Televisions shows have undergone something of a revolution during the last several years. The continued development of online capabilities allowed Netflix to move from being a service that sent you DVD’s in the mail, to one that has movies online. But the bigger change occurred as they began to produce their own television series that are only available online through their service. Amazon has also followed suit, and now it too produces television shows that can only be viewed through them.
I was skeptical when I first heard that this was the goal for Netflix and Amazon. But I have to say they have pulled it off. I have found “House of Cards,” “The Man in the High Castle” and “Stranger Things” to be very interesting.
At the same time, this new way of producing and seeing television shows has created something of a problem. When a new season of a show comes out, it’s all there at once. Every single episode is there for you to watch. When people get into a series, they often “binge watch.” On more than one occasion I’ve told myself, “Oh, I can stay up a little later and watch another episode.” You wait for the new season to come out, and then in a week you’ve watched all of it.
While that provides instant gratification, it does create a problem. You then have to wait a long time before the next season comes out. For example, the second season of “The Man in the High Castle” was released on Dec. 16 of 2016, but the third season is not going to come out until late 2017. And if the series has a complicated plot, by the time the new season comes out I can’t remember all the details of what has happened thus far. In fact, I will probably watch the second season again, before the new one comes out.
We have a similar problem this morning with our Gospel lesson. We hear about Jesus’ call of Peter, James and John as he works the miracle of a catch of fish. But to really understand what is happening, we need to catch up on the details of what has just occurred in the previous chapter. Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist, and at his baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon him. Then after he had resisted the devils temptations we are told, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.”
The next thing that happened was that Jesus taught in the synagogue at Nazareth. There he read these words from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Jesus said that he was the fulfillment of these words. And then Jesus went and showed that this was the case.
We are told next that the people who heard him teaching “were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” Jesus showed he had the authority to release people from the bondage of sin as he then cast a demon out of man. The demon cried out, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked the demon and cast him out.
Then Jesus went to the house of Simon Peter, where his mother-in-law was sick with a fever. Jesus rebuked the fever, and it too left her. We learn that at sunset many sick people were brought to Jesus and he healed them. He cast out more demons, and rebuked them as they cried out, “You are the Son of God!” The people wanted to prevent Jesus from leaving, but he told them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
When we know all of this, it’s not hard to understand why in our Gospel lesson the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God. And it’s also not hard to understand why Peter was open to the Lord’s request to let him use Peter’s boat as a platform for teaching.
Our Lord saw Peter and his companions cleaning their nets after a failed night of fishing. He got into Peter’s boat and asked him to put out from shore a little so that he could sit in the boat and teach from the crowd on the shore line. And then, after Peter had heard Jesus teach the word of God, Jesus made an odd request.
He said to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Now Peter knew his stuff. He knew that this was the exact opposite of what any competent fisherman would do. He answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And as we heard in the reading of the Gospel lesson the nets took in such a large catch of fish that they began to break. They filled not only Peter’s boat, but also that of James and John with such a weight of fish that they began to sink.
What happened next is the really striking moment in our text. We hear: “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’” Peter sees the miracle that Jesus has worked, and he is overwhelmed. When we keep in mind what has just happened in the Gospel his awe becomes all the more understandable. It’s the catch of fish – but it’s the catch of fish as the thing that caps off everything else.
And it’s just too much. Peter senses that he is in the presence of God at work in an incredible way. And all this does it to make him perceive his own sinfulness – the fact he that has no business being in the presence of God. Peter’s response teaches us about our own sin. We like to minimize it – those words that hurt another person’s reputation were only said in jest; that anger at another person is really no big deal; that choice to blow off church or devotions is only about how busy we are.
But that doesn’t cut it – not when you are dealing with the holy and almighty God. Peter’s words prompt us to consider the sin that really is present in our life and the consequences that it has apart from Jesus Christ.
Yet remember what we learned about why Jesus had come. He had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. He had declared that these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Jesus did not come to scourge frightened sinners. He came to release them from bondage to sin, death and the devil. He came to give forgiveness to repentant sinners.
Jesus is the Son of God who cast fear into the demons. But into order to win forgiveness he came to suffer and die for you. As our Lord told his followers after his resurrection: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
In our text, Jesus says to Peter, “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead for you, so that there is now no need for fear. Through water and the Word in Holy Baptism he washed away your sins and made you a saint – a forgiven son or daughter of God. There is no need for fear. Jesus the crucified and risen Lord just said to you: “I forgive you all your sins.” Jesus has released you! His word continues to be one with authority. It does what it says because he is the Lord. If he says that you are forgiven and free, then you are!
Now you might be inclined to stop right there. And if you are all about you, it is indeed the place to stop. But Jesus doesn’t. Instead, he said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Then when they had brought their boats to land, Peter, along with James and John, left everything and followed Jesus.
The forgiveness and salvation our Lord has given to us sets us in motion to follow Jesus in the life of a disciple. The first thing this means for us is really simple. Jesus suffered and died to forgive you. And so now, you forgive others. This means that it doesn’t matter that what your spouse, or brother or sister did was really dumb and hurtful. You don’t get to hold onto that wrong and hold it against them. You don’t get to keep bringing it up in order to score points against them. Instead, Jesus’ forgiveness for you means that you do the opposite. You let it go. You don’t bring it up. You live with others in the forgiveness that Jesus Christ has given to you.
And then let’s face it. There’s something else our text sets before us that is just impossible to ignore. Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Our Lord called Peter to follow him and to be involved in catching men. Now Jesus chose Peter as an apostle. He didn’t do that to you. He didn’t do that to me.
But Jesus has given you the good news of the Gospel. He has given you the good news that gives you release from sin and the devil. He has given you the good news that frees you from the fear of death because you know that Jesus Christ has already risen from the dead. Death has been defeated in Christ! It doesn’t get the last word, because Jesus already had it. And so if you die, not only will you be with the Lord, but he will also raise up your body on the Last Day. Death can’t win.
You know this. You believe this. But how can it stop there? This is not just rescue and release for you. It is rescue and release for every person – for those friends and acquaintances in your life. And so our Lord’s gift of the Gospel is the gift we share with others.
This happens in different ways, both big and small. It happens in the way you live – as people who know that you are a Christian see your love and care for others. It happens as others share with you their hurts and hardships, and you have the opportunity to tell them how big a difference Jesus Christ makes in your life. It happens as you tell others about how much your church and what takes place there on Sunday mean to you.
This week I learned about a resource that can be extremely helpful as we seek to do this. It’s titled, “A Simple Explanation of Christianity.” It is the Small Catechism set in a visually attractive format. They are not expensive – less than 50 cents a copy. We have ordered them and will place one copy in every mailbox. Take that copy and think about one person to whom you can give it. And once you have done that and found it’s not that hard, I pray that you will think about one more person to whom you can pass it on. I promise you that we won’t run out of copies for you to give to others.
We do these things to share the Gospel, for the very same reason that Peter lets down the nets in our text this morning. He said to Jesus that he did it “at your word.” Peter did it because of faith in Jesus’ word – the same word that is described as the “word of God” in the first verse of our text. Our assurance of forgiveness and our motivation to share the Gospel both are derived from God’s Word in which Jesus assures us that we have no reason to fear, because he has released us from sin, death and the devil.