God commands that you labor and hope.
And Peter’s exasperated: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” (Luke 5:5). He has nothing to show for his efforts, and worse, he still has to clean up. Simon Peter’s first words emphasize his own work and failure.
He does call Jesus “Master,” but he expresses the doubt that plagues us all: that our works, our toilsome labors, our struggles, bring nothing.
Peter, James, and John have to show from their night of toilsome labor.
They’re fishermen who don’t catch fish, which is to say, they’re useless.
But what do you have to show for all of your years of labor?
Do you have enough money that you’ll never run out?
Do you know for certain that your children will grow up and be there to take care of you when your turn comes?
And even if they grow up, will they want to?
Will your eyes always be able to see the TV or the road or the book? And what of your ears, your legs?
We know the answer.
We know one day we’ll cease to breathe. We know that at the end of our days, we’ll come face to face with the truth of Simon Peter’s words: “We toiled all night,” that is, “We worked our whole lives,” and “we took nothing” (Luke 5:5).
On a long enough timeline, on a large enough scale, everyone’s average contribution to life falls to zero, and worse, if we call Jesus “Master,” if we “obey” Jesus’ Words, and if we still emphasize our works, there’s no hope for us. Only doubt, arrogance, and, at the last, despair. How’s that for a wet blanket?
Only Simon Peter recognized Jesus as God.
Nothing is said of how the crowd that was pressing in on Jesus responded, except, perhaps, that they were astonished like James and John.
Surely there were those present who attributed the miraculous catch of fish to luck or coincidence or the skill of the fishermen instead of God’s presence?
There are people today who pray only on their last dime and attribute their still beating hearts to their own perseverance and strength.
How arrogant we are to do anything but thank God when things go our way. And how arrogant we are to do anything but thank God even when they don’t.
The miraculous catch isn’t a divine promise that things will go our way with God “if you just obey Him.”
The point in today’s Gospel lesson isn’t even that “all things are possible.”
The point is, only God can do this thing.
And Jesus does this thing.
So Jesus is God. And He’s with us. In our midst.
Peter recognizes this, and he makes his first great confession: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
He gets to the heart of things. He knows what standing a sinner has before God.
This is why we are fear God and why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
That phrase occurs three times in Scripture, each time with a slightly nuanced meaning.
Psalm 110:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.”
Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
And Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”
In this case, Simon Peter fears God, because the Holy One is right there. And consider this: the Holy One is there, because Peter is a sinful man.
Peter is familiar with only one way that’s true.
He knows that God will destroy sin. A sinner, Peter fears judgment. He knows there’ll be a reckoning. We know Jesus will come again to judge the quick and the dead. The Holy One is there, because Peter is a sinful man, and so, Peter fears God saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both [body and soul] in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
What Peter doesn’t know, and what no one can know apart from the Son of Man revealing it to him, is that the Holy One is there, because he is sinful, meaning, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
We should fear God, because He could destroy both body and soul in hell.
And—God has chosen to hand over His own Body and Blood, to breathe His last, and to give up the Ghost, that you, and all believers in Christ, would be saved.
“We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23).
So your toilsome labor and burden-filled suffering amount to very little in your life… So you have nothing to show for your effort with goods, fame, child, or wife…
Though these all be gone, our victory has been won.
The Kingdom ours remaineth.
God is faithful.
Today, a sinner asks God to depart from Him, and, knowing better, God doesn’t do it.
He has come to save sinners.
Peter’s own work failed: “We toiled all night and took nothing,” but the Word of God reveals the truth: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Jesus says, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).
This shows us how to preach the Gospel and to whom: when and where Jesus says so—even if it’s foolishness to us.
We think we know where to fish for men and how.
Start two churches. One in a poverty stricken ghetto where no families are intact because Black Lives Matter has had its way with them. And one in an upperclass suburb. Which will do better?
Start two churches. One in the country, where the cows outnumber the people. And one in town. Which will have more to show?
How dare we, in arrogance, ignorance, and pride think that the church grows because of man.
Or that success in the church is defined as “Do whatever feels good and say whatever you please as long we have enough credit and a lot of people.”
We think we know best.
There are people we want sitting here, and there are people we don’t.
And that should shame us.
Jesus tells fishermen who know better to do exactly what they know didn’t work.
And the result is this—you hear the Gospel and are saved, a miraculous catch.
Because if the gospel were preached only to the righteous, or only to those who deserve to hear it, or those who’ve earned it, or only the ones we wanted saved, then no one would hear it.
Jesus calls sinners to repentance. And so we hear the Word of God and are saved.
Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Lk. 5:10).
Don’t be afraid.
Whatever you have in this body and life, whatever suffering you’ve endured, whatever suffering is around the corner for us all: “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Don’t be afraid. God did not send His Son into the world in order to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved through Him. Don’t be afraid.
And, you’ll be catching men, Jesus says.
This is said specifically to the first pastors of the church, not to the congregation. So, in the Church, it is the responsibility of pastors to publicly cast the net of God’s Word into the deep and—at God’s command and to His glory!—pull into the ship of the Church as many repentant sinners as possible.
Pastors plant and water, but God gives the growth.
And where human wisdom and methods fail daily, the net of the Word of God endures forever.
It doesn’t change with the fish and the times.
It doesn’t need to be washed.
We preach the Word, and we pray for our friends and enemies.
As God gives you the opportunity to do so, share your faith with the unchurched who know not Jesus. For that matter, share your faith with the churched who know not well Jesus.
Many Christians think they know what the Gospel is. Many Christians don’t.
Do not fear.
In the preached Word of God, God Himself is in your midst, calling sinners to repentance and raising them to life.
Do not fear.
God commands that you labor and hope.
The catch of fish doesn’t depend on you.
God gives the growth.
And whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (cf. Romans 14:8).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
The Fifth Sunday After Trinity, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt