Isaiah 6: 1-13
Psalm 85: 8-13
1 Corinthians 14: 12b-20
Luke 5: 1-11
“I am a Sinner”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” There is much wisdom in Simon Peter’s words found in today’s Gospel. He saw the miracle of Jesus bringing the fish, too much for the nets to hold, to the fishermen of Capernaum. The sheer amount of fish was enough to terrify Simon, for in that moment he instantly knew that he was in the presence of God Almighty in the flesh. He may not have known of the virgin birth that took place three decades prior or the event that took place on the Jordan River, but as a good Judean raised under the Torah he should have been at least aware of the many stories of God interacting with humans. For example, when Jacob son of Isaac literally physically wrestled with God; thus why he was renamed Jacob Israel which means, “Jacob wrestled with God.” So Peter, with the full knowledge that God does interact with His creation, and seeing Jesus Son of God nearly tear the nets apart by calling forth a swarm of fish, Peter knew that he was in the presence of God and was terrified.
King Solomon writes in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But why is this so? Why is it wise for Peter to be so terrified? It isn’t simply because God is almighty and the very source of all of existence, nor is it simply because God is all good and cannot have any evil within Him, but also because in the presence of God Peter knew He, a sinful man, was unworthy. The fear of being smited wrought the conscience of Simon Peter, thus he immediately fell down at Jesus’ feet begging for mercy, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Let me tell you, at that very moment, there wasn’t a sinner walking the Earth that could match the wisdom of Peter.
Last week I preached about why we may feel unworthy with regards to spreading the Gospel. Examples included speech issues and stage freight and lack of knowledge, but there was one reason for feeling unworthy that I intentionally glossed over. And that was feeling unworthy to spread the Good News because of your sinfulness.
What if you did a number of horrendous things in your past, stacking great sin on top of great sin? What if you rightly served multiple decades in jail for committing a crime that would terrify the minds of any sane citizen? What if you lived a life of debauchery and decadence as you gluttonously devoured all sorts of passionate life styles? What if you did any of these and more, but found Christ? You may have walked away from these things or are struggling to release yourself from the evils of the world, but may also struggle with feelings of worthlessness. How, of all people, am I worthy to tie the sandals of Jesus’ feet, let alone preach His Gospel? I feel like I’m talking about Paul, aka Saul, here. For Saul persecuted the Christians; was at the front of leading the initial charge against the newly converted. He was the one who ordered the murder of the first Christian Martyr. So as Paul, he acknowledges that he is the worst of all mankind and deserves Hell for all that he has done, but Christ saved even him.
Here is the thing; I rather have a person preaching the Gospel who knows that he is a wretched sinner than someone who believes he deserves Heaven. I rather have a person spreading the Good News who acknowledges that they are a sinner than one who haughtily claims they are guiltless of sin. I rather that all Christians live with contrite hearts than believe that they are not in need of forgiveness. Why? Well, if you believe that you already deserve Heaven they why do you need the Gospel? You don’t, it’s not necessary for you are apparently already saved. If you are sinless, then the forgiveness and salvation that comes only through the cross of which Christ died on is meaningless because you don’t need either. Christ did not come for those who are saved, nor did he come for good people, or those who are already righteous. He came for sinners. He came for those are the lowest of the lowly. He came for evil men who are wretched maggots. He came with both mercy and grace; withholding the gates of Hell of which we rightly deserve and gifting the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven of which we most definitely do not deserve.
Isaiah understood this, his unworthiness. For when the Lord called Isaiah, Isaiah, wrought with fear, said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in a midst of people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Like Peter, Isaiah knew he was in the presence of God and was well aware of his own sinfulness. He was a man of unclean lips, implying that he has said some awful things. But he is no different from your common Israeli during that era, for Israel had transformed into a land of unclean lips.
Blasphemy was rampant in Israel, and persecution against the Jewish faith was on the rise as secularism and unholy acts of worship to false idols became the norm. If you dared preach the Torah, then those who heard you would hardened their hearts instead of softening it. They became even more hateful and raged against God. Your life may even be ruined if you preached against the authorities who defied God. Israel had become unclean and for safety reasons many stilled their tongues, mimicked the preaching of the idolators, or even defended the actions of their new captures. Isaiah was a person who lived in this environment and knew himself to also be someone whose lips were not void of sinfulness.
So did Isaiah hide his sinfulness? No. Instead he laid his burdens bare to the Lord of hosts. Isaiah acknowledged that he was a sinner. And instead of smiting Isaiah, God sent an angel to purify Isaiah. The sin that rested on Isaiah’s lips was burned off, his sin atoned for, and because there is no sin the need to feel guilty was no longer necessary. Isaiah had a humble and contrite heart, and it is for this reason that the Lord God graciously cleansed Isaiah. Now God also had a mission for Isaiah, and, if you remember from last week, God knows our weaknesses and does not leave us ill-prepared. Thus God prepared Isaiah through the burning coal, for the true reason why He called Isaiah was to preach to the country of unclean lips that Isaiah lived in.
Sadly, God knew that Israel was not going to listen to Isaiah. Isaiah will preach and Israel will harden their hearts and get enraged at the words of God that leaves Isaiah’s lips. Some people who claim to be wise may suggest that it is better to remain quiet when in the face of those whose hearts are already hardened. Such people would use the serenity prayer to claim that you should just not waste your time preaching to those who will never change their ways when in listening range of the Word, but that is not what the serenity prayer says, for it merely says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Such people would be the very terrified Judeans who would be begging Isaiah to shut-up, claiming that his preaching was a waste of time and was having the negative effect of whipping the blasphemers into an even more fearsome frenzy.
Like Peter, we are sinful men who do not deserve to be in the presence of God. Like Paul, we, each and every one of us, have a history of sinful actions. Like Isaiah, we are unclean and live in a land that is most definitely unclean. But also like Isaiah, God, through His Son, cleanses us of our wickedness and prepares us for the mission of spreading the Gospel. Our Psalm 85:10 says, “Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” We are not righteous, nor are we the source of our own righteousness. Righteousness comes only from Heaven above, from God alone, and thus if we are to be righteous then it is simply by the grace of God alone. And thus through Christ, we who are not righteous but filthy rags, sinners the worst are we, are made righteous, on no account of what we have done but on every account of what Christ has already done on that terrible cross.
“Sin boldly, but even more boldly belief in Jesus Christ,” one of Martin Luther’s more famous quotes. You’ve heard me us this quote, saying that if the world considers Christianity sinful then sin boldly, but there is another usage for this quote. You are a sinner. Do not hide from that awful reality. Boldly acknowledge your sinfulness. If you are going to sin, and you will, face it head first and don’t hide from your own wickedness. Only then can you with a despairing heart boldly turn to the cross and fiercely proclaim to the Lord, “I am a sinner, save me from myself.”
So to those Christians who are so weighed down by their own history of sinfulness and wonder if it is even permissible of them to speak the Gospel; who wonder if they are even right with God; who wonder if it is hypocritical for them, a sinner, to talk about the grace of God – another quote from Luther. “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: "I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, in our sinfulness each and every one of us has done something we are not proud of. We may wish to hide these things from you, you who know everything, so we ask that you instead give us the courage to face our darkness, but to face it with the full knowledge that your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, died on the cross for sinners like us in order to forgive us and redeem us. We pray in your holy name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.