By Many or By Few

Isaiah 6: 1-8

In 1943, Thomas J. Watson, president of IBM, said, “I think that there’s a world market for about five computers. In 1946, Daryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, said, “TV won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” In 1958, Business Week said, “With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market for itself.” In the words of an anonymous executive of yesteryear, “There’ll always be a market for a good buggy whip.” As we read last week, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, your sons and your daughters will prophesy, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always be accurate.

In the year King Uzziah died, Isaiah had a vision. The vision depicted the Lord in heaven surrounded by seraphs declaring praise for the Lord of hosts. Isaiah was convicted of being a man of unclean lips. Coal from the altar was placed on his lips, his guilt departed, and his sin was blotted out. The Lord then asked who will be sent, and who will go for heaven? Isaiah responded, “Here I am, send me.”

The prophecy from Joel Peter quoted on Pentecost last week referenced visions coming to those upon whom the Spirit of God came. This lesson from Isaiah illustrates what it can look like and sound like when a prophet has a vision. This vision is not for the community. The vision is for the prophet. Whom shall I send? Here I am, send me. The Lord does not appear to be moved by large numbers. This vision is for one, asking for one to go. The Lord told Jonah alone to go to Ninevah and call them to repent. Jesus told his disciples to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit before they go into all the world and proclaim the good news of God in Jesus. It’s just a handful to go into all the world. Throughout the scriptures, God’s people consistently face overwhelming odds, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost doesn’t change that. The stories of the few being victorious over the many leave us who read and share such stories hopeful despite the obvious impediments.

An examination was being held in little Emma’s class at school and the question was asked, “Upon what do hibernating animals subsist during the winter?” Emma thought for a few moments and then wrote, “All winter long, hibernating animals subsist on the hope of a coming spring.”

I want to share a story from First Samuel, chapter fourteen.

“One day Jonathan son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father. Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah under the pomegranate tree that is at Migron; the troops that were with him were about six hundred men. . .

“Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will act for us; for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.’ His armor-bearer said to him, ‘Do all that your mind inclines to. I am with you; as your mind is, so is mine.’ Then Jonathan said, ‘Now we will cross over to those men and will show ourselves to them. If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up; for the Lord has given them into our hand. That will be the sign for us.’ So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines; and the Philistines said, ‘Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.’ The men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer, saying, ‘Come up to us, and we will show you something.’ Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, ‘Come up after me; for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.’ Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer following after him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer, coming after him, killed them. In that first slaughter Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed about twenty men within an area about half a furrow long in an acre of land. There was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people; the garrison and even the raiders trembled; the earth quaked; and it became a very great panic.” (1 Samuel 14: 1-2, 6-15)

King Saul had enough troops to take on the Philistine garrison, but they wouldn’t come out from their safe distance and position. His son, Jonathan, felt differently. He didn’t consult with his father and the military leaders to ask if it was worth his while to attack the garrison on his own, or to ask if any of the troops would accompany him. Jonathan simply spoke to his armor-bearer. He said, first, “Let’s go over to the garrison of those uncircumcised.” This affirms that Jonathan and his armor-bearer have a covenant with the true God and the enemy does not. Due to that, Jonathan said, maybe the Lord will act for us. Jonathan is not fully convinced the Lord will do for them what they want because they have a covenant with God. However, “nothing can hinder the  Lord from saving by many or by few.” The armor-bearer told Jonathan he was with him – “As your mind is, so is mine.”

We know what happened to the garrison and the Philistines. Afterward, a panic breaks out among the other Philistines, and the Israelites attacked, and the citizens of Israel captured by the Philistines rise up and assist their brethren in driving the enemy out of Israeli territory. It all started with one soldier taking a risk because he knew who he was, and he knew the Lord’s mode of operation was to save either by many or by few. Either by many or by few.

There was no war in the streets of Jerusalem on Pentecost; however, there were a few who knew they were on the verge of spearheading a spiritual, religious and social revolution. Their confidence was found in the tongues of fire dispatched on each of them. The same fire, dove, wind, breath that fell upon Jesus’ years before was on them now. The legions of followers or just about a hundred men and women speaking of the Lord’s great deeds was what was changing everything. Either by many or by few.

These two Old Testament passages show us what the Lord often does. The Lord empowers, anoints the few first. They carry the vision. They emerge with confidence. They risk everything believing they may be alone, or many are right behind them. Regardless, one at a time, they say, “Here I am, send me.”

Are we waiting for everybody? It certainly lightens the workload, but it’s the Lord that casts the vision. It’s the Lord who empowers the few first before the legions join in the victory. It’s the Lord who anoints with his Spirit and bestows on us gifts and abilities to do his will in the earth. The few are called first, but the many join the ranks. For us today, we may be the few or soon to be among the many.  For nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.

Preached at Lincoln UMC in Lincoln, AL, May 30, 2021


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