Drawn from the set readings for Sunday, February 7:
OT: Isaiah 40:21-31
NT gospel: Mark 1:21-28
NT letter: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
THE CLASSIC book by J B Phillips ‘Your God is too small’ prompts the headline for this week’s story which emerges from the set readings which you will hear in your livestream service or discuss in your home group, if your church or chapel follows the Revised Common Lectionary scheme. As always, we will let the Bible tell its own story following its own order.
“To whom will you compare Me?”
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?” is the repeating, rhetorical question spoken by God through Isaiah in this week OT passage. “To whom will you compare ME?” confronts the beliefs of the various nations of the Ancient Near East who saw stars, sun and moon as deities among their other gods.
But, as God’s word coming through Isaiah points out, the Living God of the people of Israel had CREATED the cosmos, and proved it by naming all the stars and celestial bodies.
The idols of the nations represented deities that had an influence over a certain territory — demonic principalities and powers if you like, the language of Paul writing to the church in Ephesus, Eph. 6:12. God the creator was God of all the earth, and the proudest and most strongly established earthly powers were to Him like dandelion seeds that get blown away in the wind.
So where does that leave us?
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:29-31 NIV
The real source of all power and authority
The good news is that if we are “those that hope in the Lord”, we are tapping into the real source of all power and authority. With that confident assurance, we can detach ourselves from the impossibility of earthly problems that seem to overshadow us, and ascend like eagles to view those problems looking much more insignificant from a heavenly perspective.
Letting the Bible tell its story, the incomparable greatness of God continues in the account of Jesus taking divine authority over sickness, healing Peter’s mother-in-law from a life-threatening fever, and as Mark emphasises, freeing those who were demon-possessed as well as healing many from various diseases.
Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but He would not let the demons speak, because they knew who He was.
Mark 1:30-34 NIV
This was gaining Jesus a considerable following in Capernaum. But gaining a following was not the mission — proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God and giving every Jew the opportunity to respond was why Jesus had come. He gathered His disciples and told them:
“Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So He travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.Mark 1:38-39 NIV
They must all get around the villages beyond Capernaum and proclaim (and demonstrate) the kingdom there also. True greatness doesn’t need a following, and the kingdom mission is the main thing.
Compelled by the majesty of God to proclaim it
Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, reflects on the majesty of God and present reality of Jesus revealed in His call, telling them for him, that amounts to being “compelled to preach” the gospel.
For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.1 Corinthians 9:16 NIV
He is not asking for the kind of following and rewarding that secular travelling orators expected in Greek culture. Unlike them, Paul won’t demean the Lord’s message by calling attention to Himself. He will get that message of the good news of Jesus and His kingdom to all kinds of people, wherever they are found, whatever it takes. In socially-mixed Corinth, a church of Jew and Gentile, slave and free, Paul would live simply like a humble bond-servant, to be better able to relate to those of that class.
Because Paul’s God really is big, he himself has nothing to prove, and no need of status.
How would churches become more relevant to people if we were all captivated by the experience of God’s greatness? How would our vision for mission be re-energised if, like Paul, we let go of all our preferences and titles and structures and focused simply on becoming all things to all people, coming alongside them with Jesus.
Woe to me if my God is small, and I get caught up in all kinds of committees and church activities, but are not sharing the good news of Jesus.