This week we’re talking about how God seems to choose people ill-suited, for tasks that are far too big for them. And, although we are not Isaiahs, Peter or Pauls, that is how God lovingly but persistently stretches us to step up and help Him work His farm, His mission field.
This links to The Living Word study for Sunday, February 6 and draws out the teaching from the set Bible readings — for the many and varied churches and chapels that follow the Revised Common Lectionary.
We’ll hear three stories, from Isaiah and another about Simon Peter, the fisherman-turned-preacher, and the about Paul, who changed from religious policeman to fearless pioneer church planter.
Last week in this series we heard about the young Jeremiah, who told the Lord he couldn’t go out and speak because he was too young. Who would listen to a youngster? And the Lord told him He was with Him and he was to go where he was shown and say what he was given to say, “and I will rescue you” — which makes the point about bering able to trust God deeply and rely on Him. Confidence and ability can be a real handicap.
Isaiah’s story of being called
Now we hear from Isaiah, who is given a vision of God that blows him over before he has started. In truth, he thought having his eyes opened to such holiness would be fatal — Scripture told him that no one could see God and live. But God had other plans. He would make Isaiah such a person of fortitude that he would speak out clearly in situations where everyone was rubbishing him.
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple.
2-3 Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
6-7 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
9-10 He said, “Go and tell this people:
“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
“Make the heart of people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
11-13 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” And He answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
When Paul was under guard in Rome he was allowed to call together the local Jewish leaders and he told them his story, using these words to explain His extraordinary call and how He, a Jew, had been sent to proclaim that God’s salvation had been sent to Gentiles. But that’s getting ahead our ourselves…Jesus took these words and repeated them in the context of one of his best-known stories, the sower of seed and the four kinds of soil.
Simon Peter is called to leave his boat and learn to “fish for people”
The challenge of speaking truth to those who refuse to hear it takes a certain kind of courage, but also the ability to let the Lord be Lord. Peter had faults and learned many hard lessons but in the end he came through, confronting the Jewish council and their threats one moment and to exhorting a crowd in the temple courts the next. But his story starts here, in his fishing boat:
1-3 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8-10 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him.
Now The story moves from Jewish believers in a Jewish setting to the very different environment of Corinth, that busy seaport and centre of Greek culture.
Paul recounts the grace of God in calling him
For Paul it was a big leap of faith to cross over to the Greek side of the Mediterranean and begin to work among people of a very different culture. And here he is addressing one of the fastest-growing churches. He is reminding them of his original message, the message that came from an arresting vision of Jesus who appeared to him on the road to Damascus. This was Jesus who he knew was was crucified, dead, and buried nowt appearing to him and speaking to him. He has encountered the risen Lord of all glory and authority, residing in the heavenly places but clearly involved with people on the ground. In that encounter He called Paul to Himself, and he called Paul to go to others and explain what it meant when Jesus died on the Cross, but also what it meant that He rose from death to new life, seen by many for a period of time before He ascended to heaven. Paul, in his own way, had experienced an aspect of that story and therefore he knew it was the kingpin of the gospel, and the reason for its power to change lives.
Let’s hear in Paul’s own words:
1-2 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3-5 For what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.
6-8 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
10-11 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
We look at these great people of faith in the Bible and wonder how we compare, if at all. But it’s the wrong comparison — looking at the branches and the fruit rather than considering the plain roots.
The unstated question that God was putting to Isaiah, and that Jesus was asking Peter, and that Paul heard in his arresting and blindingly brilliant encounter when heaven opened for him as he neared Damascus, was this:
Are you simply willing to be called, to be changed and to be equipped for God to do what only He can do — through you?