Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, at the end of 2016 my wife Katie and I had the opportunity to visit the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I had never been there before, but the reason we went was they had a 500th anniversary display of artifacts associated with Martin Luther. At the end of the exhibit was this table. Doesn’t look like much, but it struck me. This is the table from Martin Luther’s home. That’s the door that he walked through. It was at this table that he often sat with students or other people. There’s a whole volume of writing called Luther’s “Table Talk” where he would talk about random things and students would record them. It happened at THAT table! It was a neat experience. Has that ever happened to you? Maybe you visited a place, a very famous place because something historic happened there and paused and thought, “Wow! It happened here. An event that changed history happened…right here.” It’s an awesome experience, isn’t it?
Well, we’re looking at an event in history that happened right here. (show picture). This is the place on the Sea of Galilee where our text happened. We’re almost certain that this is the place because there’s a hot water spring that comes out right here where ancient fisherman washed their nets just like Peter and the other fishermen were doing in our text.
Can you picture Peter, James, and John standing there washing their nets? Can you picture them tired after a night of fishing, disappointed that they hadn’t caught anything, but making sure their equipment was taken care of? Do you think they had any idea what a huge turn their lives were about to take? I’m guessing probably not. But, as they are standing there, Jesus turned their lives upside down.
First, Jesus asks if he can borrow one of their boats so that he could go out on the lake a little bit to teach the people. When the teaching time was over, Jesus, and remember that he’s a carpenter turned Rabbi tells these experienced fishermen to put out into the deep for a catch. Notice how Peter replies, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” It’s the wrong place, it’s the wrong time, Peter has no reason to do this. He has absolutely no reason to put out into deep water and let down the nets. Not a bit of evidence, no reason. But what does he say? “Because you say so.” The Bible tells us that’s enough of a reason to do something. Because God says so. You may have no other reason to love your enemies, no other reason to pray for those who make your life miserable, no other reason to think that something good will come out of this situation, “Lord Jesus, I have no reason to do this. It doesn’t seem practical. I’ve tried this before. It doesn’t seem to work. Everyone says it doesn’t work. But, because you say so, I’ll do it. Because you say so, I’ll believe it.”
And what happens? The fish are practically jumping into the boat! Those nets that they were so carefully cleaning are beginning to break and the boats are even beginning to sink! And all of a sudden it strikes Simon Peter: This guy in the boat with us, this isn’t just another man…this is the almighty God!
And who is Peter? He’s sinful human being. He has no right to be in the presence of the perfect God! And think about it, if Jesus could cause this catch of fish, well, it wouldn’t be a problem for him to read Peter’s mind and heart. How would that feel? To know that God is in the boat with you, God knows every thought of your mind and every feeling of your heart, how would that feel? But that’s reality! God knows our lack of awe in His presence, God knows our half-hearted approach to His Word. He knows every doubt, fear, worry.
We can understand Peter’s reaction, right? “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” Did you catch the word change? Previously Peter called Jesus “master” which is probably more equivalent to our term “sir.” But here he switched terms, now it’s “Lord.” Peter has come to grips with the reality that this man in the boat with them is…God! And Peter? A sinner. What right does he have to be in the boat with God!
And yet we see the amazing grace of God. Jesus doesn’t send Peter away. Peter isn’t crushed or annihilated. Rather, Jesus gives him incredible assurance: “Don’t be afraid.” Why so? Because Jesus, who is God, has come to do for him and everyone exactly what we need.
This happens all over the Bible, doesn’t it? Notice Isaiah in our first lesson. He’s in the presence of the holiness of God and how does he react? “Woe to me! I am ruined for I am a man of unclean lips!” The angels appeared to the shepherds on the first Christmas, the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were…terrified. Many people might say, “Oh, I’m not afraid of God.” But they are saying that on a false basis, they say that because their conception of God is like he’s old grandfather who just smiles at his grandchildren when they’re naughty. But that’s not God. God IS holy, God IS perfect, God IS transcendent, God IS completely separate from sin, sin or sinners cannot stand in His presence.
So how can Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid”? There is a way to be in God’s presence without fear. But not by changing who God is. God does hate sin. God condemns all sin. All sin deserves God’s eternal judgment. But that’s why Jesus was here. That’s why Jesus was in this boat. He came to be judged, He came to be condemned, He came to be crushed under the weight of the judgment of our sins on the cross…for us! To win us forgiveness, life and salvation. And that’s why Peter could stay in the boat.
But Jesus goes further. “From now on you will fish for people.” Not only could Peter stay in the boat, but Peter would join Jesus walking through the countryside from town to town, serving as Jesus’ co-worker, a co-worker with God Himself, to do the most important thing which exists – telling people about their eternal salvation!!
But who was Peter? Who was James? And John? They were real humans, no different from you and me. And the reality is, God has also chosen you! God’s chosen you to “be in the boat” with Jesus. He’s chosen you to be one of his children. He’s chosen you to be a “fisher of people” to tell others about Jesus. And perhaps our response is like Peter’s, “Go away from me Lord. I am a sinner!” And what does Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid. I know, I know your faults, I know your sins, I know your failures, but you’re forgiven, you’re washed clean, I died, I rose for you!”
And then he turns us loose to do the most important work: sharing the message of salvation with others. So, the question that remains is, “Are we willing to do what the disciples did?” They pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Why? Because GOD called them to follow. Are you willing to make it your life’s number one goal to be a fisher for people?
What does that look like? Does that mean everyone should leave their jobs and become missionaries? No, that’s not at all what that means. Being a pastor or a missionary is one way and it’s important, but it’s no more important than the callings that God has given you right now. Maybe you’re an employer or an employee, maybe you’re a stay at home mom or retired or a grandparent or a parent or a friend or a student. Those are all callings. And what does God want? He wants us to follow him, be faithful in our callings, and be fishers of people.
First, we follow him. That’s why you’re here this morning. You want to know more about who is in the boat with you. Who is this Jesus? Who is this God? We follow Him by staying close to Him. How do you stay close to Him? You stay close to Him by continuing to hear His Word. Learning more about this God who thought you were worth it to become one with us so that we might spend an eternity with Him. Follow Him.
Second, be faithful in your calling. God has given each of us an incredible diversity of gifts. Faithful service to God isn’t found so much in giving up everything and becoming a missionary in a foreign country. That’s great if you have those gifts. But that’s no more important of a calling than you have right now. Martin Luther once said, “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps her kitchen but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” In other words, be faithful in the work that God has given you- God absolutely loves it that you’re serving him by being a faithful teacher, or a faithful cook, or a faithful builder, or a faithful mechanic. There’s a story about someone who lived in the 2nd Century after Jesus’ earthly ministry and he talks about how the plows made by Joseph and Jesus in the carpenter’s shop were still in use, that would have been well over 100 years. Those must have been very well-made plows. Whatever calling you have, whatever job you have, whatever station in life you are in, serve the Lord in it by doing it to the best of your ability and know that God is pleased with your service to him.
And lastly, be a fisher of people. In your unique calling, God will open up opportunities for you to share your faith. Always be ready to give an answer for the reason for the hope that you have. What incredible grace that God would choose to have you and me as His partners, His coworkers, His associates in sharing the eternal gospel with people.
I don’t know if the disciples ever went back to that spot and thought, “Wow! It all started right here!” But their lives changed forever when Jesus called them. But they’re no different from you and me. Jesus chose you. He chose you to be His so he came to ride in boats here, he came to complete His calling so fully that it meant to dying for all your failures and mine, all your sins and mine so that we might be His people now and forever. Amen.