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Atlantis ‹the domain of the Stingray›
A synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the word you first thought of.
Atlantis: the domain of the Stingray
author: Stingray
category: Sermons
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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany of Our Lord

Luke 5:1-11, Isaiah 6:1-8

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

If you were to meet Jesus today, how would you react? If you came face to face with the Son of God, what would you say? Would you recognize Him? Do you even know how to recognize Him? Better yet, what would you do if you found yourself in the very physical presence of God the Father?

I have an idea what your reaction would be, so let's ask the questions a little bit differently.

What did Isaiah do when he found himself in the very physical presence of God the Father?

Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.

Isaiah was simply going to burn some incense before the Lord on account of the king's death. He knew what to do, as he was familiar with the customs. But, what he had planned to do and what actually happened are two different things.

I like to imagine that Isaiah was going about the routine when his surroundings changed, unbeknownst to him. He was doing what he set out to do when his vision started, and he didn't even realize it at first. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something was...different. There was a robe on the floor where previously there had been none—and it was huge! Slowly, he turns, following this long train, and there on the throne is none other than God Himself, YHWH in His person. In amazement he continues to gaze and sees six-winged creatures—seraphim, a high order of angels. These seraphs are flying around and singing, "Holy, holy, holy is YHWH Sabaoth; the entire earth is filled with His glory!" Out of modesty, they cover their "feet" with a pair of wings; out of reverence, they cover their faces with another pair, for no one may look upon the LORD and live.

Then, it clicks. He's not in Kansas anymore! Immediately he falls to the ground, averting his eyes. He cries out in anguish, fearing for his life,

Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.

So, flash forward several centuries. How did Peter react the day he met Jesus? What did he say when he came face to face with the Son of God? Did he recognize Him?

"Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"

Peter, and his brother Andrew and partners James and John, had worked all night fishing. That's when people fished—at night—because the fish are in the shallow, warmer waters; they're easier to see and catch. Unfortunately for this little fishing outfit, it wasn't easy enough. They hauled their nets in empty after a long night's work, docked the boats, and saw to their morning chores—cleaning the nets.

Jesus needed a pulpit; He was going to teach the people. A boat just off shore is a suitable pulpit—there have been studies done in these latter days which suggest that speaking to a crowd on a shore from just off shore is quite effective, acoustically speaking (assuming its a calm lake and not an ocean shore). So, Jesus gets into Simon's boat and tells him to shove off and put out a little from land. Hey, it's got to be better sitting in a boat and doing nothing than cleaning grime and algae off of nets that didn't catch any fish; Peter might have thought that this would be a good opportunity to get a little rest while this presumed teacher taught a few people from his boat.

But, when Jesus finished, He turned to Peter and told him to do something unthinkable...illogical. "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." Note that Jesus didn't say, "Now, go out, put out your nets and hope to catch some fish...see what happens." No, Jesus' statement was quite declarative: "Go to the deep water and put your nets in. You are going to catch some fish." The Word of God declared it, and so it happened—a bounty so great, unlike anything Peter had ever caught before. He calls to his brother and partners to get out there and help with the catch, for his boat was sinking from the weight. The second boat would, too.

These four men hauled their catch to shore. Peter knew that this was no ordinary teacher. He had been told rather confidently that He was going to catch fish. This Jesus knew what was going to happen. Peter's emotions must have run the gamut from amazement to fear, so, like Isaiah, he falls to the ground and cries out, for fear of his life, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"

So, what of it? What about you? How would you react? What would you say?

Thus far, we have only heard the Law and seen an effect of the Law on the sinner—the effect of recognizing oneself as a sinner. This is an important and necessary effect of the Law—it is why we preach the Law, in all of its power, in our pulpits (and why it is then necessary to preach the Gospel, in all of its sweetness, in our pulpits). The Law teaches us that we are sinners, and that by our sin, we cannot stand in the presence of God and live. Sin cannot exist in God's presence. God's majesty and sovereignty—His holiness—do not allow for sin to be in His presence. So, Isaiah is prostrate repentantly in the presence of YHWH Sabaoth. So, Peter cowers repentantly in the presence of the Son of God.

And I know that your reactions would be similar. At least, I hope they would be, and I imagine they are most of the time. After all, you are gathered here this morning, and you confessed with your mouth (and believed with your heart),

O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray Thee of Thy boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.

Now, you weren't on your knees with your faces to the ground, though that certainly wouldn't have been an inappropriate position to be in while in confession of sins. But, in far more words, you said the same as Isaiah and you said the same as Peter. You have been gathered together as poor, miserable sinners into the very presence of YHWH Sabaoth, gathered in His name, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." And, like Isaiah and Peter, you fear for your very life, and plead for God's mercy.

Now, bear with me. I fully intend to get to the Gospel, but I first want to give a warning. Take heed, I plead with you!

Contrition and repentance is certainly one effect of the Law, but it is not the only effect. There are two others of which we must be aware.

One frightful effect is despair. The Law has had its way with the sinner, and the sinner rightfully fears for his life in light of God's holiness. But, rather than seeking mercy from God—and that seeking is a gift from God as well, lest we think it a work of our own—His grace and mercy are rejected and denied, and the sinner is left devoid of all hope and in despair. It is frightening, because the sinner, in his feeling of unworthiness, becomes fatalistic. "What's the point of anything," they exclaim, "God cares nothing for me or anyone." One sad outcome of this fatalism is suicide.

Judas Iscariot is the premier Biblical example of despair. He had betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and scribes, turned him over to death for a measly 30 pieces of silver. He had his "aha moment" and realized that what he had done was wrong. He tried to make it right by returning the blood money, but nothing could alleviate the guilt and despair he felt. Grace was there, as certain as it was there for Peter who had three times denied Jesus, but Judas rejected and denied it, and hanged himself in the Potter's Field.

Another frightful effect of the Law is rebellion. It is related to despair in that both work rejection and denial of the grace of God. The difference is that despair is covert while rebellion is overt. Despair appears passive on the part of the sinner, while rebellion is quite active. Rebellion goes so far as the deny what the Law proclaims of the sinner; it exclaims that the Law is wrong and the sinner is no sinner at all. And if the Law is wrong and the sinner is no sinner, then it has no need for the grace of God, even going so far as to find it offensive!

A group of "rebels" in this sense that come to mind are the Pharisees. They prop themselves up as keeping the Law perfectly. In their minds, the Law declares them righteous, not sinners; therefore, they have no need of forgiveness, and find Jesus offensive for even suggesting it. Of them Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

The Law still has these effects. Those who despair of God's grace and those who rebel against God's Law and grace are still among us. And, to an extent, we battle with these effects, too. How often have any of you felt that your sin was so great that God could not possible forgive you? And who really likes having their faults and sins pointed out to them?

Ultimately, to those who reject and deny God's grace—those who reject and deny God—He says, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." For sinners like Judas and the Pharisees who saw no need for God's grace is a placed of everlasting fire prepared. Their place is with the devil and his angels.

But for those who by the Law see their sinful condition and repent of it before God in contrition there is mercy. And, let's not forget, this confession is spoken only by the grace of God. God works through His Law to give gifts, as well. Remember, "[N]o one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit," likewise, no one can confess their sins except by the grace of God.

Isaiah received a purging of sin by means a coal from the incense altar:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:
"Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged."

Peter received the word of forgiveness directly from the mouth of Jesus: "Do not be afraid." If Peter feared for his life because of his sin, and if Jesus is telling him not to be afraid, then his sin has been removed from him.

And you who have confessed your sin here receive the word of forgiveness from God through His called pastor:

Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

God's called pastor speaks the word of forgiveness to you in the stead and by the command of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He points you to the all-atoning sacrifice of the Christ on the cross, where the blood was spilled for the redemption of mankind and by which God and man are reconciled!

What marvelous grace this is, for it is by this Word of God that Isaiah is able to remain in YHWH Sabaoth's presence and live. It is by this Word of God that Peter is able to remain in the presence of the Son of God and be unafraid. It is by the Word of God that you can receive your Lord as He comes to you in His Word and body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of your faith. You, with Isaiah and Peter, have received God's mercy and grace, and you live joyfully in His presence.

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Ahh, but we can't stop there, for our texts do not end there.

Having now been cleansed of his sin and iniquity, Isaiah is asked, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" "Who can I send to my people, to preach a message of repentance and forgiveness? Who can I send to speak my Word of grace to the people?" By grace, forgiven and cleansed, Isaiah joyfully replies, "Here am I! Send me."

Peter, having just been told not to be afraid is told, "From now on you will catch men." "From now on, you will proclaim my Good News to men." The Greek says, "you will take men alive," giving a sense that Peter (and Andrew and James and John) will proclaim the gospel of sins forgiven and life and salvation, casting the net of God's Word over the people. And the four men, out of that joyful, new obedience that comes from sins forgiven forsake all, leave their old lives behind without a second thought, and follow Jesus.

What a joy and privilege is ours as well, dear hearers in Christ. Jesus has received us, sinners (as we sang), and forgiven us, given us life and salvation, reconciled us to God the Father, and given a world to us that desperately needs to hear this good news, this word of reconciliation. "Do not despair, there is grace for you." "Do no rebel, there is grace for you." "God, in Christ, loves you, and has forgiven your sins in the death of His Son on the cross." So, let us like Isaiah gladly answer, "Here am I! Send me." And speak the good news of sins forgiven to those God places in our paths.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
If you cannot speak like angels, / If you cannot preach like Paul, / You can tell the love of Jesus, / You can say He died for all.
Let none hear you idly saying, / "There is nothing I can do," / While the souls of men are dying / And the Master calls for you. / Take the task He gives you gladly, / Let His work your pleasure be; / Answer quickly when He calleth, / "Here am I, send me, send me!"

What a joy to answer like Isaiah...what a joy to be an ambassador for Christ, because you are forgiven for all of your sins!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

audio recorded on my digital recorder and converted to mp3
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