Isaiah 40:21-31 Psalm 147:1-11, 20c 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 Mark 1:29-39
What sort of names are you known by?
Some words describe relationships, others point to accomplishments, some speak of employment or leisure activity:
- family words mother, father, son daughter;
- work words – friend, colleague, employer, employee;
- Choir words -Soprano, contralto, tenor, bass
- Church words – steward, preacher, Sunday school teacher, class leader
I guess the list is endless!
Names of God in Isaiah
So turning to the book of Isaiah there should be no surprise, when the reader is introduced to a whole range of different names, images and metaphors for God:
king (5:7), warrior (40:10; 42:13; 51:9-11), shepherd (40:12) comforter (40:1-2; 49:13; 51:3, 12), lover (43;4), husband (54:5), potter (45:9), father (45:10a, 11), mother (45:10b, 11; 49:15), Holy One (41:14, 16, 20; 45:11), redeemer (41:14; 43:14; 44:6, 24; 54:5), and covenant-maker (42:6; 49:8, 54:10; 55:32) . . . .
The writer of Isaiah 40 is quite clear that no one can compare with God, nevertheless sets out to reveal something of God’s compassion and love to the created order in the soaring majesty of this poem. Isaiah 40:21-31 echoes Genesis 1; Psalms 19, 89 & 104 and Job 12:
Look up at the night sky and be amazed at what you see. The one leads out the mighty host of stars like a warriors-king, is also the gentle shepherd who leads the flock. And set under the canopy of heaven, with the backdrop of the mighty creation, the drama unfolds and as you watch and listen, you begin to realise just how insignificant you are! Even those who think they are important and powerful in the world are no more than grasshoppers in the presence of the Almighty.
The God who creates, cares for the creation
And to the constant whining complaint from the people, God answers with a series of questions: Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? These are the questions that lead us to an exploration of time and space and force; and from which we learn that ‘God of Israel, YHWH, is the one and only God, the creator of all’. 1
Yet according to the Psalmist this God is intimately involved with creation (147:4, 8-9)
- He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.
- He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth; makes grass grow on the hills.
- He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.
Does this mean we don’t have to worry about things like climate change, because it is up to God to sort it out? No of course not, God calls us each to be co-workers on planet earth, and we must play our part.
And the overwhelming witness in the OT is to a God of steadfast love and righteousness, such that both the Psalmist and the writer of Deutero-Isaiah are convinced that this God is concerned with the broken hearted, the downtrodden, the faint and the powerless, and takes great pleasure on those who hope in God’s steadfast love.
- Care shown through Jesus
When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Capernaum, it was to discover that Peter’s mother-in-law was seriously ill. Unlike many stories in gospels, the illness is simply described as a fever that renders her powerless. I wonder what renders us powerless at present? And some of you are already thinking, we want to hear what will empower us!
Mark records that Jesus ‘lifted her up’ ἐγείρω (egeirō); this little Greek verb can also be found in Mark 16:6, where the angel greets the women who went to the tomb.
But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.
No word needed for Peter’s mother-in-law, just the physical touch. I could go on at length about the importance of appropriate physical touch, but we are all in lock-down together, so I think you probably all understand this one!
Given that we know that for the coming three years or so, Peter and the other disciples would be living an itinerant life-style, it would be important for this woman to be fit and well not just to support her daughter – Peter’s wife – but also for her to resume her place as alpha female/matriarch within this family (she needed to be strong!). so after being healed, she becomes a ‘deacon’ – one who serves.
The day also turned out to be momentous for the many sick and demon-possessed people who came trusting for healing. But the demons are forbidden to speak because they knew him. To the evangelist, the life of Jesus as a whole is only comprehensible on the assumption that Jesus intentionally kept his real status secret.
And following a very busy day, Jesus did not opt for a lie-in the following morning but rose early to pray, setting a pattern for ministry.
Now that Peter’s mother-in-law was returned to full health and strength, the group immediately move off to take the message to other towns and villages (1:35-39).
So the God from everlasting, the creator of the ends of the earth is the God who gives power to the faint and who strengthens the powerless. When Jesus walked on earth he continued to reveal this divine grace to all who would receive it; and the power of the Holy Spirit continues to make it known.
Although the flower might fade and the grass will wither through God’s judgment, yet God comes with power to save and to gently gather the dispersed and devastated people in a new and hitherto unknown manner. That is a promise that we need to take hold of.
Look up at the night sky and be amazed at what you see. The one leads out the mighty host of stars like a warriors-king, is also the gentle shepherd who leads the flock. I am the good shepherd, says Jesus. No need to consult the stars when you can speak to the one who created them.
1 William P. Brown, The Seven Pillars of Creation:The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 216