February 17, 2019
I’m sure you have gotten at least one email from Nigeria. Out of the blue you receive an email that tells a story about a large amount of money that is trapped in a bank because of a civil war or a coup. Or it may about a large inheritance that is 'difficult to access' because of government restrictions or taxes in their country. You are offered a large sum of money to help them transfer their personal fortune out of the country. Of course you must share your bank account information so that the Nigerian bank can transfer the money into your account. Once they have your information, you lose your money. It‘s a scam!
Sometimes Christianity can seem like a bait and switch. “Come to Jesus and your sins will be forgiven and you will receive eternal life when you die. Your problems will be solved and you will be blessed. But when we respond to the message, we learn that we are supposed to live a life of self-denial in discipleship to Jesus. It’s not what we signed up for. Frankly, I don’t see that kind of gospel message taught in the gospels. Rather what I see is that Jesus is calling together a community of disciples.
I. DISCIPLES RECOGNIZE THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS. Lk.5:1-7
In Lk.5:1 we find Jesus teaching a crowd of people by the Sea of Galilee. As the crowd pressed in Jesus got into Simon Peter’s boat and asked Peter to move the boat away from the shore. Then Jesus sat down and taught the people. Peter and his co-workers had been fishing during the night and now they were cleaning their nets. Since they had not caught any fish the night before they were getting ready to go out again when evening came. And this is where the story gets interesting.
Jesus taught for a while and then in v.4 he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." Think about the context of Jesus’ command to Peter. Peter and his business partners, Andrew, James and John, were professional fisherman. They had been fishing on the Sea of Galilee for a number of years. They knew all about fishing on the Sea of Galilee. This was their turf. So when Jesus tells Peter to put out into the deep waters and let down their nets for a catch, one can only imagine Peter and the others thinking to themselves, “What is Jesus saying? Clearly he doesn’t know much about fishing. The day time is not the time for catching fish.” Besides, in v.5 Peter answers, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! We are tired.”
It is one thing to trust in Jesus to forgive our sins and provide salvation. After all, Jesus knows about spiritual things. That is his area of expertise. Many who call themselves believers separate the physical/secular from the spiritual. Some Christian business people are all about good, no nonsense business. They don’t see that Jesus has much to say about how they run their business or do their job. Trades people, medical people, engineers, study hard and by experience learn how to do their jobs well. To quote the well-known commercial, “They know a thing or two because they’ve seen a thing or two.” That would be Peter.
Now if Andrew or John had told Peter to put out for a catch, Peter would have questioned their sanity. But Peter respects Jesus and, being in charge of the business, he decides to listen to what Jesus tells him to do. It was only because Jesus asked that Peter consented. So out they go and they let down their nets. I can hear the sighing as they did this. They are thinking to themselves, “We must be crazy! What are the other fishermen going to think?”
But then they see that the nets are filled with fish. In fact the nets are breaking. They have to call their partners, James and John to come and help them. Both boats are so full of fish that they are sinking down into the water.
This is an important moment for the disciples and for us. No matter how much we may know about a subject, no matter how skilled we may be in our business, Jesus knows far more about it then we do. Disciples need to learn this truth about Jesus. The resources and knowledge available to Jesus go far beyond our resources and knowledge. Jesus does not separate the spiritual and the physical/secular. And we should not do that either. The lesson of these verses is not that Jesus will miraculously solve our problems. He will probably not lay out a detailed plan of action.
But, as disciples of Jesus it is important to understand that Jesus is always present to help us as we live our lives and do our work for him. I suppose Jesus could have had all the fish just jump out of the water and into the boats without having to let down the nets. But no. Jesus comes alongside us in our work. He is interested in our work as we are interested in doing our work according to his ways.
The resources found in the kingdom of God are accessible to all who know Jesus. Not only do we receive life from above, but we are brought into a moment by moment relationship with Jesus who created and sustains all things. Disciples recognize and seek out the authority of Jesus in every dimension of their lives. Whether dealing with matters at work or at home or in the church or wherever, we call upon Jesus for wisdom and help. We trust that Jesus through his Holy Spirit, will provide what we need to accomplish all that needs to be done in living our lives for him. He will surely not forsake you if you desire to live your life in his way. Last week I used the phrase, “Count on the kingdom of God.” Recognizing the authority of Jesus in every area of life is another way of counting on the kingdom of God.
II. DISCIPLES ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR SINFULNESS. Lk.5:8-10a
Look at v.8-10a. “But 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 that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.”
One might think that upon seeing all the fish, they would be jumping for joy. In a short amount of time they received a very lucrative catch. No doubt they were happy, but they immediately perceived that what had just happened was a sobering experience.
What kind of person is able to bring a miraculous catch of fish with little observable effort? There was no special paraphernalia or technology. There was no magic or special incantation. Jesus merely said, “Let down your nets for a catch.” They were overwhelmed.
I do not think Peter is recognizing Jesus as being God in the flesh at this point. As we read further in Luke we find the disciples wondering about who Jesus is. In Lk.8 when Jesus calms the wind and waves while on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples say, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?" They were not thinking that Jesus is God. But they did begin to realize that God was with Jesus in a very powerful way. Jesus was a unique servant of God. And so they are overwhelmed. They are in way above their heads, and there is an immediate sense of unworthiness. Peter falls on his knees and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Again, I do not think Peter is confessing some specific sin in his life. Rather I think this is an expression of Peter’s unworthiness to be in the presence of Jesus. The person and power of Jesus made Peter aware of his sinfulness.
In the mid-90s our congregation was blessed to have Dallas Willard speak during a morning worship service. As you know, Dallas has had a deep impact on my life. He was probably the godliest person I ever met. Since reading a biography on Dallas I have come to see that he was human like all of us. But back in those days, I was awed by Dallas. Angie and I were able to take him out to lunch and then to the parsonage for some rest. I remember having a fear that Dallas would somehow be able to discern my life and put his finger on some sin in my life. Of course I didn’t need to worry. But I think Peter felt something like that, only more so. In the presence and power of Jesus, Peter felt exposed.
Now, we have not experienced what Peter did, but there is something important here for all would be followers of Jesus. The more we get to know Jesus, the more aware we become of our sinfulness. There may be some very specific sinful acts that immediately come to mind, but I am thinking more about a general awareness of the sinfulness of our character, thoughts, conversation, and actions. We are sinners and we are comfortable trafficking in sin. But as we come to know Jesus we see our own utter unworthiness of Jesus. Acknowledgment of sin and confession is important for a disciple of Jesus. A deep awareness of our sinfulness is vital to surrendering to Jesus. As long as we think we are good enough in and of ourselves to receive the life of Jesus, we are incapable of knowing him. When we think we are worthy of Jesus and his life, we put Jesus in our debt as if he owes us his life. No! Discipleship begins with an awareness of our unworthiness and sinfulness. We begin by bowing at the feet of Jesus in unworthiness.
III. DISCIPLES SURRENDER ALL TO JESUS. Lk.5:10b-11
In v.10b-11 we read, “And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”
With a deep awareness of his unworthiness Peter wants the Lord to depart from him. But Jesus has no intention of departing from Peter. In the face of their heightened sense of unworthiness and sin Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.” God welcomes sinners. God sent Jesus into the world to save sinners. I believe that Peter and the others were in the process of being saved. In other words, as they grew in their understanding of Jesus they were increasingly putting their faith in Jesus.
Was I saved when at five years old I bowed in prayer with my mother to ask Jesus into my heart? Or was I saved when I was a student at Moody Bible Institute? For a number of years I had been living with deep doubt about my salvation. But one day I was standing by the dresser drawers in my dorm room and in my heart I came to the realization that what happened when I was five was not the issue. The issue was more about did I want Jesus and did I believe in Jesus as my Savior, Lord and King. After that moment I felt great assurance. Men and Women, being able to pin point the moment you asked Jesus to be your Savior is not a critical as is the current state of your relationship with Jesus. There is a sense in which we are being saved every day as we daily trust in Jesus.
Jesus continued to pursue Peter and the others. “From now on you will be catching men." This is a little abrupt, don’t you think? I mean, Jesus doesn’t ask if they might like a change of vocation. Jesus announces that from that point on they would have a new focus in life. They would become part of God’s work in bringing men, women, and children to find forgiveness and eternal living in Christ. You might say that from now on, every day would be a day of putting out into the deep and letting down their nets for a catch. Every day would a day for bringing others to Jesus. And to follow the metaphor, the catch would not come about merely by their own efforts. Rather it would be Jesus who brings the catch in. Jesus is the Savior.
Notice their response. As soon as they reach land it says that they “left everything and followed him.” You might be thinking, “Well, if I had experienced what they experienced I would also probably be willing to leave everything and follow Jesus.” Would you? Or, you might be thinking, “Well, it looks to me as if Jesus is only talking to Peter when he says, ‘From now on you will be catching men.’ So this word is not for me.” But from the response, clearly the others understood that Jesus was including them as well. And the truth is that Jesus calls all of us to a life of catching men, women, and children for Jesus.
Some believers make a distinction between being saved and being a disciple of Jesus, as if one could be saved but not be a disciple. That may be possible, but I do not see that distinction in the gospels. Coming to faith in Jesus involves an increasing surrender to Jesus. As we grow in our faith and understanding we surrender more and more of ourselves.
From what I can see, part of the calling to discipleship involves witness, evangelism. To be sure there is more to it than witness, but it definitely involves witness. Every day, in light of the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord, you and I are called to bow in complete surrender to Jesus. We are called to view every facet of our daily living in light of Jesus. We are called to treasure people to the point that we desire to see them come to Jesus. So we cultivate an awareness that most of the people around us are dying in a toxic, sinful world.
When I married Angie, I surely did not have a clear picture of what surrendering my life to Angie would be like. In a sense, our wedding day was like experiencing the great catch of fish. What a miracle! Angie wants to marry me! But of course as we began to live our life together we both came to understand more and more the nature of our commitment to each other. It involves wholehearted surrender to each other.
Some of us here today, have been going to church for many years, but we have never seriously entertained the idea that we are called to be disciples of Jesus. We are religious but not really following Jesus. In that case it would be wise to doubt your religion. Others of us have settled into a comfortable kind of discipleship. We understand the idea of discipleship, but we have sort of set the terms of what that looks like. And often those terms do not include witness. What about you? Are you a surrendered disciple of Jesus Christ? Amen