7-9-23 Trinity 5

July 9, 2023
Passage: Luke 5:1-11
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St. Peter was a good man. He and his fishing partners had just finished fishing. They were done fishing, but not done working. Yet, still, when Peter saw a crowd of people following Jesus along the lake, he stopped cleaning his nets, he stopped working, and listened to Jesus preach. Then he even lent Jesus his boat to use as a pulpit. In this way, Peter helped ensure that all the multitude following Jesus also could see and hear Jesus preach. Then we hear of Peter’s obedience to the command of Jesus, even as this obedience required him not to rely on his own previous experience. Because as far as he, a veteran fisherman, was concerned, Peter knew that it was a bad day for fishing. They had toiled all night and caught nothing. Still, he listened to Jesus and trusted His promise. Peter answered Jesus, “nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”

Peter serves as a good example for us Christians today. Really, his behavior in this passage describes the entire Christian life.

Because like Peter, we Christians stop what we’re doing. We purposefully make time every week for attending church. We don’t skip church to work or play sports or hunt or camp or do something else. No, we don’t despise preaching and His Word, but we hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. And we also purposefully make time every single day for reading our Bible and for prayer. As much as our bodies need food and exercise, much more do our souls need spiritual food and spiritual exercise. This spiritual food is God’s Word and this exercise is prayer.

Also like Peter, we give both our time and our money to ensure that our church always has what it absolutely needs: a pulpit with a preacher. Peter gave Jesus a boat for preaching; we give our pastor a pulpit. You, right now, are sitting in what is called the nave of the church. “Nave” comes from the Latin word meaning “ship” or “boat.” In fact, in many churches, if you look up, the ceiling looks like you could just as easily be looking down at the ribs of a huge boat. Because Jesus preached from a boat. And so we give the preacher a place at the very front of our modest boat, where we can all see and hear him preach Christ’s Word to us.

And then, finally, like Peter, we don’t doubt God’s command; we obey it. The command that Jesus gave to Peter had a promise attached to it. “Lower your nets, Peter, and you’ll catch fish.” Peter knew that he didn’t have the power to catch a single fish. He’d tried and failed a lot. But if Jesus commanded him to do it? Well, who was Peter to doubt that it would work this time? And so we, too—we don’t trust in our own works, in our own experiences, but we trust in God’s work. And we obey God’s commands. We obey God’s command to baptize our babies, and then He fulfills His promise and through baptism, He makes our children His own children. We obey God’s command to come to church, and then He keeps His promise to build us up here by comforting and strengthening us through His Word, Sacraments, and the fellowship of one another. And we obey God’s command to come to the Lord’s Supper, and then we receive the promised forgiveness of sins in Christ’s body and blood. We obey God’s command to pray for everything we need in body and soul, and then God actually keeps His promise to hear our prayers, yes, He answers them.

“At your Word, Lord, I will obey you,” we say, “both because you have commanded me and because I know that your Word offers me a heavenly, eternal promise.” So we obey God’s commands unquestioningly.

But this, of course, is not the end of our passage. Nor does this describe the entire life of a Christian. Peter doesn’t simply go to work, go to church, provide for his preacher, and trust in God’s Word unquestioningly. No, in addition to all of this, Peter was still struggling, Peter was still afraid. Peter’s conscience was weighed down more than the fish could possibly weigh down the boat now sinking beneath his feet. In a moment, Peter’s boat became too crowded. But not on account of the countless fish. No, it was the Son of God in his midst Who caused Peter suddenly to fear. It was too much for him to handle. Peter knew that no man could see God’s face and live. But right there in his boat, Peter was looking God in the face. In Jesus, Peter saw holiness and power. In himself, Peter saw sin and unworthiness. And he was terrified! So Peter fell at the knees of his Lord and called out in fear and desperation: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

Perhaps you know what Peter was going through. The feeling of darkness and death working its way into your conscience and tormenting your Christian heart for being so weak. It’s the weight of sin itself on your conscience. But it’s more than the knowledge that you’ve sinned. It’s the knowledge that God knows, that He sees your sin. And it’s the knowledge that He hates your sin and wants you to stop sinning. And, oh, how you want this same thing but can’t do it!

Perhaps you, like Peter, amidst shame, embarrassment, frustration, or just plain fear have thought it better that the Holy One, the One Who has purchased and won you from sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy precious blood on the cross—that it would be better that this One should depart from you rather than to remain with you and thereby destroy you.

But no. To Peter, who was on the brink of despair. To Peter, staring down both death and the harsh reality of his own sin. To Peter Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

Perhaps you haven’t been as good as Peter. Perhaps you’ve been guilty of skipping church, you’ve worshiped leisure and fun over spiritual food and exercise. Perhaps you’ve considered something, anything, more important than hearing the Word of God. Perhaps you’ve neglected your duty to support your church both with your money and through your prayers. Perhaps you’ve ignored God’s commands and doubted His promises. Perhaps you’ve doubted that this life of pain and suffering could possibly be God’s will for you. And perhaps you have been tempted to despair altogether. Perhaps you’ve let your own experience lead you to fear that God hasn’t really worked faith in you. And perhaps you’ve feared that a loving God could not and should not want anything to do with you, a miserable sinner. Yes, perhaps you’re on your knees before your Lord today.

But certainly, like Peter in the boat, despite your sin and fear, Jesus stands before you in this His Church. You recognize your sin and your guilt, and yes, it terrifies you (as it should). And so you confess your sins and you confess that you are not even worthy to bear the name ‘Christian.’ And then you fall at the knees of the One whose name you do bear. Yes, this conviction and confession of your helplessness and of your sin brings you to your God’s knees, to Christ’s knees, in terror. But your God by no means wants you to stay there. In a moment your God and Lord, your Savior, lifts you up from your knees and comforts you with such words time and time again: “Do not be afraid,” says Jesus.

You may say, “But Lord, I am afraid of my sin. It’s too great for me to bear.” To this Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. I know just how great your sin is. Who you are by nature and what you’ve done throughout your life—I have taken it all upon Myself. I have taken the sin of every sinner upon Myself. So, if you have despised the hearing of My Word, if you have been convicted of your sin of withholding your money from My Bride, the Church, if you have faltered in your prayers, if you have ignored My commands and trusted in your own experience instead of My promises, turn away from your sin, repent, and look at Me and listen to Me. Do not be afraid. Have I taken My Word away from you? No! Now hear it preached. Yes, hear the sweet Gospel: Your sins are forgiven. Your debt I have paid. Your guilt I have removed. Your death I have died. And, behold, I am risen. And so live with Me now forever. I give life to you through My bloodshed on the cross for you, which now washes you clean, dear child. Do not be afraid. Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. My grace is sufficient for you. Come unto Me.”

“Lord, but I cannot,” you may respond. “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in You or come to You. I don’t know how, Lord. I am afraid.”

And so speaks Jesus to you, dear Christian. “Yes, dear child. I know. But do not be afraid. Because I am with you. I have come to you. And I will not depart from you. My Holy Spirit dwells in you that you might dwell in Me forever. I have baptized you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Do not be afraid. Abide in My Word, which I give to you freely, where you will find forgiveness, life, and salvation. No, do not be afraid. I have sent fishers of men, your pastors, My servants, to guide you and to teach you in the Way of Truth. They are sent to comfort you with this Truth. Do not be afraid. Rather, take eat. This is My body. Take drink, this is My blood. Do not be afraid. You are Mine. No one can snatch you away. In faith, you receive Me and My salvation and My holiness. I am worthy. And My worthiness makes you worthy. Do not be afraid.”

Jesus chose Peter and the other fishermen the day of that great catch of fish. Peter was, over time, made into a fisher of men by Jesus. But Peter had to learn with Jesus as his Teacher. And so he forsook all and followed Jesus. Nothing came before Jesus. Peter followed Him for three years, learning from Him, receiving correction and admonition from Him. But in the moment of Jesus’ greatest need on earth, Peter, receiving the greatest education and training imaginable from Jesus Himself—Peter failed Him. He denied Jesus three times. Jesus was crucified. Peter wept. Peter had departed from Jesus.

But then this, the darkest moment a Christian can possibly fathom—a denial of the Christ followed by a dead Christ—this was then followed by the resurrection of Jesus. And can you imagine the fear and anticipation that Peter must have experienced at the sight of the resurrected Jesus? What was Jesus to say or do to him?

But Jesus simply says, “Peace to you.” Just another way of saying, “Do not be afraid.” Again, Peter and those with him forsook all and followed Jesus. Even after Jesus ascended and apparently had departed, these men didn’t fear. No, they waited for Jesus to come in the way He promised them He would come. They trusted His promise, even though based on their own experience, they couldn’t really grasp it.

And so we, too—we see Him come exactly how He has promised to come to us as we wrestle daily against our sins and our fears. We see Him come to us in His Word and Sacrament. He has given you fishers of men to faithfully serve you as Christ has commanded them, and He promises always to send them. So, do not be afraid, all you penitent sinners. And gladly hear the Word of Jesus today and always. It calls you to trust God’s promise that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Yes, your sins are forgiven. You have nothing to fear. You have Jesus. And He will not depart from you.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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