Would you turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 5:1-11. And there we will discover a passage of scripture which I trust will speak to us today about how we are feeling about our work. We know that work is a major stressor for many people and so listen about a day at work for a man named Simon. Luke 5:1-11:
“One day as Jesus was standing by the lake of Gennesaret with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats left there by the fisherman and they were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down the nets for a catch’. Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything, but because you say so, I will let down the nets’. When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break so they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man’. For he and all of his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will catch men.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore and left everything and followed him.”
Let us pray. Our Lord, we ask that you would open our minds and hearts to understand this text so that in understanding, our lives might be more conformed to your life. We pray is in Jesus’s name. Amen. The Spirit is here today. I mean the Spirit is always with us but the Spirit is here today. I can feel it, I can sense it, and I hope you can, too; or at least by the time you leave you’ll sense it.
Have you ever uttered the following three words, I guess it’s four if you count the contraction with the appropriate punctuation, “What’s the use?” What’s the use? I tried, I work very hard, what’s the use? Have you ever felt disgusted, discouraged, and depressed, all in the same moment? Sure, we all have. Your best efforts didn’t make it. Your boss didn’t appreciate all the work that you did. Not only didn’t they appreciate it, they told you you could find another job.
I’ve heard terrible stories like that. I’m sure you have, too. That’s Simon story today. In a way, it can be ours almost any day of the week. Students go to class, go day in, day out, work hard, maybe pass, maybe fail, get disgusted. I remember a time in my college career where I had so much trouble with one particular course that I actually threw a chair against the wall. I was so frustrated in my impetuous youth. Even though I was being tutored for four hours, I just could not get it. It’s math, it’s fuzzy math, that’s just what it was for me. Adults, you try to meet deadlines, piles of work. In spite of your best efforts you’re just not appreciated. It seems like your efforts are in vain. That’s where Peter was. Our sense of despair is even at its lowest when we also add to it that we can’t see how God will possibly get us out of the mess.
That’s where Peter was. And, in fact, in this text, Jesus is actually preaching the word of God and Peter is within earshot of the word of God, and he’s not listening. The very answer to his frustration and discouragement is right there; but he can’t hear. He was washing his nets. What does that mean? It means that he was calling it a day. When a fisherman washed his nets they washed off the brine, they laid them out, they were done. They’d had it. The day was over.
I’ll give you four reasons very quickly why Simon Peter’s day was going so badly that he couldn’t hear what Jesus was trying to tell him, and he couldn’t see how God would help him. Number one, he was bone tired. He had just labored too hard, and one of the great problems of today that everybody faces who seeks to be constructive and industrious is stress. He was just bone tired, he could not hear. You know, maybe the greatest word that God could tell you today is you need to rest, you’ve been working too hard, but that was one reason he couldn’t hear. Secondly, he labored all night. He’d worked 8-10 hours straight without anything to show for it. He was discouraged. Thirdly, Jesus told him he was going to try again and that didn’t make sense because to put out into the deep water at the beginning of the day is just not the way it’s done. So when we think about what God’s trying to tell us and it doesn’t make sense from our human perspective, we kind of shut it out. And lastly is pride. I can imagine when Jesus told Peter, “We’re going to try again, Peter,” that he might have said something like, under his breath, of course, “Now just who’s the fisherman here anyway? I think He was a carpenter, wasn’t He?” One of those sort of things.
In fact, I think verse 5 of Chapter 5, is tongue-in-cheek. I think that if you kind of listen between the lines you can hear it. “Master,” (very respectful, this is before the complete call of Peter) very respectfully he says, “We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything but because You say so I’ll let down the nets.”
Have you ever worked hard at something and a family member, after you’ve been working hard at it for hours, kibitzes, looks over your shoulder, maybe you’re in the car driving, you’ve lost your way and they’re telling you, hopefully constructively, which way to turn, and there’s an attitude that you have of “Thank you very much.” You know, that’s what I think verse 5 is. “Uh Lord, okay, if You say so,” and I think that’s where he was, completely. “Thanks Lord for the suggestion but I really don’t think this is going to happen.”
But no matter how unwilling or how hesitant we are, if we really will just take a micro step because the Lord said so, we start to turn it around. It starts to become more clear to us. The road back seems more certain.
You see, the nets here, I believe, are symbolic of our own agenda. We have one agenda, God has another agenda. But when we do our work and really tune in to God’s agenda, even in the midst of our work, great things happen. When Simon listened to Jesus, his moment of confusion and despair turned into a defining moment of hope. When he listened to Jesus, his catch was so full that the nets were breaking. His agenda was falling apart, because our agenda cannot encompass what God’s agenda is. Never could, never will, and what did they do? They said, “Hey fellas, come on over here and help us with this agenda we have. Look at all this.” Sometimes we call on friends, and we should call on friends, but sometimes even friends are not enough when it’s God’s agenda. Even their boat started to sink, it was so huge of a situation. And that’s when Peter saw it. He realized that his partners, as the text said, were just fishing partners but they couldn’t be partners in one sense for God’s agenda. And so he turns to Jesus and simultaneously, probably a lot like Isaiah, wants to be in God’s presence and doesn’t want to be in God’s presence. And it says he falls at Jesus’ knees. I think the text would have said he fell at His feet but His feet were all covered with tons of fish, so he couldn’t do it. So he falls at His knees, which is a movement from “yes Master, because You said so,” ( respectfully) to “Lord”; respect moved to reference, holiness. That’s the way Isaiah was in God’s presence. A woe is me, I am a person of unclean lips, and I am done for. And that’s the way Peter felt. And Peter said, “I’m a sinful man because what I didn’t think could happen, Lord, happened. In Your power, in Your presence, in Your might, it happened. Please Lord, depart from me, get away from me, I don’t deserve, because I didn’t believe it.”
Jesus says to Simon and to us, Yep, you really blew it. You really blew it now. No, he doesn’t say that. That’s not in this text. He says, “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus will never send away a repentant person, never. No matter how unbelieving, how unfaithful, Jesus will never send away a repentant person. He says, it’s almost like the Lord says, I will not depart from you. In fact, not only will I not depart from you, I want you to be closer to me in the enterprise that I am about.
In Chapter 4, verse 43, Jesus says I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also because that is why I was sent. And later in Luke’s gospel He says, “As the Lord has sent Me, so I send you.” And so Jesus is saying to Peter, “You’re not going away Peter. In fact, I want you to be with Me. You’ve just learned a great lesson.” It’s like the executive I heard about who cost his company $6 million on a bonehead decision. He came into the CEO’s office and said, “I guess this is it.” He said, “What do you mean you guess this is it? We just spent $6 million making you a really smarter person, we’re not going to get rid of you. We invested all this money in you. Why would we get rid of you now?”
That’s the way it was with Peter and Jesus. Jesus says to Peter, “I want you closer to Me. I want you involved in something that’s much bigger than your own agenda.” There in the midst of his greatest catch he sees Jesus as the highest value. Isn’t it amazing that eventually, at the end of this text, he walks away from the greatest catch of his life, probably. I imagine it would be like shooting four rounds in the 50s with Tiger Woods, and beating him by 15 strokes, laying down your clubs and saying I’m following Jesus. Just walk away from the best day you’ve ever had because he sees Jesus as the highest value. “Don’t be afraid. From now on you’ll be catching people.”
You know when you think, as I told the kids, the fish metaphor at first doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I mean, thinking of the metaphor really is kind of a negative thing. Kind of landing people in nets and that sort of business, until we understand the theological point. To be working all night in the sea, theologically, from a theological perspective, that’s the realm of darkness, the abyss, evil. If you look in Revelation, Chapter 21, it says “a new heaven and a new earth. . . and there was no more sea.” The sea, often times, is symbolic of evil and chaos. And Jesus says, “From now on when you walk with Me, Peter, not only are you going to experience the fulfillment that you just experienced, you’re going to help other people out of the chaos and the darkness.”
I’ll never forget, and I really hesitate to share this because, and I don’t share it very often, I’ve always thought that if I share this, this will be discouraging to people’s witness because it’s so fantastic nobody would ever believe it. But I share it now because I see something different in my experience.
It was about 20 some years ago. I was trying to figure out what was I going to do with my life. It’s 1972. I just graduated college and I was thinking maybe I’ll go back to school. Maybe I’ll be a teacher. Maybe I’ll be working with juvenile delinquents. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I certainly wasn’t thinking that I’d be doing what I’m doing now. But, I was open to God and I was trying to say, “Lord, what is it that You want me to do?” At the time we were down in Virginia Beach with Campus Crusade Group that was doing what Campus Crusade Groups do at the beach, witnessing to other people. And all that day we had been doing that and it was pretty fruitless. That evening at the college, we were staying about 20 minutes away, a bunch of gung-ho people said, “Come on, let’s go back down there tonight and see who we can share the Lord with.” And I was very tired and I said, “I don’t want to do that, why don’t you guys just go.” They talked me into it. So about a dozen of us loaded into a van and, two by two, dropped us off at different blocks along the way, along the boardwalk. And we’re thinking, I’m thinking 10:00 at night, this is not very good because it’s just in the residential area. So this young lady named Kathy and I were walking along. Nobody was there, until all of a sudden out of a streetlight I see this fellow walking towards me and I thought well, this is your lucky day, I mean, he’s the only one around. He’s getting witnessed to whether he likes it or not. So I stopped him and, as we were taught to do, we were very polite and said, “You know, about 200 college kids are down here this week and we’re sharing something that’s very important to us, and I wondered if you would mind if we could share with you how God has changed our life.” And I was expecting him to do what most people do when they are confronted; and yet he said, “Yes, I would really love to hear what you have to say.” It was almost like when they try to teach people to avoid negative sales techniques: “you wouldn’t want to buy this, would you?” That’s the way I kind of went and he said, “Yes, I really would.” And so, we proceeded to share the Gospel. We took out our Four Laws and we were walking. “God has a wonderful plan for your life, and man is sinful and separated, and Christ has come to bridge man’s separation, humanity’s separation, and we must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.” And we got to the two circles that are in that booklet, if you’re familiar, one is a self-controlled life, one is a Christ-controlled life. I said, “Which one would you say represents your life?” He said, “The self-controlled life.” I said, “Which circle would you like to have represent your life?” He said, “The Christ-controlled life. I want to tell you something, and you’re not going to believe this.” He said, “A week ago, I work for the railroad, a week ago I was on top of the world. I had the best job I’ve ever had. I was making more money then I’ve ever made. I just bought a new house and I just bought a new boat. Everything was going wonderfully, and a week ago I came home and my wife had her bags packed at the door and said I’m leaving.” He said, “My parents had brought me down here to this conference, to this beach, to just try to help me get away from it. Every night this week I’ve gone out to a different bar, or disco, (that’s what they used to be called back then) and I’ve just tried to drown my troubles. Twenty minutes ago I was in my motel room and I was seriously thinking of ending it all.” (You know if you don’t believe this I wouldn’t blame you, I just wouldn’t blame you, but this is true, this happened.) “Twenty minutes ago,” he said, “something told me to turn on the TV and Billy Graham was on TV preaching, and I listened for the first time. That was 20 minutes ago and now I meet you kids out here on the boardwalk.” And I said, “Well what circle would you like to have represent your life?” He goes, “I want this one, I want to ask Jesus in my life.” And so I said, “Okay, let’s do it,” and we prayed. And our jaws are just hanging open. We went through the rest of the booklet. He’s shaking our hands with both of his and he said, “You know, I’m from Roanoke, Virginia, and I’m going back tomorrow.” And Kathy said, “You’re from Roanoke, Virginia? I’m from Roanoke, Virginia! Where do you live?” He named the street and she said, “Our church is a block away from your house.”
Now, I share this very carefully to say this, I don’t want anybody to think, “Oh boy. Now I could never have an experience like that.” That experience was not just for that man. A talking beast could have led that man to Jesus. I was, half an hour earlier, all that week, saying, “God, what is it that You want me to do?” And I walked away from that encounter thinking is there anything that would be more wonderful than spending my life telling people how they can know the Lord?
Back in Luke 4:43, when Jesus was preaching he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also because that is why I was sent.” And he said later in Luke, “As God has sent me, so I send you.” The commission, the call of the word of God today, is that we are people sent to change other people’s lives not because of our witness, but because we are getting in concert with God. These past three days, ten of us from Central Presbyterian (six are still out there and four of us are back), ten of us went and saw some humongous nets in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We went to Woodale Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and we saw some incredible nets that God is casting to help people grow in Jesus Christ. We went there because where we are, they were 20 some years ago. They were a church of 1000 people and we are not quite there yet. They were a church of 1000 people on 9/10 of an acre with 14 parking spaces and God was telling them to cast the nets wider. 300 people, we learned, did not want to move off of that space. Now, don’t worry, we are not talking about relocating here, but they decided years ago to buy 32 acres. And even though 300 people didn’t want to do it, finally most of them came on board. Now Woodale Church on average has 4000 people in attendance but they have also planted six other churches. And we have just heard this past weekend that the combined attendance of the six other churches that they planted just surpassed the attendance of the mother church. They were in a certain spot and they could have been very comfortable in that spot. They could have said, “Hey, this is pretty successful, what we are doing.” But they heard the word of God about their mission, not the place that they were at that moment. And they said, “We are going to cast the nets deeper and wider even though it means a lot of stress and it means a lot of work.” I think, I mean personally, I would hate to even say this, but I think that in a certain way (and I trust that others have too), I saw the future. I saw a little bit more of what could happen here. I am not suggesting that that future means 4000 people, but here is the way I conceptualized it. I thought there is no reason why this cannot be the vision and the plan for the next 5-10 years at Central Church. I saw the building being built back there. I saw multiple services going on simultaneously. I saw reaching 1000 people on an average Sunday and making the decision for Central to plant the church. I looked and I said, “Why can that not happen here?” That can happen here. One of the only things that would get in the way is we like it the way it is. But God isn’t calling us to just like it the way it is. God is calling us to do the mission of Jesus Christ. To do the things that we have been sent to do. And that is to call other people into fulfilling a relationship with the Lord. They left everything and they followed him. That might mean leaving, it might mean and I am not talking about tomorrow, but in the years to come it might mean leaving our current view of the work that is going on right now for an even greater work. Do you believe it’s possible? Do you believe? Say Amen. All right let’s pray.
Lord, we thank you so much for this word. We don’t know exactly how it will work out in reality, but we realize that when we walk with you, people’s lives can be changed and so we pray Lord that you would not help us to think of being fisherman who just have one little line in the water, but who cast their nets deep and wide so that people might be rescued out of the net of evil, they might be rescued out of the sea of darkness and come into a saving relationship with you and their lives would be changed forever. We ask it in Christ’s name, Amen.