Diamond In The Rough

Really. A King born in a stable? Who would ever look for Him there? The Creator of the universe entered human history in a dark, damp, dung-filled barn, and no one even knew, except a few who were escorted there by the hand.

   We usually put nice things in nice boxes. Kings in castles. Valuables in vaults. Treasures in chests. But God put His King in a stable.

   So, it isn't too surprising that He put His treasure in an equally unlikely place: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2 Cor. 4:7).

   A valuable treasure in a clay pot. At the heart of the verse is this contrast — the seeming inappropriateness of this relationship. Something so valuable in something so ordinary, right where you would least expect to find it.

   In unraveling the riddle, we find the treasure is the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The clay pot is the believer — you and me. The obvious incongruity of this relationship says something

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about us and about the power of God.

   First, it tells us that human frailty is no threat to spirituality. Reconciling humanity and spirituality has long been a problem for Christians. The image of spirituality that much of Christianity has unwittingly adopted is one that requires a certain denial of our humanness. Being spiritual means being perfect, having perfect kids, having a Scripture verse for every occasion, and always rising above the situation. The truly spiritual man somehow sails through life, leaving the average person caught in the quagmire of his humanity.

   But Paul gives us a different picture of ourselves. He calls us jars of clay. Now, there was nothing more common in Paul's day than jars of clay. People used them to carry water, serve food, and drink wine. Jesus once changed water into wine in jars of clay.

   If Paul had wanted to imply that Christ changes our human situation, he would have put the treasure in something far more impressive — perhaps silver or gold. Today's animated preachers could then bounce on tiptoes and announce in lilting, breathy tones how God has turned us into "silver chalices" and "golden bowls."

   But we're clay jars, and clay jars are fragile. Pieces of broken pottery — archeologists call them potsherds — are the most common find in any excavation of ancient settlements from Paul's period. The frailty of the vessel is essential to this verse. Human weakness is no threat to spirituality, but is absolutely necessary for the proper display of God's power.

   "We have this treasure in jars of clay" — we have this incongruous, unlikely relationship — "to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." When people can see our human frailty and identify with it, yet still see a power in our lives, they are forced to conclude that the power is coming from somewhere beyond ourselves. The power is from God and not from us. Extraordinary power coming out of ordinary vessels directs the focus to the source of power, not the vessel.

   It stands to reason that depriving people of an honest look at our humanity also deprives them of a clear look at the power of God. To display ourselves as "silver chalices" and "golden bowls" is to make God an afterthought. Others can't see past the vessel to the source of power.

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   It is clear, then, that God is not planning to remove us from the ordinary. He is not paving a higher plane for Christians. He plans to take us through the ordinary — and in some cases worse than ordinary — so that His power will shine forth in the midst of it.

   Next Christmas season, as you pass by the nativity scenes displayed on front lawns and coffee tables across America, reflect not only on the King of kings being born in a stable, but reflect also on the birth of that same King in the dark, damp, dung-filled frame of your humanity, there to glisten in the hay like a diamond in the rough.

   Treasures in unlikely places: a King in a stable . . . Christ in us . . . God is master of the unexpected. He always works like this.

   It is difficult to miss His presence in the midst of such a human dance. Just like the first time He came . . .

Chapter 13  ||  Table of Contents