The Fourth Sunday After Epiphany January 30, 2005
1 Corinthians 14:12-20
743 [TLH alt. 19], 493, 270, 422(1,4)
So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the Word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, 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 and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.
In the name of Jesus Christ, upon whom the Church is built, dear fellow redeemed:
We all know the look—the glassy eyes, the tilt of the head, a looking right through you. These are all signs that somebody is not listening to you. Yes, they may be hearing, but not listening. Truly listening to someone is going to involve not only a reception to words, but also a reaction to them.
With faith it is even more so. We tend to think of faith as a noun—a thing. The truth is that faith is like a verb. It is active. In faith when we listen to Jesus there will be obedience and action.
In our text today we find such faith in Peter and Andrew (who is mentioned in the other Gospel accounts as being present) who listened to Jesus and found themselves blessed. They listened to Him when He told them to let their nets down and they listened to Him as He called them to be fishers of men. We will find that when we listen to our Savior blessings will follow in things temporal and things spiritual.
Faith exists in varying strengths within people. We hear one man in the Bible telling Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief!” Then we witness the faith of Abraham who drew the knife ready to kill his son, Isaac, having the faith that God could raise him from the dead. We know that even a weak, small faith is a saving faith, but it is also true that a smaller faith finds smaller blessings. If we trust Jesus just a little, then we will find that we are hindering ourselves. But as faith grows and a person wholeheartedly puts His trust in Jesus, the blessings that come forth will be so great that those around him will be astounded. Our Lord urges us to trust Jesus, to listen to Him and follow Him, and have confidence that He will provide what we need.
We first consider Jesus saying to us: “Listen, I will provide for you.” The example is Simon Peter who did listen and even though letting down the nets was against all of his knowledge and instinct, Peter found that Jesus did provide even far greater than he could imagine. In the chronology of events this was not the first time that Peter had met Jesus. Jesus had previously called him as a disciple, but evidently not to do the work full-time. It was with this knowledge of Jesus that Peter allowed Jesus to use His boat, and to trust His advice to go out into the deep. But make no mistake, this was a leap of faith.
Just imagine if I came to your place of work and started giving you advice in your occupation. If you were all ready to perform a certain task and I told you to wait a week, you would look at me as if I were crazy. The advice that Jesus offered was out of the ordinary as well. Peter and his partners made their living from fishing. They had done everything by the book the night before and had come up empty. Now, Jesus was telling them to go out into the deep to let down their nets. Peter went against his instincts and concluded, “Nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” [v.5] The result of listening was a record catch. The fishermen trusted Jesus and were abundantly blessed.
In two thousand years since the great catch of fish nothing has changed with regard to God’s gracious providing, yet we rarely approach the topic of physical goods with even a flicker of this faith. We hold back our offerings in doubt that God will provide what we need. Yet God says in Malachi 3, “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and prove [test] Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’” (Malachi 3:10). We may say with confidence, “at Your word Lord I will put you first.” I would encourage you to go forward in faith and set aside for the Lord’s work first rather than giving what is left over. To set a figure such as 10% of your income or to increase your offerings by 5 or 10% for 3 months, and see what happens. I would wager not one of us would be hurting. Not that this should be done in a legalistic or Pharisaic manner, but taking God at His Word that you will not give yourself into poverty.
Another way that we can take God at His Word when it comes to the temporal is to view in faith the words of Jesus in Matthew 6: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matthew 6:25). After these words, Jesus makes the comparison that God takes care of the birds and the flowers, so how much more will He take care of those whom He has redeemed.
God has set up a system in which the care is His and the work is ours. He has given us the ability to work and provided for our needs, and He says, “I’ll take care of you in this way.” He’s done it miraculously in the past such as with Manna and the feeding of the 5000, but every day He takes care of our physical needs.
In faith we need to remember that the care is God and the work is ours, because so often we turn it around and want God to do all the work while we do the worrying. Yet, if God says that He’s handling it, in faith we may respond, “at Your word Lord.” When you believe in God you’ll always feel that you have enough for your daily needs. If you do not believe in God, you’ll never have enough.
Follow Jesus’ voice when it comes to your temporal needs—not doubting, but believing as Peter did. Like Lot’s wife our sinful flesh wants to look away from the direction that Jesus wants us to go and instead fix our gaze upon the things of this earth. Faith is required to listen and to act and to take Jesus at His word.
Now we take things up a level, and consider the spiritual. Indeed it takes more faith to trust in God when it comes to the spiritual because that is completely unseen. Here again the blessings shower forth in following Jesus’ Word, listening, and obeying.
When Peter returned to shore, he knew that he was in the presence of greatness. He was in the presence of God! Terror came upon him and he made a request that may at first seem unusual. He said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” [v.8] Really it is not unusual at all. Peter was fully aware of his sinfulness and also of God’s holiness. Our sin brings us shame and despair even when we’re around other sinners, but when we consider our sin in the light of God’s holiness we want to run and hide. We don’t want Him anywhere near us just as the Children of Israel wanted nothing to do with God as they heard the thunder and saw the smoke on Mt. Sinai.
But in such a situation we need to go against instinct. The Lord is the one whom we need. Consider Secret Service men and their reaction when a gun is fired. The natural reaction is to duck or run for cover. They are trained to maintain alertness and step in front of the bullet if necessary. So also we must be trained to go to God in times of sin, go to Him in humility and repentance. Instead of saying depart from me, we should say as we sing every Sunday: “Cast me not away from Thy presence.” In faith we take to heart the words of Micah 7:18: “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.”
It is not that God overlooks sin, but rather that He has paid for sin. He has removed sin and guilt from you in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. That is why we may turn to Him in times of despair. We can turn to Him because He forgives. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all sin. Listen to Jesus say, “Do not be afraid,” and in faith live outside of fear and have confidence in God’s grace and mercy.
Jesus also said to Peter, “From now on you will catch men.” [v.10] Peter, Andrew, James, and John “forsook all and followed Him.” [v.11] Jesus had work for these men to do. He called them to the work, they listened, and followed Jesus to serve Him.
As long as you are on this earth and drawing a breath, God has work for you to do. You are a witness of His love, and He is calling you to follow Him. Jesus doesn’t say this is going to be easy. Just the opposite, He describes His path as difficult. We are told in the book of Acts, that we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). If you are a fisher of men, you will be cursed by the very people to whom you are reaching out. If you do what is right in God’s sight you will be cursed and ridiculed by others. But in both cases you will be blessed by God. Where there is faith, and listening, and following there will be blessings. Again this is not work righteousness, but a guarantee of comfort by our God to those who follow Him.
As with temporal blessings, the care belongs to God and the work is ours. God will bring forth the harvest, but He has commissioned you to sow the seed. We need to get off our seats and proclaim that Word of God with the confidence that it is the sword of the Spirit and has the power to condemn and save. We may try to reverse things and take on the care and then we worry and don’t do the work of proclaiming God’s Word. I can’t tell you how many hours of sleep that I’ve lost worrying about an individual or a congregation in general. I’ve lamented as to how I can fix the problem. But that’s not right. The care belongs to God.
And yet work remains. God wants you to present His Word and to live His Word. He wants you to follow Him. No matter if it is things physical or things spiritual, listen in faith and do in faith. God will bless such listening. May He give us such receptive and obedient hearts. Amen.
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