Luke 5:1-11 The Calling of Peter audio (6MB)
When I was 12 my father brought a model of a Phantom 2 vintage Rolls Royce back from overseas. Now this was no ordinary model car. This was a completely perfect 1:10 scale model where all the moving parts actually moved. And in order to try and please my father I began to build this model. I am not the most practical of people and I've got little aptitude for making things. In fact I've got the mechanical aptitude of a gnat, but I am pretty stubborn and determined. So all summer holidays in my spare time I slogged away at this complicated model - I got it set up on an old table tennis table we used to have in the garage, and by the end of summer I'd succeeded in building the engine, the brake system and some of the chassis of this car, and I'd also succeeded in losing some of the crucial parts for what I needed to do next. This was the kind of model that had a 25 page instruction book full of drawings of parts numbered from 1 - about 5000! And at the end of the summer it all got bundled up into a very big box and put away at the back of the garage.
Matt and I often play cricket in the backyard. He regularly hits the crack in the concrete half way down the pitch and takes my leg stump out of the ground!
We often have the experience of being surpassed by someone else in life. Someone with real talent just blows away our best effort almost effortlessly, and the best we can do is to sit back and marvel. Of course, sometimes we're not so generous as to marvel at the ability of others when our own expertise is completely overshadowed.
In chapter 5 of his gospel Luke presents us with 3 stories in a row of Jesus completely overshadowing even the experts in their own field.
In the first story, Jesus takes Peter, the master fisherman, fishing. When Peter protests that there are no fish about, but lets down his nets anyway, they catch so many fish the boat begins to sink!
In the second story in chapter 5, Jesus heals a man with leprosy and then sends him off to the priests to be declared clean and fit to re-enter the community. The priests were experts at diagnosing leprosy and pronouncing a leper clean if he ever recovered. But Jesus cured this leper with just a touch!
In the third story in chapter 5, Jesus surpasses even the expert teachers of the law. They could have taught you about the forgiveness of sins from the OT. But Jesus has the actual authority to bring that forgiveness from God, and he backs up his claim by healing the paralysed man lowered through the roof in front of him, whom he had pronounced forgiven.
In each of these fields, Jesus does better than the experts can do. Whether it is people's daily work, or their acceptability in the community, or understanding the Old Testament, Jesus is amazing. He blows away even the experts in these fields.
The point that Luke is showing us is that Jesus brings something that is newer, brighter and better than even the best expertise in the world. With Jesus a new age has dawned.
Well, with that introduction let's look at the story we heard read to us in a little more detail. The fishy business that we are looking at this morning began with the enormous popularity of Jesus' teaching:
[read out 5:1-3]
It's worth noticing the progression of Peter getting into deep waters with Jesus, so-to-speak. At the start Jesus merely asks Simon Peter to lend him some of his plant and equipment. He borrows a boat and asks Simon Peter to take him just a little off shore so that he can teach the crowds without being jostled into the water.
Then, [read out verse 4]
Had Simon Peter been listening to the teaching? Had he just got a bit bored and tuned out, thinking, I've done my bit for Jesus lending him my boat ? As far as we are told, the sermon from Jesus didn't convict him of sin, and so Jesus, focussing on him, said, take out the boat and let down the nets, we're going fishing. Well now he's definitely got Simon Peter's attention. Sermons may not have been much in Peter's line (so-to-speak) but fishing certainly was. For Peter was an authority on fishing. And from his expert knowledge and recent experience he knew it was no good letting down the nets for a catch. There were no fish about. They'd already worked hard all night and hadn't caught anything.
But then Peter made an extraordinary decision.
Nevertheless, because you say so, I will let down the nets. (repeat)
Before this Peter's motive for letting down the nets had always been the hope of catching fish and making a profit. But this day, with no hope of fish or profit, he let down his nets simply because Jesus told him to. He let down his nets just in obedience to Jesus, in order to please him. And the result was an enormous catch of fish, bigger than his boat could cope with.
Have you been in any situation recently where you felt like it was futile and useless to be obedient to Christ? That's what it must have felt like to Peter. This isn't possibly going to make any difference!
Wasn't the youth group service last week great - they went honestly straight for the truth about our motivations, whether we really want to please God or not.
I used to work in a legal firm in the city. And at this firm we had a system of time billing. Clients were charged according to the amount of time that the lawyers spent on their case. And so you had to record the time you spent on various matters down to units of 1/10 of an hour. Now of course people perceived that their chances of promotion depended heavily on how much time they billed, so what happened? … They cheated of course. It was common practice to expand out the time billed to larger clients. Half an hour's work plus a cup of coffee and a chat about the football on the weekend, easily became one or one and a half hour's time billed.
It felt futile in that environment to be honest. Why bother? Because it won't make any difference. In fact the dishonest may well be promoted ahead of you.
But following Jesus is all about trusting him even though its not what everyone else is doing or you don't get an immediate reward for doing it. Peter takes Jesus at his word, and says I'll let down the nets just because you say so - I think we're meant to reflect on that. We need to keep on taking Jesus at his word even if we don't get a huge reward immediately. Because in the story, the catch of fish is not really a reward for Peter, but rather a sign, or a picture of what is coming as we keep on trusting Jesus and being obedient to what he says to do. The catch of fish represents all the people Jesus will draw to himself through us. That catch of fish at the beginning was to prepare Peter to remember the purpose Jesus had for him.
And the catch of fish in the story calls attention to Jesus. All those fish they caught said: here is the Lord of fish and fishermen. Here is the Lord of nature. Here is the Lord of everyone and their daily work!
Although Peter had only just met Jesus that morning, he knew one thing clearly now. He had met with God's power in the person of Jesus, and only a few minutes ago he had been presuming out of his own expertise to tell him what to do! Well, Peter was an honest man, and he made the only honest response possible:
When Simon Peter saw the catch of fish, he fell at Jesus' knees and said: “go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”.
Peter had come into the presence of God and he made the only possible honest response: go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.
Is this your initial response to Jesus?
Have you seen what your life really looks like in the presence of the Lord of all creation? Simon Peter recognized that it is hopeless to pretend that we are better than we really are in front of Jesus.
How honest are you before God?
We all suffer from the temptation to dishonesty about our lives.
I read the story of a man called John Dean:
John Dean was an advisor to President Nixon and a central figure in the Watergate scandal. Dean's testimony before the senate committee set up to investigate what had happened was lengthy, articulate and remarkably detailed. Dean amazed committee members with his ability to remember who said what to whom months after it had actually happened.
The trouble was that when the actual Watergate tapes were pried loose from Richard Nixon and played for the committee, Dean's testimony turned out to be mostly “wishful memories”. Dean had remembered a lot of stuff that hadn't actually happened. Not surprisingly, most of his mistakes had the effect of placing him in a much more favourable light than what was actually recorded on the tapes.
What sometimes happens is that first we deceive ourselves and then we convince ourselves that we are not deceiving ourselves - because we enjoy looking good in front of other people. Its harder to do that kind of thing however if we're more honest with each other regularly about the temptations that we face.
Peter made the only honest response when he came face to face with Jesus' power and authority. He said: Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man.
And this should be our response as well.
And what did Jesus do? Jesus didn't go away from Peter and he won't go away from us if that is our response to him. And neither did Jesus criticize Peter, and nor will he criticise us. Jesus actual response is surprising:
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Don't be afraid, from now on you will catch people” (repeat)
Think about the progression in this story for Peter.
First he lent Jesus his boat; then he stepped out in obedience to let down his nets for no good reason and the result was that he was overwhelmed by who Jesus really is; then he makes the only possible honest response to coming close to God; but instead of being sent away Jesus now commissions him to work for his cause with everything he has for the rest of his life.
It's a pretty surprising response isn't it? Jesus says in effect:
In spite of all that I've seen about your life, I can use you and I can make something of you to catch people for my cause.
Do you believe that's true for you? You might not feel like you will be great use to Jesus - Peter didn't feel supremely confident did he? But the real question is not how we feel, but whether we'll trust what Jesus is saying - that he wants to use us - and act on it.
The story moves straight from Peter's confession to Jesus commissioning of him. When Peter is honest about his life Jesus immediately commissions him for a great new enterprise that is beginning. Jesus takes up all the authority that is rightfully his and says: From now on you will catch people.
He's saying the same to us this morning! Don't be afraid, from now on you'll be involved in catching people! With Peter we are being commissioned by Jesus to join the great fishing-for-people enterprise that he created.
So I want to ask you this morning: will you join in? There's no great waiting and qualifying period is there? You don't get out because you've got a pre-existing ailment. If you're honest before him, Jesus wants to use you straight away as part of his great fishing and catching enterprise.
Will we take Jesus' commissioning seriously?
How will you be involved in fishing for people?
Can you think of one or two ways you can get involved in fishing for people together with others here?
I want to finish with some tips for people fishing. These are tips from normal people from congregations I've served in . They are not outstandingly gifted superheroes. They are just members of a local church who know that they have been commissioned by Jesus. They know Jesus' authority and their own sinfulness, but they also know that Jesus wants to use them.
One person said to me that he tries to live this out by inviting people to his home to have a meal. Nothing too fancy, but just something where they enjoy your hospitality. Because Jesus did a lot of his work over a meal. Myself, I've been thinking recently that God wants me to start a Friday night dinner for International students. I wonder if anyone here would like to come and help me with this kind of basic hospitality?
Someone else told me that they offered to pray for their friends who were sick or in trouble. But they asked first, do you mind if I pray for you?
Someone else said that they tried to find a book which would help their friends think about Jesus. So they bought a book like Phillip Yancey's What's so amazing about grace? And gave it to people for their birthday. The trick, they said, was to find something easy to read which showed where Christians have failed in the past, but which points to Jesus and god's grace.
Someone else wrote a letter to a friend telling them about how much they had enjoyed coming to the Alpha program and the kind of questions that it discussed, and asked their friend whether they would like to come with them next time.
All these kind of things are within our reach, they're achievable for all of us if we know we've been commissioned by Jesus and we want to make ourselves available to be used by him. As Jesus said to Simon Peter so he says to us, Don't be afraid, from now on I will make you into fishers of people.
Lord, as we listen to this story about Jesus and Simon Peter, make us available to be used by you. Help us to think about how we can join into Jesus' commission of us to be fishers of people, and give us confidence that you will use us in this way, we pray. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Questions for Discussion
1. What do the four incidents that Luke reports in chapter 5 tell you about Jesus?
2. The account begins with Jesus teaching the People but then to Jesus teaching Peter individually. What is the lesson that Jesus wants Peter to Learn?
3. What is Peter's response to Jesus' lesson?
4. What does Peter's repentance have to do with the great catch of fish?
5. When have you been amazed at the greatness of Jesus or what he can do? What was your response to Jesus?
6. When Peter says “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” what was Jesus response? What more does this tell us about Jesus? How does this affect your own response to Jesus?
7. Jesus calls Peter to a particular ministry of catching people. We may not be called to the same task as Peter, but all Christians are called to attract people to Jesus by their words and actions. How do Peter's own instructions in 1 Peter 3:10-16 apply to you in your daily life? How might you be part of the Church's task of bringing people to Jesus?