Not everyone has experienced playing around with clay. But I don’t know too many people that never had an experience with Play-Doh. Right out of the jar, these colorful balls provide what seems like endless hours of fun. It’s probably only a couple of minutes, but that’s Play-Doh. Kids can serve pretend restaurant customers pretend pizzas and hamburgers today and tomorrow build a fort with a drawbridge out of the same stuff. Whatever kids imagine, Play-Doh takes one form today, gets reformed later, and reformed again into something entirely different tomorrow.
Jeremiah received an object lesson teaching the same basic principle. The owner of the Play-Doh, or clay in his case, could do whatever they wanted. Nothing stopped the potter from taking his clay creation in one direction and then reworking it into something else. The lesson went deeper than God teaching Jeremiah in the first lesson about clay and pottery. Jeremiah learned a lesson about how God deals with people in this world. God created humanity, and because of that, he can do with humanity what he wants. The clay of humanity, including us, is undergoing constant reforming.
On a day celebrating the Reformation, when the direction human beings were taking the church was reworked by God through a man named Martin Luther, who was simply bringing people back to the grace of God in the Word of God, this is a lesson we need to keep learning.
God is still reforming the clay
Getting reworked by grace alone
Called back by Scripture alone
If the pretend hot dog you’re rolling out in Play-Doh starts to get a little thin, or curl, or you decide you want it to be a star shape instead, what do you do? Fold it all back together and start over. Same Play-Doh, new formation. By the time Jeremiah saw the potter at the wheel, a pot was being formed. “I saw him working at the wheel. 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.” God had shaped the clay of the Israelites. He gave them life, made them a nation, and gave them incredible promises. They were his chosen people of the Old Testament. But they continued to disobey him. So God sent Jeremiah with the difficult message. They had become marred. God, the potter, would not hesitate to rework them. He created them. He could do with them what he wanted. If their sinful behavior ruined his creation, God would rework them into something else.
God reworks in two ways. In one way God uproots and tears down. He allowed destruction to come upon his people. These difficult moments would rework them in the way God wanted. As much as it hurt, it was actions taken in love. God could have abandoned them altogether. In desperation, because he loved them, he stepped in and reworked them through hardship by his grace. Grace alone would shape them back into the people God wanted them to be. The other way God could rework was by building up and planting. People would recognize immediately good things happening to them when they were showered with blessings. This too was from God’s grace. Grace alone was working among the people to continue to rework them to even more goodness flowing from blessings.
We’re lumps of clay. God created us, gave us life, and allows us to live in this world. But from birth, we were marred, disfigured, and ruined. We weren’t perfect clay vessels. Sin ruined us and kept marring us. We push back against the hands of God forming us. The clay with the audacity to say to the potter we don’t like what he’s doing with us. We like it when things go our way, but his control violates our freedom. How can we ever experience the best of life when someone else takes us where we don’t want to go? Let us be. We’ll go to God after we’ve made our plans if only to ask him to spin out something good. Our requests become very self-centered, an easy day at the office, a great day on the field or court. The flaw is in us, the clay, not the potter. Our sins just keep marring us, destroying us, till we’re worth nothing but to be discarded.
This reformation God brings into your life, you don’t deserve. That’s grace. Loving you though you don’t deserve it, reworking you into a beautiful clay vessel though you don’t deserve it. By grace alone God doesn’t want to see you marred or ruined by sins. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” God scoops you up into his hands and reworks you by grace. He might uproot or tear down, shaping you in the mold of the Savior who was torn down. Jesus knew first hand the world of clay vessels like you. He lived among those pushing back against God the potter, but he never pushed back. He knew what suffering and facing death was for, punishment for sins, though he had no sins. On the cross Jesus was treated like clay, crushed by God, struck down because of the sins of the whole world. But Jesus was reworked, built up and planted again by God. Grace alone lifted Jesus from the grave. Grace alone reworked him into the perfect substitute for you. So you could built up in Christ and planted in his grace.
God loves you, reworks you, entirely by grace alone. You have been shaped into a new clay vessel. Filled with Christ, you have his power now to live. And you aren’t in control, God is. You’re okay with that by grace alone. Each day you grow in faith as you are reformed in the loving hands of God to be like Christ by grace alone. And God calls you back each day, by Scripture alone.
Jeremiah was a nobody. A prophet with a tough message who was unpopular. But the Lord made him his mouthpiece. He was sent with God’s message, and Jeremiah went. And when he spoke, he spoke the Word of the Lord. “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord…then the word of the Lord came to me.” God revealed what he wanted Jeremiah to share, and Jeremiah shared it. That shared word, recorded for us in the book of Jeremiah, is just one book where the word of the Lord comes to us. The entire Scriptures are filled with that word, words from the Lord. God’s Word to call people back to the Lord.
Naturally, people don’t want to hear God’s Word. We find no better response to the message of God than Jeremiah did. There’s a tendency to reject it because of the person speaking it. “How dare you tell me about my sins when I know full well you have a bucket full of them too.” Our sins get thrown back into our faces, and it hurts, and shuts down conversation. “You can’t judge me. You’re just intolerant.” Those words get attached to us. At times we believe them. Or we treat others in those ways. Shouting them down when they point out our sins. Throwing around how intolerant they seem to be towards us when we sin. Our sinful nature doesn’t want to care about the Bible when the Bible limits what we want to do. Going to it too much might make us seem weak to our friends. It talks about death, and who wants to talk about that? We’d have to admit we believe in heaven and hell, and that people will actually go to hell for rejecting God and turning away from him.
Through the Word of the Lord, God was calling people back by sending Jeremiah. “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.” The Scriptures call you back to God. Calls you to repent, to turn away from your sins, and back to him. The God of mercy wants you back, and already he has taken every step necessary to save you. His mercy is abundant and available. And it’s not too late. No matter how sinful, no matter the time away, no matter the condition of your heart, the one who has already been merciful and loving calls you. By Scripture alone you are pointed to Christ, and what he did for you. What he did was pay for all you had done wrong. The Scriptures lead you to say you’re sorry and turn back to Christ for forgiveness. These are gifts of God’s grace alone through Scripture alone.
The beginning of The Reformation may have been 501 years ago, but the reforming God does of you and me as his people happens every day. God reworks you by his grace alone. Reworks you through good and bad things happening, that you are what God wants you to be as a believer. And each day he calls you to turn back to him by Scripture alone. Sending the message of love in Christ to cause you sorrow over sins and a new realization of the forgiveness you have in Christ. God is certainly still reforming the clay, reforming you and me today.