It is my joy to share with you this morning the power and glory of Jesus Christ! He is more than able to change your life, and bad decisions and circumstances are no obstacle to him. Nor he is easily put off by our sinfulness, for as we see here, he has seen and heard it all before. He knows that we can practically ruin our lives by a season of rebellion. And then rather than turning back to God, we make matters worse by trying to clean up the mess in our own strength, or what is worse, act tough and deny that we need anyone’s help. But we do need help, all of us, and more than we know. This is the reason Jesus preached throughout Israel. We cannot be saved by correcting a few rough places in our lives. The whole of our lives need to be redone, and only God’s word is powerful enough to change us. Our thinking must be changed so that we trust God. We need soft hearts that are willing to listen to him. And then we need for him to direct our lives so that we do not keep ruining ourselves by sinful decisions. The preaching and power of Jesus Christ does all these things and more. Ask God to help you hear the voice of Jesus through the weak man standing before you in this place.
As He Preached God’s Word (vv. 1-3)
As he preached near the Sea of Galilee – here called Lake Gennesaret from its older connection with the town of Chinnereth that once lay on its shores – the people pressed upon Jesus, rather rudely, of course, for they were so hungry to hear his words that they practically pushed him into the lake! In an odd way, this is the how hungry we should be for the word of God, not the words of men and their clever promises, but the true and eternal word of God revealed in Holy Scripture. But Jesus found it hard to keep teaching under these conditions – he must have been about to slide off the sand! He entered into Peter’s fishing boat, with James, John, and Andrew, as the other Evangelists tell us (Matt. 4:18-21; Mark 1:16-21). He asked Peter to launch off a little from the shore – remember that this was a lake, and not an ocean, so he could be easily heard while also having enough personal space to think. Once they were settled a few feet from shore, he sat down and taught the people from the boat. May God help us to hunger for his word as these people did! We have many distractions and responsibilities, but so did they, in their own time and way. None of these are excuses for not listening to God and hungering for Jesus to come and preach to us. If we are too busy and unable to pay attention, this is our own fault, and we shall have to come to God and ask him for a heart to listen and really learn his ways. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves, especially in this time and place, if we do not profit from the word or are too easily distracted by the world’s pleasures. Are we men or animals? If the former, let us hear our Maker’s voice!
By a Demonstration of His Power (vv. 4-7)
Jesus’ Sovereignty over Nature
The Lord always has more going on than we know. Two or three things are on our minds for a day, but he is doing 10,000 things in his people’s lives, all at once, always with the big picture in mind. With bigger views of him, we will worry less and enjoy much more peace! He came to the Sea of Galilee that day not only to preach the gospel but also to call his first disciples. Peter, James, John, and Andrew already knew who Jesus was. They were already his friends and believed upon him, but the Lord had not yet called them to any official position or brought them directly under his training. They were believers, but Jesus also wanted them to be uniquely connected to him, so that they could eventually serve him as apostles, the foundational pillars of his church (Eph. 2:20). It was time to call them, but Jesus wanted them to know a little more of who he was, especially his power and wisdom. The miracle that follows, whether it was Jesus’ will that drew the fish or his knowledge of where they were, or both, reveals his glory and power to us in a way that should settle our hearts. Whatever is happening to us, he knows all the circumstances, reasons, and pitfalls. Whatever we need, how weary we have become in pursuing it, again, he knows all and is more than able to help us. I preach no dead or disinterested Savior to you this morning but the living Lord who knew where the fish were, where to direct Peter that he might find them, and especially how to show his glory to these particular men.
Jesus Tests Their Obedience
He asked Peter to launch out into the deep, away from shore, which typically was the best place to catch fish. He knew they had been fishing all night, at least since very early morning, for this was the best time to take in the dense schools of fish for which this lake was famous. Jesus the fisherman? Did Jesus know more than the professional anglers? By this simple command, he revealed his glory to them as the Lord of everything. He also tested their obedience – would they trust him, when his commands seem opposed even to common sense? Neither they nor we can be his disciples unless his word is the final word for us. He knows more than the scientists, even as he knew more than the fishermen. When what he says or commands flies in the face of commonly accepted wisdom or the findings of experts, we must meekly follow our Savior. He knows all the tests of our times, all the ways in which technology and science and even the Bible’s psychology would oppose our fallen and ultra-radicalized notions about life. He never commands us to reconcile his word with the world’s rebellious thinking or to make his word more palatable to those blindly wedded to their own wisdom. He says, “Do what I say. Believe what I tell you. Trust me. I have great things in store for you, and I am the Maker of all things and the Redeemer of the world. Will you follow me or men, trust me or man?” It should be an easy choice for us.
Jesus Abundantly Provides
His cross is made lighter by his love and generosity. Peter did as he was asked, and the results were magnificent. The Lord brought to them – or in obeying him they placed their nets exactly where he knew the fish were – such a large haul of fish that two ships were required to bring it to shore. Even so, the ships began to sink. Before we consider the disciples’ response to all this, let us stand amazed at our Lord’s generosity. The more you study his Gospels, the more you see his kindly heart. His kindness is so amazing and overwhelming, that it is difficult to know how to respond – the gallons of delicious wine at Cana, the twelve baskets of leftovers, and this catch of fish are indicative of his loving heart. Do not miss this. Like his Father, he loves to give good gifts to his children, especially the Holy Spirit, a gift the value of which we cannot begin to understand (Matt. 7:11; Luke 11:13). He loves to share of his abundance with us, often in earthly blessings, but if not, of the greater treasures of having him for our God and Savior, being his inheritance and portion, even as he is ours, constantly forgiving our many iniquities, and giving us sufficient tastes of the heavenly glories to come that we are encouraged to hold fast to the path of truth and righteousness. Do not think of Jesus as stingy with his gifts. His heart is open and generous. When he has our heart of love and wonder, when we adore and follow him, we can learn contentment, whatever our earthly lot, provided we have him with us.
With Conviction of Sin and Personal Unworthiness (vv. 8-10)
At Your Word: Peter’s Willingness to Obey
The Lord already knew the hearts of these men, as he knows our hearts (John 2:21-23). Men often speak today as if they are the infallible interpreters and definers of their lives, but this is a farce. Sin’s blindness hides man from himself, so that he does see himself as he truly is. This is the reason that those guilty of enormous crimes can smile in public and receive rewards as if they were the noblest people ever to walk the earth. Sin and Satan have blinded them. No man truly knows himself unless he has been confronted and cast down before the majesty of God. And those who would follow Jesus must be shown their heart, so that we are cast down from our high places of pride. And this is not done not only once, for the more the Spirit works godliness in us, the more deeply he reveals our faults so that we will repent and stop offending the God who intends to dwell with us. Thus, Jesus placed this test of obedience before them not to learn what was in them but to reveal their hearts to them. At his command, Peter was willing to obey. Already he had been confronted with the claims of Jesus, and he believed upon him as the Christ of God. This seed of faith would certainly grow, but it was already present. Peter knew enough of Jesus to put aside his doubts. May this be true of us this morning – that while there is certainly more for us to know and learn of Jesus, let us obey him for what we already know of him – gracious and merciful, tender and faithful, our righteousness and laver in which we may daily wash for cleansing from our many sins.
Depart from Me: Peter’s Confrontation with Majesty
But in the best of saints, there is more to see of self and sin, so that we can see the broadening vistas of grace and glory! When Peter, and presumably the others, saw the great catch of fish – under the heat of the sun and out in the depths – he was utterly undone. Such a response from such a small thing, on the surface, but Peter was the expert fisherman. Jesus knew where to confront him. Peter saw Christ’s glory on his own turf, so to speak, where he thought no one knew more than he. And seeing this glory, he called out, “Depart from me.” Perhaps it could be said that Peter began to know more of himself at this moment. He had been confronted with God’s majesty – power, omniscience, generosity – and like Moses, Isaiah, and Job, the confrontation was personally overwhelming. Man unaided cannot stand God’s presence, even pure men, and there are none of those remaining. Isaiah’s “Woe is me” and Peter’s “Depart from me” show us that his true children need humbling, to see something of his majesty so that we are not full of our own opinions, high-minded, and prideful. Unless these things begin to be removed from us, God cannot dwell comfortably with us, nor we with him. We must walk humbly before him, as Micah said (6:8), and if we are going to serve our blessed Lord as his disciples, the same humbling must progressively take place in us.
I Am a Sinful Man: Peter’s Conviction of Sin
True humility may be prompted by many circumstances in our lives: embarrassment, loss of a good name, bankruptcy, exposure of scandal or secret sins. A heavenly humbling occurs when the Lord exposes our sinfulness to us. Here Peter, like Isaiah, was confronted with God’s majesty, and he intrinsically felt that sin was repulsive to God – and so it was intensely uncomfortable for him to be in God’s presence. All the faithful, famous or not, have had similar experiences. God reveals his glory to us, his holiness, or even his great love and rich mercy – in a sermon, our own study of Scripture, or a rebuke from another believer – and we suddenly see ourselves as we did not before. We do not feel so good, so in control, or so intelligent, for we have seen ourselves before God’s majesty. Words fail to express how necessary this is for us, and especially in our day. Men have banished sin from the earth, not because they are so good but because they cannot live under the conviction of how bad they are. So, they turn all their vices into virtues, their lusts into lifestyles. Nothing can break this delusion that destroys men and societies except the revelation of God’s holiness and majesty into man’s very heart. Then, what seemed so virtuous before will be seen as nothing but a villainous evil, an insult to God, worthy of a thousand hells. And notice that the Lord made this revelation to those whom he had chosen to be his apostles. We need that definitive humbling that is inseparable from regeneration and conversion. We also need ongoing humbling so that we may learn to esteem our Savior’s sacrifice for us, the great privilege of being his disciples, and the evil of every form of pride, which provokes him to his face and deprives us of his fellowship and power.
So That They Left All and Followed Him (vv. 10-11)
Before and After: From Friends to Disciples
To his children, the Lord does not reveal his glory to alarm and kill us – and no one can see his face and live! – unless he shows us his glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). And thus our Lord said to them, “Fear not.” I have not revealed myself to trouble your hearts but so that you will count it the greatest privilege to be my disciples. Before this encounter, they could be called Jesus’ disciples, but now he tells them to “Follow him” in a more restricted sense. Each disciple, including us, follows him, but he wants them to leave off everything else and follow him. Before, they kept working at their normal vocations, like most of us do, but it is time for their training.
This is no warrant for that giddy spirit that has sometimes grips the church – that you cannot serve the Lord Jesus unless you “devote yourself to fulltime Christian service.” Of course, the ordained gospel ministry is a unique calling that warrants exclusive time and energy commitment, but for most of us, the Lord shows us his glory while we are fishing, so to speak, in our normal callings. For the apostles, they could not well keep fishing and receive the necessary training to be Christ’s ambassadors to the whole world. Thus, for them, “Follow me” meant “drop everything else and come at once.” For us, “Follow me” means devote ourselves to his service in all that we do, making our earthly vocation, however apparently insignificant, a truly holy calling because undertaken to please the Lord. We follow Jesus, therefore, when humbled by our sins and adoring him for his mercy and wisdom, we seek to obey him in all things, do our work to bring him credit in the world, and tell of his praises and goodness to us.
Courage and Promise: You Will Catch Men
Also by telling them not to fear, he began to prepare them for the enormity of the work he has for them to do. As difficult as it might be to provide for a family by being a fisherman, it is incomparably more difficult, as well as noble, to fish men out of the dark waters of sin and death. This is the reason that Jesus commanded them to follow him and tells Peter singly, as their spokesman and leader, as well as perhaps the one with whom Jesus had greater personal affinity, not to be afraid. He did not expect them to have sufficient strength to do the work of being world fishermen for men’s souls. It would be daunting – like Ezekiel preaching to the valley of dry bones. Those who preach Christ preach to the dead – or to those who are made alive solely by the omnipotent power of Jesus’ own voice. Who is sufficient for these things? They could not possibly apprehend what lay before them, but Jesus begins by pointing them to his strength. Have courage, he said. I am calling you to change the world. I am going to build my church upon you as my foundations. But it is my power and presence working in you by my Spirit.
Each Disciple Impressed and Humbled by Jesus
See How He Shows His Glory
There is much in this encounter that was unique to Peter and his partners, soon to be partners of Jesus in the gospel. And yet, is there not also the sense that before we shall ever feel our need of Christ and rest upon his finished work upon the cross, that we must see something of his glory so that we see our sinfulness? I fear that preachers are trying to insulate people from feeling exactly what they must feel to be converted soundly for Jesus Christ. We must be faced with our sinfulness before God’s holiness and made to feel that we are criminally guilty against his majesty. Why, if he were immediately to send a sinner to hell, that man or woman could not complain but only conclude that it was the most righteous thing that had ever happened!
And this is the way we know that we know the Lord and have tasted of his grace – not that we feel close to him or good about ourselves but that we feel what a great debt we owe to God’s free and undeserved mercy. Each converted soul judges itself and says with Job that were God to enter into judgment with me for one of a thousand of my sins, I could not answer him one word. Unless I were to lie brazenly against him, I would have to condemn myself before him. This, you see, is the reason we follow Jesus. We have seen his glory – as our Maker and Redeemer, his holiness bearing our filth and suffering our curse, and our utter wickedness and unworthiness of such love. But he loved us anyway! He loved us to the end; he loved us all the way to the bitter cross. Glory is humbling because glory shows us who we truly are, not to leave us wallowing, but to lift our heads so that we see God’s love in the face of Jesus Christ. And seeing that love, we are drawn to it, wonder at it all our lives, and count it our great honor to serve him with all that we are.
See Whom He Chooses to be His Disciples
We are not told if Peter aspired to be so close to Jesus or to be his imminent servant. It was likely the last thing on any of their minds. In all likelihood, they were as astonished as much by his calling as by his miracles. Peter’s response was typical of their feelings at this time – “Depart from me. I am too sinful to be around you, Lord.” This was a good beginning for them. From many, we hear about their personal worthiness to serve Christ in some office in his church. Or they speak as one who thinks much too highly of himself ever to be of much use to Him who is meek and lowly of heart. Jesus chooses and uses the lowly; he makes them so, for his servants must look like him. This is true of each one of us. But we should not at all despair of being close to him or his disciples if we remember that those whom he called had to enroll in his school for many years. They were plain, simple, and uneducated fishermen. They would not be invited to speak at our fine churches, but Jesus invited them to be his servants and spokesmen before kings. Let us not look for Jesus’ servants in the wrong place – riches, intelligence, placement, worldly honor are not indications of preparedness for Jesus’ service. Humility is the true preparation, for only then can we receive his word with meekness and consider it an honor to wash his feet and promote his name, not our own.
See What Jesus Can Make of You
It is an interesting first lesson that Jesus taught Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It was a lesson with two sides – his glory and their sinfulness. This may seem like an odd place to begin training the apostles, but these are the ABCs of the gospel. The way God changes sinners is by showing them his glory. Too many gospels today begin with God fixing our lives and giving us what we want. This is not the Christian gospel; it is a fairy tale men tell in order to get followers. The real gospel is first God-centered. He shows his power and glory and holiness to our hearts. And when he shows this to our sinful hearts, the truth about our filth confronts us. We cannot blame our problems on someone else; they are our fault. God did not do bad things to us; we deserve worse than the worst imaginable circumstances, for we have rebelled against God and forfeited any rights for him to treat us kindly. But he has not left us under his wrath. He laid all our filth, guilt, and curse upon the back of Jesus Christ. He punished him and shed his blood instead of punishing us and shedding our blood in hell forever. This is the way God makes something of each one of us. He shows who he is to our hearts, and in doing so, he shows us the truth about ourselves. Let us embrace both and follow Jesus. He is generous and kind. He is meek and humbles us so that we can enjoy his fellowship and be made his faithful disciples.