SCRIPTURE – Luke 5:1-11 – Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
It’s A Miracle!
#1 – A Fish Story
Oct. 19, 2014
We begin our sermon series today on the miracles of Jesus. Through the course of the next several weeks we’ll be looking at a number of Jesus’ miracles as recorded in the gospels. Our goal is to try to make sense of them, which I can tell you right now is impossible. The dictionary defines a miracle as an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.” If we could make sense of them, they wouldn’t be miracles. But, because you’re curious and I’m stubborn, that won’t stop us from trying, so I pray that along the way God will grant us new insight and understanding to these supernatural stories and what they have to say to us.
One biblical scholar said that without the miracles the New Testament would be a lot easier to believe, and that’s exactly right. The things in scripture that most challenge our reasoned intellect, that most bewilder our rational minds, are the irrational acts. I believe the miracles are one of reasons some people reject Christianity. How do you explain them? Five loaves of bread and two fish turned into a feast for 5,000. A raging storm calmed by a few words. Scores of sick and lame people healed at the touch of a hand. A man hung on a cross to die lives again in three days. These things just don’t happen in our everyday life.
So the New Testament would be easier to believe without the miracles. And yet, if the New Testament didn’t have the miracles, it wouldn’t be worth believing. Without the miracles, all we have is the account of a righteous prophet who was put to death for his teachings. Without the miracles, we have a wise dead man; with them, we have a Savior.
So if the miracles have the potential of driving people away from faith, why are they in there? What is the purpose of miracles in the gospel stories? I don’t believe Jesus was trying to show off or entertain the crowds. I don’t even think the ultimate purpose was to heal or to feed or to make life better for someone, although that was a beneficial outcome. I believe the true purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to give us a glimpse of God’s kingdom. For just a moment, Jesus says, take a look. See what is coming. There will be no illness. There will be no pain. There will be enough food for everyone. Miracles were windows into God’s future plans. Through them, Jesus was reminding his followers that God’s kingdom was present among them.
If that’s the purpose, then you have look at each miracle through that lens. Jesus not only performed the miracles to prove this point, but to encourage people to join in the miracle and work to make that kingdom real on earth. In a sense, the miracles were a means to an end, the end being the call to faith and action, and the people who experienced the miracle were not just observers but participants. That’s evident in the first miracle we’re witnessing.
Jesus was in the midst of his teaching ministry, and he was gaining some popularity. On this particular occasion, so many people came to hear him that there wasn’t enough room on the shore for all of them. Luke says: “The crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God.” I love that image. When we hear the word of God, are we reclining back, or are we pushing in to hear it?
To get some personal space, Jesus asks to use Simon the fisherman’s boat. Jesus had probably observed Simon earlier on the shore, who was cleaning up after a long night of fruitless fishing. After Jesus finishes speaking, he says to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.” Now, if I’m Peter, I’m looking at this stranger, this carpenter from Nazareth, and I’m telling him exactly where he can put his nets. “Look, Jesus, you stick to building cabinets and leave the fishing to the experts.”
After some mild balking, Peter obeys Jesus and heads out to the deep water. Now we need to pause here to recognize the significance of Jesus’ command. Back in those days, people didn’t know what was under the water. They didn’t have sonar and submarines and snorkels. In fact, they believed that water was the residence of evil. The monster Leviathan, mentioned several times in the Bible, lived under the water. In the beginning, God’s spirit hovers over the chaotic waters and brings order. In the book of Revelation, the evil beast rises from the deep. Fishermen tended to hug the shoreline because it was safer. If a storm came, you didn’t want to be caught out in the deep water. It wasn’t safe. It was evil.
How would you respond to Jesus’ command to go deeper, to leave the safety of the sand and head out into the deep water? For me, I really, really like staying close to the shore. I prefer not to get over my head. It’s tempting, isn’t, to stay in the shallow waters? Shallow water is pleasant. It tickles our ankles when we walk in it. The minnows and the little fishies gather there. In the shallow water, you can see the bottom. You know where you’re stepping. The shallow water is safe.
But, as Jesus shows Peter, the shoreline is not where you’re going to catch the big fish. When I was little, my PawPaw used to take me fishing at a local pay lake He’d get my pole all ready, bait my hook with a worm, and then show me how to cast out into the middle of the lake. But every time, I would only cast the line about 10 feet in front of me so I could watch the bobber. He’d say, “You’re not going to catch any fish there.” Well, one day, that bobber dove under water and I pulled in a nice sized bluegill. “See?” I told him, as if to say, “Leave the fishing to the experts.” About a half hour later, as we were getting ready to go home, he reeled in his line from the middle of the lake and hauled in a catfish about twice as big as me. The deep water is where you catch the big fish.
If the story ended with the miraculous catch of fish, what we’d have would be an amazing tale of Jesus making life better for someone. But remember, the purpose of the miracles wasn’t simply to make life better for people, it was to give people a glimpse of God’s kingdom, so we know there must be more going on here. Jesus has just dumped this miracle flipping and flopping at Simon’s feet, enough fish to provide for his family for months. Then Jesus says, “You think that’s something? Come with me and I’ll teach you catch more than fish.” And Simon leaves behind the biggest haul of fish he’d ever seen and becomes a disciple.
My question to you is this: what is the greater miracle in this story? The catch of fish, or Simon’s decision to leave it lying on the shore? In both cases, the miracle is predicated on Simon’s participation, his willingness to let go of what is safe and comfortable. First he lets go of the shoreline, then he lets go of the catch of fish. In both cases, his trust in Jesus trumps his fear and his sense of security.
For me, the real miracle in this story is the power of faith to see beyond what appears to be. Look at our world. Look at the needs on our prayer list. Look at what’s happening to our baby Milly. Look at all the violence and hatred and negativity on TV, and that’s just the political ads. Is there anything there that justifies faith in God? We may feel like we’ve fished all day and our nets are empty. Tired. Frustrated. At a dead end. Is there anything there that tells you God is at work in this world?
Yes, there is. There is the faith those who pray, who cry, who send cards and care packages, who work for fairness and justice. Every believer is a participant in God’s miracle, because it is through us, the hands and feet of Christ, that God’s kingdom is made known on this earth. That doesn’t mean if we have enough faith everything will work out the way we think it should, but it does mean that our faith will help us see God at work in the midst of the challenges in our lives. And it means we can be participants in helping others glimpse the kingdom of God, as well.
Here’s what this story tells me: If we want to participate in a miracle, if we want to help show this world what God’s kingdom looks like, we can’t do it by hugging the shoreline. We are called into the deep water, the place beyond safety and control, the place where we turn our boat over to Jesus and let him guide us. We each have a next step to take in order to grow in our faith, and I’m pretty sure that step is not back toward shore. You don’t get many glimpses of God’s kingdom while standing on the dock. So what is the deep water for you? What is the miracle in which God is inviting you to participate? Is it reminding a shut-in they are not alone? Is it a step up in your giving to make more ministries possible? Is it lending your voice to the church leadership or the choir or a Sunday School class? Where is God calling you into the deep water? And what is keeping you from going there?
Patrick Henry once wrote, “I’ve never been party to a clear-cut miracle, but I do know the precondition for recognizing one if it happens is the openness to surprise.” If we stay where it’s safe, we only see and experience what is safe. But if we put out into the deep water, if we dare to go where God calls us, we open ourselves up to the surprising presence of Christ, who fills our souls to overflowing and then calls us to follow him.
And then, we have the indescribable opportunity of becoming the miracle. Every believer is God’s miracle. Every person who steps out on faith and gives Jesus command of their boat becomes a living testimony to the power of faith in Jesus Christ. And then, maybe when we least expect it, while we’re out there serving, suddenly our boats are overflowing with fish, a child’s eyes are opened to a Bible story, a new relationship is made, a person grows in their knowledge and love of Christ because of your relationship with them. When we open ourselves to God’s capacity to surprise, miracles happen. The shallow water is safe. But the deep water is where miracles happen.
I’ll close with this poem credited to Sir Francis Drake: “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves. When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little. When we arrived safely because we sailed too close to shore.”