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From Ruin to Rescue
February 06, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
There is a story that is common to special Sundays with the Gideon’s, or to inspirational speakers who are recovered alcoholics, or drug addicts, or former gang members. It’s the same attraction that we have to the stories of people like Chuck Colson. Colson was convicted of breaking into the Watergate building and was a key participant in that Nixon-era scandal, but he encountered the message of the risen Jesus in prison and founded Prison Fellowship ministry to reach others who find themselves on the wrong side of iron bars. We are inspired by stories of people who got lost or reached rock bottom, but ultimately found a way to rebuild their lives.
As we read the stories of scripture, we find many stories like that and, in fact, the whole point of God’s message is a story of redemption, rescue, and restoration. But before a story of rescue can be told, we often need to hear a story of ruin. Before we hear how a person rose from the ashes like a phoenix, there is often a story of how they crashed and burned. And, for that, we begin with the story of Israel contained in Isaiah 6:1-13 where we hear this:
6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8 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!”
9 He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump* in the land.”
Isaiah has a vision of God in all his glory, sitting on the throne of heaven and Isaiah cries out that he is ruined or, we perhaps understand his intentions better by translating that as “I am a dead man walking.” It was a common belief that any imperfect and sinful mortal who saw a perfect and holy God face to face would immediately die. But an angel, a seraph, takes a hot coal from the altar, touches it to Isaiah’s lips and says that his guilt has been taken away and atonement has been made for his sin. And so, when God asks who he might send into the world as his ambassador, Isaiah raises his hand and volunteers.
But the message that God has for the people of Israel is terrifying. God’s message is that the people just aren’t getting it. They don’t see, they don’t understand, they’re sick, and they don’t want to get better, and God’s judgement is that for their disobedience, he will allow them to suffer the consequences of their unbelief. And, when Isaiah asks how long this punishment will endure, God replies that Israel will be left to their own devices until their houses, fields, people, and everything else are utterly ruined and the trees are left as stumps.
The word “stumps” is worth noting because a few chapters later, Isaiah refers to the messiah as a shoot that comes up from the “stump of Jesse.” (Isaiah 11:1) God’s punishment is to turn Israel over to the natural consequences of their disobedient actions and refuse to rescue them. But, in the same passage, God hints at the hope of future rescue.
And then, after we have heard about what happens to a disobedient people, and what happens to them when they refuse to hear the words of God, in Luke 5:1-11, we are given a vision of what happens when God’s people do listen and are obedient to his words as Jesus begins his ministry and encounters fishermen by the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.
Jesus had barely started his ministry but even so, Simon, who would later be called Peter, was willing to let Jesus borrow his boat as a place to preach to the people gathered on the shores of Galilee. After Jesus was done preaching, he asked Simon, a professional fisherman who had been fishing the shores of this lake for his entire life, to go out into deep water and to throw out the nets that he and his partners had just spent hours cleaning. Worse still, the fisherman had not only just cleaned the nets, they had spent the entire night fishing with them and caught nothing but weeds, grass, sticks, and rocks. They had been awake all night. They had been throwing heavy, wet, nets into the sea and hauling them back out, hand over hand, time after time, hour after hour, all night. And then, after they had spent their morning cleaning and repairing those same nets, they were ready to go home, see their families, eat, get some sleep, and get ready to do it again. They were tired, sore, hungry, and probably more than a little grouchy.
But despite their hunger, irritation, fatigue, professional experience, and every other reason that they had to say no, and tell Jesus to get stuffed, Simon tells Jesus, “…because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
“Because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
And because Simon and his friends are willing to be obedient, even when they don’t even really know Jesus, and even though everything says that they should just go home and get some sleep, their lives are completely transformed. This is the opposite of what we saw a moment ago in Isaiah 6. There, the people of God knew the words of God but selfishly chose to go their own way and to do their own thing. Here, even though they haven’t yet recognized Jesus as the Messiah, these fishermen are willing to be obedient, even in the face of their own hunger, fatigue, and irritation. And it is that willingness to be obedient that transforms their lives.
And that brings us to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where we find Paul warning the church in Corinth that they seem to be drifting toward selfishness and away from obedience. Paul says:
15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Paul says that the people of the church need to remember where they started, to remember the gospel message that they had originally found so compelling that they had left behind their former gods, and former religions, and chosen to follow Jesus instead. It was that message, Paul says, that saved them and abandoning that message would make everything that they had done, and everything that they had endured, completely pointless. He then recites four points that are still contained on many of our creeds today, that Christ died, was buried, raised on the third day, and appeared to Peter and the twelve.
But Paul also says that although he had once persecuted the church, he was shown grace by God, had been transformed, and was now a missionary to the Gentiles for the cause of Jesus Christ. Like Peter, Paul’s entire life was transformed by his obedience to God, and he urges the people of the church in Corinth to remember that this was the power of the gospel in which they had put their faith.
We face a choice between ruin and redemption, between ruin and rescue, and the thing that transforms one to the other is our obedience to God and our willingness to do the things that Jesus asks us to do. Clinging to selfishness will inevitably lead to our destruction, but like Peter, the fishermen, and like Paul, our obedience to Jesus Christ can completely transform our lives into something new, powerful, unexpected, and completely amazing.
But, having been rescued, God asks us to rescue others. God is still asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
Are you ready to be obedient? Are you ready to fish for people?
What will be your answer?
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.