EPIPHANY 5, B – February 5, 2012
SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 40:21-31; 1 Cor. 9:16-27; Mark 1:29-39
God asks a lot of questions today. In fact, in the eleven verses of today’s reading from Isaiah He asks nine questions. What kind of questions are they? There are many different types of questions, after all, and they serve many different purposes. Some questions are playful:
Ø Where’s Daddy? There he is! Ø Who’s so big?
Your bank asks you questions to verify your identity:
Ø What’s your favorite color? Ø What was the name of your first pet?
There are hopeful questions:
Ø Would you like to see a movie with me? Ø Can I have tomorrow off?
There are uncomfortable questions, challenging questions:
Ø Where were you last night? Ø What were you thinking?
God asks some very challenging and uncomfortable questions today: “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you? Have you not understood?” These aren’t just questions He asked of the people of Israel in Isaiah’s day. He asks them of us today. Because, you see, we are often like the people He spoke to so long ago. There are times when, like them, we wonder whether God is present with us or cares. “My way is hidden from the Lord,” we complain with them. God doesn’t see or care about what I’m going through, or He would help! And to this, God asks: “Why do you say this? Do you not know? Do you not hear? To whom will you compare Me, that I should be like him?”
With this last question God points out our problem, our sin: we compare God with what we think He should be, and when He does not do as we think He should do – for instance, when He allows some great hardship or sorrow into our lives, even though we’ve prayed for deliverance from it – we question Him and doubt Him. He isn’t the problem, however. We are. We think we know Him. We think we know what He should do. But, what we think is often not supported by what the Bible tells us about Him.
Last Thursday our Bible class read in 1 Samuel 5 of how God struck the people of several Philistine cities with a very painful affliction, probably boils. Why had He done this? In a battle with Israel they had captured the Ark of the Covenant, the holy “box” that God had instructed Moses to make and over which He appeared in glory. The Philistines thought they had captured Israel’s God. So, they put the ark in their temple, alongside the statue of their god Dagon… and God afflicted them severely. After reading this, June O’Shaughnessey said, “I’m confused. I have always been told that God doesn’t make people sick.” Well, according to 1 Samuel 5 – and many other Scriptures – sometimes He does.
This led us into a good discussion of how God works. Sometimes He does send sickness or some other tragedy. It might be a punishment for sin, but not necessarily. He might be doing this to teach a person or reach someone else. No matter what the reason, with the affliction God is also present with mercy.
Ø The Philistines saw the helplessness of their god Dagon before Yahweh, the God of Israel. Through their sickness God revealed Himself to them as the true God and called them out of their idolatry.
Ø In today’s Gospel reading the people’s sicknesses gave the opportunity for Jesus to help and so be seen as a merciful and mighty Savior.
Now, we often do not know the reasons for illnesses and other sufferings. Just because there are examples in the Bible of God making someone sick does not mean that every illness is from God, or that God has made you, or someone else, sick. We should be very careful, then, in what we say about them. The main thing we should do when in the midst of some affliction is ask God to help us to trust Him and witness to His great love and mercy, and so use the affliction to bring honor to Him and blessing to others.
Yes, we must be careful in what we say about sicknesses and other afflictions. We must be even more careful with what we say, and what we think, about God. “Do you not know? Do you not hear?” That’s our problem, our sin. When we think and expect and say the wrong things about God it’s because we do not know Him. We only think we know. We have and follow our own ideas and feelings about God, what He should be like and what He should do. We need to learn about Him, to read the Bible and learn and get involved in Bible studies to ask questions and seek answers. How can you know God if you do not listen to what He says, if you do not study and ask and learn?
God says to us today: Wait for the Lord! “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” God is not absent. He is not saying, “Be patient and wait for me! I’m coming! I’ll be there soon!” He is telling us to rest on Him, to listen to Him and rely on Him and trust Him. Wait for the Lord!
And, that you might wait upon Him with confidence, with peace of mind and heart, remember who you are. When the people in Isaiah’s day cried out, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God!” He responded, “Why do you say [this], O Jacob, and speak [this way], O Israel?” Notice: God called them by name. “O Jacob, O Israel” – these were the names He had given them. They were His people, His children, and He would never forget them or be far from them. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on him?” God asked them. “Even these may forget, but I will never forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; you are ever before Me.” (Is. 49:15-16) If this was true of Israel in Isaiah’s time, how much more true is it of you! For, not only did God become flesh for you, have hands and feet and eyes and ears, just like you; your sins were engraved on His hands, and they were pierced for you on the cross. He gave His life to take away your sins, the reason for punishment. Your sins are forgiven! And, in your Baptism He put His name upon you and gave you His name. You are God’s child! He is always with you and will always take care of you, that you might always be with Him!
“Do you not know this? Do you not hear it? Is it not told you?” It is told you continually. Believe this, and trust in God, your Father. When you are hurting and enduring some hardship, wait upon the Lord. Ask God to help you to trust Him and witness to His great love and mercy, that your trial might bring honor to Him and blessing to others. He will then fulfill the promise that God, your Father in Jesus His Son, makes:
“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but you who wait for the Lord shall renew your strength; you shall mount up with wings like eagles; you shall run and not be weary; you shall walk and not faint.”