“Catching Men Alive” (Luke 5:1-11)

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 6, 2022

“Catching Men Alive” (Luke 5:1-11)

Last week we saw Jesus’ authoritative word in action: proclaiming good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captives, setting at liberty those who are oppressed. We saw his authority in doctrine, his authority over demons, his authority over disease and death. This week we see Jesus’ authoritative word in action again, this time persuading fishermen, catching fish, and using the witness of sinners to be “Catching Men Alive.”

Our text is the Holy Gospel for today, from Luke chapter 5. Jesus is teaching people the word of God as he’s standing by the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Gennesaret. There are so many people pressing in to hear him, that he’s having trouble being heard. So he sees some fishermen with their boats there by the shore, and he has an idea. He asks Simon Peter if he could get in his boat and teach from it, since if Peter pushes out a bit from the shore, Jesus will be heard better by the crowd. Peter agrees, and that’s what happens. Jesus gets in, Peter pushes out, and Jesus teaches from the seat of Simon Peter’s boat.

Once that’s done, now Jesus is going to teach Peter something about fishing. Huh? Come again? Jesus is going to teach Peter about fishing? That doesn’t make any sense. Jesus didn’t grow up in a fishing village. His father was a carpenter, not a fisherman. And Jesus is some sort of an itinerant rabbi. What does he know about fishing? On the other hand, Peter is a professional fisherman. He makes his living by catching fish. His boat and his nets are his livelihood. Peter and his partners know these waters better than anyone on the planet. And Jesus is going to give Peter advice on how to catch fish? Good luck with that!

But Jesus goes ahead anyway. He says to Simon Peter: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter is thinking: “Okay! Here is a guy who knows nothing about fishing, and he’s telling me how to do my job! I’m sure he means well, but. . . .” So Peter says: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” In other words: “Look, if there were any fish to catch, we would have caught them. The conditions were just not right last night. And they’re certainly not right now.”

But then there’s this matter of Jesus’ authority, of his word. Jesus speaks like he’s got a direct hotline from heaven. Which he does. Peter had heard Jesus teach, and his teaching certainly has the ring of divine authority. So, against his better judgment and years of experience as a commercial fisherman, Simon Peter goes along with what Jesus says. He answers Jesus: “But at your word I will let down the nets.”

“But at your word.” That’s always a good thing to say when you hear the word of Jesus. Even when it looks like it will be a giant waste of time to do what Jesus is telling you, do it anyway. When he tells you to forgive the brother who has wronged you, go ahead and forgive. When Jesus tells you to love your enemies and help your neighbor in need, go ahead and do it. Even if it looks like it will cost you, go ahead and do what Jesus says. “But at your word.” Jesus’ word will never steer you wrong.

So that’s the first miracle that Jesus’ authoritative word accomplishes in our story today. Jesus persuades a professional fisherman to go against everything he knows about fishing and to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch.

Which leads to the second miracle: the miraculous draught of fishes, as it’s traditionally called. The fishermen put out into the deep, and they let down their nets. The result? A huge net gain! At a time when there should not have been any fish to catch, instead, there are so many fish that the nets are breaking and the boats are beginning to sink. It’s amazing! How was Jesus able to know that that’s what was going to happen? It’s like he’s the Lord of creation or something. Well, not “or something”: He is the Lord of creation! Jesus put all those fishes in the deep blue sea, so he knows where to catch them.

Simon Peter sees all this, and he’s never seen anything like this before in all his years of fishing. Peter knows there’s something different about this man Jesus. Which makes him all the more aware of his own inadequacy. Peter knows he’s in the company of a man sent from heaven. God’s power, God’s authority, is in this man Jesus. And in his presence, Peter feels his own unworthiness. He falls at Jesus’ knees and humbly confesses: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Is there anyone here today who could not make this same confession? I know I could. I know that I am a sinful man and that therefore the holy Lord would be entirely justified to depart from me and to leave me in my sins. I have broken God’s commandments. I have not loved the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I have not loved my neighbor as much as I love myself. That is sin. And that is what alienates me from God and brings me under his just judgment. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” I can say that with Peter, and so can you.

But thank God, that is not what the Lord does. He does not depart from us. Instead, he suffers and dies for us. He goes to Calvary’s cross, and there he bears the weight of all our sins and the sin of whole world. Christ lets himself be caught and captured and crucified. All for your sake, so that you will never die under God’s judgment. Jesus took it for you. Your sins are forgiven. Christ’s holy blood cleanses you from your guilt, and his authoritative word announces your absolution.

Jesus does not depart from you. He dies for you. He rises for you, showing that what he has done gives you life in place of death, eternity instead of futility, hope in place of despair. Christ’s authoritative word has baptized you and brought you into God’s family, the church. And now together as church, our Lord has given us good and rewarding work to do as his people. It’s like he told Peter: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Peter the apostle, and we as the apostolic church–this is what we do. We catch men. Peter had been a fisher of fish. Now he’s got a new vocation. He will be a fisher of men. Now isn’t this amazing? Jesus will use an admittedly sinful man like Simon Peter–and Peter messed up a lot–Jesus will use the witness of this weak and sinful man, full of flaws, and through his gospel witness, Christ will draw many more men into the net of the church. That’s how you got here today. The Lord used the apostolic witness to bring you into the boat, along with millions of others around the world. Jesus even uses the ministrations of your poor, sinful pastor to forgive your sins, to preach the gospel to you, to give you the very body and blood of your Savior. How can I do this? Because the power does not rest in the person of the pastor. The power rests in the almighty, authoritative, life-giving, life-changing word of Christ.

And this life-giving word of Jesus is still doing its job today. Oh, it may not look like it anymore. It looks now like the world is walking away from Christ and his church. We feel like saying, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” People are not flocking into the church like they used to do. Numbers are down all across the country. And it isn’t just the coronavirus. It isn’t just a cold and snow-covered weekend. This is a downward trend that has been going on for a long time.

Headline, from December: “About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated: Self-identified Christians make up 63% of U.S. population in 2021, down from 75% a decade ago.” “The secularizing shifts evident in American society so far in the 21st century show no signs of slowing,” the article states. “Currently, about three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) are religious ‘nones’–people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or ‘nothing in particular’ when asked about their religious identity.”

My fellow Christians, these “nones” are your friends and neighbors, they are your co-workers, they may even be your family members. But they are drifting in darkness, lost in their sin, and heading for hell. They don’t know they need Jesus. But they do. Oh, more than anything else, they need Jesus!

Friends, these are the fish that our gospel nets will catch! We have Jesus’ word on it! We have Jesus’ word with which to do the job! Christ will use even our weak and shaky words to deliver his authoritative word to people who need it. What Jesus told Simon Peter he says to his church today: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Oh, and one more thing about this “catching men” business. The Greek word here is a very interesting and unusual word. It literally means to be “catching men alive.” And that’s fitting, isn’t it? For when Jesus catches us in his gospel nets, it’s not to kill us and condemn us to death. No, Christ catches us and lifts us to life, new life, everlasting life. For Jesus and his church are in the fishing business, and we are catching men alive!

Published in: on February 5, 2022 at 10:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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