Terror and Triumph

Terror and Triumph

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

So, who would you rather be: Isaiah or Simon? Let me
put it a different way: Which of the two experiences would you rather have
had? Isaiah’s vision of being in the presence of the Lord on His throne in the
temple, as we heard about in the Old Testament lesson today? Or Simon’s
encounter with the Lord along the shore of the lake, which was recorded in the

Both would’ve been amazing experiences, no doubt. For
Isaiah, the setting was something completely out of the ordinary. Angels, and
smoke, and voices shaking the very structure in which he found himself. Isaiah
saw the glory of the Lord—his power and majesty and wonder.

Simon, on the other hand, was in very familiar
surroundings, and surrounded by ordinary people. He was just doing his regular
job, really—cleaning the nets with his business partners after a long and
fruitless night of catching nothing but empty water. No doubt tired and
frustrated, Simon does Jesus the favor of letting Him borrow his boat as a
floating pulpit from which to instruct the crowd. For all we know, Simon
continued with his washing task while only half-listening to Jesus.

When Jesus finishes speaking to the people, this man
thought to be a carpenter’s son from land-locked Nazareth gives the experienced
mariner some fishing advice: “Put out into deep water, and let down the
nets for a catch.”
It almost makes me wonder if Simon stole a glance
over at James and John and rolled his eyes before replying, “Master,
we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say
so, I will let down the nets.”

Were the other fishermen snickering all the while?
What does this landlubber know about fishing, anyway? Simon’s probably just
humoring him. He’ll end up looking foolish, and maybe he won’t annoy us with
useless suggestions anymore. But it didn’t turn out that way, did it? Instead
of coming back to shore empty-handed and chuckling at Jesus’ naïveté, Simon and
the others are confronted by something truly miraculous: More of God’s bounty
than they could have ever imagined—a blessing of a catch of fish far beyond
their capacity to handle it.

Pretty exciting stuff, both of these experiences.
Wouldn’t it have been awesome to be in Isaiah’s shoes, or in
Simon’s shoes? Before we get all giddy with delight, however, maybe we need to
take a deep breath and think things through. Our generations throw the word
“awesome” around rather casually, don’t we? We use it primarily as an
expression of excitement when we see or hear something we find very
pleasant—like an awesome football play, or an awesome car, or an awesome

We often forget that the true meaning of the word
“awesome” relates to encountering something that leave us in awe—in a sense of
our own inadequacy in relation to our experience. That’s the sort of awe that
Isaiah and Simon felt as they came face to face with the living God. That’s
where—despite the radical differences in the settings and experiences—Isaiah’s
vision and Simon’s catch of fish intersect.

Both of these men are struck with fear—terrified,
even—at being in the presence of the Lord. And with good reason: They, like
us, were sinful people. The unrighteous cannot bear to be in the presence of
God’s holiness, for His perfection is too great for us. We would be destroyed.

Isaiah cowers in fear as he cries: “Woe to me!
I am ruined!”
He has seen God, and he knows full well that no one
sinful can stand in the full presence of God and live. Peter, too, asks the
Lord to leave him, for he knows that he is sinful.

Amazed as they were to have seen God, these men have
the same reaction that many others had when confronted by the great disparity
between God’s perfect righteousness and their own stain of sin. Adam and Eve
hid from God, knowing they had sinned. Moses hid his face from the burning
bush, for he was afraid to look at God. The Israelites retreated from Sinai
and didn’t want to be in the presence of Yahweh. Job, after initially getting
a little too familiar and comfortable in speaking to God, was quickly put in
his place. And Saul of Tarsus, soon to be called to be an apostle of the Lord
Jesus Christ, fell to the ground on the road to Damascus when the Savior

The presence of the holy God is (and should be)
terrifying to all those who are not holy—that is, to all who are sinful,
including you and me. The holiness we need to come into His presence is
something only He can provide. It cannot originate with us, for we are
corrupt, filthy with sin. No matter how hard we might try, we cannot wash it
off or work it off ourselves.

In fact, any attempt we might make to do this is
actually an insult to God. All our efforts only make us more sinful, because
we are attempting to make a liar of God, who has told us that no one is
righteous, and that we are dead in our trespasses. We should have the same
reactions as Isaiah and Simon: We are unclean. We are sinful. We ought not
to be in the Lord’s presence, for fear of being destroyed.

The Lord didn’t destroy Isaiah, though. He sent a
messenger with a burning coal from the altar of sacrifice—a prefigure of the
hellish torment and death of His Son—and touched its fire to Isaiah’s lips.
Isaiah was not seared by the heat. Instead, Isaiah was cleansed. He was
relieved of his guilt. His sin was paid for by the scalding wounds suffered by

And the Lord Jesus didn’t destroy Simon Peter,
either. Instead, he spoke words of comfort; words often told to fearful people
when they come in contact with the heavenly: “Don’t be afraid.”

They are words of forgiveness, direct from the mouth
of the Lord, for only if Peter has been made holy can he be free of fear in the
presence of Almighty God. Only God can provide the true and certain assurance
that we have nothing to fear.

And because of His great love for us, God doesn’t
destroy us when we come into His holy presence, either. We regularly witness
His awesome miracles of power, creation, and life. Yet even though we are
unclean like Isaiah and sinful like Simon Peter and ought to flee from God’s
presence, the Holy Spirit moves us in faith to draw closer. He moves us from
the proper terror of well-deserved punishment and death toward repentance, and
then to a sure and certain hope of forgiveness and life. God does this for the
sake of His Son Jesus, who suffered and died for an unclean sinner like me.
For an unclean sinner like you.

There’s something else you and I share with Isaiah and
Peter, too. Note that God called these men to His service only after they had
first experienced the terror of their own sin, and then been given the relief,
joy, and peace of forgiveness and reconciliation. Only after the burning coal
had touched Isaiah’s unclean lips and taken away the guilt of his sin is he restored
to fellowship with God. He can then hear and willingly respond to God’s call
to proclaim the word of repentance to others.

Only after Jesus has told Peter he need not be fearful
does Peter receive the call to follow Jesus. Only then does Peter begin the
process of being trained and equipped to speak to others as a witness to the
life, death, and resurrection of the Savior. Peter, like Isaiah, like you and
me, is moved from a state of terror, to a state of comfort, to a state of
service to God and neighbor.

All faithful servants of God begin their own ministry
or their own service having gone through terror at their own sin. Without
having experienced this, we cannot truly grasp the wonder, power, and miracle
of our salvation.

You and I are saved the same way as were Isaiah and
Peter; the same and only way that anyone can be saved: Through the blood of
Jesus. We have this salvation as our present possession. It is not fully
apprehended or comprehended in this life, but through God’s gifts of Word and
Sacrament we are given regular glimpses of our heavenly destiny. There we meet
God in His miraculous work in us, and for us—miracles in which we come into His
holy presence; miracles in which we are both terrorized and cleansed, crushed
and restored.

At His font, from His pulpit, at His altar, and in His
Holy Scriptures, He works that miracle in us each week; each day, each hour.
In us, through us, and by us, He works to reach others, too: In our words, our
behavior, our work on behalf of His Church. Through our tithes and offerings
and gifts to further His kingdom. Some are called to serve the Gospel full
time; most remain engaged in other vocations. Yet all are still called to
proclaim and to support the proclamation of that same Gospel—the one Gospel of
Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, incarnate to suffer, die, and rise again
for the salvation of all whom He calls to faith.

We answer His voice that calls, “Whom shall I
send? And who will go for us?”
We are not afraid when He tells us
that we, too, are to be fishers of men.

Instead, we do this in confidence and joy. The terror
of our sins and our sinfulness is no longer a barrier or wedge between us and a
holy God. We go forth with the sweet words of His Gospel echoing in our ears:
“Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

In the Name of our Redeemer, Jesus (+). Amen.