In gospel of luke we have seen extraordinary occurences of jesus’ authoritative teaching, instant healings and exorcisms. luke told us right at the start of his book these events are not supernatural legends, they are not myth. Far from it they are eye witness accounts that he himself has taken pains to verify. these extraordinary acts are Jesus re-establishing the kingdom of God in a world which had been enslaved to dark powers. That kingdom, the loving, restoring rule of God is growing even now - light pushing back the darkness. Jesus is replanting his garden in the wilderness of this world.
that’s Luke’s message and he also told us he has an aim with his book. Back in the very opening words of this gospel.
the book is written to someone called Theophilus with the intention that Theophilus might become ‘certain’ about the things he is reading. Not meaning that he becomes arrogant and dogmatic about religion but that the love of God in Jesus becomes a self evident joy and pleasure that changes his life. Luke wants Theophilus to become a real disciple of Jesus.
Now Theophilus - we don’t know who he was …he may have been
- a Roman Official -hence his title ‘Most Excellent’- who was interested in Christianity and thus had commissioned Luke to write his gospel. Luke’s Patron. or
- the name could be a catch all term for anyone reading this book and coming to faith in Jesus because the name is a compound of two greek words Theos - God and Philos - Love. Theophilus means loved by God or lover of God. So most excellent theophilus is You, dear reader.
Whichever the case, Luke is shaping his presentation of Jesus’ love and power to be a certainty making, disciple making gospel. God loves you.. and he wants you to love him in return. Love him back. Theophilus.
and i think we see this going on with Luke’s inclusion of this episode in chapter 5 with Simon Peter.
See Simon Peter has been around Jesus for a while he was there in the synagaogue in Capernaum where Jesus ministered to a man oppressed by darkness, in his mother in law’s house for sabbath lunch where Jesus instantly healed his very sick mother in law, he had been there in the bedlam of the evening when hundreds brought their sick to be healed one by one Jesus laid his hands upon them and healed them. Peter has been there in the shadows, amazed like everybody else - listening to Jesus, watching Jesus just as we have been on these sundays (maybe in our splinter groups) - listening to Jesus, watching Jesus.. and now here in chapter 5 this is the moment when Jesus comes for Peter, the moment when Peter becomes a real disciple. It’s like Peter’s conversion. Peter has heard and seen and now he responds. And it is as if Luke is saying what about you Theophilus, what about you, dear reader, lover of God - has he come for you? Are you there yet? Are you ready to leave everything behind for him. A real disciple..
This passage, this book is not how to become the perfect christian (plenty of books on that! unhelpful dead end street). but is about how to be a real christian - an imperfect christian, a christian who messes up (what a great thing peter is in the gospels) but a real disciple. how do you become a real disciple in a turbulent world? Let’s follow Peter and try and see:
- hear the word of christ
people are gathering round Jesus as they aways do. almost pushing him into the water of Lake Galilee so eager are they to hear Jesus preaching what Luke calls ‘the word of god’
peter, with two others who will become close disciples of Jesus, james and john runs a local fishing business and he was there nearby working in his boat, on is nets, as ever listening in. And Jesus does the sensible thing he jumps into peter’s boat. push us out Peter.. out the boat goes. Jesus sits and his voice is carried over the water… hundreds are able to hear him preaching and teaching. And Peter - well he has a frontrow seat doesn’t he. listening to the word of God, hearing the word of God from the voice of the Lord JC.
it’s easy for us to be wowed by Jesus’ miracles.. his healings but Luke tells us again and again that it was his teaching that ‘amazed’ people, his words.. Isn’t that extraordinary? That’s what really took people’s breath away - the things Jesus said. When Jesus preached it was if God himself was preaching
Good isn’t it? because we can’t directly witness his miracles but we can listen to his word. If we would take the time and open our ears and our hearts. And if God in his grace opens our ears and our hearts and surrounds us with his word.
i remember when i first started hearing the word of God. aged 12, 13,. I had heard about Jesus i’m sure in different contexts but i began to find myself in a place where the words of Jesus were landing upon my heart with a weighty glory. God speaking to me. Calling me. That’s how God draws us into discipleship..
that’s what’s happening to Peter.. he’d heard Jesus’ words from his place in the synagogue, from his seat at the other end of his Mother-in-law’s dining room, that sabbath evening from the shadows as the sunset - on the lakeside that very day. But now the word of God is in his own fishing boat. Peter sits at Jesus’ feet. The word pursues him. The hound of heaven.
Well, do you know this, Theophilus? When the word of God seems to surround you, surprise you, pop up in all kinds of places. making inroads into our lives.
Jesus’ words have authority and life giving power. He created the world by his word!
If i am to be a real disciple i need to listen to his word. This lent.
2. i need to see the power of christ
i just said that it is the word of christ that is in a sense more amazing than his miracles. and it’s true that without Jesus’ word we won’t understand his miracles anyway.
Lots of people say don’t they.
‘if i saw a miracle with my own eyes then i would believe’
but you know that’s not the case in the gospels. most of the people who saw miracles did not believe. miracles don’t lead to true understanding and faith without the word of Jesus explaining he good news of HIS kingdom.
but at the same time - as God draws us closer to himself. it is encountering his power that begins to work in tandem with his words to convince our hearts of his truth and reality.
this is the next stage in God making us real disciple.
We do come to face to face with something of the power of the gospel.
It can be in a situation, and often in and through a person or people. A situation maybe of great trouble and suffering.. or of great kindness and blessing .. and things begin to be out together, the message about Jesus is not just words any more you see their power in the transformation of people’s lives.
sometimes it’s suffering and difficulty. for peter its a situation of blessing:
but which ever it is Jesus enters deeply into our world and he turns things upside down.
Look at how he does it with Peter. one of the strangest demonstrations of Jesus’ power.
Now you know Jesus must have been very shrewd. he must have noticed that here he was on a fishing boat but there weren’t any fish lying around or evidence of any fish anytime recently. They’d had a bad night and had caught nothing; absolutely nothing. and they were skilled fishermen. this was a properous fishing business there are little hints of that in the gospels. and they had caught nothing. and jesus says, Peter - push out a bit into the deep water let’s go and do some fishing boys..
and peter says, ‘Master we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught a thing - all night cos that’s when you fish ..at night and not in deep water during the day when the fish hide .. But ..since you say so .. I’ll let down the nets.” Peter humours Jesus. What does jesus know about fishing?
Jesus knows about theology and healing and forgiveness oh and carpentry but what does he know about fishing, or medicine, or art, or business start ups or economics. what does Jesus know about fishing?
They let the nets down… in the deep water… in the middle of the day …
And suddenly the waters begin to erupt with fish - sparkling leaping fish ..filling the nets to breaking point .. there are shouts to the other boat to come and help and jesus’ laughter and filling the boats so that they are close to sinking with the groaning weight of fish.
What does Jesus know about fishing?
What’s jesus doing here? What’s he saying to Peter? he’s saying:
I know you listen to me when i preach or when i exorcise demons and when i heal the sick because you’re a fisherman and you’re not capable of doing those things.
But if you’re going to be my disciple you’re going to follow me in the areas where you think you know better.
You know there are lots of areas of our lives where we say, i need jesus to help me here because i can’t do this. But Jesus says to Simon Peter it’s not just in the areas where you think you are a weak but in the areas where you are strong that you will have to bow to my word
There’s a wonderful thing here. You know we’ve seen that in Luke’s gospel Jesus is being presented as the saviour who undoes what adam had done and who restores humanity and the world to what it ought to be. He enters the wilderness defeats Satan and starts to replant the garden - the kingdom of God. The perfect human, a new Adam restoring humanity!
Well here’s a trivial pursuit question: what is the first thing that God made man to do? clearly stated in the bible? no peeking
: to have dominion over the fish
see what’s happening here? see what’s being communicated to Peter? to us?
jesus isn’t just the one who puts things right in the areas where we can’t put things right but he puts things right in the areas where we think we are strongest. jesus is Lord over all of our lives
there isn’t a square inch of reality over which the Lord Jesus Christ does not declare ‘mine’!
I want in says Jesus. I’m bigger than you think
Don’t forget Theophilus
Have you seen the power of Christ at work? Reached into your life?
Then you’re ready for the next thing
hearing the word of christ
seeing the power of christ
3. confessing your sin to christ
again this story perhaps is so familiar we miss the point.
what does peter do? he falls down on his knees and says to Jesus depart from me, i am a sinful man. It’s obvious what Peter does.
Oh is it?
what if i were say to you as you leave - i say ‘you’ve started a new business go to the ATM there’s £50,000 more in your bank account. than was there yesterday.” *wink
you say - he’s lost his mind! lost his marbles! but you’re persuaded to go and you look and it’s there! what are you going to do? rush back to church fall on your knees and say depart from me Fouhy, i am a sinful person. No! you’re going to say Fouhy, join the business! Fish means money! So there’s nothing practically logical about this.. But there’s something spiritually logical about it because it seems that with all this persuasion that has surrounded Peter - the word, the presence in his home, the way Jesus had healed his mother in law, everything that he has heard, this good news, this indication that in jesus humanity is being restored, the world put back together to the way things are meant to be. And now it is as if jesus is pressing in on his heart and saying Simon Peter don’t you see who i am? and it’s almost as though everything that has been going on beneath the surface just breaks through.
it’s kind of surprising:
because this must have been glorious, thrilling - they nearly lose their boats - the stuff of fishermens dreams. this glorious catch of fish. and yet here is peter in this glorious moment and he’s overcome; inwardly weeping - what’s going on here?
when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one.
coping mechanisms - people very kind. stuff going on beneath the surface as we struggle to cope
and sometimes it’s the happiest things that seem to break up the great deep and it all pours out
now that can happen spiritually as well. Its what happens to peter.
everything that he was trying to hold down and hold back as he had this sense that jesus was after him. the hound of heaven, pursuing him, graciously cornering him.
and now there is this extraordinary outpouring of jesus’ amazing provision. and he breaks apart.
isn’t that what the apostle Paul means in Ro2:4 when he says, it is the kindness of God that leads me to repentance. and his heart breaks and it just all comes out. i don’t deserve this. you’ve got me wrong. i’m a sinful man. i’m not worthy to be in your presence
we’d almost forgotten about theophilus again
do you know anything about this, theophilus?
this sense of sin. of being undeserving. when the gracious kindness of God.. expressed to you in a hundred different ways and supremely in giving you his son - to die on a cross because of you. because of your sin. because he so wants you, because he so loves you.
you’ll never come to Jesus as your saviour ..
you’ll never grow in true discipleship
without becoming conscious of your sin and your unworthiness so that you’ll come to him and say….. well Peter doesn’t know what he can say .. Peter doesn’t really know that there’s forgiveness .. he says depart from me Lord, i’m a sinner when really you can say and you should say Jesus you shouldn’t want to be with me, but you do! i’m not worthy but you don’t work like that. So don’t depart from me, come to me, put your arms around me, i need you, forgive me.
are you anywhere near there theophilus?
heard christ’s word
seen christ’s hand
confessing your sin
4. responding to his call
‘come and follow me’ as it is in other places in the gospels
or as it is here ‘don’t be afraid, peter, from now on you will be catching people’
this is the moment of decision
it’s interesting what Jesus says to Peter at this point - “don’t be afraid.” i guess i want Jesus to say to Peter, ‘Peter your sins are forgiven’ but Jesus is wiser still and he utters these words that he says again and again and again as recorded in the gospels. “Don’t be afraid.” We are so often afraid. Jesus says ‘don’t be’
There areso many reasons why Peter should be afraid here - not just an awareness of his sinfulness in the presence of the LORD - a fear that forgiveness can answer. but fear of his unworthiness to live for jesus, i’ll never be able to do it, fear of what others will think of him, what others will say- ‘the fisherman has got religion!’
terrified because he knows that this is the greatest challenge of his whole life.
I wonder if that’s why the catch of fish was so great
Peter there’s nothing to be frightened about. i can supply all your needs according to the riches of my grace
and so Peter begins, leaving his nets he goes with Jesus to catch people. That’s the mission of the church isn’t to proclaim the powerful word of God- on our lips and in our lives— the good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness and so to see people pulled out of the miry dark depths of death.
How’s your fishing?
Peter begins and he often stumbles, he often fails, he often suffers and so he doubts and denies and he needs to be picked up to begin again. J needs to pray a great deal for simon peter.
and so it is with you Theophilus.
you’re called to follow Jesus and to this great mission of catching people.
perhaps you are close to his word and aware of his kindness and ready to follow
or perhaps you’ve been suffering and his word seems distant and his kindness abstract.
whatever the case, he is close and he says ‘don’t be afraid, from now on we’re going fishing for people’
The King of Glory standeth beside the heart of sin;
His mighty voice commandeth the raging waves within;
The floods of deepest anguish roll backward at His will,
As o’er the storm ariseth His mandate, “Peace, be still.”
At times, with sudden glory, He speaks, and all is done;
Without one stroke of battle the victory is won,
While we, with joy beholding, can scarce believe it true
That e’en our kingly Jesus can make such hearts anew.