Jeremiah 18:1-11;18-23 on July 23rd, 2023

Jeremiah 18:1-11;18-23 on July 23rd, 2023

I wonder how seriously you take warnings.

I remember someone talking about a visit by his brother and they went to walk along the sea. And being sort of the spontaneous, adventurous person he was, he suddenly removed his shirt and wanted to jump into the water.

At which point his brother shouted, “what about that sign?”

To which he responded sth like, “it doesn’t really matter” and wanted to proceed into the water.

And so his brother grabbed him on the shoulder and told him:

“mate, many people have been killed by sharks here over the years, so you better decide whether that warning sign is there to protect you or to ruin your fun.”

How seriously do you take warnings?

As some of you might know, we are working our way through the book of Jeremiah over the next few weeks, who is a prophet warning the people of Israel of disaster to come.

The year is 610BC, and Judah is in turmoil. Politically they are sandwiched between two big empires at war—Egypt to the south and Babylon to the North.

But they are also in spiritual turmoil. For a long time now, they have turned their backs on God and introduced idol worship into the land with their practices of child sacrifices and sexual rituals.

And so Jeremiah comes along to warn them of God’s judgment.

The key word in our passage I think is the word ‘plans’:

v.11 Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you.

v.12. “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.’

v.18 Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, (Let us make plans against Jeremiah…)

So God has a plan, they have plans.

Let’s start with God’s plan;

  1. God’s Plan

As we have seen: God is shaping disaster and devising a plan against them.

Not long after, disaster will fall on them as the Babylonians will arrive and wipe away the country and take them into exile.

And when that happens, they must remember that it is not just random. God planned it. God devised it.

And the potter performance act is meant to help them understand, sort of, where God is coming from.

Jeremiah is sent to go and visit a potter. We don’t have many potters today but this used to be a very common thing.

The potter is making the pot, but then it doesn’t turn out the way he expects it to be. Something goes wrong.

What does he do? He reshapes it, makes it into something else–whatever he thinks is best.

It is a simple but a clear message. The potter is in charge, and the clay is not.

It is all about the potter: what he wants, what he does, what he thinks is best.

And so v.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.

We will see how Israel responds in a minute, but this way of thinking is totally foreign to us today. We have been convinced that we are in charge. That it’s all about what we want. We decide.

Newsflash: Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

You see it is God who is in charge: what theologians have called divine sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is the truth that God is Lord and ruler over creation.

There are three aspects of this truth:

1st, It means that everything happens according to his plan and intention. God is in control

2nd it means that ultimate authority belongs to him. When God tells us to do something, we must do it. If he tells us not to do something, we repent and stop doing it.

3rd, God’s sovereignty also means his abiding presence. God is not a watchmaker that makes the watch, starts it and lets it run on its own. No. God has what theologians call, a covenant solidarity with his people, and even with creation at large. He is present in this world; and nothing, even the most mundane, misses his attention.

So when we talk about a potter and clay, we must not think that it is an impersonal, mechanical determinism. The Lord’s absolute control and ultimate authority is also deeply personal and astoundingly gracious.

And we see that in the passage.

v.7, If God plans to destroy a nation, and that nation turns away from evil, the Lord relents of the destruction he intended.

v.9, if the Lord plans to bless a nation, but the nation turns towards evil and rebels against God’s word, the Lord relents on the blessing he intended.

You see God’s sovereignty does not mean that we are just robots controlled by a remote control from heaven. No!

God can do whatever he wants; but he is just and fair. He shapes the future depending on how people respond.

But he is also amazingly merciful. The fact that he sends warnings is an act of grace. It is not sudden judgment. It is delayed judgement, allowing them an ooportunity to change their ways.

So that’s God’s plan, but then we have the people’s plans.

2. The People’s Plans

v.12 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.’

It sounds very 21st century, doesn’t it. We will do what we want. No one can tell us how to live our lives. Whatever makes you happy.

But not only that, they have other plans:

v.18 Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.”

And basically what they are saying is, let us do away with Jeremiah. We can have another priest. We can have another wise man, we can have another prophet. Of course, who say the things we want to hear.

Once again, very contemporary. They want to be religious, they don’t mind being Christians, but on their own terms!

But for Jeremiah with his restrictive and harmful message, let us strike him with the tongue.

That can either mean, let us verbally attack him. Or as people say nowadays, let us cancel him.

Or It could also mean let us strike him on the tongue. Let us gag him. Put a sellotape on his mouth. Take away his platform.

You see, they are given a choice: disaster is coming, repent or perish. They not only reject the message, they attack the messenger.

It turns out Jeremiah had actually done them much good:

v.19 Should good be repaid with evil?

                        Yet they have dug a pit for my life.

             Remember how I stood before you

                        to speak good for them,

                        to turn away your wrath from them.

He prayed for them, they dug a pit for him.

His last prayer is a difficult one to hear, though we know these are exactly the things that happened. But it’s not that Jeremiah is coming up with these things: this is exactly what would happen when the Babylonians come and raid them. They will not have food. Their children will die of hunger etc.

So I don’t think Jeremiah is being obsessively sadistic here, imagining the very worst that can happen and wishing it on them.

As I finish,

Jeremiah 18 should strike holy fear into the heart of every one of us. We are just like pieces of clay in the hands of God. He can smash us in a moment if we have defects. And he will, one day.

But he has not, giving us time and opportunity to repent.

Are you a repenting Christian? Are you someone who is consistently seeking to obey God and follow his ways, albeit imperfectly?

Let me close with these words:

As a father has compassion on his children,

so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13–14)

            God knows that you are formed from dust, and sinful dust at that. He has compassion on all who fear him.