Midland SDA Church
February 10, 2018
Within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the city of London by an open space called Tower Hill, lies a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames. The Tower of London, or officially, Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London. This white tower, for which the entire castle is named, was constructed in the year 1078 by William the Conqueror. Today the “Tower” is a complex of several buildings, a grand palace that served as a royal residence early in its history. It is set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. Within the Tower there is a vault known as the Jewel House. Housed within this vault is one of the most enduring symbols of Monarchy in the United Kingdom, 140 royal ceremonial objects known as the Crown Jewels.
To ensure the security of the Crown Jewels, they are displayed behind bombproof glass, and tower visitors are monitored by over 100 hidden security cameras. The Tower of London, as a whole, is secured by a twenty-two-member detachment of the British Army known as the Tower Guard and thirty eight ex-military personnel known as Yeomen Warders, who actually live in the tower itself. Only the Crown Jeweler can handle the regalia, and only by the authority of the Lord Chamberlain, the head of the Royal Household, are the jewels ever removed from the Jewel House.
This is how man stores his treasure, but how does God store His? Turn with me to our scripture reading this afternoon.
“5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. “ 2 Corinthians 4: 5-7
It is God’s plan that men are to work for the salvation of their fellow man.
The priceless treasure of the gospel of Christ is placed in earthen vessels. This wording, “earthen vessels” is translated from the Greek word “ostrakinos” which suggests earthen or something made of clay, but also suggests frailty. Paul is using this metaphor of a fragile clay pot to represent humankind. Many parallels come to my mind when I consider this phrasing as it relates to us. Clay is a finely-grained natural rock or soil material that contains minerals, traces of metal oxides, organic matter, and water. Clay is malleable because of its water content but becomes hard and brittle once dried out or fired. Like clay we were taken from the earth. “7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7 We are also malleable.
Three dictionary definitions of malleable are as follows:
1. Capable of being extended or shaped
2. Capable of being altered or controlled by outside forces or influences
3. Having a capacity for adaptive change
All of us have been given the gift of free will, which means that although created to be like God, we have the freedom to chose otherwise. We can be altered, changed or shaped into something else, and this shaping of who we are, often, if not always, involves outside influences.
Because of its water content clay is malleable, but once dried out or fired it becomes hard and brittle. We have a capacity for adaptive change, but can become hard and brittle by two means. We can reject God, chose our own shape and stay in that state so long that we dry out, or we can choose God, and allow Him to form and fire us into something useful for His work. It is notable however, regardless of whether we turn our back on God and choose to go our own way, or stay with Him and allow him to use us, we still end up brittle or fragile, in the sense that we are all mortal.
What’s remarkable though is that he entrusts his treasure to a fragile people that are in contrast of little value apart from the treasure they possess. “7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.“ 2 Corinthians 4: 7. Human wisdom would suggest that valuable treasure should be stored in a container worthy of it’s contents or at least something strong and protective. In ancient times valuable treasure often was stored in exquisite chests, the kind of container that by its aesthetic you just knew it contained something of value. Today we store our valuables in safes or safety deposit boxes in a bank, where we know they will remain undisturbed. But God chooses the humblest of men to carry His treasure. It is His plan that the weak vessel of humankind be the means by which His greatest treasure is distributed. It is not the container, but rather its contents that is important. On its own, the vessel has little value, but filled with the treasure of the good news of salvation, it becomes priceless.
God could have given this important work to the more capable, more reliable, unfallen angels, but instead he chose us. Turn with me to Acts 10: 1-8.
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”
4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?”
So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.[a] He will tell you what you must do.” 7 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.”
Here we see the story of Cornelius the Centurion, who although lacking in all truth, was a devout God-fearing man. God sends an angel to him in vision, but instead of the angel revealing the good news of the gospel to Cornelius, he directs him to send for Peter in Joppa that Peter might be used for this purpose. And while Peter was speaking to them, the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles.
Now, turn back a few pages in your Bibles to Acts 8: 26-36 for another example.
26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”
30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”[b]
34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
Again, we see an angel of God intervening, but as in the story of Cornelius, the angel reveals no truth himself, but rather orchestrates an encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, allowing Philip to be the vessel by which he Ethiopian would hear the good news.
You might say “Peter and Philip were different from us, they were two of the original disciples of Christ. They were chosen specifically for this work and that is why God used them this way, but I am not qualified to work for God in this manner.” What qualifies us to carry the gospel message to the world? There must be some prerequisites, right? you remember prerequisites from back when you were in college. Before you could take a certain class, you had to take another as a prerequisite. Without having taken the prerequisite, you would be ill-equipped to succeed in the class. Does God have prerequisites that we must meet before we are useful to His service? Turn with me to John 14:12-14:
12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. 13 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask[c] anything in My name, I will do it.”
Who among us does not believe in Jesus? Well then, we have all met the prerequisite and according to Jesus, are capable of doing works even greater than those He has done. Isaiah 42: 5-7 says:
5 Thus says God the Lord,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
Who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,
7 To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.
Here again we see there are no special degrees or abilities we must possess to do the Lords work. In fact, He calls us, and it says he will hold our hand. That means He will teach us. He will satisfy any prerequisite and equip us for what he has called us to do. We are not in this on our own. When Jesus called His first disciples from among the fishermen, He said in Mark 1:17
“Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
We, being followers if Christ have chosen to be his disciples, and the truth is to be spread by all disciples. Jesus was speaking to His disciples, of which you are now one, when He said in Acts 1:7,8
“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me[a] in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
That is encouraging to those of us who don’t have power or influence. We only need to believe, and accept the role of disciple and He will teach us, equip us, orchestrate opportunities for us to share, and give us the power and influence to be heard. According to the words of Jesus in Matthew 10: 19, 20 He will even tell us what to say.
19 But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
You see, it really is not about us. God is not dependent on our intellectual prowess, our eloquence of speech, or our proficiency in skillful debate. He is really just looking for simple earthen vessels, vessels that are willing to be used by Him to carry the most precious of treasure he has to offer this world. How unqualified you feel is of no consequence, God wants to use you to accomplish His work. I like this quote from page 822 of The Desire of Ages “The humblest worker, moved by the Holy Spirit, will touch invisible chords, whose vibrations will ring to the ends of the earth, and make melody through eternal ages.” This is talking about you and me.
Assurance of Success
In spite of all of this, we oftentimes are fearful to share Christ and feel inadequate to do so. We may think that someone else can do a better job than us, be more convincing, and get better results. After all, we don’t want to mess it up. And although we should always want to give our best when witnessing for God, we should not allow feelings of inadequacy to cripple us. If we spend time in God’s word and in communion with Him, we are fully equipped to do His work.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about being God’s vessel is that He only requires us to do the easy part. We are only charged with taking His Gospel message to the world. The convincing and convicting are not up to us. In fact, we cannot do it. Only God himself, through His word and the work of His Holy Spirit, can bring conviction to the heart of a soul. Hebrews 4:12 says…
12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
God’s word contains the power to change a heart and His spirit working in concert with that word brings conviction. It is not our responsibility to bring conviction to someone. We are merely asked to share what we know, our own experience with God. That is our part of the work. Take a look with me at 1 Corinthians 3: 5, 6. It reads…
5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
Paul is speaking about how this whole witnessing thing that Christ set up works. He starts out by saying “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos” Establishing the same thought that we are considering today. We are nothing special, just earthen vessels. “but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?” In this sense, Paul and Apollos are no different than what you and I are asked to be, simply vessels through whom the Lord can work. But verse six is the part I really want us to grasp. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” Do you see it? Paul planted, which is to say he shared something that put the seed of thought in the mind of the hearers, Apollos watered, or shared other things that gave that seed of thought the nourishment it needed to sprout and grow. But who gave the increase? That’s right, God gave the increase. God always does the part that we can’t do. The irony is, the part that causes us the most trepidation is not even our responsibility, it’s Gods. When it comes to sharing the Good News of Jesus with others, we need only be concerned with the part He has asked us to do and leave the results in His capable hands.
This is not to suggest, we are to share the gospel in a flippant or uncaring manner. Of course not, we should have a love for souls as Christ does, and labor for their salvation, but the success of our labor is not of our concern. That is God’s part. We need only be faithful to our calling.
You may have thought this was going to be just an ordinary sermon, but here’s where it gets a little unconventional. I have asked two people from our church family, Aaron Cloutier and Kathy Johnson, to share briefly with us this afternoon their experiences of serving as a vessel of God’s treasure. I asked them, not because they are more special than the rest of us, but because they are just like the rest of us. I asked them because I know they have experience of weaving the work of the Lord into their everyday lives. That is inspiring to me and I thought it would be to you also.
Why don’t we start with Aaron…
Reward of Service
I have noticed a pattern in God’s word. Whenever he asks us to do something it has benefit for us. What I mean is his commands are dual purpose. There is the obvious reason for the command, but there also always seems to be a more subtle reason that is a benefit for us when we are faithful in doing what he has asked. For instance, as part of the ten commandments God has asked us not to steal. Well there is an obvious benefit here for society and others, were not going to take their stuff, right? But there is also a hidden benefit for us, by obeying God in this command, we are learning to be reliant on Him to supply our needs. I don’t need to steal something I may think that I need, God will provide for me.
It is the same way with being His earthen vessel. The obvious reason He has asked us to share the Good News is so all may know and have an opportunity to hear and accept Christ as their savior, but there are also secondary, perhaps more subtle, benefits for us to be had when we do as he has asked. I am not suggesting our motives should be self-focused and that we should be doing what God asks of us for what we can get out of it, but I think it is important to realize that God always has our best interests in mind and does not ask us to do anything that is not good for us. Here are some of the benefits we will realize as his earthen vessel.
1. Joy: When we labor for souls, share Christ with them, lift them up in prayer, and see God working in their lives, we experience real Godly joy. It makes us happy. We feel good. I’m not talking about a feeling of satisfaction like “look what I have done”, but a joy that comes only from being involved with something God has done. it is wonderful to see the results of Holy Spirit working in the life of someone, knowing the changes wrought are beyond anything we are capable of doing on our own. Luke 15:10 reads
Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
God and His holy angels experience joy when a soul turns to God and He allows us to experience a bit of that joy too as His vessels.
2. More knowledge: The more we share Christ and his truths with others the more we will learn and understand of Him. Sometimes as we share with others we realize there are things that we don’t fully understand and we find ourselves studying more diligently. By sharing we become students of the word. Perhaps someone asks us a question that has never occurred to us before, or through the process of trying to explain a Bible truth, we realize a deficiency in our own understanding and it drives us back to his word to clear up the fuzzy part. As we share what we know of God our knowledge will grow.
3. Character development: Character development is not just something our children need to work on. All of us have room for growth in the realm of character. We are not just developing our own character, we are exchanging parts of ours for Christ’s. Fulfilling our duty of leading people to truth will amplify our spiritual growth. As we share Christ with others, we receive more of His character, we become more like Him. Our compassion will grow, burden for souls will increase and we will gain strength to resist evil. The refrain of the Hymn “Turn your Eyes Upon Jesus” says…
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
When we are focused on the brightness of Jesus, working for Him, and seeing the results of the work of His Spirit in the lives of others and ourselves; the things of earth, and temptation of sin will dim. They will have less hold on us as our grip on Christ is strengthened. It is through this fellowship of working with Christ that we are fitted for Heaven
You are an earthen vessel. Apart from Christ you are of little value, having nothing of your own to offer. You are simple, drab, and fragile. Useful at best for common every day functions. But God, in His trademark ludicrous way has chosen utilitarian clay pots to carry His most valuable treasure. Will, you, do it? Can you trust Him enough to lay aside your excuses, reservations, and hesitation? Will you choose to allow Him to mold your life, and do something extraordinary with your ordinary? You may be saying, “This is compelling, but I can’t…(dot dot dot)” whatever, you fill in the blank. But I ask you, who were Philip and Peter without Christ? This is not about what you can do, after all, you’re just a clay pot. It’s about what Christ can do, with you, when you submit to allow Him to store His treasure in you. If that is something you would commit to do with me today, I invite you to stand with me as I pray.