Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 5:1 “Now it came about that while the multitude were pressing around Him and listening to the Word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them, and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the multitudes from the boat. 4 And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5 And Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets.’ 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish; and their nets began to break; 7 and they signaled to their partners in the other boat, for them to come and help them. And they came, and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’ 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” (NASB)
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen by trade. They knew their craft. They were, by the day’s standards rather successful. We know that because they owned their own boats. Fishing boats were very expensive pieces of equipment. As a general rule only commercial fishermen could afford them. Those who didn’t have them waded out into the water and cast their nets in the shallowest water.
In the chronology of the New Testament, the episode recorded in the Gospel lesson occurred after Jesus’s baptism and the temptation in the wilderness and before His trip to the wedding of Cana. After the temptation, Jesus went into Galilee near the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. He began His preaching and teaching ministry. His doctrine was so radical from what the people were use to hearing, Jesus’s teaching attracted a lot of curiosity, interest, and suspicion.
Jesus was teaching that the Law was something that sinful human beings couldn’t fulfill and that the Law is something that only the promised Messiah would fulfill and would do so in their stead. That was a radical departure from the works-righteousness preaching of the day. It remains a radical departure from what people are taught and believed today. The only real difference is what constitutes righteous beliefs and deeds. In Jesus’s day, it was the morality of the Old Testament. Today is the progressive morality of the secular elite and modern state.
“Now it came about that while the multitude were pressing around Him and listening to the Word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them, and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little way from the land.”
Pay attention to the chronology of this event as well. Jesus’s primary work during His earthly ministry was teaching and preaching. He was (and is) first and foremost about speaking and explaining the Word of God. It’s what He preferred to do. It is what He did first before healing and miracle working.
Modern Christians and church care almost nothing about doctrine. They falsely believe they can have a doctrineless Jesus. In essence they hallow Jesus out. They empty Him of God’s words, then they fill Him with their own ideas and beliefs about is Christian and what is not. But Jesus can’t be separated from the truth, the Gospel truth. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You can’t separate the Word of God from the flesh and blood of Jesus of Narazeth. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
So Jesus ordered that the boat be put out a little way from the shore and
“sat down and began teaching the multitudes from the boat. 4 And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’”
The four men had just returned from a “night” of fishing empty handed. When Jesus commandeered the boat, the Peter, Andrew, James, and John were in the process of cleaning all the junk that had gotten caught in their nets. While this particular outing had proven to be a bust, the four men were professionals. They knew when and where to catch fish when using a net, but Peter yields to the command. Martin Luther called this a greater miracle than the miraculous catch of fish itself.
Peter explains to the rabbi and would-be fisherman that the fish just weren’t cooperating. But as long as they are already out in the boat and out of respect for the rabbi, Peter agrees to do as commanded. 5 “And Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets.’ 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish; and their nets began to break; 7 and they signaled to their partners in the other boat, for them to come and help them. And they came, and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink.”
Let me remind you, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ a command is a promise as well. One of the most obvious commands is the one given as Jesus was ascending into heaven “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Here’s a command that is also a promise. Disciples will be made in baptism, teaching will take place, and Christ is with His church in the Word and Sacrament ministry even to the end of the age. So also here, the command to put down the net in deep water is also the promise of a catch.
While the other three start pulling at the nets and hauling in the fish, Peter is stunned. Jesus was know for His preaching and teaching and for His works of healing and casting out demons. Perhaps Peter had heard these reports and had suspended judgment. But now faced with the fact that even the fish obey the rabbis’s command, Peter realizes that he is in the presence of the Holy One of God.
8 “When Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’” Isaiah experienced the same thing when he was brought into the presence of the holy God of Israel. 3 “And one Seraphim called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.’ 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’”
It took a few moments for the situation to sink in for the others, but it did. They too were “amazed.” That’s another way of saying they were in awe, a combination of fear and wonder. It was then that Jesus greeted with them what would become a common greeting from Jesus to His believers. “Do not be afraid.”
When Jesus comes into the presence of demons their only response is sheer terror. Sinners have a similar response to the presence of the Holy One God on account of their sin. Standing in the presence of the Holy One can be and will be a terrifying experience for many. But the response from Jesus is what differentiates human beings from the fallen angels.
To the demons Jesus drives them out and drives them away. They remain under God’s wrath. But to the contrite sinners who fall at the feet of Jesus and say, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Jesus says time and time again “Do not be afraid.”
Demons and the old sinful human nature have this in common. By nature they are both enemies of and hostile to God. But the Son of God came into the world, took on flesh, lived the perfect life, was crucified and forsaken as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Hebrews 2:16, “For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham.”
The only reason that Peter need not be afraid is that he is forgiven and absolved by the Lord himself. Jesus gives Peter two gifts. One temporal and one spiritual. A boatload of fish for his daily bread and the forgiveness of sins for eternal life. But He is not done. Jesus has one more gift to give. “‘From now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”
We have the advantage that Peter and the rest of the disciples didn’t have. We have the gift of hindsight. We know how the story ends. They didn’t understand that Jesus was preparing them to do the work of evangelism, the work of good news preaching. In the moment of their call to be disciples they didn’t understand that Jesus was both calling them and teaching them. He not only gave them a call, He gave them and the whole Christian church a symbol of the church and of the work of the church.
“From now on you will be fishers of men,” thus the image of the church as the ship of salvation. That image does back to the days of Noah. As for the net, the Bible is very clear, Jesus is very clear that the net is the Word of God, preached, taught, confessed, and embodied in the sacraments. The net is not gimmicks.
While community events, community service, fund raising for the work of the church, and social gathering just for fun, have their place, the net is not rock concerts, entertainment, barbecues, a coffee bar, and movie nights all in an attempt to add more names to the roster. Those are nets of human invention. Those aren’t the nets that Jesus was teaching about. That’s not the catch Christ is looking for. The nets in this lesson symbolize God’s means of grace—His Word and His Sacraments. That’s what Christ was teaching His future apostles.
There are lots reasons for the church’s decline, but one of the biggest reasons is that pastor and laity alike are doctrinally clueless. They don’t know how to speak about or confess the faith in very day life. They can’t give an answer for the hope that is within them. 1 Peter 3:14-15, “Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
Success is the Lord’s – not just great success, but appalling success. What is appalling success? It is what sinful human beings call failure. It is what we are tempted and sometimes do call failure. We do something to spend God’s Word out into the community and we don’t see results. It’s appalling.
Yet God’s Word teaches that His Word never returns to Him without accomplishing that for which He spoke it. When we preach it, or speak it to someone, and see nothing happen, we must conclude that either God isn’t done or we have witnessed what His Word was intended to do although we see nothing we would call success.
You were caught in the saving net of God’s Word. You were pulled into the boat of salvation through the waters of Holy Baptism. You were caught up in Christ’s person, His work, His life, His death, His resurrection, His sacraments, and His doctrine. It is because of these humble, yet life-giving gifts of Christ that I proclamation that you need not be afraid, you are God’s greatest catch.
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.