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, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 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. 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. 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. (Lk 5:1-11, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” I wonder, really, what brought Peter to this point? I mean, I wonder what it is that makes a strong fisherman, whose nickname by the way, is “Rock”, I wonder what makes a man like that kneel among a mountain of fish in a sinking boat, and shout in fear, “Get out of here our I’ll die!” So, you get the full impact of what I’m asking I want you to place this scene in your mind. Peter is a workingman, very strong from dragging waterlogged fishnets out of the water. His skin is dark and leathery from a lifetime of water reflected sunburn. His hair is long, bushy and sun bleached. His eyes are dark and penetrating. Here is a guy who probably gets what he wants, when he wants it. You might even imagine that if he were around today he’d have tattoos on his biceps. Here’s a guy who has worked hard all his life to achieve all that he has achieved, a self starter, a businessman who is very self confident. He’s a family man, used to making a living the hard way, blood and sweat. That’s the man that St. Luke would have us believe is kneeling at Jesus knees, pleading to be left alone. And so, I’ll ask the question again. What makes a man like that do a thing like that?
“Well, isn’t it obvious?” You say. Just look at that load of fish they hauled in. Simon said himself that they had worked all night and caught nothing. A few moments with Jesus on the lake and they’re full to capacity and sinking, and not just one boat but two. There is nothing that will humble a man faster than to be a better fisherman than he is. Just ask any angler’s wife who’s had a good day of fishing at the expense of her husband. And everything Jesus tells them to do defies all fishing logic. No one fishes in the heat of the midday sun in deep water and expects to catch anything, especially in the kind of nets they were using. Those nets caught fish that swim near the surface of the water to feed. But, Jesus did in minutes what Simon and his partners couldn’t ever do. And the thing I want you to see here is exactly how Jesus does this miracle (it is beyond a doubt, just that a miraculous catch of fish!) “And when [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” There in His makeshift pulpit when the teaching was done, Jesus gives a word to Simon and the other fisherman. And it’s a curious word. It’s a word that doesn’t make fishing sense. “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Here already you may notice that Simon seems to be acting out of character. He doesn’t say, “are you crazy! We’ll never catch anything out there at this time of day!” Instead, he reacts to the word of Jesus doing exactly what Jesus says. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” He makes it clear that what he’s doing makes no sense, but Jesus words have their effect on him, and he does it anyway. “And when they had done this…” Luke tells us, as soon as they did what Jesus said, the nets were full to overflowing, and not just overflowing but to the point of tearing apart. The question to ask, the question that must have entered Simon’s mind, is “How is it that all these fish have come to this unlikely place at the altogether wrong time to these nets?” And the answer is; because Jesus spoke the words and the miracle happened. Simon was confronted with the reality that what Jesus had spoken to him wasn’t a command, “Put out the nets for a catch,” but what Jesus had spoken was a promise. “Put out the nets and you will catch fish.” When the work was done, when all the fish were in the boat, and water was slipping over the hull, threatening to plunge them all into the water, Simon turned to the source of miracle. He fell at the feet of the One whose spoken word could do exactly what it promised. Simon Peter, the man that is called “Rock,” crumbled at power of the Word of God.
In fact, that is exactly what this text is all about, the power of the Word of God. Look again at the first sentence. “The crowd was pressing in on [Jesus] to hear the word of God.” Notice also, that Jesus gets into Peter’s boat. In reality, he has a front row seat to Jesus Words. God’s Word spoken from the lips of Jesus struck Peter’s heart. When Jesus says, “put out your nets.” Peter responds. Jesus words were at work in Peter before he responded to Jesus. But even though, it’s easy to see the Word of God at work in calling the fish into the fisherman’s nets, because that’s a visible miracle, after all it nearly sunk the boats. But the important work of God’s Word wasn’t on the fish. The same miracle of God working through his Word that was shown to the eyes of Peter was at work invisibly as Jesus taught the people from the boat. God’s Word was there, crumbling hardened hearts of stone, convicting sinful people of their sin, removing mountains of doubt, creating and strengthening faith. We see it in Peter’s words, “Master, at your word I will do it.” And we see it when Peter confesses his sins, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
What Peter was confronted with was the fact that the God who’s Word created the universe, the God who controlled all nature, was seated in that fishing boat with him. The spoken Word of God showed him all of his sinfulness and he knew what he deserved. It’s evident the same reaction we see Isaiah’s words from the Old Testament reading for today. “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips! I’m a dead man.” Peter and Isaiah were afraid of the awesome power they saw; the power of God that should have left them dead.
What did Peter see? What did he hear? What does God’s Word say to you? God’s Word often convicts us of our sin. That must be what happened to Peter. He heard Jesus preaching backed up by a miracle and he knew he was in trouble. What do you hear when God’s Word says to you, “You shall not commit adultery”? Do you hear the “you” as you or do you hear the “you” as someone else. Do you say, “at least I’ve never done that sin”? Do you hear Jesus says that adultery is a sin done in the heart first? Do you imagine that yours is free from it? Try to tell yourself that tonight when while your watching the Bud Bowl commercials, or when you wish the camera angle were just a little different when then cheerleaders are filling the screen.
How about “you shall not kill”? Are you very sure you’ve never done that? Maybe there’s no bodies buried in your back yard and no bloody knives in your dresser drawer. But Jesus says that this to is a sin in the heart. Tell yourself you are free from this sin when that negative comment about your neighbor, your ex-husband, or your ex-pastor, or even your worst enemy slips from your lips. Jesus tells you that any thought word or deed that diminishes your neighbor in any way is breaking this command. These are just the easy commandments to use, but we could go through all ten and it would be the same.
“I can’t help it!” you protest. And there you are right. You can’t help it. That’s because Jesus is right. Sin is imbedded in the heart. There’s a part of you, a sinful nature that never wants to follow God’s Word in any way or at any time. You can’t stop sinning. You can’t help it. You can’t stand in the presence of a holy and perfect God who demands perfection in every detail. He says that if you do, you are dead. That’s what Peter saw and heard. That’s what Isaiah saw and heard. The God who spoke to and commanded the fishes in the sea sees right into your heart. And when he finds what you know is there he says, “The soul that sins shall die.” God’s Word is the same weather spoken from a boat on the shores of the sea of Galilee, or in this pulpit, is powerful. It cuts us open like a sword, and displays our sinful nature. That Word causes us to speak to God like Peter. “Lord go away I’m a sinful man. I’ve sinned against you in thought, word and deed…”
Ah, but the most powerful words in this reading today aren’t Peter’s confession of sin. It’s not Jesus words of condemnation. It is Jesus words of comfort and forgiveness. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says instead of striking Peter dead on the spot, instead of dropping him in the deepest part of the lake. Jesus doesn’t punish. He doesn’t leave Peter in his sin and fear.
Peter knew whey he should be afraid, because God, himself, in the flesh, was standing with him in a boat full of fish on the Sea of Galilee. What he’d have to learn later on is why he didn’t have to be afraid. Really, it was the very same reason. God, himself, in the flesh, was standing with him in a boat full of fish on the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus the man at whose knees he fell face down was God who had come not to destroy him, but to destroy the sin he harbored in his heart. We talked about that sin, didn’t we. It’s the same as ours. It’s the same that we can’t get rid of . Jesus, Our Lord, takes ours away, too. One of our hymns says,
Nothing of my own I bring,
simply to the cross I cling.
That’s where Jesus destroyed our sin and Peter’s. He put it to death in his body. The pain of pierced hands and feet; the suffering of suffocation; and most important of all the loneliness of being left there to suffer and die by God the Father.
Peter said, “Leave me!” But Jesus didn’t leave even though it meant the cross. He instead was left alone to bear all of God’s anger and wrath over sin, all the punishment God had to give. Jesus suffered the punishment of eternal hell for the whole world on the cross. Empty crosses are fine. They show us where this all happened. But when Christians see a cross with Jesus body on it we see our sin being destroyed and we see our Savior, saving us.
Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.” Peter left everything and followed Jesus. Its Peter’s response to God’s saving Word. It’s our response to. We leave this place after having received the Word of God, spoken into our ears, and placed into our mouths with bread and wine, and poured on our heads in Holy Baptism, and take that Word to where we live and work every day. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Now do this.” He says “you will do this.” That’s God’s Word working again, His powerful Word bringing about exactly what He says it will do. So it happens sometimes even when we don’t know it. That’s just the way God’s Word works. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.