The Humility Of Christ

-We’re Usually So Full Of Ourselves!

For Jesus, to become a man was the most humbling experience God could ever endure! How foolish we are when we lift ourselves in pride as though we were really something! We won’t grasp how insignificant it is to be human unless we see ourselves as God’s image bearers! We are usually so full of ourselves; so self-centered & self-absorbed; and narcissistic, that we just don’t get the reality of our existence. Jesus’ humility, however, went way beyond lowering Himself to become a man! He died the most humiliating death ever devised to kill a criminal— Crucifixion! The pain was excruciating & the public shame beyond comprehension.

-Jesus Humiliated Himself To Serve Us!

It was especially true for this one, Who was God! For, He had created the very tree that was used to crucify Him. He humiliated Himself in order to serve us at our greatest point of need—we desperately needed a Savior because we could not possibly save ourselves! So, as we’ve talked about being Gospel lights over the last several posts, we will shine as we let God’s Holy Spirit change our attitude to the mind of Jesus Christ; even if that means humiliation in the service of others! And, church, that will only happen as we live in search of God’s approval! We will only shine as Gospel lights to our city as we seek the approval of God alone!

-We Were Created To Bring God Glory!

That was Jesus’ attitude—pleasing the Father! “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” Philippians 2:8. And, because of His obedience to the Father’s will, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vs.9-11). Edward Welch wrote a great little book titled “When People Are Big & God Is Small.” In it, he reflects on how broken & distorted is the image of God that we reflect because of our sin. We were created to bring HIM glory! We were designed with certain “needs” and “desires” that only God can fulfill. But, when we replace that “God-Shaped vacuum” in our life with the created things in this world, we take glory away from God & transfer it to that thing that becomes an idol! And, because of our sinful brokenness, it can be so easy to be caught up in idolatry; and not even be aware!

-We Need Jesus’ Attitude!

We need the attitude of Christ! Because He willingly left His throne in Heaven! Because He took the form of a slave! Because He lived His entire life here solely for our benefit! Because He stopped & lowered Himself even to the humiliating death on a cross to serve our needs! And, because of all of that, God has highly exalted Him & given Him a name above every name! In fact, that word in v.9 literally means “super exalted.” God super exalted Jesus! This is the only place in Scripture that that word is used! Everything Jesus did was for God’s glory! And, our attitude is most like Jesus when we are God-Centered in everything we do! Casting aside our personal agendas! Letting “Christ In Us” restore the image of God that we were created to reflect! God uses the church that is full of people who live their lives like that! He uses them for His glory! We need to pray that way! That God will transform our churches to live like that!

Have The Attitude Of Jesus!

-Stuck In This Broken Flesh!

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi in the 2nd chapter of his letter to them is somewhat disturbing:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,…” he says. Let that sink in for a moment! How are we going to do that, Church? How can we possibly have the attitude Jesus had; and think as He did? We’re stuck in this broken flesh! He was God! Paul went on to say that Jesus existed, “…in the form of God, & He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).  How can we possibly have the same attitude that Jesus had? And, yet, we are commanded to!

-Encouragement In Christ!

Does that not disturb you a little, as it does me? I hope that it does, and I hope it drives you deeper into the text because there are 2 significant details that we can’t leave out if we hope to obey this command to have the attitude of Jesus. If you’ll look back to verse 1, you’ll see that Paul says, “If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…” If there is an encouragement! If there is any hope in doing what Paul is about to direct this Church to do, it’s because of our position “IN CHRIST.” If you’re a follower of Jesus; if you believe in Him, you are IN CHRIST! And, Christ is IN YOU by the Holy Spirit! So, Paul is telling the church that we CAN have the attitude of Christ— that He’s going to describe for us next— because we are IN CHRIST!

-Work Out Your Own Salvation!

There’s a 2nd significant detail in this text. Look at verses 12-13. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Again, Paul gives us a command! You… work out your own salvation! Your Christian life is your responsibility. But, then he adds, “…it is GOD who is doing the WORK IN YOU…” It is because you are IN CHRIST that God enables you & gives you the desire! So, IN CHRIST, God enables us with a desire to think; or have the attitude of Jesus!

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

I hope you’re tracking with me; because this is great stuff! And, let me show you the payoff! The idea, that we floated in our last post, that Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City (or your city!) of their need for a Savior, is why everything we do in life is significant. God uses the deep relationships— through our participation in Small Groups & Sunday School & ministry opportunities— to transform us into Gospel lights everywhere we go! In our places of work! In our neighborhoods! Even in our leisure! Let me show you why I say that! It’s found in v.15, where Paul says, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” IN CHRIST, God enables us by giving us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus! He will make us shine like stars in the world; and right here in our own city!

Radical Trust In Jesus!

-Entering The Kingdom!

Here’s the thing— entrance into the Kingdom of God requires radical trust in Jesus! Why do I say that? In Luke, chapter 5, Jesus is calling His disciples to Himself; and, He comes to Simon Peter, a fisherman; and, v.4 says:  “When Jesus had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’  ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing! But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.’” Only Jesus could have convinced Peter to do it! And, then, v.6 says:  “When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!’”

-Radical Transformation!

Now it seems to be Luke’s method of operation to use that term, “LORD”, whenever a radical transformation takes place in someone’s life. Peter was radically converted to Jesus Christ; and, from this point forward, he lived the balance of his life for God’s Kingdom in pursuit of God’s Kingdom! In the next chapter, of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus introduces a new kind of value system for entrance into God’s Kingdom. Living for this world’s values will not gain you entry into God’s Kingdom. His Kingdom value system is upside down; and, counter-intuitive when compared with this world. In other words, entrance into the Kingdom of God also requires a new value system! Jesus declares 8 blessings, in His “Sermon On The Mount”, that He says are necessary to enter into God’s Kingdom. Looking at His disciples, “…He said, You who are poor of spirit are blessed because the kingdom of God is yours. You who are now hungry are blessed, because you will be filled. You who now weep are blessed, because you will laugh. You are blessed when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note—your reward is great in heaven…”

-Kingdom Values!

Jesus’ Kingdom values fly in the face of the things considered of value here in this world. We live in an age of consumerism, narcissism; and, living for today. Those are not values in God’s Kingdom; and, all of it will pass away one day! It is the poor in spirit; or, the humble, that are blessed in God’s Kingdom. There’s deep joy, not the superficial, fleeting happiness that plagues this generation. There is a trade-off! If you desire God’s Kingdom, you have to give up the value system of this world; and, long for the eternal. And, once you enter the Kingdom by new birth; and, begin to follow Jesus radically, the things of this world will begin to lose their appeal. As Jesus changes your affections, you’ll feel the blessings!

-A Sacrificial Life Required!

Here’s one of Jesus’ most difficult sayings:  “As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go!’ Jesus told him, ‘Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.’ Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘first let me go bury my father.’ But He told him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62). There’s more going on here than meets the eye. Earlier, in v.51, it says, “Jesus set His face to Jerusalem.” He’s speaking of His mission as He calls some to follow Him. His mission would end on a cross! God’s Kingdom begins at the cross; and, Jesus calls us to a similar sacrifice!

The Humility Of Jesus Christ!

-Humble God!

Perhaps the attribute; or, character quality, of God, that we most often forget, is His humility! The Bible affirms the humility of God in Jesus. And, let’s remember that Jesus said, “...if you’ve seen Me, you HAVE SEEN the Father…”; and, “…I and the Father are ONE…”; or, One & the same, He meant. They were of the exact same substance! So, if you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus because He IS God! And, because God, in Christ, has written Himself into the story of human history, we can see Him & hear Him! We can touch; and, be touched by Him!

-His Humility In His Birth!

And, Luke, in his Gospel, reveals the humility of Jesus in the announcement of His birth; and, in His entry into this world:  “…shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths & lying in a manger’” 2:8-12. So, again, to whom did the angels announce the wonderful news about the birth of Jesus, the Messiah? To shepherds, right? Really? That’s how God announced His arrival? I’m pretty sure that’s not how most of us would have scripted it if we were God!

-Human Announcements In Contrast!

Actor Chris Pratt; and, his wife, Katherine Schwarzenegger recently announced that they’re expecting a baby in 2022.  Now, I’m pretty sure that on the day their baby is born that they won’t be sending messengers down to the docks so the fishermen can be the 1st to hear the great news; or, to all the cab drivers in America. No! You know how it works with human royalty! There’ll be gold-leafed announcements sent to all the prominent people in Hollywood. And, all the tabloids will have perfect pictures of the couple with their newborn child. My intent, in sharing those thoughts, is not so much to bash on the actor & his wife as it is to emphasize the humility of God.

-Bypassing The World’s Customs!

In God’s humility, He bypasses the customary ways of the world’s rich & famous; and, announces His coming to lowly, disrespected & marginalized shepherds. Bible scholars tell us that, “Shepherds were detestable and unreliable. They sometimes couldn’t testify in court. Nobody wanted to be a shepherd. Shepherds were despised by the ‘good’ respectable people of that day…The only people lower than shepherds at that particular time in Jewish history were lepers.” (From The Shepherd Of Israel by Dwight Pryor). God was revealing something to us about His “name”; or, His character! He reveals that He’s a God who cares for the lowly and the needy!

-God’s Character!

He cares for the humble in this world; for the marginalized and for people who are easily discarded or cast aside. He’s the Savior of everyone who humbly admits they need a Savior. He’s the friend of sinners! He eats with tax collectors; welcomes prostitutes; heals Gentiles; and, He’s willing to touch lepers who hadn’t felt a human touch ever since they were overcome by a contagious disease. He’s a God who doesn’t discriminate based on race or the color of someone’s skin! He created beautiful diversity in people groups. The humility of God, in Jesus, is also apparent in the cloth the shepherds found Him wrapped in. Luke records that they would, “…find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths & lying in a manger.”  According to the Jewish oral traditions, these cloths were used to wrap lambs that were destined to be Passover lambs; and, they were also used for burial cloths! Jesus’ humble birth was prophetic of his humble death!

The Gospel Of Jesus Christ!

-Introducing The New King!

In the ancient world, new kings were introduced by a forerunner; or, a herald. Perhaps you remember, from the Old Testament, that Samuel first introduced; and, then anointed King Saul; and, later King David. Every culture & country has its traditions for heralding in a new leader. In our country, where the baton of leadership is usually passed peacefully from one president to another, it’s typical for 2 men to reside over the swearing-in of the new president— one is the Chief Justice; and, the other is the outgoing president. Together, they testify that the man being sworn in is the legitimate successor. It’s our country’s way of heralding a new leader.

-I Am Sending My Messenger!

And, that’s how Mark is inspired, by God’s Holy Spirit, to open his Gospel:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!’ John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were  flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Mark 1:1-5). Unlike Matthew & Luke, who begin their Gospels with the family roots & genealogies of Jesus, Mark picks it up at the actual beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

-That’s Good News!

Now, most of you probably know the definition of the “Gospel”, right? What does it mean? It means “good news” right? So, Mark is writing about the “good news” of Jesus Christ from, “The beginning…” he says. And, Mark says the Good News begins in the Old Testament:  “As it is written IN ISAIAH the prophet…” v.2. And, then he quotes from Isaiah, chapter 40, which is similarly recorded in the last book of the Old Testament, “‘See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 3:1). 

-Waiting For The Messiah!

And, from Malachi’s prophecy ‘til the arrival of Jesus Christ, Israel had waited 400 years for Messiah’s coming! They had waited, I want to point out, for God’s “messenger” (little “m”) to herald; or, announce the coming of the LORD; or, the King, the “Messenger” (capital “M”) of the covenant! So, Mark’s focus, at least at the start of his gospel, was more on the forerunner; or, the herald, than the King; and, there’s a good reason for that because Mark is writing to Gentiles. Specifically, he is writing to the Romans, who occupied the land of Israel at that time.

-The Need For A Credible Herald!

Mark knew that if he was writing a gospel about the arrival of a new king, to the Romans, that there would need to be some kind of authoritative, credible herald to announce his arrival. That’s the way it was in the culture of the Roman world. No Roman King or Caesar ever just showed up and said:  “Hello! Attention everyone! I’m the new King here!” No, he always had a forerunner; and, an entourage who went before him; and, prepared the way so all the people would be ready for his coming. So, Mark, to be consistent with the Gentile approach, goes to the Old Testament to find the prophecies that gave authenticity to King Jesus’ herald; and, then he informs his readers that John the Baptizer is that forerunner; and, that’s why John heralds or proclaims these words: “Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals” (1:7). He was preparing the way for King Jesus!

Messiah; Or, Not?

-Messiah’s Everywhere!

Because of the times, it wasn’t at all uncommon for “Messiahs” to pop up all over Israel before and after Jesus’ arrival on the scene! Many were “military Messiah’s” claiming the ability & power to overthrow the Roman occupation of Israel. And, because so many of the O.T. descriptions, of Messiah, depicted a conquering king, the hopes of the people would rise each time it appeared that one of these “Messiahs” could deliver them from their oppression; and, make Israel great again!

-Protocols To Confirm Legitimacy!

So, because of all the anticipation & hope, of a coming Messiah; and, because of all the failed “Messiahs”, the Jewish religious leaders developed specific protocols to follow whenever anyone came on the scene claiming to be the Messiah. Historical records reveal a 3-step process that the Scribes and Pharisees used to investigate every Messianic claim. Just explore Matthew’s gospel— written specifically to a Jewish audience— and observe how this process played out with Jesus’ claims. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, you need to consider the evidence; and, make your own decision about Jesus Christ. You cannot remain neutral about Jesus!

-Liar, Lunatic; Or, Lord!

As C.S. Lewis put it, Jesus was either a liar (and, therefore not a good person); or, He was a lunatic (and, therefore to be pitied); or, He was Lord, the Messiah, God in the flesh and worthy of all our devotion & worship! So, let’s suppose that we were part of the religious contingent when Jesus came on the scene. Here’s how they would have responded as the claims of miracles & Messiahship began to come to their attention. First, they would begin to observe the Messianic claims from afar! That’s precisely what we see in Matthew’s gospel. A delegation was assembled, by the religious leaders; and, they simply observed Jesus. They asked no questions; and, they raised no objections.

-Observing Messianic Claims!

Their only purpose, at the first, was to put together as much information as they could to determine if the claim was legitimate enough to advance to the 2nd step. They would report back to the Sanhedrin where the religious leaders would determine, from the observations, what the next step would be moving forward. Was it a legitimate movement? Was it significant? If not, they’d call off the investigation; and, the so-called “Messianic” movement would just die a slow death! That’s most likely what was happening, in Acts chapter 5 when Gamaliel made his comments about the followers of Jesus. He warned them to be careful what they did with these followers. Let them go; and, they may just scatter over time! “But if it is of God,” he said, “you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be fighting against God.” Jesus was still being debated after His death.

-If The Messianic Claims Were Legit!

If the Sanhedrin determined the Messianic claims were potentially legitimate, they’d move to the next stage. The Messianic examination would continue with interrogations. At this point, the delegation was permitted to interview all bystanders; as well as the leaders in the movement; and, even the one claiming to be the Messiah. They would interact with His teachings; they’d raise objections; and, even attempt to trap him in such a way as to break him out of his “Messianic” character. From their studies in the Old Testament, the Jewish Rabbis; and, religious leaders knew that the Messiah would fulfill prophecy & complete certain tasks that only God would be able to perform. We know, from the Jewish writings of the time, that the sages of Israel believed the Messiah would perform 3 specific miracles to validate His identity. And, we’ve run out of time & space! So, we’ll pick it up there at our next post!

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

Don’t Harden Your Heart!

-Heading Out On A Little Vacation-

-Next Post: August 25th-

-God’s Intentions Are Good!

God is benevolent toward us! That simply means that He is well-intended! His intentions toward us are good! It is in His very nature that He is loving, gracious, and merciful! His benevolence is not only intended toward us as individuals; but, also toward the nations of the world! However, while He is well-intended toward us— the people of the world— He holds the Sovereign right, as Creator, King & Lord over His creation, to withdraw His intended blessings from us as individuals; or, as a nation, when we fail to listen to His revealed Word!

-It’s His Sovereign Right To Judge!

He holds the Sovereign right to act toward us in the judgment that our actions deserve! And, listen, friend, you don’t wanna go there! God often warns us, in His Word, not to test Him! He often railed on Israel, His chosen people, for their constant testing of His resolve! He will judge! He will punish! It’s not what He wants to do; but, it is what He will do! Over the last several posts, we’ve considered the parable, in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, about the “potter and the clay.” In the parable, God is said to be the “potter”; while, we are His “clay.” We’ve discussed God’s Sovereign right to make of each individual lump of clay what He wills to create! We’ve also discussed how gracious God is to “remold” us after we’ve lived a life of rebellion that did not conform to His will! If we’ll confess our sinful & stubborn will, He will put us back on His spinning wheel and make of us a remolded piece of pottery!

-God’s Sovereign Right To Cast Us Aside!

In this post, we want to point out, from God’s parable in Jeremiah, that God also has the Sovereign right to cast us aside when we become hardened against Him:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Go, buy a potter’s clay jar. Take some of the elders of the people and some of the leading priests and go out to the Valley of Hinnom near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. Proclaim there the words I speak to you. Say: Hear the word of the Lord, kings of Judah, and residents of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on this place that everyone who hears about it will shudder because they have abandoned Me and made this a foreign place. They have burned incense in it to other gods… you are to shatter the jar in the presence of the people traveling with you, and you are to proclaim to them: This is what the Lord of Hosts says: I will shatter these people and this city, like one shatters a potter’s jar that can never again be mended” (Jeremiah 19:1-10). Those words are terrifying! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God! Don’t mess with Him! Yes, He is loving, gracious & merciful! But He is equally just & righteous; and, He will punish those who harden their hearts against Him! If you harden your heart against God’s Word, He has the Sovereign right to cast you aside!

-Submit To The Designer’s Will!

We are a lump of clay in God’s hands! We are like clay, which has little value, until we are molded, by the Master Potter, into Jesus’ likeness! God has a design for you; and, in the eternal sense, it’s the same for each one of us! He intends to mold us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. “For we are His creation,” Paul wrote the Church of Ephesus, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). There’s a story told that when Michelangelo was asked how he could fashion his masterpiece, of King David, he’s reported to have said:  “It wasn’t that difficult. I just chipped away every piece of the stone that didn’t look like David.” That’s what God, the Potter, is doing in your life. He’s forming you! He’s shaping you into the image of Jesus. Sometimes it hurts a little as He’s forming us; but, He always works on us because He loves us & His plans are best for us!

Clay In God’s Hands!

Who Was Jeremiah?

Jeremiah, the author of the Old Testament book bearing his name, has been called the “Prophet To The Nations” because God gave him an Oracle— or, a word from the Lord— to speak to 9 different Gentile nations; in addition to Judah! Through Jeremiah’s words, which were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, God reveals Jeremiah’s heart more than any other prophet! From his introduction, in the 1st chapter, v.6, we see that Jeremiah was a “reluctant” prophet— questioning his ability to lead God’s people spiritually. He was also known as the “weeping” prophet— which perhaps proves he was qualified to lead because he wept over the sins of the people; and, over God’s judgment of their sins! He was also a “lonely” prophet because God had told him not to marry (ch.16) because of the dread over the judgment that God was bringing on Judah & Jerusalem; and, he also became known as the “persecuted” prophet as he was rejected, ridiculed, beaten; and, falsely accused; all, because he was faithful to proclaim the truth of God’s word! The key phrase in the book of Jeremiah?

-The Word Of The Lord!

“The word of the Lord” is found more than 50 times! And, the “word of the Lord” was this— that God’s judgment was coming! The patience & long-suffering of the Lord had finally been exhausted! Israel’s idolatry & sinful rejection of God’s word had reached its climax! And, her leaders were arguing with Jeremiah that God would NOT turn His people over to Babylon & King Nebuchadnezzar. And, so, in chapter 18, God gives Jeremiah a parable to deliver to Israel’s leaders:  “This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  ‘Go down at once to the potter’s house; there I will reveal My words to you.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, working away at the wheel. But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do” (18:1-4).

-God Is The Potter!

Have you ever seen a potter at work? It’s quite fascinating! In the parable, God is the potter; and, Israel is the clay! It’s an illustration that God inspired numerous authors of Scripture to use. The potter and clay illustration is also found in the Psalms, in Isaiah; and, in Zechariah. The Apostle Paul also uses it in the New Testament; and, so does John in the last book of the Bible, the book of the Revelation. The concept that God wanted Israel, and us, to grasp is His Sovereignty; or, His absolute, supreme power & authority over His entire creation! That God has the absolute authority to do whatever He wills to do with His creation in the same way that a potter has absolute jurisdiction over the creation he fashions out of the clay! Without the potter, the pottery fashioned is nothing more than a lump of wet dirt; and, that’s true of us as well as Israel.

Molded By The Master Potter!

We are like clay, which has little value until we are molded by the Master potter into the likeness of Jesus! That is a foundational truth that Israel needed to apply! And, that is a foundational truth that we need to apply to our own lives! If you don’t grasp God, the Potter’s, purpose for your life you’ll waste it! You and I are not the Potter! Ultimately, we don’t have any right over our lives. Our lives belong to God who gave them to us! We are a lump of clay & that symbolizes the “potential” we have to be useful to the Potter! But, God, the Potter, has the ultimate right over our lives, to use them as He purposes them to be used! We need to spend some serious time in prayer & meditation on this truth! Will you ask the Potter if He finds you to be moldable in His hands? Will you ask Him to show you where you’re not being pliable; so, that you can repent? That’s God’s point in the parable. Would Israel repent? And, will you repent?

Beware Of Yourself!

-Evil Appears As A Friend!

Philip Yancey is a popular Christian author who used “Chinese Opera”— in his book, A Skeptic’s Guide To Faith— to help illustrate a point.  “In Chinese opera,” Yancey points out, “Heroes wear a certain color of face paint with a few simple strokes, while villains wear a different palette in complex patterns. In real life,” he continues, “unlike Chinese opera, we cannot always tell the heroes & the villains by the color of paint on their faces. More often, evil appears as a friend with a smell like perfume.” In real life, he said, it’s not always easy to tell who the hero is and who the villain is.

-Heroes & Villains!

When we read through the book of Numbers, in the Old Testament, we’re introduced to Korah, who rebelled against Moses until God opened up the earth and it swallowed up he & his followers! We also read how Moses struck the rock, to produce water in the desert when God had commanded him to speak to the rock; and, how Israel failed to fully trust that God would go before them, into a battle & the consequences of their disobedience. We also read about the Prophet Balaam’s talking donkey; or, more accurately how God used Balaam’s donkey to speak to him because he wasn’t listening to God. In each of these instances, there was a hero & a villain; and, the text of Scripture is pretty forthright about who was who!

-Blindly Believing We’re Right!

Today, I’d like to encourage you to look at each one of these stories through a little different lens. I want you to look at them through the eyes of the villain! Here’s why! Because each of us has more in common with the antagonist, in the story, than we really want to admit. I don’t believe that any of them started out being the scoundrel! But, they deceived themselves! And, just like each of them, we have the ability to deceive ourselves! We can blindly believe that we’re in the right; and, everyone else, in our story, is in the wrong!

-Worthless Religion!

Let me tell you why self-deception is such a critical subject for us to talk about— because God has included multiple Scriptures to warn us about deceiving ourselves! In other words, it’s something we sinful humans are prone to do! We are prone to deceive ourselves about a lot of things; but, we’re especially inclined to deceive ourselves spiritually! In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked those, who were listening to Him, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I tell you?” And, James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” In other words, you can deceive your heart about your faith!

-Not Everyone Who Calls Him Lord!

Jesus also said: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me” Matthew 7:21-23. Let me paraphrase Jesus’ words— the person you are most easily deceived by is yourself! Beware of yourself! That’s what Jesus is really saying there, isn’t it? Self-deception is so serious that you can think you’re a believer & a follower, of Jesus when you aren’t; and, by the very definition of “self-deception,” you wouldn’t know it because you’ve deceived yourself into thinking you’re saved! But, the truth will one day be revealed!