Luke 5:1-11 (Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 10, 2019
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 5:
1And it happened that while the crowd was pressing upon [Jesus] to hear the word of God, he was standing beside the lake Gennesaret, 2and he saw two boats sitting by the lake. Now the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing the nets. 3And getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to push out a little way from the shore. After sitting down, he continued to teach the crowd from the boat. 4When he had stopped speaking, he said to Simon, “Push out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5And Simon answered and said, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your word I will let down the nets.” 6And after they did this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7And they motioned to their partners in the other boats to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats with the result that they were sinking. 8And Simon Peter, when he saw this, fell on his knees before Jesus, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” 9For amazement seized him and all those with him at the catch of fish like they had caught. 10Likewise also James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. And Jesus said to Simon, “Stop being afraid. From now on, you will catch people.” 11And after they brought the boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
I have one of those “page-a-day” desk calendars. This year it’s “church signs.” Not quite as good as last year’s pug puppies. Some of the sayings are worthwhile. Most, however, are theologically flat and quite a few are simply lame. Next year, I’m going back to puppies! Be that as it may, on Tuesday last week, the church sign page read, “The message fails if not delivered.” In other words, the Good News message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins and salvation from sin, death, and the devil doesn’t do anyone any good if the message is not heard. St. Paul wrote by the power of the Holy Spirit in Romans 10, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17 ESV).
The Lord Jesus, then, makes disciples in order to send out those disciples to make new disciples as they preach the Gospel Word to people. Can that be right? Jesus, true God and true Man, speaks words with authority and power. His word casts out demons, heals the sick, raises the dead, and gives a miraculous catch of fish on the Sea of Galilee. How could He possible send out someone like you and me, who are sinners, with His Word?
Simon Peter realized the situation. When he saw the great catch of fish, where the whole night before there had been no catch at all, Peter fell on his knees and confessed his sin and unworthiness even to be in the presence of Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter understood that sinners and the Holy One of God do not mix. Peter used the right word to describe what Jesus should do about his sin (and ours), “Go away.” That’s what our sin and sinfulness do. It causes God to go away, to recoil from us. Our impurity drives the Lord and His goodness and holiness away from us. God’s departure from us, then, is another word to describe what hell is—the place where God is not with us.
The prophet Isaiah had a similar reaction as did Peter. In today’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah was brought into the throne room of the Triune God. And how does Isaiah react? Just like Peter, with fear! “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5). Isaiah and Peter both knew the truth of their standing before the holiness of God. As the author of Psalm 1 writes, “The wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” We read in Psalm 130, “If you, O Lord, were to keep track of sins, O Lord, who could stand before you?” (Ps. 130:3 NET) No one could stand. The sinful and unclean cannot be in the presence of the Holy God.
Along with Isaiah and Peter, we too must say in fear, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful person.” We do not want to face the wrath and punishment of God for our disobedience, for our failures to keep His commandments, and for our lack of love toward our neighbors. Yet, we too are people with unclean lips and lives and hearts. We justly stand under the condemnation of God and His wrath and punishment of death and hell.
But Jesus didn’t go away from Peter. He didn’t abandon Isaiah to hell. According to the Lord’s gracious favor, He acted to cleanse and to forgive. And then He sends! “Jesus said to Simon, ‘Stop being afraid. From now on, you will catch people.’” The reason Jesus could command Peter to stop his fear was that Jesus removed the very cause of fear—He forgave Peter’s sins. Isaiah’s sins were also forgiven—“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’” (Isa. 6:6-7 ESV).
The Holy One of God grants full forgiveness to His disciples. He cleanses them from their sins by proclaiming His word of forgiveness to them. And this complete cleansing from sin for Peter, Isaiah, and for us took place ultimately at the cross. Jesus took upon Himself the responsibility of the sins of the whole world. No, Jesus hadn’t sinned even one little bit. Yet all sin was imposed upon Jesus as He was nailed to cross. God made His Son Jesus “who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21 NASB). Jesus became unholy in our place; He became a sinful man in the eyes of the Father as our substitute. Jesus could have then rightly said, “Go away from Me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” What He said, however, was “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Jesus acknowledged that the Father had gone away from Him because He was bearing in His body the sins of the whole world. In that moment on the cross, Jesus suffered that departure of God called hell as He bled and died to purchase and win the forgiveness of our sins.
The message of the Gospel is that you and I no longer need to be afraid of God punishment because of our sins and sinfulness. Our disobedience to God’s Word, our failures to keep His commandments perfectly, and our lack of love toward our neighbors all find their forgiveness in the blood of Jesus Christ that removes our sins from us. Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No longer do we have any need to say to the Lord, “Go away from me, for I am a sinful person.” Because, as God sees us in Christ Jesus, we now have His righteousness and holiness imparted to us. All our sins and sinfulness are forgiven. We are cleansed by the Savior’s blood.
It is this cleansing of forgiveness received by grace through faith in Jesus that now empowers us to go in Jesus’ name with His Good News Word of salvation. On Easter evening, risen from death, the Savior appeared to His disciples. We read in Luke 24, “Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” (Lk. 24:45-48 ESV). Before His bodily Ascension, Jesus said to His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20 ESV).
Jesus forgave Peter (and James and John) and called them to a life of discipleship and disciple-making. “They left everything and followed Him.” The Lord forgave Isaiah and called him to a life of discipleship and disciple-making. “And [Isaiah] heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me’” (Isa. 6:8 ESV). By the power of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sin and the new life of faith given to us by Baptism and by the hearing of the Word, you and I have been called to a life of discipleship and disciple-making. It is the Gospel Word that now empowers us to “catch people” as we go about our daily callings. Like all of Jesus’ followers of every time and place, you and I are given the great task of catching people “for life” by speaking the Word of the Gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It’s a Good News message to all people that says, “Do not be afraid. You are not lost and condemned. God the Father loved you so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to pay the price for all your sins and to win your forgiveness and eternal life. There is now life and salvation for everyone who trusts in Jesus as Lord and Savior.”
So, let’s go back to my quirky desk calendar: “The message fails if not delivered.” The Triune God has chosen to accomplish His mission of letting people hear the Good News of forgiveness and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus through the mouths of His disciples. That includes you and me! The power of Jesus necessary for the huge catch of fish is the same power that is necessary and available to you through the Gospel and Sacraments for catching people by speaking to them the same Gospel of forgiveness and life through faith in Jesus. Our Gospel outreach to neighbors, co-workers, classmates, and family members is accomplished because Jesus empowers the efforts to speak His Good News. There is truly nothing to fear when Jesus is at the center of our Gospel-speaking activity at home, at work, at school, and in the world.
Tomorrow morning then, as you head off to work or school or whatever your day holds for you, make a little sign that says, “Gone Fishin’” and let that be your reminder of how the Lord Jesus might use your words to share His Good News with someone. Amen.