Last summer we had to replace the double doors that are at the entrance to our house. While the right door is the one that opens as you enter the house, the left door can also be unlocked at the top and bottom to open. Over the years this has proven to be handy as we have brought furniture in and out of the house.
We had ordered the doors from a store, and when I went to pick them up I was shocked to see how big the assembly really is when it is sitting out on its own and not part of the house. Thankfully, Jay Will was helping me pick it up in his truck. While the workers at the store helped us load the doors, they were really too big for the two of us to unload by ourselves at my house. Jay was able to call a co-worker who lives a couple of houses down from us to come over, and the three of us – with great effort – were able to get it unloaded and put into the garage.
Once there, one of my kids asked whether I was going to install the doors. I laughed, and replied that no – there was no way that I would be able to do it. He had seen me do the basic wood working in building the model railroad, and I had involved him in various repair projects around the house to teach him how to do these things. These experience had led him to the natural assumption: “Dad can do that.”
But in reality – no – dad can’t do that. I know that I am able to do basic repairs. But when you get into real carpentry and construction issues, or plumbing or electrical problems, I have to hire someone who knows how to do those things. And when they come to do repairs, I certainly don’t try to tell them what to do. After all, I would only make a fool of myself because I know nothing about how things are to be done.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus tells a professional fisherman how to fish. His words indicate that he knows nothing about how things are to be done. But because it is a word from Jesus, Peter follows his instruction. And that word produces an amazing catch of fish, that overwhelms Peter as he is in the presence of Jesus.
Luke begins the Gospel lesson by saying: “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.” We learn that the crowd was pressing in on Jesus. This was obviously a crowed that felt driven to get close to Jesus. And the reason they wanted to get close to him was to hear the word of God.
Now we know that Jesus speaks the word of God, because he is the Son of God. We know that he was sent forth by the Father as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. But what is it that has drawn these people to hear Jesus? What has led this crowd to press in on Jesus in order to hear him?
In the previous chapters we learn how the Holy Spiri descended upon Jesus at his baptism. Then Luke tells us: “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.” As the Christ, the One anointed with the Holy Spirit, Jesus went forth with power to carry out the mission the Father had given to him. Jesus announced what this mission was when he read the words of Isaiah chapter 61 in the synagogue at Nazareth, and declared that he was the fulfillment of them. Those words said: "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 liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
People recognized that Jesus’ Spirit empowered ministry was different. We learn that when Jesus went to Capernaum and was teaching in the synagogue the people “were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” And it wasn’t just that they sensed the authority of Jesus’ word. They also saw it at work.
At the synagogue a man who was demon possessed 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.” However, Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” as he cast the demon out. The people 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!”
Luke tells us that reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.
People could tell that Jesus’ word had authority when he spoke. They could see that his word had power and authority as he cast out demons and healed people. It was not surprising then, that a crowd was pressing in to hear Jesus as he stood by the Lake of Gennesaret – the Sea of Galilee. There Jesus saw two boats by the lake, where the fishermen had gone out of them and were cleaning their nets. Jesus got into the boat that belonged to Simon Peter and asked him to put out from the land a little. Jesus interrupted Peter’s work, but Peter was willing to help as Jesus sat in the boat and taught the people on the shore.
When Jesus was done speaking, he did something surprising. He told Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus, who wasn’t a fisherman, told the professional fisherman how to fish. And what he said was dumb – it made no sense. Fishermen worked at night on the lake. That was the best time to catch fish with their nets. Peter knew this. He pointed this out as he said, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Yet then he added: “But at your word I will let down the nets.”
Notice that it was Jesus’ word that caused Peter to do something that he thought was foolish. And notice too, that he called Jesus “master,” a term that in Luke’s Gospel is only used by those who approach Jesus in faith. Because it was Jesus’s word, Peter was willing to set aside his own ideas, and do what Jesus had said.
This same question confronts us every day. In the very next chapter Jesus teaches: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” This too sounds dumb. It makes no sense. Everyone knows that this is not how you do things. You don’t love, and help and pray for those who wrong you. Yet this is what Jesus says to do. This is his word. And so the question is whether we are willing to set aside our own ideas, and do what Jesus has said.
Peter did what Jesus said, even though it seemed to make no sense. He listened to Jesus’ word and put it into action. Luke tells us, “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 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.” Jesus’ “foolish word” about how to catch fish, produced such a large catch that it was swamping the boats.
Jesus’ word had produced an incredible event – an astounding catch of fish. Peter, was astonished by the catch. Yet his reaction was not joy and excitement. Instead, Luke tells us: “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 perceived that he was being confronted by God’s work and power in the person of Jesus. Where before he had called Jesus “master,” now he called him “Lord.”
Peter did what people always do in Scripture when they find themselves in the presence of the holy God. In a profound and overwhelming way he perceived his own sinfulness. He knew he did not belong there.
This is our experience too when we compare our lives – our thoughts, words, and deeds – to what God has revealed in his word. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” We hear these words and know that we fail to do them. And of course what is true here, is also true again and again in every one of the Ten Commandments. Our reaction should be no different than that of Peter: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” “Depart from me, for I am a sinful woman, O Lord.”
But Jesus did not come to Peter to drive him away because of his sin. Instead, he said to him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Jesus told Peter, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus had not been anointed by the Spirit as the Christ to bring judgment and fear. Instead, as Isaiah had said of 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 liberty to the captives.” In the verses immediately before our text people wanted Jesus to stay, but he said to 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.”
In Jesus we meet the good news of the kingdom of God – the reign of God that has freed us from Satan, sin, and death. Jesus did not come to condemn sinners. Instead, he came to be numbered with the transgressors – with us. He came to take our place as he offered himself as the sacrifice for our sin. Christ has freed us from sin and death through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. This is the good news that he has brought. This is the good news that he has accomplished for us.
Do we still struggle with sin? Yes. Do we still fall? Yes. But we are not afraid. Instead, we are repentant. And repentance is an act of faith. We confess our sin, confident that because of Jesus’ cross and resurrection we are forgiven. After all, as Jesus said just a couple of weeks ago in the Gospel lesson: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Peter believed Jesus’ word. Instead of asking Jesus to leave, we learn: “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”
Because of the forgiveness and salvation that we receive from our Lord, we now follow him. This means leaving behind those things that compete with Jesus for our time and attention, as we put Jesus first. It means leaving behind the ways of the world – the ways of anger, vengeance, and payback – as we forgive others and love our enemies.
And it also means that we seek to share the forgiveness and freedom that we have received with others. We seek to share the Gospel – the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There will be those who want to hold on to their sin. There will be those who want to hold on to their false gods. We recognize that only the Spirit of Christ can call people to faith. But the Spirit works through the word about Christ, and so our job is to speak that word.
I am no fisherman, but I have done it enough to know that you don’t catch a fish every time you cast the line. On the other hand, I know that no fish are caught if the line is never cast. And so our role is to speak about Jesus’ death and resurrection to others, because we know that through him we are included among those who have received forgiveness and salvation.