Vol. 10 — No. 19 May 11, 1969
And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. and Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
Beloved in Christ, whose Word is mighty to save:
The Gospel text is an account of how Jesus, the Lord and founder of the Church, asked certain private believers to become public ministers of the Word. Under the surface of our recent messages to you we have heard the echo of Christian witness, of disciples remaining to continue the work of the departing Savior of their communicating His person to their fellow-men. The emphasis was on what kind of people they should be who might share this salvation with fellow-sinners: people of kindness toward the fallen, not captious, critical, judging, and condemning; but people as liberal with the Good News of salvation as the Savior Himself was with publicans and sinners who gathered around Him to hear Him.
For a time Jesus left these early disciples of His in their earthly occupations. They went back to their homes after hearing Him and the new message of salvation. In fact, Jesus Himself retired to the country where He grew up before He opened His first public ministry. But the time soon came when His work must be both official and public—official in Jerusalem among the chosen people of God and public so that all the world should know.
Gradually Jesus chose some men who should be with Him constantly, receive daily instruction, go before to announce His coming, and eventually to bear the Gospel into all the world. He would give the ministry form. Private Christians are to bear witness and to share the Christ with whomever they can; but Jesus would have His public work continued forever by the public ministry of certain persons who should leave their worldly occupations and devote all their time to the service of the Word.
Some years ago the present ministry was established in your midst. At that time you proclaimed to the world that your present minister is assigned the duty administering the Word and Sacraments in your name publicly. And on that day we explained to you the Scripture which says that “ye are a chosen generation…that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” I Pet. 2:9. It is your ministry, it is your work, it is your responsibility.
What could be more fitting, then, than to study the Scripture before us which tells how that Jesus summoned certain men to leave their work and become fishers of men, to “take men alive” for the Kingdom of God. What makes this still more encouraging is that Jesus reveals to these men the power by which they are to succeed, even as He said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” before He said, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations.” And so we speak today of
Jesus did not just tell the men involved that He would stand behind then with His power; He gave them a visible demonstration of His power to command. But this He did after He had spoken to the crowd of people on the shore, which was so pressing that the situation was not satisfactory. Jesus solved it by calling to the fishermen, who were already quitting their day’s work, putting away their nets. He asked the man who apparently was their leader, Simon Peter, to push the boat away from the shore a bit after He had stepped into it and had sat down. All that is reported is that “He sat down and taught the people out of the ship.”
Nothing is said about the effect of this preaching. It is not said that the publicans and sinners among them rejoiced publicly at having found salvation. It is not reported that hardened sinners were crushed and brought to their knees in repentance. It is not said that one or another who had defrauded someone was so smitten that he rushed home to restore something fourfold. No one is reported to have shouted Halleluja and Amen. Nor do we have a scene here in which Jesus challenged persons to come forward to confess Him before men lest He deny them before the Father.
The Word that is preached is a spiritual thing, and therefore the effect is invisible, in the heart. The Kingdom of God is within you. It is invisible like leaven, the yeast that unnoticed raises the dough for the bread. It is quiet like the seed that lies silent in the furrow when first it falls there. Great oaks of faith from little acorns of truth do surely grow, but there is no one to trumpet abroad that event—it just quietly comes to pass.
The power of the Word is an article of faith. But faith needs help. God sends the help. If these fishermen are to leave their fishing and become preachers of the Gospel, they are going to need some encouragement and some convincing. Jesus now gives it.
Jesus proceeds to show that the power of His Word is no less than the very power of God; so we are justified in speaking of the ministry and its might. Let us watch the demonstration.
“Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Now, God⁏s Word does talk about “the foolishness of preaching” in I Cor. 1:21, and nobody seems to object too much because it is pretty commonly accepted in the world that the preaching of the Gospel is foolishness. Most of the people in Jesus’ day, too, considered His message a mere nuisance to the Temple sacrifices and ritual. But when the carpenter from Nazareth comes down to the lake and tells an old hand at fishing to row out into the deep water and start fishing there at high noon after the men had spent a fruitless night—there must be something more than foolishness afoot. And this under the staring eyes of a big crowd on the shore, ready to laugh the whole performance to bitter scorn.
If ever there was a test of faith, this was it. And Peter did what every Christian needs to learn to do: he left it all to the responsibility of Jesus who gave the orders. His faithful heart reacted like this: I realize that what you tell me to do runs counter to all my best judgment and experience, but I have learned to see that you are God in command of everything on earth. I heard John the Baptist point you out as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world; I listened to your testimony in Jerusalem; I heard of your talk of faith to the woman at Jacob’s well; I saw you turn water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and only yesterday you saved my wife’s mother from a fever that was nigh unto death. “We have toiled all the night and have taken nothing; nevertheless at they word I will let down the net.” And the nets got so full that they began to sink the boat with their burdens after they had already begun to tear the nets with their load.
The might of Jesus’ Word, and of His ministry that goes on in little chapels like this today, is the might of intervention. It is a might that turns things upside down, in order to get them rightside up, so they face God in all His life-giving help and salvation. If you wonder how the Word of God can save your souls and those of your children, you have only to look at the Christ who turned a disappointing night of fishing into a bonanza of profit. It is the same Christ who embarrassed the water pots at Cana and made them give forth the best wine of the feast. The same Christ who told the waters of this same lake to lie down and be quiet when they were all shaken up in a storm.
And every one of you who has had some experience with the faith will know the many times that God has intervened in your life and made things turn into a blessing that you could not see but as a calamity. You may have planned some move in your life with all your heart; yet when God disposed the events otherwise (perhaps in the opposite direction), you learned to thank Him for His interference. Turns of events that you may have resisted with ail your might, you found later, in faith, to have turned out the best for you. Please, now, allow the intervening power of God in your Christian experience to stand as proof of the power of God that has been ministered to you by the public ministry of the Word of God.
You see, God touches our lives through this ministry in the very lives that each of us is living. To the fishermen, Jesus intervened in the matters of their fishing. Carpenter that He was by trade from Nazareth, He did not need to take the people on the shore and the fishermen in their boats up to the land some place and command some pile of lumber that it stand up as a house! Jesus was no wine-maker, but He had no trouble at Cana. He was no practicing Physician, either, but He mastered diseases that even the doctors at the time had given up.
Why, then, should a single soul on this wide earth not yield Him free course with us when He approaches us with that which He is primarily, The Word of God? He is the Word of God! “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. (Side by side, together there, with the Father.) All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. (He is the Creator; that’s why He is the master, as in our text.) In Him was life; and the life was the light of men…He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. (And can you think of one good reason this morning why anyone should not receive Him?) But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” John 1:1ff.
“Get out of my boat,” said Peter, “and go away!”—so completely overwhelmed by the Lordship of Jesus that he said the very opposite of what he really meant in his hear. Haven’t you sometimes been so excited that your words came out backwards? Here it was because both Peter and all that were with him were over whelmed by astonishment at their magnificent catch of fish.
“Fear not,” said Jesus, “from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” All four of them became ministers of the Gospel, quitting their business and giving up their very lives for the progress of the Word.
They must many a time thereafter have looked back to the demonstration of His power at the lake. The minister of the Word can’t see what the Word does to the hearts of people as they sit and hear. Nobody saw it that same day when Jesus taught the people out of Peter’s boat. But as someone has said, “Whenever you preach the Word, something great always happens.” And to that, God says Amen in Isaiah: “As the rain cometh down, and…watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud…so shall my word he that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please.” Is. 55:10ff.
“It sweeps mountains of ignorance away—it melts the flinty hearts like butter by contrition,—a new, immortal, spiritual life springs into existence,—the frightful, crushing loads of guilt are blown away as far as the east is from the west. If these effects could be made visible to our eyes, how they would astonish us!”
They are as real as they are invisible. Their effects are among you. Thank God in an extra prayer tonight that you have among you THE MINISTRY AND ITS MIGHT. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.