The Ministry of the Gospel
Fifth Sunday after Trinity| 2017| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| Luke 5:1-11
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. Luke 5:1-11
Jesus came to preach by the Lake of Gennesaret. So many people gathered to listen that he borrowed Simon Peter’s boat and pushed out a little bit from the land so they could hear him. Jesus was identified as the promised Savior at his baptism. Immediately after his baptism, he went into the wilderness to fast and be tempted by the devil. He overcame the devil’s temptations with the word of God. He went to the synagogue in his hometown and publicly claimed to be the Christ. He cast demons out of people and healed the sick. He did many miracles that proved he was the Christ. He showed by what he did that he was who he claimed to be.
But miracles were not at the heart of Christ’s ministry. Preaching was. Jesus is the teacher, the preacher, and Jesus is not finished with this task. Christ’s ministry on earth is not finished. He has more to do.
What am I saying? Didn’t he say, “It is finished” on the cross? Did he not redeem this world? He most certainly did. His redemption of the world is finished. He did what he set out to do. From his temptation to his crucifixion, he did battle against the evil one, always honoring his Father, never saying, doing, or wanting to do any sin. He most certainly did finish what he set out to do when he came into this world to save sinners. He offered up to God the perfect obedience God’s law required. He suffered the full punishment of our sin against God’s law. He set us free. He saved us. It is finished!
But his ministry goes on. He, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again, and ascended into heaven where he is seated at the right hand of God the Father, continues to serve us. He preaches to us. Through his preaching, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with him in the one true faith.
Christ didn’t come into this world to teach us how to fish. He was a preacher, not a fisherman. He who was not a fisherman taught the disciples, who were expert fishermen, where to catch fish. He knows everything. He knows everything about everything. When he teaches us, we listen. We don’t choose when to listen to him. We listen to everything he says on every topic he addresses.
“At your word,” Peter said. He let down his net at Jesus’ word. Christ’s word went against Peter’s own experience which told him there were no fish where Jesus said to fish. Faith doesn’t trust its experience. It trusts God’s word. “At your word,” Peter said, even though Jesus was a preacher and was moving outside of the preacher’s expertise and into another. If God says it, it is so. Some folks dismiss what the Bible says if it disagrees with what is taught in their area of expertise. Bible doubters accept the theory that we evolved from the animals because the so called experts say so. Others, enamored by the smooth talk of social scientists, reject what the Bible says about men and women, marriage and children. They think that they can hold onto what the Bible says about spiritual matters, while bringing it up to date on scientific matters. It doesn’t work that way. Whatever God says on any matter at all – that is what our preachers are to preach and what we are to believe.
But nobody can preach unless he is sent. God is the One who chooses the preachers. When Peter saw by Christ’s miracle that he was God in the flesh, he certainly gave no thought to preaching. He was afraid. Here he was in the presence of the almighty God. The only thing he could think of was his own unworthiness. He cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The presence of God evokes fear. A sinner can’t stand in the presence of holiness. From Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden vainly trying to hide their nakedness and themselves from God, to this day, sinners run away from God. They are afraid to be seen as they are.
Jesus takes away our fear. He says to Peter, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” Do not be afraid means your sins are forgiven. God is not angry with you. You don’t have to be afraid to be in God’s presence. Not only can you stand in God’s presence, you can speak for him. You can preach his word as his spokesman.
Here St. Luke describes the call of the apostles. Jesus taught them for three years. As Jesus was facing death by crucifixion, Peter denied him, claiming that he didn’t know him. Three times Peter denied Jesus. Later, after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Three times Peter said he did. Three times Jesus told him to feed his sheep. The call to preach is given to sinners who are forgiven of their sins.
The preacher preaches law and gospel. The law exposes our sins to our conscience and makes us afraid, as Peter was afraid, because sin calls for punishment. The law the preacher preaches applies to him as well as to those to whom he preaches. He doesn’t preach the law to leave us under God’s judgment, but so that we might listen to the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. This gospel is the good news that God, for the sake of Christ’s obedience and suffering for us, forgives us, sets us free, and promises us eternal life in heaven.
Jesus could have chosen angels, I suppose, if he had wanted to. He chose men. He chose sinners who rely on the same forgiveness that they preach. He chose fallible men. Since they are fallible, they must draw the teaching they teach from the infallible word of God: the Holy Scriptures. God chose men to be fishers of men.
He didn’t choose women to be preachers. He gave his church strict instructions though St. Paul his apostle that women may not be preachers. St. Paul teaches this in 1 Corinthians 14:34 where he says it is shameful and again in 1 Timothy 2:12 where he says it is forbidden. The fact that churches disobey Christ’s instructions and presume to feature women preachers does not change what God’s word says about the practice. Jesus does not send women to preach. They have no call from God to preach.
When Jesus said to Peter and the other disciples long ago on the shore of the sea, “I will make you fishers of men,” he was talking to all of the preachers he sends to preach until the end of the world. We are to preach the gospel he taught. We are to administer the sacraments he instituted. This is how to catch men. Do what he said to do.
Casting a net into the sea and bringing up fish is not the same as baiting a hook on a lure and enticing the foolish fish to bite and then be hooked. The gospel needs no bait. It needs no additives. It needs to be preached. Pastors have the duty to do that. They must know God’s word and they must know how to teach it. They have nothing of their own to say that can improve on what Christ through his apostles has already said.
One of the great benefits in knowing the Catechism is that it enables us to ensure that our ministers really are administering what belongs to Christ and are not trying to pawn off their own notions. One of the reasons for the lifelong instruction of all Christians in God’s word is so that they can make sure that their pastors are faithfully proclaiming the word that Christ gave them to proclaim. Obviously, a preacher who doesn’t preach according to God’s word is not a minister of Christ.
But learning the Holy Scriptures has many more benefits. It strengthens us in our faith. It enables Christians to defend their faith when called upon to do so. In today’s Epistle Lesson, St. Peter writes:
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. 1 Peter 3:15
You don’t have to be a preacher to tell people the gospel. The gospel is not a secret. We publicly confess it! Not only do we confess the Creed – either the Nicene or the Apostles’ – every Sunday, we learn from the Catechism what it means. We should pray our Catechism regularly, so that when God gives us the opportunity to defend our faith we will know what to say. The gospel isn’t just for the preacher to preach. It is for the Christian to believe. We confess what we believe. This is what marks us as Christians.
Ah, but we are so often afraid. Consider Peter. He was afraid. He feared God. He was a sinful man. He knew it. When he forgot how sinful and weak he was he fell miserably. And Jesus graciously lifted him up. He forgave him. He forgives his preachers so that they can preach the forgiveness of sins. He forgives all of his children, so that they can confess this truth to their neighbors.
The disciples forsook all that they had and followed Jesus. This does not teach us that we or our pastors must take a vow of poverty to be faithful Christians or faithful preachers. It rather teaches us that our Lord Jesus must be first. His teaching is more precious than all our stuff. His gospel makes us spiritually wealthy, whether we are rich or poor in the things of this world. Jesus instituted the ministry of preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments so that we could receive and possess the treasures of heaven even while we are living here on earth. The eternal God joined the human race. He confronted the devil and defeated him. He did as a man what all humanity needed to be done. The gospel of the full and free forgiveness of all our sins for Christ’s sake, on account of his obedience and suffering, is what Jesus tells our preachers to preach, all of us to believe, and all of us to confess and defend. This preaching and confessing will sustain Christ’s church on earth until the end of time.