We thank the Lord who enables us, through His grace, to live and to do according to our strength and what He instructs us to do.
I would like to make an apology. The last time I spoke I related an incident where a mother prayed that she would be a swift witness against her rebellious son. I said that the woman was the mother of Charles Wesley, however she was the mother of Charles Spurgeon.
I am thankful for the sister who corrected me regarding what I had said, thinking I was correct. She acted like a true brother. She saved this preacher from saying something which others may have noticed was incorrect. If you do not act like a brother, you will harbour things in your heart and begin to find fault. There may be something like this which you sit on and it has developed into a cancerous disease within you and is making you spiritually unwell, you are in the process of dying because you have not acted like a true Christian brother. Because this sister helped in a God-given, God-instructed way, many people can be saved from a spiritually cancerous disease. She acted in accordance with what Christ has taught us. Some people are not seen but they fulfil an important role behind the scene.
To you who are able to hear and understand this word, in Christ Jesus there is neither man nor woman. If it is an appropriate word, an instruction, a correction – even if it comes from a wife – then you as a husband will be a fool if you disregard it. When Pilate had to make a decision that had eternal consequences, he did not lend an ear to his wife.
It is absolutely vital that we heed God’s instructions. He sometimes works unexpectedly. He sometimes does not work according to our thinking, planning and intentions. It is for our own good, our spiritual health and for the edification of the church. How wonderful, beautiful and glorious the functioning of the church can be. Are you part of it or do you only care for your own wellbeing? You are possibly not as well as you think yourself to be.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear[a] my words.”3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 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. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Jeremiah 18:1 – 10
Jeremiah, the prophet, was chosen while he was young. He said, ‘Oh Lord God, behold I cannot speak for I am only a youth.” God seeks those who are insignificant, unimportant and incapable in their own eyes. As soon as we see ourselves as important, as being accomplished, as becoming something of value in our own eyes then God diminishes and retreats. He seeks another alternative. How often has God regretted and reversed His decisions concerning the good He intended for mankind. Remember Saul when he was chosen as the first king of Israel, he tried to hide although he was a head taller than others. Remember when Solomon saw himself as inadequate, unable, lacking wisdom and knowledge, he said, “God, this only I can ask of you.” Remember when Jesus came into the world, to a despised place, He called His disciples from among fisherman who knew how to fish, dry their boats and mend their nets. He found a tax collector, a sinner. He sought for people of no significance and earthly position. He did not go to the temple or to the council of the priests to seek out the learned, highly educated, devoted people who prayed so often, tithed and fasted. He overlooked them. But things went wrong with King Saul. Words came through the prophet to the King, “When you were small in your own eyes, didn’t the Lord choose you to become king over His people?”
What is required of a person? What is applicable to our lives? It is to fear God, to obey His commands and His voice even if you are young. How many men of God were not chosen in their youth? The Lord said, “I have put My words in your mouth.” Thank God for a preacher and a missionary, our director and shepherd of this flock who has often told us that he wants to listen to and subject himself to the words of a youth if God places His word in that person.
Do you take heed or choose not to heed God’s voice? If God suddenly speaks concerning a nation: And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it... Jeremiah 18:9. What will the outcome be? Will the blessing continue or come to an end?
10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Jeremiah 18:10. You can do what you like but you have someone to reckon with who is greater than the prophet – the One who laid His words in his mouth. We will have to reckon with the One who has the final verdict. He who regrets and reverses His decision concerning that with which He wanted to benefit us.
Jeremiah knew, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength whose heart turns away from the Lord.” Jeremiah 17:5 Jeremiah knew 7 Most blessed is the man who believes in, trusts in, and relies on the Lord, and whose hope and confidence the Lord is...Jeremiah 17:7. Jeremiah knew that He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:8. He knew because God had told him and he believed in God’s words. He knew that the heart is deceitful above all things and exceedingly perverse and corrupt… Jeremiah 17:9 He had heard the words, I the Lord search the heart and test the mind to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds. Jeremiah 17:10
O Lord, the Hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be put to shame. They who depart from You and me [Your prophet] shall [disappear like] writing upon the ground, because they have forsaken the Lord, the Fountain of living waters. Jeremiah 17:13
16 But as for me, I have not sought to escape from being a shepherd after You, nor have I desired the woeful day of judgment; You know that. Whatever I said was spoken in Your presence and was from You. Jeremiah 17:15,16
Do we understand of what calibre this prophet was?
To the youth: To whom do you devote your youthful strength? Have you heard the voice of God directed at you as a young person? It is possible that God is counting on you. He has something very, very special in store for you, young boy and girl – not to speak about things you have knowledge of or do things you are capable of or live a life you can cope with, but your heart says, “I can’t, Lord” and God answers, “You can’t, but I can.”
One man – a Jeremiah – was equipped by God to withstand and oppose. As a result of God’s word, he had to suffer under a whole nation and one king after another. God said, “I will make you as steel.” We need men of iron these days, people who are surefooted, who stand with their feet on a rock. It is a precious thing when the heart becomes firm through the grace of God. It is precious if God’s grace is in your life, even if you are a young. All your degrees, Masters and Doctorates seem insignificant in comparison to the call of the Most High.
Jeremiah was sent to the potter’s house. What did he do? He could have said, “Lord, I have spoken enough. I am tired of these rebellious people. I have suffered beatings. I have been placed in the stocks. Lord, these people don’t want to listen. What can a potter teach me?” No, the potter cannot teach you anything but God wants you to see something and He will teach you. See the never ending mercy and compassion that God has. Look at your life. There should not be a day or a moment when you are not wholeheartedly convinced that God has unending compassion on you. Never say God is hard on me. God, how can I endure this?
4 And the vessel that he was making from clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he made it over, reworking it into another vessel… Jeremiah 18:4
And then the Lord said, “…can I not do with you as this potter does?” Jeremiah 18:6
Hear His lament to His own people, those whom He had saved, those to whom He had made wonderful promises – this is your land, Canaan, your forefathers came here through God’s doing not through your own strength. The Lord laments: like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. Jeremiah 18:6. Are we in the Lord’s hand as clay in the potter’s hands? Even if you are spoilt, you must agree that your life is spoilt because you did not know what you were doing. God’s hand was around you but you were spoilt through sin and the corruption and deceitfulness of your heart. God is not happy that you are spoiled in His hands because He has intentions for you, a purpose for you. He wants to make something out of this clay.
We are taken from the dust of the earth. We are born into a corrupt world. Our hearts and our minds are corrupted but God’s hand is still around this batch of clay. Can this clay not be reworked into another vessel? Aren’t you willing that these hands that are greater can be at work in this clay to form something out of it which that clay cannot perform out of its own? You might say, I have tried. I have tried for a year, five years but have you allowed God to reform and rework the clay into another vessel?
Friend, are you still on the potter’s wheel? Can you still feel the hands that are around you? Where are you? Where is the willingness of the heart? He has promised us a new heart even though our heart is deceitful above all things, exceedingly perverse, corrupt and mortally sick. You can have a new heart. Why don’t you cry out to the One who can give a new heart? God can rid you of all deception if you hear His voice. If He speaks then say, “God, I am listening. I obey. Change this heart of mine, change this sickness and corruption.” You can cry for it as a baby cries for milk. You can expose that vileness of your heart. You can say, “Lord, this is the grit in me. These are the hard chips, pebbles and stones in this lump of clay.” Shouldn’t the word of God crush that heart and result in a sound repentance? That word is powerful. It can sift us and get rid of the hardness in our hearts and make us a prepared lump.
Are you still in the potter’s hands? Are you willing for the Lord to shape you? Where do you find yourself? Are you hardened, dried out clay which is broken in pieces or do you want to be in the potter’s hand?
I would like to read you a story about God who guides and provides. He leads and feeds His people and sometimes in ways unusual – as John Craig once learnt. Craig was born in Scotland in 1512, studied at the University of St Andrews and entered the ministry. (Aren’t these wonderful words? It is wonderful when you enter God’s ministry, God’s agenda; not your own ministry, your own agenda.) While living on the continent he found a copy of Calvin’s Institutes and in reading them found himself becoming a Protestant. As a result he was arrested by agents of the Inquisition, taken prisoner to Rome and condemned to death at the stake. On the evening of August 19, 1559, while awaiting execution the next day, dramatic news arrived that Pope Paul IV had died. According to custom the prisons in Rome were thrown open and prisoners temporarily released.
Craig took advantage of the opportunity, escaping to an inn on the city’s outskirts. A band of soldiers tracked him down but as the captain of the guard arrested him, the soldier paused, looking at him intently. Finally he asked Craig if he remembered a wounded soldier some years before in Bologna. “I am the man you relieved,” said the captain, “and Providence has now put it into my power to return the kindness – you are at liberty.” The soldier gave Craig the money in his pockets and marked out an escape route for him.
As he made his way through Italy, Craig avoided public routes, taking the circuitous routes suggested by the captain, using the money for food. But at length Craig’s money was exhausted and so were his spirits. He lay down in the woods and gloomily considered his plight. Suddenly he heard the sound of steps and Craig tensed. It was a dog and in its mouth was a purse. Craig waved the animal away, fearing a trick. But the dog persisted, fawned on him and left the purse in his lap.
Using money from the purse, Craig reached Austria where Emperor Maximilian listened to his sermon and gave him safe conduct. He thus returned to his native Scotland where he preached Christ and abetted the Reformation until his death many years later at age eighty-eight.
Is there any safer place to be than in the hands of God, with them around you, as the clay on the potter’s wheel? Expect those hands to form you according to Heaven’s plan. But with an unwilling spirit know that you are forcing God to relent, to regret and reverse His decisions concerning the good with which “I said I would benefit you”. Are you serving this God of justice? Do you allow His hands to work on you and to rid you of all that will mar and spoil the vessel? Not according to your will or wishes. Did you hear about John Craig? He is a practical example of how God intervenes in a life that obeys His voice, His call, His bidding. Allow Him to form a vessel according to His will and design, not according to your own earthly, sinful, corrupt desire and will.
Conclusion Albu van Eeden
This is a profound message that ends on a positive note that will still cost us something.
Allow me to mention one possible reaction we may have: “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’ Jeremiah 18:12
This is the most common reaction we find today: “There is no hope for me. God knows, there is no hope for me. I have been on this wheel. God was shaping me. I died to myself. I allowed Him to shape me as He wanted, and now after all these years, He spoils the clay, the vessel, and He is writing the shape off. Now He wants me to go into a totally new direction.” The normal, carnal reaction is: There is just no hope for me. Leave me alone. For years I have done my best. There is no hope for me. I cannot see a future for myself in the Lord’s hands. No, no, there is no hope.”
If this is my reaction, what is the result? “We will walk after our own devices.” If you start with this attitude “there is no hope”, the next step is that you will start walking after your own devices. “And we will everyone do the imaginations of his own evil heart.” Another translation says it differently – stubbornness. “They will reply, it is not use, we will continue with our own plans, we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.” (NIV) God calls such a person a stubborn person. A person who says, “I can’t. I have tried my best, I can’t. Forgive me, I have tried, just forgive me, I can’t.” God calls such a heart stubborn. God’s word says you are stubborn.
Friends, he who stands must be careful lest he falls. I don’t know what God still has in store for me but may God be gracious to me that if He does that to me, I will not stop feeling the hands of the Potter on my life. When my best efforts are being shot down that I will still feel the hands of the Potter. I must stay on this wheel, lest I become stubborn and I start following the desires and the imaginations of my own heart, my own evil heart. The warning comes with words of comfort.
We are serving a righteous and omnipotent God. Once you decide to submit, it will not be moonshine and roses. It may be very tough but stay on this wheel by the grace of God.