Sunday, February 3, 2019
From the baptism to the desert to the synagogue, we’ve tried to catch up to Jesus so we could walk in His light. Seeking Him, obeying God as He obeyed God, submitting our lives to Him and living under His lordship, and caring about what he cares about: it all leads to this. “‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ ... they left everything and followed him.”
Jesus said, “do not be afraid,” because the way of God looks scary at times, and if we try to walk it apart from Jesus, it will crush us. But he was not calling Peter and James and John to walk God’s way apart from him with their own resources, their own knowledge, and their own strength. They left everything and followed him. All that we have said about walking in the light leads to this: we follow Jesus.
See Peter, his life before Jesus, and see how Jesus changed his life. As you do, see your own life and see if it becomes obvious how different things are with Jesus in it.
Peter had a boat and business. He worked with his hands, he caught and sold fish. He worked outside in the sun, battling heat, storms on the Sea of Galilee, and days like the one described in Luke 5, where there is no catch. He probably had to contend with fluctuations in prices, and with taxes from the Romans and from local government. Some traders were dishonest and ripped him off. He had overhead - the cost of nets and his boat. He had men who worked for him, who expected to be paid.
We know Peter had a family. Mark chapter 1 mentions a mother-in-law living in his house, so he had a wife. Did Peter and his wife have children? Most married couples at that time did. Did Peter’s younger brother Andrew live with them? What about Peter and Andrew’s parents? How many people were in that home, living off the profits Peter and Andrew made catching and selling fish?
It’s the life of a simple, hard working man. How did this man go from unremarkable first century working peasant to the most noted of Jesus’ 12 disciples? How do you go from the life you lead, known or unknown as you are, accomplished or not; how do you go from that life to the life of a person so swept up in Jesus that your life wouldn’t make any sense apart from him? Do not be afraid. Leave everything and follow him.
Luke 5:3 says Jesus preached at the shore and there was such a crowd leaning in to hear him, to drink in his words, a new message, one clearly from God, that he needed space. He got into Simon’s boat. That can’t be easy, preaching to a crowd while sitting in a boat as it bobs in the water, but that’s what Jesus did.
Amazingly, Peter was fine with it. I say amazingly because, Peter was just coming in from an all-night fishing session. That would be tiring, but satisfying if it meant a great haul and great profit with it. But that’s not how things went down. Peter, exhausted from fishing all night, had nothing to show for his efforts. Would all those mouths in his household go hungry because he came to shore empty? Tired, feeling his failure, he had to face the people who counted on him and sadly shake his head “no.” No money for bread today.
Now this teacher, who wasn’t out fishing all night wants to sit in his boat. Simon Peter just goes along with it. Maybe he sensed holiness in Jesus. Maybe he was too tired to object. Maybe he had a sense of propriety and figured Jesus to be of a higher station socially and thus deferred. Whether an act of faith, or self-abasement, or resignation, Peter stood by as Jesus sat in his boat. I wonder if that’s what following Jesus is sometimes, a combination of faith, humility, and resignation.
Jesus met Peter in his broken state. We see in verse 4 that the sermon is over and people mill about just we do on Sundays after the formal time of gathering has ended. Jesus had finished preaching but he was just getting started with Peter. “Put your nets out in the deep water, Jesus tells him” (5:4b).
It’s one thing for the rabbi, the son of a carpenter, to use Peter’s boat to teach. But now, the non-fisherman is telling the professional, the defeated professional, how it is done? Simon Peter answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” Hear the fatigue and exasperation in his voice? “Yet,” he continues, “if you say so, I will let down the nets.” He has no expectation that this will go any differently, but he goes through the work of getting the nets back into the boat, taking the boat out, and letting the nets down into the depths.
They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break! With this sale, they can buy five new, better nets. The family is going to eat tonight. Can you hear the whoops and the hollers of the men on Simon Peter’s crew as they forget their fatigue and celebrate their haul? I wonder if that’s what following Jesus is sometimes, unbelievable joy when you absolutely don’t expect it!
The men on both boats worked frantically. The fish were jumping in the boats. The boats were sinking. And Peter couldn’t take his eyes off Jesus. He had been a fisherman for a long time. The previous night was not the first time he came home empty. But this, he had never seen anything like it. He rushed ashore and threw himself on the ground before Jesus. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” I wonder if that’s what following Jesus is. We get just a glimpse of holiness and we are so awed it is terrifying, to see our sinfulness in Jesus’ light. So we ask Jesus, as Simon did, to go away. But, we cling to his knees while we’re asking. His glory is a terrible thing. His absence is much worse. We want nothing more than to be with him. And we are terrified of nothing more than being near him.
Then Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Fear not.” And to you and I, in our darkest hour, he says fear not. When I lay awake, 2 in the morning, 3, worrying; sometimes I am up most of the night unable to quiet my anxieties. He whispers to my soul, “Fear not.” In the hospital waiting room, the voice of the Holy Spirit, “Do not be afraid.” Driving away from dropping your son off for his freshman year, “Do not be afraid.” Life is full of things to fear, and the Bible promises that if we give ourselves fully to Jesus, at some point, we will suffer for doing that. So, to us, He says, “Fear not, I am with you.” I wonder if that’s what following Jesus is. We hear him say, “Fear not,” and we believe him.
“Do not be afraid, Simon Peter; from now on you will be catching people.” What does that mean? He took the fish he caught and sold it to people who would cut those fish up, cook them, and eat them. He wasn’t going into the slave trade business. What did Jesus mean, “from now you will be catching people?” I don’t think Peter knew. I think Peter was so awed by what he had seen and what he sensed in own spirit that he knew Jesus was from God and he had to obey him. Just as the wise men saw a star and John the Baptist heard a voice from Heaven when he baptized Jesus, when Peter saw that catch, something in him knew this was God. So when Jesus said to him, “From now on,” all he could do in that moment was follow.
I know that’s what following Jesus is. We don’t understand everything. But we see His light cast upon us and see our own sin. Yet, we don’t feel shame. We feel love. We feel Him extending grace and forgiveness. And then we start to change because He begins to make us new from the inside out.
It says they left everything and followed him. We know later in the story they are back out on the water in a boat - Peter’s boat. So Luke’s statement that they “left everything” doesn’t literally mean that they give it all away. After the resurrection, they go out in the boat again. When Luke writes that they left everything to follow Jesus, he’s talking about their center of gravity. The rhythm of fishing, cleaning nets, selling the catch, repairing the boat: this no longer rules Simon’s life. Those things diminish to the background as Jesus moves to the center.
Do you teach in high school? Or work as a dental hygienist? Or a financial planner? Or custodian? Are you a student? In 4th grade? In graduate school? Following Jesus, you may still teach or clean teeth or clean floors or study, but who you are fundamentally changes. Once we step into the light, who we are is defined by Jesus. That’s true in our jobs, in our relationships, in all the places of life. And it’s true as we go through the seasons of life.
I hope you’ll spend this year in spiritual disciplines that help you be observant so you can see God daily and be obedient so you can live into holiness because God calls us to be holy. I hope we can all submit fully to Jesus and long for the justice and liberation he proclaimed. All of it leads to this: we are God’s possessions, free to follow him throughout our lives.
What is the path ahead? Simon Peter certainly didn’t know. I don’t. Only God knows. But, we need not know everything. We only need to follow Jesus, every step of the way. Follow Jesus and be not afraid. He is with us in the dark times. He carries us into blessing. And, he fills us with unfailing, unending joy.