I don’t know how much time you’ve spent thinking about this, but if you have been born again, you are a vessel, a container, like the Ark of the Covenant. You have been forgiven, made pure, and now God’s Spirit lives in you. This means that you are a glory-carrier, wherever you go. It’s a profound thought.
The place of God’s dwelling
As I stood beside the Western Wall recently, among many others who were coming as close as they could to where that ark used to be up on the Temple Mount, I realized that actually I was carrying God’s Holy Spirit, the Shekinah presence of God, right there in their midst. Not that I’m any better of a person that all the people around me, but I have been washed and made clean by virtue of the sacrifice of my Messiah and God’s Spirit lives in me. Anyone can stand righteous before God if they are willing to admit their sin and receive the forgiveness the Messiah purchased for us—anyone can become a dwelling place for the God of Israel. He is happy to dwell with us and start the lifelong journey of letting Him lead the way as Lord when we welcome Him into our lives.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)
When Jesus said He would send “another” Helper, the word in Greek (which was the lingua-franca in Israel at the time of Jesus) used is ἄλλον (allon). There are two different words in Greek which could have been used here: allos and heteros. Allos means another of the same kind, whereas heteros means another of a different kind. The word chosen was allos, another of the same kind—here’s 5 shekel coin and here’s another 5 shekel coin. Exactly the same.
Jesus is promising a Helper just like Himself who will dwell with us and be in us.
Of course, we still have free will and choices to make, but the Spirit of Jesus is in us. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His Spirit can empower us to live His way and operate through our lives. We are vessels through whom His Spirit can work. I heard someone say it’s as if we’re a glove for God, animated by the force inside to take on a whole new form. We are God’s hands and feet on the earth.
It must have been bewildering to the disciples when Jesus assured them it was a good thing He was going away:
“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you”. (John 16:7, 3-15)
Instead of just one man (Jesus) full of God’s Spirit, suddenly there was a room-full of disciples empowered with that very same Spirit. Then the numbers started increasing exponentially. Today there are millions, perhaps billions of vessels that God can use to pour out His goodness on the earth. Jesus told his amazed disciples that they would “do greater things than these”, and now due to the sheer number of those carrying the Spirit of God in them, the extraordinary volume of good works happening all over the globe bringing help and healing to those in need is impossible to catalogue.
Vessels of God’s mercy
God laid out his ways of justice and righteousness in the Bible, and we are vessels to bring His mercy to a broken world.
We are the Body of Messiah, He is the head. He comes up with the master plans and we, His vessels, carry it out, by the power of His Spirit. The Bible exhorts us to care for the poor and needy, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and share the good news that anyone can be forgiven and brought into the family of God. He requires us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him as His representatives on earth, and as channels through whom His goodness can flow. Just as shocking as the fact that He lives in us is the fact that His power can flow through us to bless the others around us. It is in our actions, our footsteps, hands, facial expressions, our embrace and our presence that God can love and serve others—through us. We are to be like lots of mini-Jesus-es, which is what Christian (Χριστιανός, christianos to use the Greek word), or Messianic (משיחי meshichi to use the Hebrew), means. Christ is the Greek word for Messiah.
“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.” ―
Of course, when we think of ourselves in comparison to Jesus we quickly end up gazing at our shoes in shame, but the truth is that God uses us all, broken vessels, for His purposes. We are containers for the life of God. The Bible speaks of God’s people being like vessels in several places:
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:20-24)
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
This last verse speaks of our brokenness and hardships, but the light shining out anyway. Like Gideon’s army smashing their jars of clay so the light burst out and brought victory. It also reminds me of the Japanese art of kintsugi which takes broken vessels and fixes them with golden sealant in the cracks, restoring them to be a more beautiful form of what they were before. The state of the vessel is not even important—it’s God’s glory within us that makes all the difference. He doesn’t need us to be whole or perfect, just willing to host His Spirit.
Don’t value a vessel over its contents
The vessel is very rarely more important than its contents as you can see by looking at the bottles or containers you have around the house. But they are absolutely necessary for the delivery of those contents.
In the same way, the nation of Israel is God’s chosen vessel to minister to the world. Through Israel came the “Oracles of God” as Paul calls them (the Bible) and also the Messiah Himself. Israel has been a live illustration for the world to demonstrate how God deals with humanity: His faithfulness, His power, and His wonderful ways.
Similarly, Mary was God’s chosen vessel to bring the incarnate Messiah into the world. A mother for the Messiah was absolutely necessary, and it was a very high honor to be chosen for the job. Mary’s part, like that of Israel, was not easy. There was much sorrow and pain involved, but what a wonderful role to play in God’s grand plan!
However, far too many stumble into elevating these God-picked vessels to an idolatrous level. Mary isn’t, and never was divine. She was not perfect, and neither is Israel. They are just jars of clay, like you, chosen for God’s purposes.
The Ark of the Covenant was made of acacia wood—a tough, gnarly tree of the desert—but covered in gold. The wooden ark covered in gold speaks of our rough humanity covered by God’s holiness to make a place fit for a king. The King of kings, in fact. We may be broken, fragile, rough and gnarly, we may be corruptible and finite, but we have been chosen, made holy by God, and set aside for his purposes. It is a great honor to host His presence in our lives, and to be a conduit to bring His abundant life wherever we go.
Picture by Balaji Malliswamy on Unsplash