Jesus said to Peter, "Donít be afraid. From now on you will catch men."
I like these days of winter because the nights are getting shorter and the days are getting longer. The sun rises earlier each morning giving us light to live and work by. When we get home after work, the sun stays up longer and longer until by summer it is light well into the evening.
As Jesus preached and taught in Galilee, the light of God shined in dark places. The prophecy came true which said, "The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light."
In todayís story the people were crowded around Jesus by lake Gennesaret, also called the Sea of Galilee. The Bible says they were listening to the Word of God. In the early years of Christianity, people who were learning about Christianity for the first time but were not yet baptized were called hearers of the word. We know from Jesusí preaching that he presented himself as the promised Son of God sent to save Godís people.
What happened next that day showed how the light of Christ would continue to shine in this world until the dawn of eternity. Two boats nearby had fished all night and caught nothing. They fished with large nets lowered down into the dark water. Students of the Bible know that the deep water of the sea often represents the chaos of life without God. Down there you canít see bottom and you never know what kind of fish is going to swallow you up.
Jesus got into Peterís boat and told him to go out into the deep water and lower his nets. You know what happened then. As they pulled up the nets they found them so full of fish they began to break and they called to another boat to help with the great catch. There was so much fish that both boats were ready to sink. Think how many tables were full of good food that night because of this one miracle of Jesus.
We can learn from this miracle. Through the centuries Christians have come to associate the details of this story with the way the faith spreads throughout the world. We take the sea to represent the world, the fish as people, men, women and children. The net and the hands that lover is as the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the boat is Godís Church, the gathering place of his people caught by the gospel.
This shows us that Jesus intends the world to come to him through the preaching of his gospel. As the net of his word is drawn through this world, people hear the voice of God and are caught alive. They are brought from their hiding places in the depths up to the light of Jesus himself. They come to see him as their savior and are brought into his kingdom to live.
When Peter saw what Jesus did he was overwhelmed. He too has been caught up in the net and brought into the light of Jesus. But the light shows some things about Peter that he would like to keep hidden. We know there are things about us that we would rather keep hidden from God as well. But when we are brought up from the deep darkness, the light shows all our imperfections.
Peter says, "Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!" Peter is right. He was the kind of fish that stays at the bottom out of the light. Jesus loves and wants him none the less. Isaiah had the same reaction when he saw the throne of God and the angels flying about. "Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips." God purified Isaiahís lips so he could speak the secrets of what he saw.
When Godís word shines upon us, we will have the same reaction. Love God with all our heart? Why, we love so many things besides God! Love our neighbor as ourselves? Weíll get around to that someday. We are so unworthy of God.
When we come to the realization, like Peter and Isaiah, of how short we fall in obedience to God, we are overwhelmed with grief and despair. But God would purify us as we are drawn into his presence. His word to us is forgiveness. It gives us new life, a new reason for living. "You are forgiven," says Jesus.
Jesus forgives Peter with the words, "donít be afraid, from now on you will catch men." Peter is in Jesusí net, brought to the surface and exposed to the sunís light, but he will live forever. God will use Peter to fish for men.
For twenty centuries the fishing has gone on. People have become hearers of the world: through the continuation of the preaching of the word of Christ, how he died to remove our unworthiness. The light continues to shine in every place as the preaching goes on. People are united with Christ in the washing of baptism and he visits them in the Lordís Supper to sustain their souls. The light continues to shine today as we are brought out of the darkness by Jesusí net.
Like Peter, we fish for men when we invite others to hear the word of God among us. We teach the children, guide the teenager, strengthen the family, and comfort the sick and those who mourn the death of loved ones.
I have a friend who used to pick up hitchhikers in the days when it was safe to do so. He told me of one young man he gave a ride to who asked what my friend did for a living. "Iím a sort of salesman," my friend said. "What do I sell? Only the greatest product in the world. Everyone needs it. Do I make a lot of money? Oh no. I give it all away. Would you like a sample, young man?"
You see, my friend was a minister to the deaf. He drove the highways of northern Wisconsin catching souls, bringing light to people who lived in darkness.
The miracle of bringing fish into the boat is the miracle of making the unworthy sinner fit to stay in the presence of the holy God. It is the miracle of the forgiveness of sins. Not only does Peter receive the forgiveness of sins, but he will be catching men alive and bringing them into Godís boat, the church. He will lower the net by preaching about Jesus Christ. He will declare the kingdom and bring them into that kingdom through preaching about Jesus work, through baptism and the Lordís Supper.
Catching souls for Jesus is not only Peterís work All of you share in his work by hearing the word, by being a part of this congregation, by bringing your families, by the sacrifices you make in order to bring an offering today out of the thankfulness in your heart to God for the net of the gospel that has pulled you out of darkness and hoisted you into the light of Godís boat. Most importantly, you continue in the fishing for men by your witness to the word of God, the light of Galilee. By your words to a friend, "Is there something I can ask of God for you?" By your readiness to explain the faith in your own way, how Jesus brought you out of darkness and into eternal light.
You may think that your career, your family, your enjoyment of life is the most important thing in your lifeís journey. We know that the work of God, fishing for men, is the ultimate reason God keeps us in this world. Weíve wasted enough time. There are so many fish in the deep sea, but God has given a strong enough net in the word of Christ, and a big enough boat in the Christian Church, to accommodate all who will believe.
Though the Church of Jesus Christ, the light is shining on those who live in dark places. The light has shined on us and revealed us to be the forgiven and restored children of God. God wants us to offer this light to the whole word, starting right here. Amen.
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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