Have you ever seen a film where the ending transforms your whole perception of the story and casts everything that you've seen before in a whole new light? I've got to be careful not to spoiler something that folks haven't seen and want to, so let me give a classic example of the film The Sixth Sense, I figure it came out in 1999, if you wanted to see it, you could've seen it by now! In the film, the character played by Bruce Willis is a counsellor for a child who sees people who have died, but when we find out at the end that Bruce Willis is actually a dead person, everything that's gone before takes a whole new perspective. So often, the ending of the story makes the biggest difference to our reaction to it. In my experience when you're speaking to parents of babies they remember the incredible emotions they felt as their child entered the world, not the hours of pain that preceded it.
Today as we look at our passage from Luke's Gospel we're going to see an incredible story made even more incredible by its conclusion. A story where the ending casts everything that has gone before in a whole new light and a whole new meaning. And in doing so I want us to be challenged to faithful obedience to Jesus' call on us today.
Over the past week as part of their Holiday Club our young people have spent time each day investigating different stories under the heading of 'Luke the Detective'. In many ways that's a really helpful summary of Luke's task in writing his Gospel, having interviewed a host of eyewitnesses to the life of Christ he then wrote up his conclusions for the benefit of Theophilus, and us! Over the first four chapters we read the most detailed account of the nativity and Jesus' early life before what we might call Jesus' ministry starts in Luke 4, and if you look back to verse 43 we see the urgency of Jesus desire to get on with the task of preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, "I was sent for this purpose".
Which then takes us to this incredible story we find here at the start of Luke 5, let's take a quick look at the key points.
- So firstly, Jesus ministry of preaching and healing receives such an audience that he needs to take a boat out onto the Lake also known as the Sea of Galilee.
- When he's there he sees Simon Peter with his brother and others and in what seems like whatever the Hebrew version of teaching your granny to suck eggs, the once carpenter now preacher tells the fisherman to go back out and fish some more.
- But yet, in fact, this leads to an incredible, miraculous catch of fish, a catch so great in fact they need to call in their mates to help them.
On its own, this is an incredible story, isn't it? We've got crowds so desperate to be fed by the word of God that Jesus has to improvise so everyone can hear. We've got Jesus showing this incredible God-given insight into the ways of nature because he created nature! It's incredible. But in fact, it's going to take on a whole new complexion in light of the interaction between Simon Peter and Jesus at the end of today's passage.
Simon Peter is amazed by Jesus' power and is rightfully fearful of him, he says, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" to which Jesus responds, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men".
With this statement, Jesus transforms Simon Peter's life and purpose and reveals something incredible about the way by which the Kingdom of God will be spread. Rather than solely being through Jesus words and actions, it will be achieved through Jesus working through his followers.
And likewise, with this statement, Jesus transforms how we look at what has gone previously. As well as all of those incredible things we noticed before, there's even more! In fact, everything that has gone previously, this miraculous catch is intended to show what Jesus' followers are called to do, and who they are to be as they do it!
One quick point of reference before we get on with the meat of the passage. The word "catching" that's used here we've often heard as being "fishers of men" and it's obvious to see the attraction of that but there's something that's missing in that picture. Because fishing involves taking something from life to death, and that's in fact the completely opposite meaning as to what Jesus is saying here. No instead the word 'catching' that he chooses here we're better off picturing it as 'catching' someone's hand as they fall off a cliff, it's a life and death rescue mission we're talking about here! So the task that Simon has been given is, in fact, one of rescue.
And as this mission of 'catching or rescuing men' is one that has been handed down from Simon Peter, to every generation of the Church to us today it's right that we look at this passage closely to see what it can show us about how we complete the great task that we have been set. We can see this story as Jesus' 'how to guide' of being catchers of men.
Catchers of Men Are Obedient to Christ's commands
Let's dig into the passage a bit more where we begin verse 5 with Jesus teaching a great crowd from a boat by the side of a lake that we probably know more commonly as the Sea of Galilee. From the response of Simon Peter in verse 5 we can maybe take it that it's earlier on in the morning because they've been out all night fishing. You wonder what they're thinking when Christ commands them to head back out to fish some more. Evidently, they've heard something of what Christ has said because Simon Peter is moved to obey his command, verse 5 he responds, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets."
Do you feel like you have been toiling all night in service of Jesus? When we place this story of fishing into the context of trying to share the Kingdom of God through speaking of him with others my mind is immediately cast to relationships with friends where years of prayer and talking has as of yet proved fruitless. I think of Nick from the hockey club who did an Uncover course or Jonathan or Dan who time and time again are searching for the meaning that only Christ can give. This story should be of great encouragement to weary people like me, because Jesus tells us to let down our nets.
I know I'm guilty of finding excuses not to speak of Christ with others. What if they find it offensive? What if they think I'm judging them? I've tried speaking to this person before and it didn't go anywhere. It's not my gifting. Well when we look at Simon Peter here at first we see similar excuses, don't we. I've worked all night. Trust me, I know fishing, you don't. This place is definitely out of fish. I'm exhausted. Yet rather than pitching him over-board and finding someone else to work with or just choosing to do the job himself, Christ accepts and uses the obedience he's able to squeeze out.
And what happens when the nets are let down? A multitude swim in! The catch is so incredible that the nets are breaking and the boats are sinking. It seemed completely hopeless but instead is completely unexpected, and completely unprecedented, and it stems from the words of Jesus. Words that have unique power and authority because of who Christ is.
I think this picture of catching men or sharing the gospel with others or evangelism as 'letting the nets down' is a really helpful one for us to take away today. Too often I think of evangelism as a script that I have to follow or a six-point plan that has to be completed in the right order. There's a time and place for those things I'm sure but that doesn't seem to match with this picture does it? This seems to imply being ready to make the most of opportunities and giving people the chance to respond to the good news of the gospel.
For me this challenges us to make Christ such a part of our normal conversation and everyday chat so that people don't notice the difference between normal chat and Christ chat. It challenges us to give people opportunities to swim right up into that net, for example by asking people questions (in a causal way I mean here, not like some kind of interrogation way) about their lives and where they find meaning and purpose and direction. It challenges us to let down our nets day in, day out with those we encounter, if someone swims into that net then great, if they swim away, move on and be normal.
Christ commands us to let our nets down with others, to join Simon Peter in the task of catching men, of participating in the incredible job of death to life. Having started his ministry pulling people into this task at the end of his ministry he does the same, his final command to his followers is to "be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth". We're pulled into this incredible task, to play our part in the spread of the gospel, of bringing a multitude of people to come to know the life-saving, life-changing message of Christ.
Are we willing to be obedient to his command? Just like Peter, we have our excuses, the situation, the timing, our hearts are never perfect. But as we see in this story, when we obey Christ's commands incredible things can happen.
Catchers of Men Approach Christ With Humility
Look back down with me to verse 6,
"And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signalled 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'."
An incredible thing does happen. This incredible catch. An incredible achievement in some ways you might think as Simon Peter heads back to the shoreline, him and his team of fishermen hi-fiving each other walking along the edge of the lake in slow motion as the crowds clap and cheer, or not. Simon's Peter reaction instead is one of complete humility.
Simon Peter's close encounter with Christ makes him so aware of how far short he falls by Christ's standards and he wants no part of it. He pleads, "Depart from me", he's saying 'get away Lord, do you not realise how messed up I am? How underqualified I am? Lord, I'm a sinful man.'
And it's right that Simon Peter should feel that way. And it's right that we should feel that way. When confronted by the blinding, bright light of Christ's perfection our many errors and sinfulness are made plain. In reality we have no choice but to be humble. But yet, in fact, the call of Christ offers us reason for humble confidence for the task in hand of being 'catchers of men'.
Humble because we recognise our many imperfections and errors. Humble because we know that by our own means we can achieve nothing, Lord knows that we've been out there fishing all night with no return from it! Humble because we recognise how far greater Christ's words and power are far, far greater than ours.
Yet confident because despite all of this, all of these reasons to say no, Christ calls us to the task that he has appointed to. We can be confident because we're sent out not just with our own, wildly imperfect words to share but the word of Christ that has that unexpected, unprecedented power not just to call fish into a net but to call hearts to him! Confident because Christ leaves us with the Holy Spirit – when we head back to our disciples at the beginning of the books of Acts that we saw just before – he promises the Holy Spirit to give them the presence of God with us, equipping us with power and confidence to speak.
We see this pattern played out in our Old Testament reading today from the book of Isaiah. As he is called into the presence of God in a spectacular way, like Peter, Isaiah's mind is filled with his fault, he cries out, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" But just like Simon Peter, and likes us, God continues to use Isaiah for his purposes. After his mouth is touched, and his life is changed by God's presence he is ready to go about the task set out for him. Let his call of, "Here I am! Send me!" be our call too.
It's a bit like turning up for the Thursday night game of football that Bryn organises and you naturally look around for who's on your team and make a judgement of your chances in that game, one Greenshields equals bad news, two Greenshields equals you're definitely going to lose. But you look up and who's on your team and who's there, it's only the man himself – Lionel Messi, just casually doing keep ups with his yellow bib on ready to go. To play with the great man is an honour, it's incredible – you're playing with the world's best! And at the end of the game, you shake hands and maybe even have a blackcurrant and lemonade after. But then you go home, and go to your bed, and you wake up the next morning with great memories but fundamentally unchanged.
I wonder if too often that's a picture for how we think about encountering Jesus? We meet him at church, but go home unchanged… or we meet him in his word, but it doesn't make any difference to the rest of our life. Well that couldn't be any further or different to Peter's encounter with Christ here, as this encounter transforms his whole life. He's not called to go fish with Jesus as a hobby, but as a way of life, as lastly, catchers of men follow Christ with their whole hearts.
Catchers of Men Follow Christ Wholeheartedly
So we've seen today how Simon Peter's imperfect obedience and genuine humility mark him out as someone ready to be a catcher, a rescuer of men. Let's get back into the last chunk of the story to see our final point, how he is willing to follow Christ wholeheartedly.
"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."
In my mind, at this point of the story, Simon Peter's slumped in front of Jesus having poured his heart out as we saw just before. But rather than turn him away Jesus takes away Simon Peter's paralysing doubts with the words "Do not be afraid" and instead transforms his life, his mission and purpose with the words "from now on you will be catching men". And how true this proved in the life of Simon Peter, just a couple of months ago in Home Groups we saw the incredible story of Pentecost where multitudes of men rather than fish were caught, were rescued to life by the Spirit-inspired words of Simon Peter.
Earlier on in our story, we saw how Jesus words have such incredible authority that he knows more about fishing than work hardened fishermen. Well here we see how Jesus' words have such power and authority that they can transform the hearts of men. They bring their boats to land, leave all things behind and follow him. They give us this incredible picture of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, making him more valuable to us than everything else. As Paul describes it in his letter to the Philippians as "counting everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord".
And what a challenging thing this is for us to read and hear. How difficult it is to count everything else as loss when so often the things of this world are so present, so attractive. Does it mean that we have to walk away from our families, from our jobs like Simon Peter, and James, and John did? In some ways that's an impossible question to answer. However, counting all as loss does mean that if we're faced with a choice between Christ and all else we must choose Christ. And in our dealings with all else, we must do so in ways that seek to bring us closer to Christ.
To do this is not of this world, to the world it is strange and different, but also attractive. How many doors have been opened and will be opened for conversations about Jesus by members of our congregation due to their distinctive attitude to the events of life – illness, success, failure, joy, misery, handled in such a way as to put Christ first.
One closing point as we set this passage into the context of such an exciting week for the life of our church. It's really striking that in an instant in this story Simon Peter becomes both a follower of Christ and a catcher, a rescuer of others, for Christ. There's no six-part training course that he's sent on first before he's let loose on others, no sense of just learning the ropes first. No, instead he's straight in there! In fact, it doesn't matter if it's day ten thousand and one or day one of your Christian walk, you're given this task too, to join the great catch, the great rescue of others by telling them about Jesus.
How exciting that is in light of what's been going on in this building this week as young people, some for the very first time have heard stories of Christ taught. What incredible conversations could be taking place this weekend and over the coming weeks as children and their parents share what they've learnt about Jesus the great rescuer. As a congregation let's be praying for a ripple effect that spreads through our community this week as many people hear of the good news of Christ. Let's pray that many hearts are rescued for eternity as a result of what has taken place. And let's play our part in our friendships, our workplaces and communities by seeking to imitate Simon Peter's example of obedience, of humility and of wholeheartedly following Christ.