Prepared by Carl Schaefer
For Church of the Cross
Sunday, February 7th, 2010
(Slide #2) Remember those questions I referred to a couple of Sunday’s ago that I said were the questions of a “life-time.” Who is God? Who are we? And where do we fit into the Kingdom/and or what does God expect of us?
We have spent the first few weekends answering the first two questions and Scriptures has revealed a loving God and offered His Son – incarnated in human form, to save all of us – sinners on own redeeming. We have celebrated the extent of His grace that is borderless – even to the historical enemies of Israel as well as those who might call “enemies” today.
This morning I would like to talk about the last of the three questions – where do we fit into the Kingdom/what does he expect of us? It is sort of like the expression – not it is our turn to respond – “get of the dime” and follow Him into the fields of harvest.
(Slide #3) But first, a lets go back to a wood shop in Nazareth full of hand tools, a floor full of sawdust, a door to the outside where people from the town are walking back and forth. It is Joseph’s shop. The hand tools show years of wear – sharpened and ready. In the middle of the room is a table, half finished, made of olive wood. A table that could have been the one used in an upper room, or at the home of one of the disciples, or family somewhere in Nazareth. Joseph was gone now, and it was Jesus making the table with the skills that Joseph, his earthly father, had taught him. Jesus had finished the last of the orders and the customer had come to pick up the table yesterday. Today, the last day, Jesus would be leaving the shop to begin His ministry in the fields of lost souls. It would mean leaving behind a trade taught by an earthly father to take up the mission set in motion by a heavenly father. With His hand on the threshold, Jesus would look back into the shop one more time, just before he would step into the world He came to save. From sawdust in His hair to dust on His feet, Jesus would begin the journey -----
Max Lucado, in his book, “God Came Near,” said that Jesus “…knew that the feet that would step out of the shadow of the carpentry shop would not rest until they’d been pierced and placed on a Roman cross. If there was hesitation on the part of his humanity, it was overcome by the compassion of his divinity.” (1)
(Slide #4) Luke 5 sets the tone of a ministry that would mix carpentry with fishing – sawdust vs. sand – tools turned into nets. It was a day, according to Scriptures, that Jesus was standing at the shore of Lake Gennesaret – also known to us as the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already been kicked out of Nazareth after a “truth” lesson about God’s grace, you remember last week, drove out an evil spirit, and even healed Peter’s mother-in-law.
You could smell the fish; the local industry of many who lives depended upon the success of catch – a metaphor for ministry. What a more appropriate scene than one that reflected on the diet of 1st Century Palestine – fish: pan fish, carp, and cat fish (the later banned from the Jewish diet). If you looked closely, you could see not only the nets, mostly trammel nets used for deeper water, hanging over the side of the two boats, but more importantly the shadow of Jesus on the sand with his back to the sun looking on some frustrated fisherman, one of which was a man called Simon. Jesus would soon teach from a Mount of Olives the lesson of a life-time, but today from the inside of Simon’s boat. We don’t know whether Simon was listening to what Jesus said or his empty nets, but Jesus would soon challenge Simon to fill his nets, this time in deeper water.
I can remember some early lessons about fishing, many with my Dad on Lake Michigan. Long after the lessons of fishing lines, lures and the various baits, long after the pictures of successful catches, bragging rights, and sunburn, long after stormy weather and fighting the waves to get the catch back home, were the lessons of patience and perseverance. It must have been those lessons that caused Simon to surrender, after a brief protest, to head out for deeper water. You know those times when you said, “OK, I give it a try,” while you are saying to yourself that this just be a waste of time. What’s a carpenter know about fishing?” Yet, Simon had seen this man heal his mother-in-law with just a word.
Jesus knew what Simon was thinking, he could see the same skeptic stepping out of the same boat in the near future and calling for help, and like a parent, was likely saying to himself, “I just can’t wait to see the look on his face when he pulls up they pull up the nets.
(Slide #5) “Wow!” What a catch. You remember your first large catch, the one that just didn’t want to come out of the boat. The excitement, the disbelief. Well, listen to the results right from Scripture:
“When they had done so, they caught such a 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.”
Now mind you, that was a lot of fish, a miraculous catch by any fisherman’s standards. The extent of which can only be measured by the two good size fishing boats-estimated to be about 27 ft. long, almost 8ft in width and about 4.5 deep, filled to the point sinking!
Now after I stood with a gaping mouth with Simon looking at the results of the catch, I would have likely said, “This is no ordinary carpenter – not just a lucky first-time would be fisherman, but one who commands the outcome, even more, the outcome of abundance.
It was not just that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and learned to be a carpenter in Nazareth, He was announced at His baptism to be God’s Son. It was not just that he left the carpenter shop in Nazareth to begin the ministry of traveling preacher; He had embraced his divinity and assumed the authority that the Father had given to Him. No, this was no ordinary carpenter throwing in his “two cents” worth of advice to an experienced fisherman and Simon, soon to be Peter, knew it. For what would come next would change Simon’s life and ours forever.
Yes, this teaching moment by the Sea of Galilee would not only be a revelation for a bunch of fisherman, it would be a call story that would ask ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary tasks. It would be more than asking a novice would be wood worker to figure out which tools to use to build a table, but experienced fisherman how to be fishers of men. Think how improbable: taking a group of smelly fisherman to be the charter members of building the church for the earthly Kingdom of God.
Jesus had stepped out of the carpenter shop and into the world to confront sin and evil on the by-ways and hi-ways of life. But, while His healing ministry would be a solo event on the way to the Sea of Galilee, this moment of filling a boat full of fish would require an army of people who lives would be changed, if not sacrificed, on the way to saving other’s lives.
(Slide #6) I understand that Jay Leno has 125 people on his staff to produce the “Tonight Show,” so I can only imagine how many it took to put on the Bill Graham crusades. Jesus started with just 12. Today, sociologist would say that size group enhances the opportunity for personal interaction and mutual support. Any larger size group, and communication diminishes and the possibility for good interpersonal relationships is reduced. Now while Jesus had no credentials for defining the science of group behavior, that model had stuck into our modern day social structures and has been the recommended size for groups in both the church and corporate settings. John Wesley adopted that model for his covenant accountability groups. Jesus would work to multiply his army beginning with just these 12, and the reality of the fact that you couldn’t fit too many more a boat on the Sea of Galilee.
(Slide #7) Luke’s account of this initial call story is quite brief in the accounts of Matthew and Mark, but one phrase in those accounts is made even clearer and that is he said to them: “Comer, follow me, …and I will make you fishers of men.” It was more than just a metaphor for catching souls, for I believe that this story takes place in the midst of catching fish for a reason.
The Interpreters Bible outlines that the metaphor of “fishers of men” is a striking reference dating back to the OT and the Dead Sea Scrolls when fishing was used metaphorically for “gathering people for judgment (Amos 4:2; Jeremiah 16:16 and IQH 5:7-8). Against this background, the commissioning of people to gathers others for judgment and relating that call to the pronouncement of John the Baptist “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matthew 3:2).” This calling or commissioning to gather people for the Kingdom would connect the eschatological overtones of historical tradition in the minds of the fisherman when Jesus said, “follow me.” It would also seem to explain the intensity of Simon Peter’s reaction when the story reveals he fell on his knees and said, “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man.” Knowing the tradition of the eschatological call with a miraculous boat-load of fish would make even an expert fisherman fall on his knees --- and today we would say something like, “and you are asking me to do what?”
(Slide #8) Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid.” And, scriptures says, “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything --- and I gather even the boats full of fish, and followed him. Now I have to say to you when I began to take seriously God’s call on my life to enter ministry, I didn’t immediately respond to those words “Don’t be afraid.” I am convinced that at that moment the revelation of the miraculous catch along with the power of the Holy Spirit made those words mean so much more than just the sound “don’t be afraid,” but it was an epiphany for them that was not yet fully explained. As we know now, they wouldn’t fully comprehend his call if not his message until after the resurrection, and yet they dropped everything, their careers and families and followed him. They would soon learn that the eschatological call for judgment would be a call to salvation. And that He, Jesus, would not only have the power and authority to get people to follow Him, (and keep in mind that a lot of self-proclaimed prophets would make similar claims, but can’t change the lives of those affected) but to commit their souls and change their lives.
(Slide #9) One more point I would like to make before I ask you to kick of the sand from your feet and brush the sawdust out of your hair is to ponder for a moment the concept of abundance. By abundance, I am thinking beyond the Thanksgiving Table meal, but the concept of more than we could ask for – the cup that is never empty. The lesson of abundance is also another reason why he picked this moment to reveal his authority and power, just like that moment at the wedding when His mother forced his hand to change water into wine. To the society of the day, a boat load of fish, a bountiful harvest, and never ending source of wine would make a more lasting impression than a “a packed house,” a “large bank account,” or the amount of calculations that a modern day computer can handle. God picks moments that are meaningful to us to convince us that He is capable of anything, and that the His concept of abundance includes grace for all His creation. God is capable of saving all of us with just the sacrifice of one man, not twelve or twelve thousand, no just one man – His Son who is capable of calling us into His service.
You see the Epiphany of all of us in this story is that while we are not fisherman, we as truck drivers, engineers, bank clerks, teachers and even retired factory workers, are capable of responding to God’s call. The moment of Epiphany here is that God has chosen not to save mankind through a lightening bolt, but through you and I one life at a time.
(Slide #10) So back to the third question for us this time of Epiphany? Where do I fit in the Kingdom of God and/or what does God expect of me. Jesus would soon say to his disciples as recorded in the 10th Chapter of Matthew, vs. 37-38, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” We, you and I are similarly called – to leave our nets, our comfortable lifes, and go into the fields of harvest and invite people to repent and take up membership in the Kingdom of God. You do it here in your Sunday School classes, worship services, youth groups, mission trips, church dinners, outreach, food pantry, and on and on, but I would like you to embrace an even more immediate field of harvest – that of your own homes. Now that might sound “fishy,” pardon me, I couldn’t help that one, but I harken back to Deuteronomy 6: 4 and forward, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” These words of wisdom call us to be witnesses, disciples, and evangelists even in our own homes. I leave you with the question as to why it is so much easier to get our kids to practice, whatever the sport, than to pray on a daily basis? Yes, the building of God’s Kingdom begins right at home. Society may take prayer out of homes and the Ten Commandments out of public buildings, but as far as I know, it can’t take prayer out of our homes.
Yes, this fishing story would be the first of many stories that would provide the framework of a serious, urgent calling to evangelism to reach the millions of “fish” – lost sheep – sinners, a metaphorical reference to the gathering in of millions of the unsaved.
And we are all called, along with Peter and the other disciples, to put aside our skepticism of the one who came as a baby, raised as a carpenter, is really the Son of God, Jesus, the Savior of the world who needs our help with the nets. It is a revelation of the first order; it is our Epiphany.
Note: “God Came Near,” Max Lucado, pg. 51, Multnomah Books.