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The Potter And His Clay

The work of John the Baptist, amongst other things, was to prepare a people for the Lord (Luke 1.17). That people were such as came in repentance and confession of sin to his baptism. Publicans and harlots (Matthew 21. 32) came, as well as sinners of other sorts. But when the Pharisees and Sadducees came, he called them a generation of vipers, and asked who had warned them to flee from the wrath to come. He told them to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance (Matthew 3.7, 8). Such was the character of the kingdom of heaven which John preached. He was an outsider, and his message was like himself, it was what we might call an outside-message, which did not fit into the policy of the Jewish nation as then existing. The trend of John's ministry was in due time to issue in the Lord's disciples, and later these were found as the new nation designed by God to take the place of rejected Israel.

What John began the Lord carried on. The Lord was born under the law and kept the law, not only in the minor things, and in the observance of all things relative to divine service as enjoined therein, but in the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, faith, and the love of God, He was the perfect Pattern. At the same time He was instructing His disciples in the truth which would be proper to the new order of things connected with the new dispensation of grace. Thus you have in the Gospels the dying of the day of the law, and the dawn of the day of grace, the sun of which arose with the glorification of the Lord and the coming of the Spirit as sent by Him. In Hebrews 8.18, Paul speaking of the old covenant in relation to the new, says that it was becoming old and nigh unto vanishing away. It was like the fading light of the dying day.

The testimony of the Lord to His death. On the first occasion that the Lord was in Jerusalem after He entered His public ministry, which was before He preached, "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4.17), He bore witness to His death.

"The Jews therefore answered and said unto Him, What sign shewest Thou unto us, seeing that Thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. But He spake of the temple of His body" (John 2.18, 19, 21).

At the same time in the interview that Nicodemus had with Him, He showed this aged Pharisee and ruler of the Jews that He must be lifted up as was the brazen serpent in the wilderness, thus signifying, as is said later, the manner of His death (John 3.14, 15; 8.28; 12.82, 33). This lifting up was His being lifted up upon the cross to die.

After He revealed His purpose to build the Church which is His Body (Matthew 16.18-20), we are told that

"From that time began Jesus to shew unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up (Matthew 16.21).

We know that at that same time Satan used Peter to seek to turn the Lord from His purpose to go to Jerusalem to die and rise again.

What took place in Matthew 16 comes before the Lord's public entrance into Jerusalem, as verse 21 shows. The Lord said that He must go to Jerusalem and be killed. It was imperative; there was not a doubt in His mind about what lay before Him. He repeated this statement about going to be killed, and in Matthew 20.18, 19 He speaks about being condemned to death by the chief priests and scribes, and adds,

"And shall deliver Him (the Son of Man) unto the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify: and the third day He shall be raised up."

There is no shadow of doubt that what He said at Jerusalem and to Nicodemus at the beginning was what He more fully prophesied of in these verses.

The purpose of the Lord's first coming: The purpose of the Lord's coming is clearly stated in John 3.17.

"For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him."

Had the Lord come with the object in view of setting up His kingdom in Israel and ruling the world (and He cannot set up His kingdom anywhere else on earth than in Israel, for so the Scriptures testify), then it would have been necessary for Him to judge both Israel and the world. If that had been His purpose then He would have had no means of saving the world, for that comes alone through His atoning death and resurrection.

Later on the Lord said,

"The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20.28).

Had He come to reign then, tens upon tens of thousands would have ministered to Him, both of angels and men, but His first coming was not the time of His reigning. He had come to suffer and to die.

Israel nationally could not receive the Lord. This may seem in the eyes of some to be an extreme statement, but from what I am about to quote, I think that it will be quite evident that it was impossible that Israel could receive the Messiah as King.

"These things spoke Jesus, and He departed and hid Himself from them. But though He hod done so many signs before them, yet they believed not on Him: that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this cause they could not believe, for that Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; lest they should see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and should turn, and I should heal them. These things said Isaiah, because he saw His glory; and he spake of Him. Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God" (John i2. 86-43)

Here are quotations made from Isaiah 6.9, 10, and 53.1 where the blinding of Israel nationally is foretold, so that they could not believe. Despite this national blindness, many of the rulers believed on the Lord. This shows that though the nation of Israel was blind and without understanding, no individual Jew need be blinded as to the person of Christ, if he has an honest heart and is prepared to break with the Satanic system seen in the Pharisees and Sadducees, chief priests and scribes. He may look to Jesus and be saved, even though he does as the rulers of the past did, hide his light under a bushel. See also Matthew 13.10-17, where the Lord Himself quoted from Isaiah 6.9, 10, in connexion with the kingdom of heaven, and it is said that He spoke in parables so that the Jews could not understand kingdom truth. That understanding was given to His disciples only.

Israel nationally could not believe on the Lord and so receive Him. They were appointed to stumble at Him who is the Stone of stumbling and Rock of offence. Peter says, "They stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." Etethesan is Aorist, passive voice, which shows an historical fact, that God had appointed Israel nationally to stumble at Christ. No individual Jew is appointed to stumble at Christ and be lost eternally. This stumbling shows the governmental dealings of God with that nation. God shows in Deuteronomy 32.21 that He had already decided to set aside Israel nationally. Possibly that decision was made in eternity by God, who works all things according to the counsel of His own will. The Church which is His (Christ's) Body, was no afterthought with God, dependent on what Israel would do with their Messiah, but was "the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus " (Ephesians 3.11). That the unbelief and disobedience of the Jewish nation synchronized with divine purpose is quite clear, but long ages before the nation had filled up the cup of wrath for itself to drink by its continual disobedience, God had decided the course the ages were to take, and in the flow of the ages, this present age, in which the Church, the Body of Christ, is being built by the Lord, had its divinely appointed setting and place.

The testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures: As to the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures as to the purpose of the Lord's first coming, we need but to refer to the Psalms and Isaiah, in particular, which are replete with prophecies as to the purpose of the Lord's coming. The Lord Himself summed up the matter in His. words to the two on the road to Emmaus, when He said,

"0 foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Behoved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24.25-27).

Peter's words, in Acts 3.18, are in alignment with those of the Lord just quoted, "But the things which God foreshewed by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, lie thus. fulfilled."

The testimony of foreordination: The testimony of foreordination is as definite as to the purpose of the Lord's first coming,. as is that of all the other witnesses we have cited. Peter said on the day of Pentecost to the Jewish populace in Jerusalem

"Him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay" (Acts 2.28).

Here are synchronized God's determinate (from Horizo, to define the limits or bounds, to determine, fix definitely) counsel and foreknowledge of coming events, and the wickedness of men in crucifying the Lord. No one but God can balance these matters accurately in his mind - divine foreordination and human responsibility. That all the actors in the sin of the rejection and crucifixion will be held accountable by the Lord, though not all in the same measure of accountability, and yet that tragic event (and yet most blessed event for all believers) was foreordained by God that the Lord should be crucified by men.

This same fact of the foreordination of God that the Lord should suffer emerges again some short time later, in Acts 4.24-28 :"0 Lord, Thou that didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is: who by the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed: for of a truth in this city against Thy holy Servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel foreordained to Come to pass."

But what of Israel, the clay in the hand of the Divine Potter? He will at His second coming make them another vessel as seems good for the Potter to make them. Then they will be a more glorious vessel than ever they were at any time in their history. The days of Solomon, great and glorious as they were, will be as nothing to Israel's glory in the day of the Lord. Of this the prophets speak fully and copiously. That day will be for them, as they bask under the benign rays of the Sun of Righteousness,

A morning without clouds;

When the tender grass springeth out of the earth,

Through clear shining after rain" (2 Samuel 23.4).