Peter’s Favorite Fish Story (February 10, 2019)

Sermon Text: Luke 5:1-11

Pastor Steven Pagels 

In the name of Christ Jesus, dear friends:

Let me preface this story with a disclaimer.  I am not an avid fisherman.  I don’t own my own fishing boat.  I don’t own my own fishing rod.  I can’t even remember the last time I went fishing.  But my lack of fishing equipment and fishing experience is precisely what makes this story an experience I will never forget.

It was the summer of 1989. I was staying in a cabin with my family on Clam Lake in northern Wisconsin.  After dinner one evening I went down to the dock and picked up a heavy duty musky rod.  On the end of the line was a rather large lure I later found out is called a “hog wobbler.”

I decided that it would be a fun game to see how far I could cast the lure.  With each cast the lure landed farther and farther away from the pier, and eventually I was able to get it out to the place where the lily pads gave way to open water.

I don’t remember which cast it was (it couldn’t have been any more than ten) when it happened.  As soon as the hog wobbler hit the water it was gone. All I could see were fins and violent thrashing and splashing.  My heart was in my throat as I struggled to hold on to the rod and reel in the fish.

To make a long story short, I was able to land my first and only musky.  It measured thirty-two inches long (not very big by musky standards), but I didn’t care.  I didn’t know how I did it, but I did it.  I caught a musky.  And somewhere I have a picture to back up my own personal fish story.

Somehow I don’t think Peter would be all that impressed.  He was a commercial fisherman.  He fished for a living.  He fished every day.  And I have to believe that he had all kinds of incredible fishing experiences.  He probably had more than one story about the big one that got away.  He could probably remember several days when the fish were practically jumping into the boat.

Over the years fish stories tend to get better and the fish tend to get bigger, but Peter’s most unbelievable fish story was 100 % true.   There was no embellishing.  There was no exaggerating.  And there is little doubt in my mind that this miraculous account recorded in Luke 5 was…

PETER’S FAVORITE FISH STORY

  1. Jesus amazed a group of fishermen
  2. Jesus made Peter a fisher of men

Jesus was by no means a stranger to Peter when he asked him if he could borrow his fishing boat. Andrew had introduced his brother Simon to Jesus in the first chapter of John’s gospel, and it was there and then that Jesus gave him the name “Cephas” or “Peter” (John 1:42).

In the verses that precede this text (Luke 4) we are told that Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever and that when Jesus rebuked the fever it left her immediately (4:38,39).  From his own personal experience Peter knew that Jesus was someone special.  Jesus was about to show Peter how special he was.

In order to communicate with the crowds that had followed him down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus needed to create some separation.  And the sight of a couple empty boats gave him an idea.  Jesus got into the vessel that belonged to Peter, and he asked Peter to put out from shore just far enough so that the people could see him and still close enough so that they could hear him.

The simple act of launching a boat from the shore didn’t take a great leap of faith.  Peter had done that hundreds, if not thousands of times before.  But what Jesus asked him to do next was something that Peter had never done before. Jesus said to Simon: “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (4).

Jesus was the son of a carpenter.  Perhaps he knew something about building fishing boats, but he obviously didn’t know anything about using them.  Any fisherman worth his salt knew that the deep water was the worst place to find fish and that daytime was the worst time to catch fish.  To top it off Peter and his companions had just come in after a long night of fishing, and they hadn’t caught anything.

Putting the nets in the deep water would go against years of fishing experience.  Fishing in the middle of the day would be an exercise in futility.  So why did Peter do it?  Even though it didn’t make any sense, why did he do what Jesus told him to do?  Let’s let Peter speak for himself: “Because you say so, I will let down the nets” (5). “Jesus, I don’t understand it. Jesus, I don’t necessarily agree with it.  But because you say so, I will do it.” 

Those don’t sound like the words of a recent convert.  Peter’s response was a beautiful confession of faith.  Peter’s obedience was a beautiful display of faith in action. And Peter’s unwavering trust in Jesus inspires us.  Or does it expose us?

Jesus asks us to believe that he is in control of a world that by all appearances is spinning out of control.  Jesus asks us to believe that he is making everything (including war and violence and job losses and family tragedies and bitter disappointments and broken promises) work out for our good.

And so when Jesus comes to you and says: “Trust me” (John 14:1),do you?  Do you follow in Peter’s footsteps?  Do you say: “Because you say so, Lord, I will do it,” or do you question God?  Do you blame God?  Do allow yourself to believe that at least in certain situations you know better than God?

Peter’s amazing demonstration of faith exposes just how weak and wavering our faith can be.  Even though he could think of all kinds of reasons not to do what Jesus asked him to do, Peter put his trust in Jesus’ word. And he was not disappointed.

When they let down their nets “they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink” (6,7).

There could be only one explanation for a catch of this magnitude.  It was a miracle.  These seasoned veterans were not easily impressed, but what the Lord had done that day was truly amazing.  Jesus, however, didn’t bask in his own glory.  Jesus didn’t wait around for the men to count all the fish because he had bigger fish to fry (pardon the pun).  This miraculous catch created the perfect opportunity for him to make Peter a fisher of men.

I don’t know about you, but I picture this scene as a happy one.  I see people working frantically with smiles on their faces.  I hear shouts of joy and excitement with people coming from every direction to see this record catch.  But according to Luke this miracle affected one man in a very different way.  When Peter saw the huge catch of fish, he became afraid.  And as soon as he got to shore he fell at Jesus’ feet and cried out: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (8)!

If Peter had any questions about who Jesus was, this miracle had erased them.  He was more than a man.  He was nothing less than true God.  And as he stood in the presence of perfection Peter couldn’t help but see how flawed he was.

Isaiah had a similar experience in the Old Testament lesson for today.   When he was introduced to the Lord and his angels in a vision, Isaiah didn’t say: “Hi, God.  Nice to meet you.”  He said: “Woe to me!”  He said: “I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5) because he knew that he could not come face-to-face with God Almighty and live. 

A holy God has that kind of effect on unholy people…like us.  When we realize that God is serious when he demands complete perfection, when we recognize that greed is idolatry and lust is adultery and hatred is murder, when we come to grips with the fact that there is absolutely nothing we can do to undo a single sin, then we can understand why Peter said what he said. In fact, we will get down on our knees and cry out: “Go away from me, Lord; for I am a sinful creature.”

It’s a good thing that Jesus didn’t listen to Peter the way Peter listened to Jesus. Jesus didn’t go away. Jesus wasn’t going anywhere. Instead he told Peter: “Don’t be afraid” (10).  “Peter, you don’t have to be afraid.  You don’t have to be afraid of me.  You don’t have to be afraid of anyone or anything because I’m not just a miracle worker.  I am your Savior.”

“Don’t be afraid.” Three little words that liberate the tormented soul.  “Don’t be afraid.”  One short phrase that defines every believer’s relationship with God.  Have you done something wrong, something so bad that you doubt that God could ever forgive you?  Don’t be afraid because Jesus has taken away your sin, every sin.

Are there people in your life who don’t share your faith, people who question your faith, maybe even persecute you because of your faith?  Don’t be afraid because Jesus is on your side and he will never leave your side. Jesus has carried your sins to the cross and has given you his holiness in return.  Jesus has conquered death and the devil, and because he did you have nothing to fear.

 “Don’t be afraid.”  Those words brought Peter true and lasting peace.  And the words that followed gave his life a new and noble purpose.  Jesus said to him: “From now on you will catch men” (10). 

It didn’t happen all at once, but Jesus transformed this simple fisherman into a fisher of men. Simon became Jesus’ disciple.  He became the leader of the disciples.  He was regarded as a pillar of the early Christian church.  He performed miracles in the name of the risen Christ.  He preached a Pentecost sermon that led to the baptism of 3,000 souls. And who knows how many thousands more have Peter to thank as the messenger through whom they heard and believed the good news about Jesus?

One of the earliest symbols of Christianity was the fish.  The five letters that make up the Greek word for fish are also an acronym that stands for: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.  Almost two thousand years later the fish remains a popular Christian symbol.  You have probably seen little fish on the backs of cars.  If you look really close at the green parament hanging from the lectern, you will see a fish with its tail wrapped around an anchor

I have nothing against using the fish as a Christian symbol, but Peter’s story gives me an idea for another Christian symbol, the net.  You probably won’t see magnetic nets affixed to car bumpers anytime soon.  And yet the net is the perfect symbol for the Epiphany season.

The net represents the gospel.  The net filled with fish is a visible reminder of the power of the gospel, but the net needs someone to cast it in order for its power to be unleashed. That’s where you and I come in. We’ve been caught.  We believe.  We are saved.  Now Jesus calls us to help him catch others.  And he promises that when we cast the gospel net out into the world it won’t be long before we are able to tell some pretty amazing fishing stories of our own. Amen.