Religion Magazine

Luke 5.1-11 In the Presence of Holy Fire.

By Malcolmdrogers

Luke 5:1-11
Luke 5.1-11 In the presence of Holy Fire.
Most of us will have stood by a bonfire. At first, we stand close by. But as the bonfire begins to burn, as the fire gets hot, so we move away.
That is what happens with Simon PeterHe realises that he is dealing with fire. And so he falls at Jesus’ feet and he says, ‘Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man’
We pray that God will come close to usWe pray that we might see him clearly at workWe pray for revivalAnd yet when God comes close, it is too much. We move away.
In the Old Testament, about 700 or so years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah – who is a prophet – goes into the temple. He has a vision of God. And he is overwhelmed. He says, ‘Woe is me! I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips – yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’.
And that is what happens here. Simon Peter meets the awesome God. His eyes are opened and he sees.
It isn’t necessarily the miracle of the amazing catch of fish that made him realize who Jesus is. The others who were there saw, and they didn’t react in the same way that Simon Peter did.
All miracles can be explained away if we are mindful so to do. I’m sure I’ve told the story about the preacher who tried to explain away the miracle when the sea opened to allow the people of Israel to cross and closed to drown the pursuing Egyptian army. ‘Of course’, the preacher thundered from the pulpit, ‘when the bible talks about the red sea it means the reed sea’. ‘Alleluia!’ was the response. ‘And if it was the reed sea it had reeds in it’. ‘Alleluia’ was the response. ‘And if it had reeds in it, it was very shallow’. ‘Hallelujah’ was the response. And getting desperate the preacher said, ‘Why do you say Alleluia. There is nothing amazing about leading a people across a sea that is only ankle deep’. ‘Hallelujah, Praise the Lord. He drowned a whole army of Egyptians in a few inches of water’. And I am sure that someone could easily have explained away this amazing catch of fish.
But Peter has listened to Jesus as he taught from the boat; and in the miracle he sees the hand of God, the power of God, the fire of God, the presence of God. He sees Jesus.
Earlier he has called Jesus, ‘Master’ (epistates). Now he calls him ‘Lord’ (kyrie)Before, Jesus was the one who he had chosen to follow. He had put himself under his authority. Now, he sees Jesus as the one who has authority over all things.
And like Isaiah, he gets scared. And he asks Jesus to go away.
When holiness comes near, when we see God, it is natural for us to step away.When the fire gets too hot, we move away.
Last week I went to the opening of an exhibition at the Andrei Rublev icon museum. It was on images of fire in Christian art. One of the icons is of the coming of the Holy Spirit – which came onto the early believers with tongues of fire. And in the icon, Mary is shown both welcoming the fire, but also holding back slightly. There is the desire for God and the fear of receiving too much of God.
Luke 5.1-11 In the presence of Holy Fire.
And listen to the language Simon Peter uses. He says, ‘Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man’. He doesn’t say he is unworthy. He doesn’t say that he is too weak or ignorant. Like Isaiah, he says he is too sinful.
And when God comes close to us, we begin to see most clearly our selfishness, greed, destructive lusts, arrogance and boastingIt is when God comes close to us, that all those things in which we put our trust: our reputation, physical appearance or physical strength, strength of character, education and intelligence, titles and status, material wealth – are stripped away from us.And we find that we are standing naked before God.
Peter’s cry, ‘Go away from me’, as he falls at Jesus’ feet, is not the cry of one who hates God or hates the good. It is the cry of a person who, in the presence of ultimate love, is deeply ashamed.
But in the mercy of Jesus, the fire does not go away.Instead I like to think that the fire lifts Peter up, as it speaks words of comfort to him: ‘Do not be afraid’.
And when God comes close to us, when we see Jesus, when we stand in the presence of the fire, we too may want to run. But I would suggest that we stop and stay where we are. Maybe we should fall to our knees. Maybe we cannot but fall to our knees. But then listen to the voice of the one who loves you, who accepts and forgives you, who makes you clean and pure; who lifts you up and who points you in a new direction.

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