Sermon on Jeremiah 18:1-11
Text: This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 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.
5 Then the word of the LORD came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’”
This past week, we celebrated the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther went to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg with a list of 95 theses or points of debate. The subject of the debate was the practice of indulgences. At the time, in nearby Juterbog, a man by the name of John Tetzel was selling indulgences. These pieces of paper could be purchased, which would allow the individual to lessen the amount of penance that was due because of their sins. It was not the buying and selling of these indulgences that concerned Dr. Luther. Rather, he saw that this practice led Christians to avoid true repentance and sorrow for their sins, believing that they could forgo it by purchasing an indulgence. He wanted to discuss the matter, so he posted these 95 theses. We get the tenor of these theses in the first thesis, which read, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Thus began what is called the Lutheran Reformation. This morning, as we gather around God’s Word, we are going to be looking at a different reformation, one that is uniquely personal. We see that A NEW LIFE IS THE PRODUCT OF REFORMATION. 1. It Is Formed In Love. 2. Yet It Is Deformed By Sin. 3. Finally, It Is Reformed By Grace.
God had a message for the people of Judah. To reinforce the point, God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house. Jeremiah reports that “I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel.” (Verse 2) The way that potters practiced their craft was to put a piece of clay on a wheel, which was connected by an axle to a larger wheel that was ground level. As the potter spun the wheel with his foot, he would guide the lump of clay into a cone shape and then begin to form the pot by placing his thumbs down into the clay and shaping it upward. This was a very common sight for the people of Jeremiah’s day.
However, God did not send Jeremiah there to learn how pots were made. God explained the message that he wanted Jeremiah to share as he watched the pot being formed. He said, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.” (Verse 6) God likens the people of Israel to the pot that was being formed. There was nothing special about the clay that was chosen to become this pot. It was just a lump of clay. However, after it was carefully fashioned, it became something special. God had acted in the same way with the people of Israel. He had chosen them to be his people. It was not because they were so numerous. As a matter of fact, when God chose them to be his people, this great nation consisted of Abraham and his wife Sarah. It wasn’t because they were so learned. There were other nations that had excelled in many areas of study. God did not choose them because of their potential. Yes, at one time, the nation of Israel had been a world power. Now, however, the northern ten tribes had been taken away by the Assyrians, never to be heard from again. The reason that God chose them was because of his undeserved love. He chose them to be his people. He chose them to be the ancestors of the Messiah.
What was true of Israel is also true for us. God has chosen you and me to be his people. It was not because of our social status or wisdom. God may have blessed us with these things, but that was not the reason he chose us. He didn’t choose us because of our great potential. It wasn’t that he looked across the centuries and saw what we could become and what great things we would do for him. He certainly didn’t pick us because we are perfect, because none of us are. He didn’t even choose us because we are better than others. The fact is that, by nature, we are absolutely worthless, like that lump of clay on the potter’s wheel. What made us worthless is the fact that we are by nature sinful. That already would have set us outside of the kingdom of God.
However, God has chosen us for the same reason he chose Israel. It was because of his amazing love for us. He took us, who are by nature absolutely worthless because of our sins and made us into something beautiful. It was all his doing. He has made us into his children through the perfect life of Christ, through his innocent suffering and death and his resurrection. The Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts through his Word and through the Sacraments. He has formed the ugly, worthless lumps of clay that we are into something beautiful. He has made us believers. We are his children. We have a new life, in which we have the opportunity to serve him out of thankfulness for all that he has done. Our new life was formed by God’s love for us.
As Jeremiah watched the potter at work, he noted something. “The pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands.” (Verse 4) The pot that the potter was working on had a flaw. The clay needed to be of equal consistency throughout. If one spot was too dry or not the same consistency of the rest of the clay, the integrity of the entire vessel would be jeopardized. In spite of the skillful hands of the potter, the pot was no good.
God brings to light the message that he wanted Jeremiah to share with Judah. “If . . . I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” (Verses 9, 10) By means of this marred pot, God was speaking a harsh message to the people. He told them that, in spite of all that he had done for them, they had turned their backs on him. They had forsaken him to worship other gods. They had turned their worship of him into empty rituals. They had been pursuing the things of this world rather than devoting themselves to God. In spite of the love that God had shown to them, they had become marred pots, marred by sin.
This is where Dr. Luther’s first thesis speaks to us, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” It is important for us to be mindful of the fact that, even though we have had new life breathed into us that wants to follow God’s ways out of love for him, we also have a sinful nature that is very much a part of us, as well. It does its very best to have us sin. It tells us things such as, “Look at how much fun you can have if you let loose of those old-fashioned ideas.” We hear, “See how much this or that person has? Don’t you think that you deserve your piece of pie, as well?” Then, come the most insidious words, “Besides, you can always go to God and ask for forgiveness after you did it. So, what’s the harm?” As children of God, it is important that we note our continued shortcomings, lest we get too comfortable with them. We know that, in spite of the love that God has shown to us in making us his own, we are still marred by sin.
As Jeremiah continued to watch the potter at the wheel, he noted, “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.” (Verse 4) The potter didn’t get disgusted with the misshapen pot and throw it away. Rather, he started all over again, forming and fashioning it until it was a good vessel.
This was the message that God wanted the people of Judah to hear. It is summarized in verse 11, “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.” Even though the people had turned their backs on God, he had not turned his back on them. It was never his intention to destroy them. In his love, he continued to reach out to them, wanting them to turn from their sins and to return to him.
How beautiful is that message to us! In his justice, God could have tossed us away after our first infraction after we had been saved. He could have tossed us out onto the scrap pile of hell. He would have had every right to do so. However, in his grace he keeps reaching out to us with the gospel message. He tells us again and again that Jesus has paid for our sins. He reminds us again and again that we have been forgiven. He wants us to spend our eternity with him in heaven. God doesn’t hold back on his undeserved love for us. When we are reminded of this, how can we help but want to live for him? As a result, we want to examine all of our attitudes and actions. What is pleasing to our God, we want to keep and do. What is displeasing to God, we want to rid ourselves of. We want to be useful vessels that have been reshaped by God’s love for us. We thank God for his continued reforming of us by his grace.
This, ultimately, is why we celebrate the Lutheran Reformation. We do not celebrate a man, Martin Luther, though we thank God for what he has done. We celebrate the wonderful gospel message that was once again brought to light, after having been buried under the garbage of trying to make yourself right with God. This is something that we could never do. By the grace of God, Jesus came to the earth to be our Savior. By his life, death, and resurrection, he made us right with God. As Christians, we not only celebrate October 31 as Reformation Day. We also celebrate every day as Reformation Day. We celebrate the love that God has shown to us in making us his own. We ask for his forgiveness for the times that we have sinned. We pray that he would strengthen us so that we might live more and more for him, motivated by the grace that he has shown to us. We also pray that many more people around the world would be reformed by our loving God. Dear Christian, celebrate your Reformation Day. Amen.
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