5th Sunday after Epiphany “Caught in the Net”
February 6, 2022 Luke 5:1-11
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
The 1976 film ‘Voyage of the Damned’ is the true account of 937 Jewish refugees permitted by the Nazis to leave Germany aboard the S. S. St. Louis on May 13, 1939.
These refugees needed to find asylum in another country in order to be free of the concentration camps in Germany. Unfortunately, because they were sold fake visas, these refugees were denied entry to Cuba, and the United States & Canada. Their only recourse was to return to Germany; & many died in the death-camps. It was a month at sea; a voyage /away from death, /toward hope, /being rejected, /and returning to death.
In the first chapters of Luke, we follow Jesus in the beginning of His ministry; & we are impressed with His sense of purpose = always having someplace to go & something to do.
His mission was to prevent another kind of ‘voyage of the damned.’ Leading up to our lesson today in chpt.5, Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness of Judea, and then rejected by His hometown friends in Nazareth. Then He goes to Capernaum – where He drives a demon out of a man, & heals Peter’s mother-in-law, & heals numerous other people. The people of Capernaum beg Him to stay; but Jesus politely declines, and tells them (and us) the real reason for all His activities. He says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God in other places too, for that is why I was sent.” (Lk 4:43).
That ends chpt.4. As chpt.5 begins, we find Him preaching the Word of God by the Lake of Gennesaret, which is the Sea of Galilee; & he is there -on purpose- looking for disciples. That same Word of God & good news of God’s Kingdom are also preached on the shores of Leech Lake. That same Jesus comes here -to this crowd- Sunday after Sunday, seeking disciples to believe & follow him.
It was on purpose that Jesus choose the boat belonging to Simon; but unlike the crowd, Simon Peter is not so excited for Jesus to stay around. He says, ‘go away from me, Lord,
for I am a sinful man.’ Sometimes people receive a boatload of blessings from God, and their reaction is: ‘coool! God must be pretty pleased with me.’ We think: ‘good things for good people; bad things for bad people’. But that’s not always how it works, does it?
Who is truly worthy enough to impress God with their life, & earn His blessings?
This simple fisherman, Simon, could’ve also said, ‘wow! Thanks, Lord. Please stay around; tomorrow you can give us more fish.’ But he didn’t. Simon is an godly & humble man who understands who he is in the Lord’s presence. So he says, ‘Lord, please go away; I am not worthy, & you shouldn’t defile yourself.’ But Jesus doesn’t go away because Jesus is more than just a ‘holy man’. By His very nature & purpose, Jesus is a seeker of the lost, and saver of the unworthy. So, let’s talk about this in 3 parts: /caught without Christ, /caught by Christ, /and catching others.
FIRST, Caught without Christ. It’s a little hard for us to understand that God would look for people who are not interested in His things, or who don’t want to be found. If people don’t want to be around us, we don’t chase after them. But God is different; thankfully. Jesus is out seeking lost people. They remind him of a bunch of poor sheep without a shepherd. The Lord can see their need, and desires to be that shepherd. He comes to teach them who God is, & that there is good news for those who feel like their life is like a ‘voyage of the damned.’
People feel like /nobody cares about them; /nobody wants them; /they just have a brief time to float around before death catches up to them. But the Son of God arrived -in person- to proclaim God’s own promise of hope. It’s what people need, far more than boatloads of fish.
If Jesus would’ve given those people a full net of fish each day, they would’ve eaten well, and been able to afford a new boat, and a new house, and to send the kids off to a good Jewish college, and been able to retire comfortably. And if Jesus could handle fish, He could certainly have started a political action group to focus on their social problems under the ungodly rule of the Roman Empire. Important as those things may be, Jesus first takes care of their most important need = their need for Him. And not generally a need ‘for God’, but specifically a need for ‘God’s one Savior.’
This is also our primary need, which goes all the way back to the forbidden fruit, & when our first parents hid their unholy selves from the holy God. But, Jesus came looking for them. Jesus knows that all people are caught in their sins without Him. That means that all people are on a voyage to condemnation; a voyage away from God forever.
As Jesus put His mission into action, He is not there at the big lake for fish. Eating fish can’t change the health of the soul. But The Spirit thru God’s Word does affect the soul.
So, Jesus gets into Peter’s boat, and puts out just a bit from the shore so He can preach & teach the Living Word, so that they might believe & be saved.
Simon is among the whole crowd, who are caught without Jesus. Even though Jesus has already healed many people, including Peter’s mother-in-law, Peter =along with his business partners: Andrew, James & John= were still trapped onboard the ship of sin & voyage of death.
They weren’t yet sure what to make of this new Rabbi; altho Simon respected Jesus, & was willing to follow His strange suggestion to put the nets in deep water. With respect, Simon addresses him as ‘master’. But, Jesus’ teaching & His authority made Simon uneasy; he was reminded that he was a man caught in sin, and unacceptable to a holy God. The whole crowd is in a real bind, caught without Christ. Which is why the Christ was sent out ‘fishing.’
This moves us to part TWO: Caught by Christ. What is your area of expertise? What are you good at (?) = accounting, sewing, sports, sales, or management; / are you good with numbers, music, people, computers, or machines; / maybe you’re skilled with food, gardening, or healing people physically or emotionally. You are -kind of- an expert at something; & maybe you’ve made a career of it, so you’re a ‘professional.’ Well, Simon & his partners were professional fishermen; it was how they made their living. So, what if a carpenter came up to you and told you how to do your work?
Simon & gang had been out all night & had zip to show for it. Everyone knows that you don’t meet a walleye fishing guide at the dock, who came in empty-handed, and say, ‘go try over there.’ But, Jesus is not ‘everyone.’ It was not by accident that He chose to use Peter’s boat as the pulpit to preach from. Peter & the others would’ve been paying attention to how their property was being used that day. And that day, Jesus was out seeking souls by teaching about God’s kingdom of forgiveness and hope. And God’s Son knew how to get the attention of the ones He was choosing.
Peter was a ‘pro’; he knew where the fish were supposed to be at certain times & seasons. It was the reason they fished at night; the fish were in the shallows, and working the nets in shallow water was much easier.
And if the fish have moved out into the deeper water, they would be much less active and won’t move into your net. All fishermen knew that; carpenters probably didn’t know that, but fishermen did. The news about Jesus was that He was a respected teacher, a healer, speaking of compelling spiritual things. But what does He know about fishing?
It’s a small miracle that Simon doesn’t respond: ‘Umm, with all due respect, Rabbi, it’ll be a waste of time. Just trust me; I’m pretty good at this fishing thing.’ And yet, Peter says, “Because you say so, I will let down the nets.” And there it is! The Holy Spirit had just cast the net and caught Simon Peter. Peter heard Jesus’ word, and thought that he was going fishing. But it was Jesus who was fishing, and catching souls for His Father’s kingdom.
On that day, Jesus used the Word of Good News, along with a little help of boats, nets & fish, to catch 4 of His chosen disciples: Simon & Andrew, James & John; along with who knows how many souls in the crowd that day. Peter responds to Jesus’ word with trust, or faith. And so, even tho the fishmen are blessed with two boats filled with fish, they immediately walk away, leaving everything and follow Jesus. The crowd looking on that day should’ve seen that action as another kind of miracle, besides just the large catch of fish.
The miracle of a changed heart & a new birth of faith in Christ, is a larger miracle than a bunch of fish, or a healed leper, or a walking cripple, or restored sight or hearing. Of course the Creator can command His creation to do whatever He wants. But Jesus didn’t come to fix a broken creation to treat humans better. He came to seek the lost soul and to bring new life to humans, and to bring them into His better kingdom.
That’s why He was sent, He said. Not to do miracles & fix problems, but to proclaim the good news of God’s forgiveness. That meant joining us in our ‘voyage of the damned’ and racing on ahead of us to the cross, dying in our place, and then breaking the threat of eternal death on Easter Sunday morning. That old voyage is done; we are now on the voyage of the redeemed. That’s the message that day which caught those 4 disciples: In Jesus alone they would have a rescue, a safe-haven, a strong harbor, a lasting home, and a living purpose.
Which leads us to part THREE: Catching Others. There is a legend that when Jesus ascended into heaven, He was asked by one of the angels, “How are you now going to make it known to the world that you have died for the sins of all?”
Jesus replied, “I have commanded my followers to go into all the world and proclaim the gospel.” “But,” said the angel, “What if they don’t?” Jesus said: “I have no other plan.”
That’s the plan Peter heard that day by the sea: ‘now I will make you catchers of men.’
Just like the command of Jesus to go out into the deep water & put down the nets, His word about involving us in catching people for the kingdom seems un-doable. We can think: we can’t do that, we’re not good at that, we’re not much interested in that. That day, Simon objected for another reason: ‘Lord, I’m a lost cause; go away & don’t waste your time on me, I’m a sinful man.’ Jesus responded: that’s good humility & honest repentance. But I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got a job for you. So, stop being afraid. Go where I tell you, & work the net. I’ll be bringing the fish to you.
There are times when the Lord brings to mind what He sees when He looks at us. He can see all our weaknesses & failures & sins. So, we ask with Peter and with Isaiah: ‘why would the holy God bother with me? I’m an unclean person.’ It’s the right question for all of us. And for all of us, Jesus’ answer is the same: Don’t be afraid. My cross has taken care of you; and my cross is able to take care of all those around you.
And if we believe that Jesus’ cross has forgiven us, wouldn’t it be selfish to think that His forgiveness was only for us & not for others? That would be foolish, and untrue. If the Savior came seeking people like Isaiah, & Simon, and you & me, then surely He is also seeking everyone, no matter what kind of sinner they are. That’s how good the good news is. And so the response of Isaiah & Peter was fitting with their faith. Fear is put aside, and they thought: ‘here am I. send me.’ Let’s go fishing.
And there’s plenty of fishing to do; wherever the Master has put us. His good news is to be spoken & lived out toward our children, toward our relatives & friends, neighbors, & community. Although we were not worthy to be caught up in Christ’s love, so we are in the perfect humble position to extend that same love to others. This is the Master’s A-plan & there’s no plan-B.
Jesus, thru Peter, reminds us that our seeking God wants to use us to bring others into His net of love and care. It was a blessing to be sought by Him & caught; and now it’s a privilege to go fishing with Him. Such is the voyage of the redeemed.