Why does God do what He does?

Why does God allow what He allows?

Has anyone had too much rain over the last few weeks? And then, of course, has anyone, anywhere had too little?

Why?

Simon Peter is a fisherman.

He toiled all night and took nothing.

That’s what he says.

That’s how St. Luke records it: “Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets’” (Luke 5:5).

This is the lesson:

When you thank God for the catch—or for the rain or the produce from your garden or the day—thank Him not only for what He does—giving you what you can manage and, ultimately, what’s best for you.

But thank Him, also, for what He does not give you—and for what He does not do—giving you not what you can’t manage or, ultimately, anything that is not best for you.

Jesus teaches us to pray: “Thy will be done” (cf. Matthew 6:10).

And when we call God Father and speak of His great love for us, when we pray for His will to be done, this is what we mean, what we inevitably must conclude.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Because it is, impossible though it seems, for our good, all that the Lord gives and does.

It was good that the fishermen caught nothing.

Not from the fishermen’s perspective, but look how God used that.

For Joseph and all the world, it was good that his brothers left him in a pit.

Not from his perspective, but look how God used that.

These aren’t isolated cases, mere blips on the timeline of God’s interaction with Creation.

This is the routine.

St. Paul writes, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

And it’s St. Paul who writes, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).

So thank God for what He does.

And what He does not do.

And above all—why He does it.

Why does God do what He does?

And allow all that He allows?

Why does God give rain—and more rain?

And why do some places go without?

Why do some fishermen toil all night and take nothing? And why do some labor for an hour and receive the wage in full?

Why does God do this?

Today, we have the answer: that mankind, that we all, would be caught and kept with Jesus.

That we would not fear but follow Him all the days of our lives and dwell with Him forever.

To that end, let us pray:

Gracious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You for this day, for all You’ve given us, and for all You’ve kept away from us. Teach us to rejoice in Your love and will—to save sinners by the shed blood of Jesus Christ Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

That man would be caught and kept with Jesus Christ, what has God done?

Well, “In many and various ways, God spoke to the people of old by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1).

The Lord spoke to Elijah, and it could have been from  within the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but it wasn’t. To Elijah, the Lord spoke from the sound of a low whisper.

To Job, the Lord spoke from the whirlwind.

To Moses, from the burning bush.

There was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, when the Lord led His people Israel in the wilderness and into His promises.

“In many and various ways, God spoke to the people of old by the prophets, but now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2).

What has God done to catch and keep you in Christ?

He has spoken to you by His Son.

“Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets’” (Luke 5:5).

And at His word, the word of the Lord, the catch was greater than Simon Peter could fathom.

What we see in the Church, the Bible, the Old Testament, the New Testament—is God calling people to faith.

God does it.

But there’s some confusion about this in the Church today, regarding the doctrine of election—if you want to talk about it using the proper, theological term.

But the confusion arises in measuring the work:

How many people have you brought to the faith? Not the ice-cream social or even Confirmation but life-long, God-fearing faith?

I’m not saying you should ask these questions.

I’m saying the confusion results from these questions.

How many people are Christians because of you? The ones who wonder things like this don’t mean your children but the children of foreigners.

Or—to ask using the word we’ve talked about in Sunday School—how many people has your testimony brought to the faith? Not your retelling of what Jesus says but rather, your retelling of that special, possibly-Christian, heartfelt moment in your life.

The confusion is this—do you bring people into salvation? Is it up to you? Will there be more people in heaven or fewer because of you?

Do you measure God’s work by your successes and failures?

Or does God through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the preaching of the Gospel draw all sinners to Himself?

When the hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

What has God done to catch and keep you in Christ?

He handed His Son over to death, had Him lifted up for all the cursed world to see, that all who believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life.

He has caused His Word to be preached to you.

And the Holy Spirit, who called you by the Gospel, has enlightened you with His gifts.

“Jews demand signs and Greeks seek [pretty sounding] wisdom, but 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” (1 Corinthians 1:21-24) to save sinners.

So—why does God do all this?

To call us to Himself—

That we would not fear now but follow Him all the days of our lives and dwell with Him forever.

“When Simon Peter saw it, he [worshipped Jesus], saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken…And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men’” (Luke 5:8-10).

If you’re the fisherman, you’re not done with the fish once you’ve caught them.

If you’re the fish, your life has only just begun getting worse once you’ve been caught.

On our way to Church Triumphant, we are in the Church Militant.

When God brings you into the Church, he’s not done with you. The teachers and pastors of the Church aren’t done with you. All the days of your life, you should keep on learning, growing in faith, and Christian maturity—simply, slowly, faithfully.

But always.

When God brings you into the Church, there is yet a good death for you to die, but even then—He’s not done with you.

“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

So, “Do not be afraid,” He says.

Fear not.

God brings you into the Church, and He keeps you there—with this end in sight: the resurrection of your body and your life everlasting.

And why—why does God do this?

Because of His love that both gives and takes away.

Simon Peter and the others were afraid because they realized God was present. Who else could close their nets, as it were, and open them?

It’s frightening to discover that it’s God who sends the fish—just as it’s God who sends the rain.

We like to think that we catch the fish or shoot the deer.

And we do—but only after God has kept us alive and put our daily bread within reach.

So in plenty or hunger…

Abundance or need…

Fish or no fish…

Rejoice in your God who gives and keeps away—but always for your good.

Rejoice in your God for what He does—and for what He does not do.

But above all, rejoice in why He does all this.

That you would be caught and kept with Jesus.

That you would be His own and live with Him in His kingdom forever.

Because—“When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11).

Many today will talk about freedom, and it is meet and right so to do.

But how many who talk about freedom are yet slaves to sin?

As you rejoice together in the freedom God provided through men two-hundred and forty-five years ago…

Rejoice also in the freedom God provided through the one man Jesus Christ two-thousand years ago.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 5 Sermon, 2021
Luke 5:1-1
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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
Luke 5:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt