start anew with you to do His work. Let Him do it, and commit yourself anew to being, in your circumstance, a pot that’s being made in His image. Willingly accept it. Quit looking for some way to get off the wheel, and quit talking back to the wheel. Quit resisting His hand, and quit looking at other pieces of clay on the wheel. You and God settle it today.
From “The PULPIT,” Volume 4
Copyright © 2010, Pastor Melissa Scott. Reprinted here with her permission.
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