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. We want the warmth. But as the bonfire begins to burn, as the fire gets hot, so we move away.

That is what happens with Simon Peter
He is drawn to the fire that is Jesus.
He is ready to call Jesus master.
He is ready to let Jesus use his boat
He is ready to even follow Jesus’ ridiculous instruction to go fishing in the middle of the day – when they caught nothing all night.

But then he suddenly realises that this is not some little fire that he can warm himself by. He realises that this is a burning furnace.
And it is getting too hot.

So he falls at Jesus’ feet and he says, ‘Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man’

Many of us here will have been drawn to the fire.
We have made the decision to follow Jesus.
We call him master
There are times when we even do what he says!

And maybe there are moments when we pray that God will come close to us – that we might see him clearly at work. We pray for revival

And yet I wonder whether we really want that.
Because when God comes close, it gets very hot.


In the Old Testament, about 700 or so years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah – who is a prophet – goes into the temple. And God comes close to him. God allows him to see Him. 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 realise who Jesus is. The others who were there saw that, 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.
And I am sure that someone could easily explain away this amazing catch of fish.

But Peter has listened to Jesus as he taught from the boat;
and in this amazing catch of fish he sees the hand of God, the power of God, the presence of God, the fire 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.
We’re like bugs under a stone. When the stone is lifted and everything underneath is exposed to the light, the bugs scatter.
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 (who is a symbol of the Church) is shown both welcoming the fire, but also holding back.


There is the desire for God – please come; but there is also the fear of God, the fear of receiving too much of God, and so she is saying - please keep your distance.

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 boasting
It is when God comes close to us, we begin to see 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 nothing.
And we find that we are standing naked before God.

So 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 and the true. It is the cry of a person who, in the presence of holiness is ashamed of his sinfulness; who in the presence of ultimate love, is deeply ashamed of his lovelessness.

But in the mercy of Jesus, the fire does not go away.
Instead Jesus lifts Peter up, as he speaks words of comfort to him: ‘Do not be afraid’.
And the fire gives Peter a new purpose: ‘From now on you will be catching people’ (v10) – you will be drawing people to me. You will be bringing people to the fire.

So do pray.
Ask God to open your eyes so that you see Jesus. Ask him to show you more of the wisdom of Jesus, the power of Jesus, the holiness of Jesus and the love of Jesus.
And as God answers your prayer, as you see Jesus, and as it begins to become a bit too hot – and you need to take off the sweater/jumper and loosen your collar – and as his light and truth and heat come a bit too close to us – we too like Peter may think that it is too much, too hot. We too may want to run.

But that is when we need to stay where we are.
Be honest with God.
Maybe fall to your knees. Maybe we cannot but fall to our knees.
And then having asked him to go away, and yet knowing that we could not live without him, listen to the voice of the one who loves you, who accepts and forgives you, who washes you clean and makes you pure; who changes you, so that the fire that in burning in him begins to burn in you.

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