I did not grow up hunting and fishing. As I have mentioned in the past, outdoors stuff like that was simply not part of my family’s experience. My Grandpa Surburg grew up in Chicago within walking distance of Wrigley Field. My dad grew up in Brooklyn, NY. In these settings, hunting and fishing were just not part of life.
Now I have gone fishing. I used to look forward to fishing with my aunt and uncle at their cottage on Lake Huron. I’ve done it in other settings as well. Those experiences have taught me that I have done a great deal of another activity that is very much like fishing.
Next week Matthew, my dad and my nephew will be going out to Pennsylvania to go train watching. Watching trains is very much like fishing. You have to know where to go. There are places like the Altoona, PA where you are going to see lots of trains, and then there are rail lines where you will see almost nothing.
In both activities there is the excitement of “catching one.” Just as the fisherman is thrilled to feel that pull on the line, and then the weight of a fish as he or she reels it in, so also there is the thrill of hearing the horn and seeing the light of an approaching train.
And then there is also the reality that in both activities, despite the best plans, sometimes things just don’t go well. You can be in the right place, but if circumstances are off, it doesn’t matter. The fish aren’t always biting, and the trains aren’t always running. During the late 1980’s my dad and I went with friends to West Virgina to watch trains. It was an area known for heavy train action moving coal. However, it turned out that our trip took place right in the middle of a coal miners’ strike, and so we didn’t see a single train moving.
In our Gospel lesson this morning we find Peter and his companions after they have had just such an experience fishing. These were men who didn’t go fishing for fun and relaxation. It was their job. Their livelihood and that of their families depended on it. They knew their business and how to do it, but of course, there were no guarantees. And that night they had been fishing and caught nothing. Unfortunately, despite catching no fish, there was still work to do. Their boats were pulled up along the shore as they cleaned their nets in preparation for the next time they went out.
We learn that Jesus was also there at the lake of Gennesaret – the sea of Galilee. Beginning in chapter four, Luke has told us about Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing. We learn that after his temptation, “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.” Our Lord’s teaching and miracles quickly gained him a following. People wanted to hear him and to see what he was going to do.
Jesus was there at the water and a crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God. He saw the boats belonging to Peter, and to James and John. So he got into Peter’s boat and asked him to put out a little from the land. The boat became a floating podium as he taught the people gathered along the shore line.
Now we have heard this text so many times that we probably overlook how presumptuous this seems. What would you think if some random person just sat down in your office at work or took a seat in your car and said, “Drive me to Carbondale.” Most likely you would be put off by this.
However, from the previous chapter we know that Jesus is not exactly a random person to Peter. Jesus had been teaching in Capernaum on the Sabbath and Luke tells us that “they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” He had cast out a demon from a man at the synagogue and Luke reports, “They were all amazed and said to one another, "What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’” And then Jesus had gone to Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law who had a fever.
At this point, Peter knew Jesus and his ministry. He had heard the Lord’s teaching. His own family had received a great blessing from Jesus, and so he was willing to oblige him. But what came next went beyond this. When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter knew that Jesus had it all wrong. You didn’t fish during the daytime in the deeper water. That was just dumb, because that’s not how you catch fish.
Sometimes we think this way too. God says that he is to come first in our life. Yet that means giving up time and money. You give up Sunday mornings to be here. You give up time during the week for devotions and prayer. You give up money in your offering. Other people don’t do that. For them, every Sunday is another Saturday. They can use all of their money on things that are for just them. God’s way doesn’t seem so smart.
Or take Jesus’ instruction to be kind and forgiving. That can be really hard. It requires you to do things for other people. It means you don’t get to focus on your anger and nurse it as you look for an opportunity to get pay back – something that feels so good. Jesus’ way doesn’t seem very smart.
Peter had heard Jesus’ teaching. He had experienced his miraculous saving work. And so he said, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Peter acknowledged that Jesus’ way didn’t seem to make sense. Yet then he added, “But at your word I will let down the nets.” He listened to Jesus and trusted his word. He obeyed it. It didn’t make sense. But it came from Jesus and so Peter trusted and did what Jesus said.
Then we learn that when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. In fact they signaled to their partners, James and John, in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
This was an incredible and awesome experience! Frankly, it was overwhelming and when 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 that they had taken.
In the miracle, Jesus demonstrated what he had been preaching. He had been declaring the good news that in his person the saving action of God had arrived. In him the kingdom of God – the reign of God had come near.
Jesus said this because he, a human being, was also the Son of God incarnate by the work of the Holy Spirit. He was present in the world in order to make his way to the cross. Though he was holy and without sin, he had come to be numbered with the transgressors for your sake.
In that moment, as he saw the incredible catch of fish, Peter was overwhelmed with the sense that he was somewhere he should not be. He said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter found himself in the presence of the divine, and it caused him to fear. He feared because it made him sense the enormity of his sin and the fact that he had no business being in the presence of God and his work.
You are no different. As sinners who question God’s ways and choose to ignore them, you have no business being in the presence of God. Like David we must say, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”
That is what you deserve. But Jesus Christ completed his ministry by dying on the cross and rising from the dead for you. He who knew no sin became sin for you. He received God’s judgment in your place, so that now by faith in Christ you stand forgiven – justified. You have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus had not come to cause fear. He had come to give forgiveness, peace, hope, and life. So he said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” We learn in our text that then they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
In our text Peter encounters the saving reign of God present in Jesus Christ. The result is that he leaves everything and follows Jesus. He hears Jesus’ word and in faith he follows the Lord.
This is the same dynamic that needs to be at work in your life. You too have encountered the saving reign of God present in Jesus. Through the Means of Grace, Christ has called you to faith and sustains you as a child of God. His Spirit has made you a new creation in Christ.
Because of this, you now follow Jesus. But what does that mean? In our text, Jesus calls Peter, James and John to follow him and announces that he will make them fishers of men. The obvious move with this text is to talk about how we now share the Gospel with others. This certainly is true and it is something I have preached in the past. But at the same time we also cannot ignore the fact that ultimately Jesus was calling Peter, James and John as those who would be his apostles. They were going to be something unique – a once in the history of the world thing – because of their calling by the incarnate Lord. As witnesses to the crucified and risen Lord, they would have a very special and key role in calling others to faith in Jesus – and that includes you.
So granted, you are not an apostle. You are however someone who has received forgiveness in Christ. You are someone who was not part of God’s people, and yet now because of Jesus you are have the guarantee of salvation and eternal life. So what does this mean for you?
It means that you forgive your spouse or family member, because God in Christ has forgiven you. It means that you seek to be reconciled to another person, because God was in Christ reconciling you to himself. It means you serve the Body of Christ here in this congregation, because Christ served you and gave himself up for you.
The free gift of salvation in Christ now turns you outside yourself. It leads you to see in others the object of Christ’s love that he now gives through you. Your life has been taken up into Christ’s. St. Paul told the Galatians that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Because of the Gospel you know that there is no reason to say to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Instead thank and praise him for the salvation and peace he has won for you. And act in ways that share his forgiveness and love with others.
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