On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on [Jesus] to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished 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. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
July 9, 2023
Peter didn’t work for an hourly wage. He was a business partner with his brother and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. They caught fish and sold what they caught. If they didn’t catch anything, they didn’t have anything to sell. It didn’t matter if they put in long hours of labor; they didn’t get paid anything. If you’ve ever run a business, you can imagine how these men felt cleaning their nets with sore back and limbs, with nothing to show for their labors. Perhaps fatigue is the only thing keeping them from being overwhelmed with stress over their lack of money to provide for their families. Then Jesus arrives with a great crowd of people, who have left behind their worries for a moment to listen to Jesus teach. Peter and his partners too sit and listen to the Teacher to get their minds off their worries. After Jesus finishes teaching, He tells Peter to push out into the deep and let his net down for a catch.
Peter puts aside his wisdom as an experienced fisherman, and obeys the word of his Teacher. And to the amazement of everything, he caught such a great catch of fish that James and John had to rush over with their boat to haul in the catch, yet the catch overwhelmed both their boats! They all knew this was a miracle. Professional fisherman failed to catch fish all night. Then Jesus from the shore tells them to put the nets down into the deep, where he cannot possibly see. With this miracle, Jesus proves that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. He also proves that He Himself is the Lord!
Since the fall into sin, God has cursed man to eat by the sweat of his brow. Yet, we bone-headedly think that our sweat is what gives us our bread! No, it is the Lord who provides for our needs. We work, because God has commanded it. Yet, the Psalmist reminds us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Psalm 127). It is God who prospers our work, so we should trust in Him. Moreover, we should not be overcome with worry as if our worrying can accomplish anything, but seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and trust that the rest will be added unto us. God feeds the birds and clothes the grass. He cares much more for you.
After providing for the bodily needs of Peter and his partners, He calls them to a much greater task than catching fish to feed bellies. He calls them to be fishers of men, to save their souls. Jesus here institutes the Office of the Holy Ministry. Our Lutheran Confessions defines this Ministry in Augsburg Confession V, “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.”
Christ Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the whole world, so that whoever believes in Him may not go to hell, but have eternal life. “But how can they believe on Him of whom they’ve never heard?” St. Paul asks. And how are they to hear unless someone preaches to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:14-17). So, Christ solved this problem by calling and sending men to proclaim this Gospel, so that sinners may be saved through faith.
The erstwhile fishermen caught their fish with nets. How would they catch men? With the word of God. When the fish were enclosed in the net, they pushed against each other. When Jesus preached the Gospel, the crowd pushed against Jesus, so that He took refuge in Peter’s boat a little off shore. As the net captures the school of fish, so Jesus’ Word captures the hearts of men. And it is that same word which He gives to His minsters to preach. “Whoever hears you, hears me.” Jesus told them (Luke 10:16). And so, in this way, Jesus gave His disciples the net used to catch souls: Christ’s Word. And ministers today employ this same net.
The text says that when they threw down the net, “they enclosed a large number of fish.” The word for “enclosed” here is the same word used for “imprisoned” in Galatians 3:22, where St. Paul writes, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to all who believe.” As their net imprisoned all the fish, so God’s Word imprisons all people under sin. Through the preaching of the Law, sinners are captured and accused of sin before God.
This preaching of the Law can take place in many ways. It can simply be teaching one of the Ten Commandments, which tell us how to live before God. Scripture imprisons you when it exposes how you should think, act, and speak compared to how you actually think, act, and speak. Sometimes Scripture uses a Bible story, where you see the righteousness of the three men in the fiery furnace, who would rather be burned alive than serve any other god, and you see that you have not been so courageous. Or how Joseph refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife, and suffered prison rather than be sexually immoral. Or perhaps the story shows the wickedness of the people of Israel, and you see that you have been just as covetous, lazy, and unfaithful. The Law did its work on Peter by showing Jesus’ immense power to provide for Him. Peter’s conscience was stricken, because He did not trust in the Lord to provide for him. Yet, here Jesus’ shows his power and willingness to do so.
Though the Law works like a net to imprison sinners, it does not yet catch men for the kingdom. The Gospel must do its work. When Peter’s conscience was stricken, he wanted the Lord to depart from Him. It was only when Jesus told him not to be afraid, and thereby forgave his sins, that Peter willingly walked and followed Jesus. So, Jesus’ ministers must preach both the Law and the Gospel to catch people for Jesus. They must preach the Law to bring sinners to repentance, and give them no way to escape. And they must preach the Gospel, which only can saves sinners, so that sinners may know that they have a gracious God, who sent Jesus to suffer and die for their sins, and who welcomes them as His children. There is no other net, which catches people for the kingdom of God than the rightly applied Law and Gospel. Gimmicks won’ work. Bating and switching won’t work. You don’t bring people into the kingdom by catering to their desires. You can only bring people into the kingdom by proclaiming the Gospel.
After Jesus called them, they left everything and followed Jesus. They brought no money or extra clothes, for the laborer deserves his wages. They left their former life and devoted themselves to learning and teaching the Gospel. Servants of God’s kingdom cannot be slaves to the passions of this world. Peter and his fellow fisherman turned fellow Apostles, and ministers who came after them, gladly forsook the pleasures of this world for the sake of the kingdom, because Christ’s kingdom is worth it.
Yet, the flesh is weak and faith does not always stay strong. You remember how Peter pledged to Jesus that he would never leave him, that he would even lay down his life for Jesus. Yet, that very night, Peter denied Jesus three times. So, on another day after Jesus’ resurrection, by that same sea, Jesus stood at the beach and called to Peter and his companions as they fished, “Have you caught anything?” “Nothing.” “Cast the net on the right side,” Jesus said. And like déjà vu their nets were filled with fish again. On that beach, Jesus called Peter into the Ministry again, but this time he didn’t say he would merely catch men, but that he would tend Jesus’ sheep. He wouldn’t just preach a sermon once and done, but he would teach, exhort, rebuke, comfort, correct, and defend. He would lead them to pasture and clean water by preaching the whole counsel of God, and he would fight back wolves by refuting false teaching. And while Peter failed to lay down his life for Jesus when he first got the opportunity, Jesus tells Peter that he will indeed lay down his life for Jesus’ sheep. And this is the charge of every minister in the Gospel.
Sometimes their preaching would result in bursting nets, like the three thousand baptized on Pentecost. Yet, other times their preaching would invite only stones and imprisonment. Sometimes preachers preach to full pews, other times few show up. Yet, Peter and all ministers of the Word are called to preach Christ’s Word in season and out of season, and leave it to God to cause the growth where and when it pleases Him.
Yet, it is not only the ministers of the Word, who are called to forsake everything and follow Jesus. It is not only the ministers who are called to willing lay down their lives for the Gospel. This is the call of every Christian. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) It is necessary for you to daily deny yourself and take up your cross to follow Jesus, because friendship with this world is enmity with God. You cannot be a follower of Satan and a slave to the riches and pleasures of the world and at the same time be one of Christ’s sheep. Being a Christian means daily repenting of your sins, learning and relearning what Christ teaches you. At times you will feel strong, like you have the faith to move mountains. Yet, at other times you may feel like Peter weeping bitter tears after denying His Lord. So, do not stray from the fold thinking that you can handle it on your own. Hold fast to Jesus’ Word and never underestimate your need for His Gospel.
There is nothing in this world worth losing Jesus over. There is nothing in this world worth risking losing your faith. Jesus has warned us of the dangers. He has sent us under-shepherds to tend His flock. Yet, we must continue to hear and follow His voice. The call to be a minister of God’s Word is indeed a call to the highest office on earth, because through it Christ catches souls for salvation. Yet, the call to be a Christian is still greater. The call to be a Christian is the call to be God’s child forever. Nothing can possibly be greater than that. Do not worry about the needs of the body, what you eat or wear nor let the care, riches, and pleasures of life distract you from what is really important. God will provide for you. Yet, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, He has provided for you an imperishable treasure that will last for eternity. St. Paul when reflecting on his ministry writes in 2 Timothy 4, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
There is a crown of righteousness laid up in heaven for you. So, keep the faith. Follow Jesus. And let not the cares of this world distract you from this priceless treasure. Amen.