When something grips Noah’s interest, he is all in. He reads everything he can find, then trolls Amazon for outlets to express his latest passion. I know he is onto a new thing when he comes and asks, “Dad, what can I do to earn $30?” I have learned to ask, “Noah what is it that you want?” Then we will discuss the wisdom of this new pursuit and the merits and demerits of his particular choices. And Noah never comes to me uninformed. He has researched his pursuits very carefully. He knows I will demand four or five compelling reasons to spend his, as yet unearned, money.
Not long ago, the passion du jour was a drone. He studied the topic, scoured the offerings, and presented his business plan. He worked tirelessly, performing some labor intensive and unpleasant jobs to earn the requisite $49. I had a few misgivings, but decided to let him make the purchase. For days Noah scanned the horizon for UPS trucks and closely monitored Amazon delivery notifications. The day finally arrived and Noah immediately set about configuring his drone for adventure. Within a day or two the not-so-robust-drone had endured more rough landings than its Chinese manufacturers had anticipated and it was beyond repair. Even many hours with his clever older brother and more hard-earned replacement parts were not enough to restore the drone to active duty. And so, to Noah’s great sadness, the drone sits, unusable and unrepairable – broken beyond restoration. Nothing can be done, nothing can be salvaged. It is destined for the trash.
But Noah’s sadness is nothing compared to the sorrow over lives that are broken beyond restoration. Sin breaks our lives beyond restoration. Sin breaks everything it touches. We were made to have fellowship with God and with one another, yet every relational disaster in our lives is the result of sin. We are tainted by it and so everything we touch is tainted by it. And we cannot undo what we have done. Sin breaks us beyond repair. Unless the Lord remakes us by His grace, there is nothing that can be done, nothing that can be salvaged. We are destined for the eternal dump, a place the Bible calls Hell.
When Jesus talked about Hell in the gospels, he used a word picture, familiar to His hearers. He called it “Gehenna.” Gehenna was the local land-fill, the trash dump, to the south of the city of Jerusalem. It was the place where unrepaired things were carted and thrown out. Jesus described hell, Gehenna, as the place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” It was the picture of the trash dump, in which the decomposition of things thrown away produced extreme heat and a haven for worms. Jesus’ vivid illustration of Hell emphasizes that sad truth that Hell is the place where men, broken by sin and unrepaired by grace, will experience the full measure of their brokenness forever.
The gate of the city that opened out toward this dump was the Potsherd Gate, sometimes called the Dung Gate. It was at this gate that the prophet Jeremiah was instructed to go with the elders and the priests of the people to give them a vivid illustration of the hard truth that no one can weather the justice of God unless they turn back to Him and seek His mercy. The Lord had become to the people of Judah, just one more god among gods in a mythic pantheon. They denied his sovereignty and did not fear His judgment. They were backslidden, living with their backs to the Lord.
They presumptuously trusted in the works of their own hands. They thought that they could endure God’s anger over their sin. How bad could it be? He relented in the end? Surely, we can wait out his anger. Surely it will blow over. They rationalized, presumed, and lived in denial. They thought that whatever problem God had with them, they could fix it or simply ignore it. But their generation was beyond repair. Jeremiah’s sermon from the Potter’s House had reminded them of God’s sovereignty and his ability to reshape them, despite the fact that they were bad clay. Jeremiah proclaimed God’s offer of grace.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “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. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. Jeremiah 18:5-7
Even at this late hour God offers mercy if His people return to Him. If they repent, He will relent. God who may sovereignly do whatever he pleases with his marred clay, extends grace – the hope of being reshaped by the loving, careful hand of the master Potter. But rather than yielding, prideful Judah must have the last word – and what a dreadful last word it is.
“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.’ Jeremiah 18:12
They rejected their only hope and continued to live with their backs to God. What about you? Have you lived with your back to God? Are you unconcerned about his sovereign justice? God offers us sovereign grace, but if we turn away from it, all that is left is sovereign judgement. We should all be concerned. Join us this Sunday, July 19, as we examine Jeremiah 19 and consider the dangers of living life with our backs to God. We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP