Fifth Sunday after Trinity
July 5, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church–New Haven, MO
Revised and updated from a sermon from 2013
In the name of + Jesus.
In the beginning, God shows the power of His Word. To create all things, He simply spoke. Let there be. For six days, the Almighty labored in His speech, creating from nothing and ordering what He created. Light and dark; sky and sea; land and vegetation; sun, moon, and stars. On the fifth day His Word commanded the fish into existence. The waters teamed with them, swimming this way and that.
The Word of God is a creative Word. It does what it says. As rain and snow come down from heaven and don’t go back again but water the ground and make it produce and grow and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so will My Word be that I speak. It will not return to Me empty but it will accomplish what I want and achieve what I had in mind. (Is 55:10-11 AAT).
It is a compelling and powerful word. When God commands, His creatures obey—or they suffer the consequences. Such is God’s Law. Creation understands this. The sun rises at God’s command. The stars twinkle at His command. The birds sing, the grass grows, the clouds rain all at His command. His Word not only creates but also sustains.
But God also created man, and gave him a unique gift among creation. He gave him a will. It is difficult for a robin to rebel against God, and even more difficult for an oak tree to rebel, but for man all it takes is a simple act of the will. God speaks and we ignore. God commands and we disobey. God says, “You shall not,” and we respond, “Oh, but we shall.”
But even more powerful than God’s compelling Word is His gracious Word. When we rebel, God says, “I baptize you.” When we disobey, God says, “I absolve you.” When we say, “We shall,” God says, “Take, eat; take, drink.” The Word of God is a two-edged sword, slicing the way of the Law and of grace.
The Word of God is creative and compelling, but also gracious. That’s what brought the crowds to Jesus on one occasion early in His public ministry. And it happened that the crowd was pressing in upon Him also to hear the Word of God; and He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. And He saw two boats standing still by the lake, but the fishermen had gone away from them to wash the nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, He asked him to be put out a little from the land. When He sat down, He began to teach the crowds from the boat (vv 1-3).
Though hidden under the form of a man, the crowds recognized that what Jesus spoke was the Word of God. At the very least they considered Him a prophet; perhaps some even remembered the preaching of the angels 30 years prior, or had heard from Mary and Joseph that their son was also God’s Son. Regardless, the Word of God also creates ears to hear, and those who heard His Word were pressing in on Jesus, compelled by His preaching. To avoid the crush, He steps into a boat—which just so happened to be owned by the man who would become His most vocal disciple.
From that floating pulpit, Jesus preaches His sermon. Luke doesn’t tell us what it’s about, but there’s little doubt that it’s related to what happens next.
When He finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch.” And answering, Simon said, “Master, although we labored throughout the whole night, we got nothing; upon Your words, I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great number of fish, and their nets began to burst. And they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come to take hold with them; and they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink (vv 4-7).
It should have come as no surprise that the same Word that called fish into existence would also direct them into the fishermen’s nets. But there was doubt on that boat. We’ve already labored all night, Jesus, and we’ve got nothing to show for it. But since You said, we’ll let down the nets. I can’t tell if Peter is asking an skeptical question: “You really want me to let down the nets in empty water simply because you say so?” or if he’s out to prove Jesus doesn’t know what He’s talking about, or if he’s making a bold confession of faith. Maybe a little of all three.
The Word of God is creative, and it creates faith in those who hear. Peter had just heard a sermon by Jesus, and now He heard His voice again commanding Him to lower the nets. A part of Peter—his old nature—was disbelieving, mocking Jesus for suggesting that he do something so foolish. Yet the Word of God had also worked faith in him, and with that faith a new obedience, a true desire to do precisely as Jesus commanded.
The Word of Jesus is still creating. He is creating faith in you today. Though there remains a part of you that is bound to your sin, the Word of Jesus creates faith out of nothing. How does He do it? He drives you to your knees, just as He did to Simon Peter. When Simon Peter saw, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord.” For all who were with him were also seized with amazement upon the catch of fish that they got (vv 8-9).
The creative Word of God is also compelling. When God commands, His creatures obey—or suffer the consequences. Simon Peter had obeyed the Word of Jesus externally, but he realized that he had done so for all the wrong reasons. The purposes of his heart were laid bare, and his sin was exposed before the Son of God. But that’s how the Word of God works. The compelling Word of God drives you to your knees in recognition of your own sinfulness. Such it is with God’s Law. It reveals that even your most pious obedience of His Law comes from a corrupt heart.
But when God’s Word drives you to your knees in repentance, it also draws a confession from your lips—not just a confession of your sins, but a confession that Jesus is Lord, that He is truly God and that His Words will accomplish the purpose for which Jesus sends them.
And His Word also raises you up in faith. And with faith comes a new obedience, a new man in place of the old with a heart that truly desires to do what God commands. The Word of Jesus binds your will to His own; what He desires, you desire, what He accomplishes, you accomplish.
The finale of this story is open ended. Likewise, also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were colleagues of Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear—from now you will be catching men alive.” And bringing the boats to land, they left everything and followed Him (vv 10-11).
There’s a major difference between hunting and fishing. Hunting requires you to kill your game before collecting it, to shed its blood before calling it your own. Fishing, in most cases, is the opposite. Fish are caught alive. This is true whether you’re fishing for sport or fishing for industry. In fact, it’s very important to keep your fish alive until you’re ready to clean and prepare them, otherwise they’ll begin to get that fishy smell.
In many translations, it says that the disciples will be catching men or fishing for men. But there’s a nuance that’s lost. The word for catching men is the word that’s used for catching alive. Because that’s what the preaching of the Gospel does—it catches you alive. The Lord God Almighty is not hunting you down with His Law in order to shed your blood before He claims you as His own. The blood that was shed was shed by Jesus; His death, His blood is what makes the claim on you.
No, you are caught alive in the preaching of the Gospel. The death of Christ is counted for you, and also His life. Just as the Word of Jesus drove the fish in to the disciples’ boats, so does it drive you in the holy ark of the Church. You are caught alive, but not in your own life—here in the Church you are caught up in the life of Christ.
The Word of Jesus, which also commands the fish into existence and into the nets, is powerful to create faith in you and draw you into His Kingdom
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jacob W. Ehrhard
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Procsilas.