Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. Once or twice in a lifetime God allows events to occur in the life of a person for reasons that they may not understand at the moment but later see how God used them to reveal their pride and sinfulness and need for salvation through faith in Jesus. Some time ago one of those things happened to me. Back in the day I was an engineer at one of the Big Three automotive companies (blue oval!). I wore a suit and tie to work each day and had a pass to access the test track across the street. I drove a brand-new truck and in my mind, I guess I kind of saw myself as important in the overall scheme of things in the automotive world. One day as I was getting dressed, I examined the pattern of stitching on my underwear and how the tag was placed on the opposite side of the seams and overlapping seams that joined the panels together. As an engineer I thought, isn’t that strange how they placed the tag on the wrong side so that it faced out when the seams were faced in? Then it hit me, I had, for my entire life mind you, worn my underwear inside out with the tag facing out and the finished seams facing in (which even today still seems very logical to me!). I thought that I was such an important engineer and yet I had worn my underwear backwards during my entire career. As my grandma would have said, good thing I didn’t have an accident. Pride gets the best of us, but God has His ways of revealing our pride in order to help us to be released to worship Him.
This week we open with a reading from the Prophet Isaiah in which we learn about our need for cleansing from our sin as well as a vision of God on His throne. Then we move to the second reading from the next to last chapter of Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians where we learn about how he corrected an important misunderstanding regarding the crucially important doctrine of the resurrection. Then we close with the Gospel lesson from Saint Luke in which we see how Jesus performed a great miracle among a group of common fishermen in order to gather His own catch of men. We are going to see today how when God places a unique calling upon a person such as a prophet or disciple of Christ he often brings those people to the point of understanding their sinfulness and need for a Savior. A. W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” Such is the case that we will see today when we encounter two men whom God deeply convicted of their sins. As we study you may wish to check the direction in which your underwear is facing.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 6. The context of the reading is just after the pronouncement of woes upon the people of Israel for their sin in the previous chapter. His messages follow the pattern “Woe to those who.” “Therefore,” Isaiah said, “My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge” (Isaiah 5:13b). Isaiah continued his song of woes saying, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). The prophet’s words are eerily reminiscent of Saint Paul’s warnings about what was to come upon the world in the last days, a period that began the moment Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. Paul said, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Isaiah’s pronouncement of woes serves as a warning to all generations about the deceitfulness and danger of sin. We shouldn’t be surprised by events happening in Isaiah’s day as if the Israelites were somehow worse sinners than the people of our own age.
From this context we begin the readings. You’ll see a huge contrast between the wickedness of people and the holiness of God.
Isaiah 6:1-8 NAS95 1 In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven." 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
The first insight that jumps out of the reading requires some careful insight into the background of King Uzziah mentioned in the first verse. Isaiah provides the date of his vision as “In the year of King Uzziah’s death” (v. 1a), meaning sometime after the date of King Uzziah as recorded in 2 Chronicles 26:23. King Uzziah was one of the good kings of Judah, although sometime during the end of his reign pride got the better of him when he attempted to usurp the function of a priest by burning incense to the Lord (2 Chronicles 26:16). Afterwards, because of his pride God inflicted him with leprosy that likely hastened his death. Isaiah is clearly using this mention of Uzziah’s death as a warning about the danger of pride because as he continues in the reading he shows how God convicted him of his own pride. Upon seeing some miniscule portion of the glory of the Lord, Isaiah was deeply convicted of his sinful nature and said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips” (v. 5). Pride is something that anyone exposed to direct revelation from God would most likely struggle with. Their vision and special role left them vulnerable to the assumption that they were superior. Add to this the fact that once the prophets began to experience God’s message, they would have been called to live much holier lives than the surrounding people did. Even Saint Paul wasn’t immune from pride because we know that God inflicted him with a “thorn in the flesh.” Paul said, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me--to keep me from exalting myself!” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Isaiah was no different and as we see in the reading, he required conviction of his sin and subsequent forgiveness (v. 7). The ministry of forgiveness was delivery by none other than the seraphim, a special type of angel who use two of their wings to cover their face (v. 2). Interestingly, although the angels cover their faces, Isaiah is allowed to see the glory of God. God allows this for the purpose of revealing Isaiah’s uncleanness and compelling need for forgiveness. We see through the reading that forgiveness came from the altar of God, as only God can forgive sin.
Sometimes as I’m reading the Bible as I study the text and the related passages I come to an “aha moment.” During my study for this reading, I had one of those moments as I remembered how Saint John had said something about Isaiah. When we read the Gospels, we need to take careful notice when either the writers or Jesus Himself quotes from the Bible (what we now call the Old Testament). In this case, Saint John clearly indicated that Jesus was the Person on the throne about whom Isaiah spoke. As proof, first, we know that no one can see God in His fullness and live (Exodus 33:20). However, Scripture says that the prophets saw varying manifestations of God, as Saint John made clear in the following verse:
39 For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM." 41 These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. (John 12:39 -41, emphasis added, note that the capital letters indicate quotations from the Old Testament.)
Had we read past verse 8 in Isaiah where today’s reading ended we would have seen these verses:
Isaiah 6:9-10 NAS95 9 He said, "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.' 10 "Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed."
Do you see the correlation between John’s writing in the Gospel and the verses he quoted from the Old Testament in Isaiah? Aha, what John was saying was that it was Jesus’ glory that Isaiah was seeing, the glory of God on His throne!
For additional evidence that the One that Isaiah saw high and lifted up on the throne was Jesus, Isaiah used the same language about this Person in today’s reading as compared to his writings about the coming Messiah in the Servant Songs later in chapters 52 - 53. Isaiah spoke of the Lord “sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted” (v. 1). Later in the Servant Songs Isaiah said about the coming Servant Messiah Jesus: “Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isaiah 52:13). What Saint John was explaining by drawing from Isaiah was that Jesus is God spoken of in the Old Testament. Jesus said. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
We can celebrate the ways in which Jesus revealed His glory to the world in both the Old and New Testaments. We can have confidence that even though Isaiah may not have completely understood his visions and writings he faithfully recorded them in the Scriptures such that some seven hundred years later Jesus could come along and fulfill them. In the same way, we can trust that when we read the prophetic verses in the New Testament, they too will be fulfilled in exquisite detail in ways that we cannot totally understand. In spite of the fact that we don’t have a perfect understanding of how things will play out, we can trust that God has enlightened our understanding to the extent necessary for us to accomplish the work that He has for us to accomplish.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The second reading is from the next to last chapter of First Corinthians and contains an early creedal statement in the first half dozen verses. Paul had just finished his instruction on the necessity of order in worship, so it’s appropriate that this section opens with the statement of one of the earliest creeds of the church.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 NAS95 1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
One of the problems in the Corinthian church was that some of them didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is made clear by the verses immediately following today’s reading:
1 Corinthians 15:12-19 NAS95 12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
This context is extremely important in understanding Paul’s purpose in including such deep creedal statements before he addresses the Corinthian’s unbelief. You may have heard how those in the government have taught that the best way to spot a counterfeit bill is not to study the counterfeits, but instead to become intimately familiar first with genuine articles. This is exactly what Paul did by leading with the truth and then addressing the Corinthian’s unbelief as a means of providing a bridge to those confused about the resurrection of Christ. Paul taught many deep spiritual truths in the first seven verses including things that we, as believers, take for granted with our more extensive understanding of faith and more extensive creeds such as the one recited each week during Sunday Mass. Paul taught:
- People are saved by receiving, standing and holding fast to the Gospel (v. 1).
- Christ died for our sins, that this was in fulfillment of the Scriptures, and that He was buried and raised on the third day again as predicted by the Bible (v. 3). This provided confirmation of the truthfulness of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus.
- The resurrected Jesus appeared to more than five hundred believers, some of whom were still alive at the time of his writing (v. 6). This was important because as live witnesses they would have been able to challenge these writings about the resurrection of Jesus.
The reading also relates to what we learned about Isaiah in the first reading in terms of the necessity of prophets to have a humble heart. He said that he was the “least of the apostles,” one whom had persecuted the church (v. 9), yet labored harder than all the others because the grace of God was with him (v. 10). Yet as an apostle of Christ he had a unique calling in that when he was formerly a persecutor of the church (v. 9) the resurrected Lord appeared to him. Finally, he exclaimed that regardless of who preached the good news, the end result was that the people believed (v. 11). He said something very similar to this in Philippians:
Philippians 1:15-18 NAS95 15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,
We see in this reading Saint Paul’s heart for ministry. We saw how he provided the Corinthians with both truth and evidence of the truth, an “apologetic.” The defense of the truth is very important in our day with a culture that denies the existence of absolute truth, yet does so absolutely. Although there is plenty of room for discussion and even error on various Christian doctrines, the resurrection is one of the central, defining doctrines of our Christian faith. We saw this in Paul’s own words. “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
As we transition to the Gospel lesson, we will return to a very similar theme that we saw in the first reading from Isaiah. Here we will see the calling of the disciples of Christ and how the Holy Spirit convicted Peter of his sinfulness and need for a Savior.
Luke 5:1-11 NAS95 1 Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. 4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets. 6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.
In the reading we see the occurrence of several miracles. We see the Lord’s miracle of gathering the fish into the particular spot in which to be caught (v.4). Next, we see how Simon Peter followed Jesus’ instruction (vv. 5-6), a miracle in itself. Then we see the miracle of the gigantic catch (v. 6). However, perhaps the greatest miracle of all was how God enlightened Simon Peter’s heart to reveal his sinfulness and frail humanity (v. 8). Yet another miracle was how this group of disciples (Peter, James, and John) were willing to forsake their livelihood and instead become “fishers of men” (v. 10). All of these miracles are significant in that they helped bring about the specific calling to a discrete small group of disciples eventually numbering just twelve select people, each with unique skills and gift mix.
One of the significant things in the reading concerns how God requires humility in His servants. Just like we saw how Isaiah responded to seeing the glory of Jesus on His throne, Saint Peter responded in a very similar way when he experienced the miraculous catch of fish. Any sport fisherman who has ever endured a slow fishing season may understand that even a nominal catch is a miracle. However, in the case of the Peter, James and John these were professional fishermen who made their living at fishing. Peter’s reaction indicated that there was much more going on than just the miraculous catch, God was working in his heart to convict him of his sinfulness as well as using the miracle to prove that Jesus was able to fulfil His words.
What are some ways that we can apply what we have learned today? In the first reading we saw how God exposed Isaiah’s sinfulness and need for cleansing from his sin. In the Gospel lesson we saw how Saint Peter was convicted of his sinfulness and need for a Savior. In our lives we must be aware of our own pride and our need for God’s forgiveness, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God in His grace brings to mind our sinfulness so that we may repent of our sin and be healed (see Acts 3:19). Without God Himself bearing the penalty for our sin the ultimate end for us is death (Romans 6:23). He did this for us through His grace while we were hopelessly trapped in our sin with no hope of escape. Paul said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Our receipt of the free gift of forgiveness comes through our faith in the Lord Jesus and not any of our perceived good works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Saint Paul said that we need to receive this gift:
“9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED’” (Romans 10:9-13).
God tells us not to take this for granted, but rather to test ourselves. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). The stakes are very high, each of us should examine our hearts and see whether we are trusting only in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for us, because in terms of earning our salvation God said through Isaiah, “Our righteous deeds are as filthy rags before the Lord” (Proverbs 14:12). Let us take to heart the Gospel message: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). It is not enough to just know the Gospel, we must respond to message and live in light of this good news.
- In the second reading Saint Paul provide several proofs regarding the resurrection. A. How do these proofs provide you with comfort today?
- Why is the resurrection of our bodies important to you and how can this doctrine help you in light of the things with which you are suffering?
- What areas of pride has God revealed to you? How has He used these times of “breaking” to usher you into new places of trust and intimacy with Him?
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.