Sunday 18 February 2018

Jesus and the Great Quantity of Fish - 18 February 2018

“Getting the Show on the Road”
Luke 4:42 – 5:11 (SBC Sligo, IE)
18 February 2018

            My father had a lot of colorful and interesting expressions that he used often. He came from Stillwater, Oklahoma where he grew up out in the country on his granddad’s ranch located adjacent to the Indian Territory. Growing up with him, some of his expressions even rubbed off on me. I remember that he was always impatient to get the family moving, whether off to church or to any other location. He would go out and start the engine and be anxious for us to be on our way. Once we were finally all in the car he would say things like, “We’re off, like a dirty shirt.” Or, “Here we go, like a herd of turtles.” But the one I remember best was, “Hurry up people! Let’s get this show on the road!” It is an old show-business phrase and it means, “Let’s get things moving and quit wasting time!”

            I think this expression fits our text for today. Jesus came to earth to accomplish a mission. He lived out His first thirty years in obscurity in the village of Nazareth, working as a carpenter, biding His time and waiting for the prompting of His Father for the exact moment to step out onto the world stage. I can imagine that sometimes He must have chaffed under the waiting. He knew who He was, and He knew what He had come to do. But 30-years is a long time to wait! Of course, He was God in human flesh, but His human side must have sometimes wanted to say, “Father, isn’t it about time we got this show on the road?” 
            Then finally the day came! He was directed by the Holy Spirit to travel 100- miles south to the area where John was preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River. It was there that He was publicly declared by John to be “the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world.” Also, on that occasion the Holy Spirit came upon Him to empower Him for the task ahead, and the Father, in an audible voice for everyone to hear announced, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
            Then came the 40-days of testing in the Judean Wilderness where Satan gave it his best shot to try and get Jesus to abandon His mission and take matters into His own hands. But He passed every test, every temptation, relying on His relationship with the Father, on the power of the Spirit, and on the Word of God. Now He was ready to start putting His team together. In our text for today, we will see Him personally calling His first four disciples, who would later come to be called “Apostles.” Turn with me to Luke 4:42.  

Verses 42-44: Spiritual Selfishness vs The Greater Mission
            To refresh our memories of last week’s study I want to start by reading verses 40-41: 40 While the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to [Jesus]; and laying His hands on each one of them, He was healing them. 41 Demons also were coming out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ.” 
So, the night before Jesus had worked at preaching the Good News, healing people, and casting out demons. Although He was the Son of God, we must remember that He was also the Son of Man, and as such was fully human with all our frailties. He grew tired, and hungry and thirsty, just like us. Moreover, I believe that His healing ministry drained Him of spiritual energy that needed to be replaced. Thus, we read in verse 42: “When day came, Jesus left and went to a secluded place; and the crowds were searching for Him and came to Him and tried to keep Him from going away from them.” 
Why did He need to go to a “secluded place”? The answer is obvious: He needed to spend time with the Father, to recharge His spiritual “batteries” and regain His spiritual strength. There is certainly a lesson here for us. We too, on a regular basis, need to come away so that we do not come apart! If Jesus needed solitude and time alone with God, how much more do we need it every day?
But, sadly, the crowd would not leave Him alone. Why? Jesus had been preaching and performing miracles all over the region and His fame had spread. Many people had witnessed these miracles and then they had told their friends and family members. Here was this amazing miracle worker and they wanted to work Him to death, telling them wonderful stories, healing their sick, providing them with food, and casting demons out of friends and family members. They wanted Him all for themselves! I have called this attitude, “Spiritual Selfishness.” They wanted Him to stay with them exclusively, to never go away. I suppose from a human standpoint we can understand their attitude. They had a good thing going here and did not want it to end, not understanding Jesus’ greater mission.
But in verse 43 Jesus explained the situation to them: “He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” Jesus did not come to earth merely to be a healer or a provider of basic human physical needs. He came to be the Saviour and to bring us the message of salvation. So, rather than yielding to their request, verse 44 says: “So He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” He kept on the path for which He had come. He did not let their pleas for Him to stay on with them derail Him from His greater purpose. There is an important lesson for us here as well. Our purpose on earth is not to be a teacher, or a car salesman, or a bookkeeper, or a carpenter, or an insurance representative. As children and servants of the Most High God, our purpose is to be light and salt in this cold, dark, rotten world and to bring glory to God by introducing others to Him. Unfortunately, many of us Christians get sidetracked into thinking that our Christian faith is just one aspect of our life, something that we sometimes put on like a suit of clothes, when, who we are really should define our whole life, in every aspect.

Verse 1: The Sea of Gennesaret
            Look with me now at verses 1-2 of chapter 5: “Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the Word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets.” The Lake of Gennesaret is also called Kinnereth, and Lake Tiberias. However, we are more familiar with this lake by its more common name, “the Sea of Galilee.” Truthfully, it is not a “sea” but rather, a large inland lake. Located in the northern part of the land of Israel it sits a little over 207 meters below sea level. It is roughly oval shaped, 21 kilometers long from north to south, and about 13 kilometers wide. It is the lowest fresh-water lake on earth, fed by the Jordan river that comes in from the northeast. It is 43 meters deep at the deepest spot and is teeming with approximately 20 different kinds of fish.
            These events occurred near Capernaum, a small fishing village on the north end of the lake. Not long before, Jesus had moved to Capernaum from Nazareth where He had grown up. Capernaum was also the home of two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

Verse 2: Fishing and fishermen
            So here were these fishermen, sitting on the shore, cleaning and repairing their nets. Do you know the difference between an “angler” and a “fisherman”? I am an angler. I go out with one fishing rod and usually only have one hook in the water. I fish mostly in the daytime and I do it for fun. I catch fish one-by-one by tricking them into going after my bait. I tease them and entice them to bite my baited-hook. And if I am lucky enough to catch a fish I take it home and I eat it. But what does a “fisherman” do? He usually fishes from a boat, often at night. He uses a net instead of a pole. He does not bother with bait. Rather, he throws his large net in the water and traps the fish by their fins or by their gills then drags them into his boat as quickly as possible. It is hard work. He does not do it for fun, but rather to make his living. He is not interested in catching fish one by one, but dreams of catching them by the tens, twenties, and thirties. When he gets a load, he takes them in to shore and sells them.
Now look again at verse 2: “And [Jesus] saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets.” These boats were probably 6-8 meters long with a steerable rudder in the stern, capable of being propelled through the water either with oars or with the single mainsail. The boats would easily hold a crew of 6-10 but could be operated with less. The text does not tell us everything we would like to know but it gives us enough. The men had been out all-night fishing and now that it was light they had come in to shore to prepare their gear for the next night of work. First, they had to wash the nets to clean out all the grass and debris they had pulled up from the lake bottom. That done they would then probably have been sitting on the sand with the nets in their laps, working with large needles and cord to repair any torn parts. The nets would then be stowed in the boat to await the next night’s fishing.

Verse 3: Peter’s portable pulpit
            As Jesus stood there watching, He had an idea. 3 And [Jesus] got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.” The people had been following Jesus around, hanging on His every word. Now the press of the crowd had Him backed up against the water’s edge, so He took advantage of the situation by commandeering one of the fishing boats to use as a portable pulpit. Over the years I have preached in many kinds of places but never from a boat. I admire Jesus’ ingenuity and resourcefulness.  

Verses 4-5: Peter’s reluctant obedience
            Verse 4 says: “When [Jesus] had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5 Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.’” Simon and the other fishermen had heard every word that Jesus said as He addressed the crowd, telling them the Good News that salvation had come to Israel, and was available to any who would repent of their sins, believe in Him, and place their trust in Him as their Messiah.
When Jesus finished speaking He turned His attention to Simon and the other fishermen. Several of them were probably already in the boat and the others were within hearing distance. Simon was no novice fisherman. This was his profession and he knew it well. He and the others had toiled all night and had caught nothing. They had undoubtedly discussed their bad luck among themselves throughout the night and again as they worked at cleaning and repairing the nets. From Simon’s words and the tone of voice behind them I think we can conclude that they were perplexed and puzzled by their empty nets, because they were pros! Without a doubt their catch would vary from night to night, but to catch absolutely nothing was probably a rare occurrence.
So, what do you think was going through Simon’s thoughts? You will remember that this was not Simon’s first encounter with Jesus. Not long before, as it is recorded in 4:38-39 Jesus had come into Simon’s home in Capernaum and had healed his mother-in-law who had been very ill from a high fever. Verse 39 says, “And standing over her, [Jesus] rebuked the fever, and it left her; and she immediately got up and waited on them.” Simon had witnessed that miracle of healing. He was there! But what had he learned from the experience? Now Jesus had asked him to do something that seemed to make no sense whatsoever. He may have thought to himself, “Who is this guy? He seems to have some amazing powers. He healed my wife’s mother, that is for certain. And He speaks with authority. In fact, the people are almost mesmerized by His teaching. His words even move me! That is all well and good, but He is no fisherman, after all! Why would He ask us to go out again? We are all knackered! I just want to go home and get some sleep. But how can I say “no” to this man? There is just something about Him.” So, despite his misgivings and doubts, Simon reluctantly obeyed the Lord and ordered his men to launch out into deep water and to lower the nets.

Verses 6-9: The disciples’ shame
            I love verse 6 and following: “When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken.”
This strange Jewish Rabbi had just done something astonishing! It was almost as if He had known where those fish had been hiding. Was this just dumb luck or something much bigger? I can hear the cries of joy from the crews of the two boats. As they pulled in their bulging nets and slowly made their way to shore they were probably giving “high-fives” and slapping one another on the back, giving themselves over to pure joy at their good fortune!
But what was Simon doing at that moment? The immensity of what he had just seen hit him like a sledge-hammer! His response was immediate and totally sincere. Right there in the boat He bowed himself at Jesus’ feet and worshiped. He had just witnessed a miracle! But that thought was quickly eclipsed by a sense of fear, shame, and dread. Suddenly, in the presence of this Godly Man, he was overcome by his own sinfulness and his own inadequacy. As he fell down before Jesus Simon said, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” He did not say “I am a foolish man” or “a dense man,” but “I am a sinful man.” In the presence of Jesus, He was suddenly overcome by an awareness of his own sinful condition.

Verses 10-11: The call of the Master
            Interestingly, Simon was not the only one to feel this way. The others with him felt the very same emotions. Look at verse 10: “…and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon [i.e. they too were “seized with amazement”]. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’ 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” Both Matthew and Mark tell us that Simon’s brother, Andrew, was also present and participating in all this, and he too followed Jesus, although Luke’s account does not include his name. So, Jesus had caught four men, four potential “fishers-of-men” at one fell swoop.

            So, what is to be learned from this text?

  1. As we learned from last Sunday’s sermon, Jesus has authority over all things. He taught the Scriptures with authority, because He is the Absolute Truth. He has authority over all powers and principalities in Heaven and earth, including Satan and the demons, because He is God, and all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in Him. He has authority over sickness and disease because He is the Great Physician. He has authority to command men because He is King and Master. And in this week’s text He demonstrates that He has authority over the creation because He is the Creator of everything. It was no trouble for Him to command those fish to head into Simon’s nets. Moreover, I suspect that He was involved in the fact that the fishermen had not caught anything all night because He was orchestrating all these events. This miracle simply confirmed once again that He is Lord of all, including the little fishes in the deep blue sea.
  2. Early in the morning Jesus went to a solitary place to be alone. He was able to meet the pressing needs of people because He first spent time with God. He knew that before He met men He must first meet with the Father.
  3. Even when His privacy was invaded by the crowds there was no word of complaint or resentment from Him. He understood that prayer must never be a Christian’s retreat from reality, but rather, it must prepare him for it.
  4. Jesus refused to let the demons speak, even though they knew the truth about Him. He knew that their confirmation of who He was would not be a good reference to the Jewish people. Who needs a demon as a character witness? Be on your guard when worldly people flatter you with nice words.
  5. Simon’s reluctant obedience teaches us an important truth. Even though he had tried and failed, at Jesus command, tired as he was, he was prepared to try again. Remember, if Jesus is in it, it will succeed! It must have seemed hopeless to Simon to cast his net back into the water, but he put his faith in the word of Jesus. If we want a miracle we must take Jesus at His word when He bids us attempt the “impossible,” because with Him nothing is impossible.
  6. When Simon and the others were confronted with the power and majesty of Jesus they immediately became aware of their own sinfulness. That is what always happens when sinners will draw near to Him. In His presence, even the demons could not remain silent but were compelled to confess Him as their Superior and their Master. And when sinners really see Him for who He is they instantly become aware of their own sinful condition. As a result, they will either believe in Him and thus follow after Him, or they will try their best to get out from under His gaze and flee from His presence.
  7. When Jesus issued His call to Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him and thus become “fishers of men,” verse 11 says “they left everything and followed Him.” Matthew and Mark's accounts both add the word, "immediately" indicating that they left everything right there and then. Their obedience was complete and instantaneous. We do not know what happened to the boats, nets, and fish but apparently these things suddenly lost their importance to these four men in the light of their greater calling. There is an old hymn that says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” That is exactly what happened to these four men. Up until this point fishing had been there whole life. But now they had a new reason to live: to serve the King of kings and Lord of lords. Let me ask you: What have you left behind to follow Jesus? Are there still boats and nets and fish pulling at you, holding you back from giving Him your all? Maybe today you, too, need to leave your nets and follow Him.

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