Sermon: Luke 5:1-11
Epiphany 5 – February 10, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Some years ago I read an interview given by the founder of a large campus ministry. He was a conservative, Bible-believing preacher of the gospel. He was in his 80’s and nearing the end of his life. In this interview he told the reporter something that surprised me, actually concerned me, and that gave me some insight into what he really believed about sinfulness.
He said that at his age and having been a Christian for a long time he didn’t have much to confess to God anymore, that is, he didn’t have many sins to confess anymore. And I suppose that he probably didn’t have a lot of overt or obvious sinful actions to confess. He no longer had any sins like adultery, or murder, or theft, or bad language to confess. But we’d expect that from an older, experienced Christian who led a Christian ministry.
But I also thought his statement that he didn’t have many sins to confess anymore betrayed a serious misunderstanding in his theology about what sin is and how sinful we really are. In our text today Peter the disciple suddenly was aware of his deep sinfulness as he witnessed a miracle of Jesus and knew that he was in the presence of God’s holiness.
But Jesus told Peter, “Don’t be afraid. Those words are what we especially want to remember today. When we sincerely understand the extent of our sin and confess it to God, he is quick to comfort us –
DON’T BE AFRAID
Jesus was early in his ministry and was in the process of calling men to be his disciples. Peter as well as the brothers James and John were already acquainted with Jesus. They had been followers of John the Baptist, but when Jesus came to be baptized, John pointed his disciples to Jesus, and they began to follow him.
Jesus was standing by the Sea of Galilee, and he saw these men washing their fishing nets. As we will find out they had been fishing all night but hadn’t caught anything. They were cleaning up their equipment and would try again probably the next night.
We know that Peter was already acquainted with Jesus because Jesus without hesitation got into Peter’s boat and told him to put the boat a little out from shore. Peter did so and Jesus sat down in the boat and began to teach the people from the boat.
Sound experts will tell you that sound waves travel very readily over water. Jesus probably was aware of this scientific fact and took advantage of it. We don’t know how far Peter had put the boat off shore, maybe fifteen or twenty feet, but it enabled Jesus to preach to a larger group of people.
What a testimony to the power of God’s word and the gospel. The power of the gospel saves people not because it’s proclaimed from a fancy pulpit or the most ornate church. Prophets and apostles and preachers through the centuries have proclaimed God’s word on mountains and in valleys and in houses and marketplaces and city streets. I’ve proclaimed the gospel to the sick and shut-ins in their bedrooms at home, in hospital rooms, in emergency rooms, critical care rooms, and at camp sites. Today almost all of us have the convenience of the Bible on our phones and can read it or listen to it wherever we might be. So the power of the gospel can bring people to faith or uphold them in their faith anywhere. Jesus preached the gospel sitting in a boat while his congregation listened on shore.
But when he was done he made an unusual request of Peter. He told him to put the boat out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch. It was an unusual command because fisherman knew, and Jesus knew, and Peter knew, that fisherman rarely fished in deep water and that they fished at night or in the early morning because that’s when the fish were biting, as we might say.
Peter said to Jesus, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” For Peter this request just didn’t make any sense. I wonder too if Peter didn’t feel a little frustrated as well. They had been up during the night, they had been working, had gone without sleep, and hadn’t even caught anything. But once again we see that Peter already knew Jesus, and he knew there was something special about him. So he said to Jesus, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Well, most of you, I’m sure, know how the account goes. They caught so many fish that their nets began to break. They signaled others to come and help them. The fish filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
Do you think Jesus ever smiled or laughed? So often we think of Jesus being quite somber and serious, even angry sometimes. But he was a real human being who certainly experienced lighter moments in life. While he was most definitely teaching a very important spiritual lesson in this miraculous catch of fish, I think there’s some humor in it that Jesus probably enjoyed too.
I suspect that when Peter and the other fishermen let down their nets they were thinking, “I’m not sure why Jesus wants us to do this. We’re not going to catch anything.” But they did, so many fish that their boats began to sink. Try to visualize the situation – these seasoned fishermen, dumbfounded, stumbling around in all the fish, their boats starting to sink. I have a feeling Jesus was smiling, maybe even chuckling a little bit.
But he really did have a serious and important lesson to teach. And Peter got the lesson immediately. He knew what an astounding miracle this catch of fish was and that Jesus was not just an ordinary rabbi, an ordinary man. He came to shore, fell down before Jesus and said something amazing: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Peter was fully aware that he was in the presence of the holy, sinless Son of God. And he was painfully and fearfully aware of the obvious contrast. He was a sinner, a very sinful man. He literally wanted Jesus to go away from him. Peter didn’t deserve to be in his presence.
Remember Isaiah in our Old Testament reading today. He had almost the same experience. Isaiah suddenly found himself in a vision in the presence of the LORD God in all his holiness and glory. The seraphs, angels, were flying around God and proclaiming him to be holy, holy, holy, three times, perfectly holy. Isaiah was so terrified he thought he was going to die.
Do you feel that kind of fear of God because of your sin? I would imagine that few, if any of us, have felt the same kind of fear that Peter and Isaiah felt. But we might argue that we haven’t been in Jesus’ presence when he performed such a miracle or we haven’t seen God in all his heavenly glory. But there’s a lesson to be learned in these accounts of Peter and Isaiah about the extent and seriousness of our sin.
That’s why I was so uncomfortable with that elderly campus minister’s statement that he didn’t have much to confess to God anymore. He didn’t have a good understanding of the extent of his sin or the nature of sin. He recognized that he had actual and personal sins to confess to God, although not too many. But he failed to take into account the guilt of original or inherited sin. He didn’t recognize or believe that Adam’s original sin condemned him before God from the moment of his conception. He didn’t recognize that original sin still lived in his heart and life and made his sinful nature hostile to God and inclined only to commit even more sins against God.
One of my resolutions this year has been to read through the Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions. I’m currently reading the Apology, or the Defense, of the Augsburg Confession. I just completed reading Article II on original sin. Just that one article is ten pages long, indicating the depth and the seriousness of original sin. The Apostle Paul was right in his letter to the Ephesians when he wrote that we are “dead in our transgressions and sins” and that we are “by nature objects of [God’s] wrath.” That’s why when we confess our sins together here as a congregation we say, “I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions. I have done what is evil . . . .”
That campus minister also failed to see his sins of omission, that because of original sin and his sinful nature he failed constantly to love God and love his neighbor perfectly. He failed to be holy as the LORD God is holy. That’s also why we confess together, “I have . . . failed to do what is good.”
When we confess our sins to God here in church or in private we have a lot to confess – not that we have to tell God a long list of sins, but that in our hearts and minds we know the extent and depth and seriousness of our sin before a holy God. Isaiah did, and so did Peter.
And how relieved they must have been when God assured them of his forgiveness. In Isaiah’s case one of the seraphs touched his lips with a live coal from the altar and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Jesus said to Peter cowering before him, “Don’t be afraid.” Those were words of forgiveness.
We have so much sin that when we confess our sin to God there’s not much we can say but, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” And God says to us, “Jesus has atoned for your sins. They are forgiven. Don’t be afraid.”
Don’t ever imagine that you don’t have that much sin to confess. We are actually loaded down with sin. But the ironic and wonderful truth is that the more thoroughly and honestly we know the depth and seriousness of our sin the more wonderful and amazing God’s grace and mercy is to us. May we always know the depth of our sin and the much deeper depth of God’s endless forgiveness and love.
And that’s not all. God wants to use us forgiven sinners to help build his kingdom. God called Isaiah to be one of the most important prophets of the Old Testament who wrote astounding prophecies of Jesus. And Peter – Jesus said to him, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” “You will be a fisher of men – of people. You are going to win people for the kingdom of God.”
And he did. Peter preached the gospel of Jesus to Jews and Gentiles, perhaps as far away as Rome.
Jesus says to you and me loaded down with sin and guilt, “Don’t be afraid. And I want to use you to help build my kingdom.” Amen.