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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Holiness of God

During this Season of Epiphany we have been looking at ways God manifested himself to his people. Our appointed readings for today have two examples of this, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Though the span of time was around seven hundred years between the two, they seem to have some commonality.

Let us first look at the Old Testament one. We have an account of the calling of Isaiah the prophet:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”   (Isaiah 6:1-5)

Moving now to the New Testament we have an account of Jesus calling his first disciples:

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”    (Luke 5:1-10)

They both of these epiphanies revealed God’s presence and power. Isaiah and Simon were awestruck. Isaiah said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Simon said: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” We might say that each man had an encounter of the holiness of God. In the presence of God’s holiness their sinful nature was made abundantly clear.

What is the holiness of God? Is it not his power and might? Yes, but it is also his nature and character. God is pure and above reproach. Referring to God, the Prophet Habakkuk wrote:

“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrong.”   Habakkuk 1:13)

God is a holy God and he requires us to be holy. We read from Leviticus:

For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy.   (Leviticus 11:45)

And from the Book of Hebrews:

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.   (Hebrews 12:14)

Is it even possible for us to live a holy life? Not on our own. We need God’s help. The good news is that he wants to help us. Again from Leviticus:

Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.   (Leviticus 20:8)

He enabled Isaiah to become a great prophet. Again from today’s Old Testament reading:

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 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!”   (Isaiah 6:6-8)

Simon thought he was unworthy to serve the Lord Jesus. Jesus answered him this way – from today’s Gospel reading:

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.   (Luke 5:11)

Jesus changed Simon’s perspective and transformed his life. He became Peter, the rock.

Each one of us is called by God. Each one of us is destined to be the righteousness of God. Jesus has made that possible for us by his crucifixion. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus has called us into himself. Our task is to remain in him. He tells us to fear not. He is removing our shame and he is changing our lives. If we put our trust in him then we will abide in him. In today’s Epistle the Apostle Paul writes:

I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain.   (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

When we stand with Jesus and not this sinful world, we have a precious promise from God. Paul writes:

All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.   (2 Corinthians 3:18)

 

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