What a catch! - Luke 5:1-11

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 28th January 2007.

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A few days ago I was almost robbed by a local car dealership. I drive one of those cars which has been fitted with a number of electronic gadgets designed to inform you when things go wrong. And just over a week ago I had the wonderful privilege of watching the Engine Malfunction Light appear on my dash-board. I have absolutely no doubt why manufactures put these malfunction lights in their vehicles. They, of course, try and convince us that these electronic devices are fitted for our benefit but we all know that when the lights come on the only way to turn them off is to drive our car back to the main dealership. Only they have the relevant computer equipment to diagnose the problem and eventually turn out the light. What was wrong with my car? Absolutely nothing! Why did the engine malfunction light turn on? Well, not because there was anything wrong with the car but because the gadget designed to tell me if there was anything wrong with my car had gone wrong. And so I was offered a replacement. For only £854.12 they offered to fit my car with a new Engine Control Computer. And they were serious. Now as part of my car’s visit to the main dealership it was subjected to a free “Health Check”, just to see if there was anything else that needed to be done. How kind these people are! Let me read you one of their recommendations. “Anti-freeze protection weak – recommend change.” Now as the man dealership read this to me I tried to work out what he meant. “Anti-freeze protection weak.” What did he mean? And then I asked him, “Do you mean my wind screen wiper fluid is too diluted for this time of year?” I knew it was because I had put too much water in over Christmas. And he said, “Yes, that’s it.” And this is what made me laugh out loud. To add more wind screen wiper fluid to my car they were going to charge me £49.48. It was completely outrageous! And it was a reminder to me that not ever health check is carried out with our best interests at heart.

I don’t know how often you perform a spiritual health check. But from time to time it is a good idea to step out of the rat race, to step out of the busyness of daily existence and diagnose where we are spiritually. It is a good idea to find out if we are progressing. How do I compare today to where I was last year? Am I growing up in my faith or am I slipping back? What is my spiritual temperature? If I had to put the thermometer down my throat what would I discover?

The first 11 verses of Luke chapter 5 enable us to complete a spiritual health check. And so tonight I want us to consider three important questions that emerge from this section of the Bible. You’ll see them on your handout.

o Are we keen to hear the word of God?
o Are we keen to obey the word of God?
o Are we keen to meet the Word of God?

Three questions designed to diagnose our spiritual condition. And please believe me when I say that I don’t ask these questions because I’m out to fleece your wallets or ruin your day. But as someone who cares for you I want to make sure you are spiritually well. So let’s ask the first question… 

1. Are we keen to hear the word of God? (Vs 1-3)

I think it’s very easy to picture the scene in vs 1-3. We’re told that “One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaraet, with the people crowding round him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen who were washing their nets.” And then to give himself more room we’re told that Jesus “got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.”

Jesus was a celebrity figure in his day. It’s very clear that after he started his public ministry his reputation quickly spread throughout the entire country. You could have had a conversation about this man anywhere. His name was mentioned at all the trendiest parties and his activities were even monitored by the 1st century equivalent of MI5. He was a man who made an impression.

And one of the biggest reasons why is mentioned in verse 1. The people were crowding round him and did you see what they were doing? They were listening to the word of God. And this was no small group of eccentrics, a few weirdos who were into that sort of thing. No, this was a massive group of people. In fact, the crowd were so big that Jesus had to use a local fishing boat as a floating pulpit.

Now I think if Alistair Campbell was Jesus’ spin-doctor then he would never have allowed Jesus to do what he did next. “Come on Jesus, you’ve got the crowd right in front of you. What an opportunity to make an impression that will last forever. Why not do one of your big miracles to dazzle the people?” But what does Jesus do? End of verse 3. He sat down and taught the people. Now it may seem like an anti-climax to many of us but it’s precisely what the people needed then and it’s precisely what people need today. The word of God is the way to spiritual life. And, in fact, the evidence of spiritual life is a keenness to hear the word of God.

It’s becoming an increasingly popular word in our culture. People react very negatively to being classified as ‘religious’ but are increasingly more comfortable with the word ‘spiritual.’ So what is a spiritual person? Is someone who enjoys yoga a bit spiritual? Is someone who likes to contemplate in the silence of a beautiful mountain to be called spiritually enlightened? Is the Dali Lama really a spiritual man?
Or what about Yuri Geller? Should he be considered one of the great spiritual gurus of our time? I don’t know if you remember Yuri Geller. I think he is most famous for bending spoons on TV but you may also like to know that in the past Reading Football Club have actually paid him to use “supernatural powers for their benefit” - with no obvious results as yet!

What does it mean to be a spiritual person? Well, the Bible teaches us that it’s got nothing to do with being silent or eating salads but it’s got everything to do with the presence of the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God, dwelling in our life. It is about having spiritual life where previously there was spiritual death. It is to be regenerated by the Holy Sprit. Now most of what is called “spirituality” today is simply self-indulgent introspection. Granted an increasing number of individuals want a break from all the frenetic activity of 21st century existence but let’s not confuse this with biblical spirituality. According to the Bible, spiritual people are those who have the power of God transforming them from the inside out.

Which brings us to a key question. Granted that all this is true, granted that we believe what the Bible teaches about spirituality, then how can I know if I am spiritually alive? How can I be sure I am not deluding myself? How do I know the difference between a desire for peace and quiet and a genuine desire for God? Well, how keen are you to hear the word of God?

One of the most accurate measures of our spiritual condition is our keenness to read the Bible and have it explained to us.

I see it again and again with new Christians. They finally see who Jesus is and then they want to read the Bible. I remember when I became a Christian at university and I had such a hunger for the Bible.

So when we are conducting our spiritual health check this is a vital question to ask: How much do we still hunger for the word of God?

Now there might be some here tonight who feel they have failed the health check so far. Never mind the other two questions that have still to come, this once has revealed all. If this is you then let me show you how to change your current situation. It’s very simple. Starting reading the bible.

Not only is our keenness for the word of God a sign of our spiritual health but it is also the way to spiritual health.

We must believe the promises in Psalm 1. 

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

Let’s develop a keenness to hear the word of God.

2. Are we keen to obey the word of God? (Vs 4-5)

But secondly, let’s also develop a keenness to obey the word of God. Hearing is great, listening is fantastic sign but obedience to what we hear is even better. And this is what Simon Peter models to us in verses 4-5. The sermon is over, the crowd has been dismissed and the carpenter turns to the fisherman and says, “How about a fishing trip? Get your boat into deep water, let down the nets and we’ll catch some fish.”

And don’t you love Simon’s reply? “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
I love this answer. It is a wonderful combination of Peter’s honesty and yet Peter’s obedience. So it’s very clear from the first part of his reply that he thought Jesus’ suggestion was completely ridiculous. “Fishing in deep water during the day? What a foolish idea!” All the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee knew that the sensible time to fish in the deep water was at night and during the day you either slept of cast your nets from the shore (as we see happening in Mark 1:16). And on the basis of what happened the previous night, where they caught absolutely nothing, another trip striaght away seemed like a waste of time. So why go out again? But listen again to Peter’s reply. He may have got off to a shaky start but he finished brilliantly. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

One of the signs of spiritual vitality is a keenness to obey the word of God. Not simply to hear it but to put it into practice. And especially so when the word of God goes against everything we feel internally and what we are taught by our culture.

Now please understand me rightly. I’m not saying that biblical faith is a blind leap in the dark. There is a huge amount of evidence designed to convince us, to persuade us that Jesus can be trusted. Christianity is a religion of the mind, the emotions and the will.

But there will be countless occasions when the clear teaching of the Bible will go against our feelings, our experience or what is the commonly held opinion of the day. And sometimes we won’t understand all the reasons to do something. But it’s in those moments when we are commanded by Jesus, the one we have already come to trust, to obey his words above everything else.

A few examples of what this will mean in everyday life.

o Christians should not date or marry non-Christians.
    o Who is Lord?
    o “I will convert them.”
    o “It feels so right”
o Current adoption row
    o “You are so out of touch.”
o Co-habitation before marriage.
    o “Everyone else is doing it.”
    o Statistics are against this as good practice
o Wives submit to husbands and husbands love your wives.
    o Audible gasp at a marriage service recently when I read these words.
    o If you are a Christian husband, how well are you doing? Every decision you take for the advantage of your wife.  Lead in prayers, example for your        children, coming to church.

Sign of spiritual health – obey the word of God.

How are you getting on with your spiritual health check? Two questions down and one to go. Now at this point I guess some of us may need to make a few alterations in our thinking and in our behaviour.  Well fine. Hear the diagnosis and implement the changes.

But I do hope many of us are encouraged. If you currently have a keenness to hear the word of God and obey the word of God then praise the Lord because at this point in the spiritual health check your spiritual life is in good shape.

What are the signs of spirituality vitality? First of all, a desire to hear the word of God. Secondly, a desire to obey the word of God. And, lastly, a desire to meet the Word of God.

So let me ask question three on your handout…

3. Are we keen to meet the Word of God? (Vs 6-11)

The bible is clear that one day everyone who has ever lived will meet Jesus. He is the eternal Word of God, the one through whom the Father created the universe, and he is the one whom the Father has appointed to be the judge of the entire human race. So the key question for us is not: Will I meet Jesus Christ face to face? But when will I meet Jesus Christ face to face? And when I do what will be the outcome?

We’ve already seen that Simon Peter had a certain respect for Jesus at the beginning of this encounter in Luke 5. So before the nets were lowered down he referred to Jesus as his Master and he was even prepared to obey Jesus’ instructions when they were in conflict with his own preferences. But listen to what happened to his opinion of Jesus after the nets were lowered. Verse 6. Read verses 6-8. We are told why he said this in verse 9. Read verses 9-10a.

No one was expecting this. The previous night they hadn’t caught anything. But now the catch was so big that the nets were breaking and the boats almost sank because of the weight of fish. And that’s when Simon Peter realised who was standing before him.

So notice what he didn’t conclude. He didn’t think Jesus has had a lucky break. We all get them sometimes. Or even that Jesus must have completed a more advanced HND course at his local fishing college. No listen to what he calls him in verse 8. “Get away from me Lord,”

Now it’s very true that in the first century the word Lord could simply be used as a polite way of addressing someone – somewhat equivalent to our word “Sir.” But it could also mean God. And this is how I think Peter uses it here. He was so amazed by the enormous catch of fish that he knew the person standing next to him was no ordinary human being. Now we’re not told how Jesus managed to find all the fish – whether he drew them to the boat or if he had divine knowledge of where they were swimming. But either way Peter concludes from the evidence he sees that Jesus is his Lord, his Maker, the Creator of heaven and earth. And that’s why he falls to his knees and begs Jesus to go away from him.

Now it’s perfectly true that when we compare our life to the perfection of Jesus we realise we’re not up to the standards of heaven. If more and more people kept a diary of their daily behaviour and compared it with the life of Jesus then it is a certainty that fewer and fewer people would call themselves good. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here in Luke 5. Not that Peter compares himself to Jesus in the boat and then suddenly realises he is a sinful man. But rather as someone who is already aware of his sinfulness he suddenly finds himself face to face with his Maker, which is something he never expected that day.

How keen are you to meet your Maker? Peter had a true appreciation of his own standing before God. He knew he was a sinful man. And notice what he didn’t say. Not, I do sinful things but I am a sinful man. That is, regardless of the way I express my rebellion against the Lord, whether it is more active or passive is not the point. But fundamentally I am a self-governing creature of the Almighty who stands as a responsible rebel before him. And because of God’s purity and holiness and goodness and perfection I cannot bear to be in his presence. And so he says to Jesus, “Go away from me Lord.”

And yet notice Jesus reply. End of verse 10. He says to Simon, “Don’t be afraid: from now on you will catch men.”

Why does he do this? Why does he not simply blast this sinner out of existence?

o Has Peter got it wrong? Is he not such the sinner he thinks he is? Is Jesus saying, “Don’t be afraid Peter, you’re actually quite a decent individual so you’ve no need to fear”?
o Or has Peter somehow misunderstood God? Perhaps he is the sinner he thinks he is but God is that kind of God who forgives everyone anyway so there is no need for anyone to be afraid.

No, the Bible’s picture of God and humanity will allow none of those answers to be true. So why then did Jesus tell Peter not to be afraid? Well, it’s because of his mission. We heard last week from Luke 4 why Jesus had come. Do you remember how he defined his mission at his local synagogue? “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

We discovered last week that this was a quotation from Isa 61. But do you know what Jesus missed out? The next sentence in Isa 61 which reads “The day of vengeance of our God.” I think that’s significance. You see Jesus’ first mission was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10) and during this mission there was opportunity for sinners like Peter to be forgiven and incorporated into Jesus’ new Kingdom community. And it’s still the same today. The church continues the task of Jesus. We are in the business of seeking and saving the lost. Or to use Jesus’ words, we are in the fishing business.

But ahead of us there is another day, and we have no idea when it will be, when Jesus will return again to this earth and bring the day of vengeance of our God, when every unforgiven rebel will face divine justice.

And let’s forget the day of our departure. We have an appointment none of us can avoid, a day when we will travel across the spiritual divide between earth and heaven and see our God face to face. And when we do, it will be too late. There are no second chances after death. What we decide now echoes into eternity.

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking I have all he time in the world. I will delay the day of my repentance until later in life. Many people who plan to turn to Christ at the 11th hour often die at 10.30!

So let me ask you a question: How keen are you to meet your Maker now ? I think keenness is a good sign. Christians are very aware that just like people they are responsible rebels in God’s sight. They deserve nothing but his condemnation and judgment. But they also know why their future is secure. The blood of Christ has cleansed them from every sin. The penalty has been paid once for all when Jesus died on the cross - so there is nothing more to fear. And if we keen to meet our Maker then it is a good indication that we have understood what Christianity is all about.  It is a good indication that we have understood why Jesus died on the cross.

So how’s it going? How is our spiritual condition?

Are we keen to hear the word of God?

o No. Then get back into the Bible.
o Yes. Praise the Lord. It is a good sign.

Are we keen to obey the word of God?

o No. Then start trusting Jesus knows best. Trust and obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.
o Yes. Praise the Lord. It is a good sign.

Are we keen to meet the Word of God?

o Not understood the cross. You may not be a Christian.
o Yes. Praise the Lord. Rejoice again in the cross and see again the greatness and the urgency of our task.

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