Fifth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| July 20, 2014| St. Luke 5:-11
As the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him. St. Luke 5:1-11
Americans want what works. If it doesn’t work it has no value. Pretty pictures are fine and beautiful music may be appreciated, but Americans usually put a higher premium on healthy bodies, machines that work, and cars that run than they do on what is pleasing to the eye and ear.
In no aspect of life is this spirit of American pragmatism more obvious than in matters of religion. What works? Let’s do it! The famous 19th century American revivalist preacher, Charles Finney, thought he knew what worked to bring people to faith. He viewed faith in very practical terms as a decision to follow Jesus and he developed his so called “new measures” to produce the kind of emotional atmosphere that would induce the most people to embrace the Christian faith. He had it down to a science. Finney wanted a religion that works. His philosophy is shared by pragmatic Protestants all across America.
Here’s the problem with that philosophy. Who decides what works? What appears to be success in our eyes could be total failure and what appears to be failure could be success. In matters of religion you cannot determine what works and what doesn’t work by what you see. You must judge by a different standard. Unfortunately, Christians are often led astray by what they see or don’t see because they foolishly apply worldly standards to spiritual realities.
Jesus was a preacher. He was not a fisherman. Peter was. Peter knew how to fish. He had spent all night fishing and hadn’t caught a thing. Peter knew that there were no fish where Jesus told him to let down the nets. So what did Peter do when Jesus told him to let down the nets? He did what Jesus said. He said, “At your word I will let down the net.” Jesus didn’t come into this world to teach men how to catch fish. There is nothing particularly spiritual about catching fish, despise what fishermen who skip church to go fishing would have you think. It is an earthly, rather than a heavenly, activity. But when Jesus tells Peter how to fish and where, Peter does what Jesus says and catches more fish than the boats could carry.
“At your word I will.” That’s what Peter said. And Jesus wasn’t even talking about religious activities. He wasn’t telling Peter how to do mission work or how to teach the basics of Christian doctrine or how to preach a sermon. He was teaching Peter how to fish! “At your word I will.” Religion cannot be confined within a ghetto of so called spiritual activity separated from the mainstream of life. The word of God informs us Christians and defines our lives wherever we go and whatever we do. “At your word” is how we decide to do everything we do in life.
I’m not saying that the Bible teaches us how to fish. But the Bible does teach us the benefit and value of work, even when the work appears to be fruitless. In Paradise, Adam and Eve were blessed by God and then given work to do. St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
The fact that Peter and his partners had worked all night with nothing to show for it does not mean that no good came from their work. It means that they could see no good coming from their work. As a matter of fact, by failing to catch a single fish when relying on their own expertise and then catching over two boatloads of fish when relying on the word of Jesus, they gained a great deal. They came to know God in Christ, and nothing is as valuable as that!
Peter accepted the word of Jesus, relied upon it, and the result was to see God. Anyone who goes to the Holy Scriptures with an honest heart will find God in Christ revealed in its sacred pages. God in Christ is God the Word who has become flesh and blood. That’s who Peter saw. His miracle proved who he was. Only God could do what Jesus did. But what was Peter’s reaction when he recognized the deity of Christ? He said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The incarnate God strikes fear in the hearts of sinners.
During the first few centuries of the church’s history she had to fight with the sword of the Spirit, that is, with the Word of God, against heretics who denied that God became a man. The arch-heretic during those early years was a man by the name of Arius. The Arians claimed that the Word was created and not eternal. They said that the Son of God was not God. He was like God. He was of a similar substance to God. But he was not true God. In response, the church produced the Nicene Creed in which we confess that Jesus Christ is very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. If Jesus is not true God then he is not our Savior.
But it was not enough that God become a man. Peter’s fear is proof of that. Sinners need forgiveness of their sins before they can stand with confidence before their God. That’s why Peter told Jesus to leave him. He was a sinful man. And forgiveness of sins, from God to us, requires more of God than that he become flesh. He has to do in the flesh what our fallen and sinful and condemned flesh requires to be done. It is what God did in the flesh that rescued us. The God-man went to the cross to suffer for the sin of the world. There it was that our sins were washed away. This is why we eat and drink the body and the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Why his body and blood? Because it is in Christ’s suffering for us that our sins are taken away and we can stand before God without fear.
“Depart from me,” Peter said. He was not worthy of Christ’s presence. A sinner cannot stand before the righteous God. But in his response to Peter, Jesus gave him a promise. He said, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will catch men.” How is that a promise? He tells Peter what Peter will be doing, namely, catching men. Jesus, who preached to the crowds standing in a fishing boat, tells Peter the fisherman that he will now catch men. That’s a promise along with a command.
It’s a promise because Jesus told Peter not to fear. That’s what he said after he died on the cross and rose again and found the disciples huddled together on that first Easter Sunday. Don’t be afraid. What is it about the net that catches men that takes away the fear of the one casting it? The net is the gospel that pulls us out of the sea of sin, blindness, and despair. It literally rescues us from lies. The gospel Jesus gave Peter to preach is the gospel we confess. It places a value on our lives. The gospel of the forgiveness of our sins on account of the obedience and suffering of the God-man is not just words preached out into the void. It is the net of God’s grace catching us out of worthless lives lived in service to fashionable lies and ending in eternal ruin.
“Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” The God by whose word all things were made; the God who commanded the fish in the sea to be where they were not; the God who sent out Peter and every other Christian preacher to preach; is the God who fashions the net by which men, women, and children will be caught. God uses a net. He doesn’t use a hook. Fishing with a hook relies on trickery as the hook hides behind the bait, waiting for the fish to strike and then, when the fish strikes the bait he is caught in the hook. We call it a lure, because that’s what’s going on. Fish are lured into captivity.
The gospel is not a lure. It doesn’t rely on trickery. It is clear and open and honest. Jesus didn’t start a secret society dedicated to secret knowledge available only to those secretly initiated into the club. He preached right out in public, in fishing boats near the edge of the water where he could be heard and seen by the most people. The gospel is public. We preach publicly. We confess clearly and openly and without hesitation or embarrassment the truth by which we were rescued from our sins and were given a home in heaven. We are always ready to give a reason for the hope that we have.
St. Luke records that when Jesus called Peter, James, and John to follow him they left everything and followed him. We don’t do that, do we? But we do. Oh, we still have our jobs, our homes, our families, and friends. But who are they and what are they in comparison with Christ and his word? “At your word,” Peter said. Jesus has the words of eternal life. We take him at his word. We follow him, permitting no other loyalty to compete with him. He alone is our life and our hope. With him we are not afraid to stand in the presence of the holy God.