Isn’t it good of God to crush our spirit with troubles and disasters? Otherwise we would not be aware of how greatly our sins anger him, and we would continue to happily live out our sinful lives, and then end up in hell without ever having known that anything was wrong. We would scarcely notice his promise of mercy— and who would need it? Isn’t it good of God that he doesn’t let us go happily skipping down the road to hell?
God wants us to live in constant awareness of our sinfulness, so that we will constantly look to Jesus for mercy and forgiveness. It’s a constant awareness, not a one-time thing or something you do once in a while. Looking to God for forgiveness is a lifestyle.
As God forms this lifestyle in us, from time to time he sees that he needs to crush us so that we will feel our sinfulness and remember his anger against sin. This is what God did to Martin Luther. When Luther was trying to convince God to forgive him by showing that he was sorry for his sins and by trying his best to lead a godly life, God crushed him with a load of guilt. But at the same time, when God crushes, he also provides hope. One day Johann Staupitz came to visit Luther and gave him this advice: “Look to the wounds of Jesus. Cast yourself in your Redeemer’s arms and pray, ‘I am yours. Save me.’” That advice stuck with Luther and grew as he studied the Scriptures. God was shaping him to understand that a Christian is never done being sorry for sins and looking to God for forgiveness.
In the first of his 95 Theses, he described Christian life in this way, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ commanded, ‘Repent,’ he willed that the entire life of a Christian be one of repentance.” We are going to be talking about repentance a lot today—it means hating your sin and being sorry, but it also means listening to God, believing him and obeying him. Repentance is a turn around— a turn from sin and a turn toward God. But repentance is not something that you do after you sin in order to convince God to forgive you. It’s a lifestyle that is formed in you by God’s punishment and promises. By giving us a lifetime of guilt and troubles to remind us of our sin, and also by holding out his promise that he is always ready to forgive, God shapes a repentant lifestyle in us.
God showed Jeremiah how he shapes a repentant lifestyle in us when he sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house. Jeremiah saw this potter working with a wet lump of clay. As he spun the clay on his potter’s wheel, he found a fatal defect in the pot. Perhaps a portion of the clay was not wet enough, so that it could not be shaped evenly with the rest of the pot. There was no way for the potter to fix it, so he mushed the clay up again and started over. God told Jeremiah that he has the right to do the same with us, as he shapes us into the people he wants us to be—people who have a repentant lifestyle, a lifestyle of hating sin and obeying him. Sometimes he must crush you, but he always wants to build you up. By crushing our sinful heart, and by building up our hope in him, God shapes repentant people.
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 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of 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.’
1. By crushing
God threatens to destroy a nation that loves sin and doesn’t listen to him. The same is true individually. If you refuse to repent, he will destroy you. If you think he isn’t talking about you, just study the Commandments again and see that even little things like missing church or wishing that God would treat you better are sins. He threatens to punish even these little sins, so that you will see that your sin is serious.
But that isn’t enough to shape true repentance. Most will forget what God has said or think that he didn’t mean it. He has to actually punish sometimes too, so that we will see and take him seriously.
This is what God did when he sent the flood to destroy the world. People had become so sinful that only Noah and his family were left. They were the only ones who cared what God said anymore, and if God hadn’t done something, they or their children might have been convinced to stop caring about God too. God had to make an example. He had to follow through with his punishment. He destroyed the sinful world with a flood, but he saved Noah and his family. From that story we see that God truly does punish sin, but that he also saves those people who listen to him.
The Old Testament people of Judah and Jerusalem should have remembered that story and given more attention to what God was saying, but they did not. God had to do it again. He punished them by destroying their city and their temple. The Babylonians took the treasures and burnt the buildings. We see again that God is serious. When people refuse to listen to him and repent of their sins, he will destroy them. We should remember that story, but it isn’t enough to put true repentance in our hearts.
God has to give us a taste of punishment too, when he sends troubles and disasters into our lives. When Adam and Eve sinned, God said that our lives would be miserable now because of sin. We feel the curse of sin inside of us also, when God takes away that feeling of peace and lets us feel crushed by guilt. We should pay attention to our troubles and guilt, and remember God’s anger against our sin.
But that is not enough to shape true repentance. Naturally, when troubles come, we will either be angry with God or despair. We may be indignant that God would do such horrible things to us—after all, we can’t help our sin. Nobody is perfect. Or, we might be terrified and despair, because the guilt is so heavy, and it looks like God has turned against us. That isn’t true repentance, that lifestyle of turning away from sin and turning to God. God has to do more to form true repentance in us.
2. By building up
Jeremiah saw the potter mash the clay he was forming back into a ball and start over to make a new pot. God works the same way as he forms us into repentant people.
When God crushes us, he also builds us up again by drawing us to himself. He told the people of Judah and Jerusalem that he was planning to send disaster, but that it would not happen if they would repent. God was ready to forgive them, if they would only turn and listen. On the one hand God gave them disaster if they would continue to rebel, and on the other hand forgiveness if they would turn and obey. When they refused to listen to him, he brought the Babylonian army to destroy their cities. They were taken away to live in captivity until their sinful will finally had been crushed. Then, remembering that God had promised to forgive if they would listen to him, they turned back to God. In true repentance, they were sorrowful for their sins, they looked to him for mercy, and they set their hearts on obeying him. God had shaped at least some of them into truly repentant people.
When God crushes us, he draws us to himself with his promise of forgiveness. But that wouldn’t be enough if there were not examples of God actually keeping that promise. It’s hard to believe that God is merciful when you’re afraid of his anger, but look how God kept his promise in Nineveh. God sent Jonah to preach, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” The people of Nineveh repented, hoping that God would decide not to destroy their city. To show their sorrow, they put on sackcloth, a rough cloth made out of goat hair, and they smeared ashes on their faces. God saw them turn from their sin and listen to his prophet, and he did not destroy the city.
Also remember the example of the Apostle Paul. In his younger life, when he went by the name of Saul, he was not a Christian. He actually hated Christians. He was there giving his approval when the Jews stoned Stephen for preaching about Jesus. When we see him next, he was on his way to Damascus to arrest more Christians. Along the way, Jesus crushed him and formed him into a truly repentant Christian, and even an apostle. Jesus appeared to Saul while he was on the road and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul was so startled that he fell off his horse, and the brightness of Jesus’ appearance struck him blind. But then Jesus also sent the prophet Ananias to Saul to tell Saul that he should be baptized as a Christian, and his sins would be washed away. The crushing appearance of Jesus and the forgiving words of his prophet changed Saul’s heart. God formed him into a truly repentant Christian. Saul went from putting Christians in prison to being put in prison himself for preaching about Christ.
God forms us into truly repentant people. Not only does he crush us by threatening to punish sin and by giving us a taste of punishment in the troubles and disasters of our lives, but he also calls us to himself in his promises of forgiveness. Jesus promised that “whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” God always stands ready to forgive you.
For most of us here today, God’s promise has already been given with the water of baptism. God said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” That promise of your baptism calls you every day to believe God, be forgiven, and obey him.
This morning we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and those who join in it receive God’s promise again in this third way. Jesus won forgiveness of sins for everyone by his death. He gave it to you in your baptism, he gives it in the promises of his Word, and he gives it again in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. “This bread is my body,” he said, “given for you.” And “This wine is my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sin.” With his call to turn to him and be forgiven, he pulls you close to himself so that you will listen, believe, and obey.
God works on you like a potter. He crushes you, but only so that he can build you up and bring you closer with his promise of forgiveness. God forms you as his truly repentant people. Amen.