Bible Reading Luke 5:5-11
People were pressing around Jesus to hear his teaching while he stood on the shore of the Galilean Lake. Fisherman were cleaning their nets by their two boats. Jesus sat in the one that belonged to Simon and asked him to push off a little from the shore. From that natural amplification system, he taught the people. When he finished, he told Simon to go out into deep water to catch some fish.
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (NIV)
Message Luke 5:1-11, Isaiah 6:1-13
Called to Overcome Misunderstandings and Called to Catch People
If you were here last week, you remember Jesus was ultimately not so well received in his hometown and headed on down to Simon (later named Peter)’s hometown, Capernaum. There, the people were amazed at his authoritative synagogue teaching, as well as his ability to heal people from demon and disease. After one dramatic healing in the synagogue, Jesus went the home of Simon, whose mother-in-law was there and suffering from an energy-draining high fever. Jesus healed her. He began to travel and teach in all the synagogues of Judea. Word about him spread throughout the region. Simon already knew Jesus when he came to the shore that day -- and was probably not the first time Jesus met these fishermen on the shore. Some conjecture that the similar stories in Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20 were an earlier visit to the shore -- and that they dropped everything and followed, but not as a permanent full-time vocation. They still returned to their fishing careers at least part of the time. It is not critical if that is right or not, but if so, then those calls were preparatory calls – Jesus working ahead of time leading to today’s “final call” that changed their careers and lives.
It is not easy to take in the beauty of the place. The Sea of Galilee is 7 miles widen 13 miles long, 600 feet below sea level, which means it was surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains. In those days, the lake was nearly surrounded by busy towns and villages with an active fish trade.
Jesus attracted a crowd when he went to the shore that morning. He finished teaching from Simon’s boat. He asked the fisherman, who had been cleaning their nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing, to go out and fish. I’m not a fishing person, and especially not in that part of the world, but I read that fishing with nets during the dark night was the best time to catch fish and fishing during the morning when sun was glistening on the surface of the water was a waste of time. Simon and his business partners were already exhausted from their long, unsuccessful night shift. This was their field of expertise, they knew what was right for fishing in that sea. But out of respect for Jesus, they (probably) humored him, and decided to go out into deep water as he had asked (likely expecting to catch next to nothing). To their shock and surprise, they caught so many fish they had to call for help.
It was then that the real impact of who Jesus was began to sink in. They wouldn’t get the full implications on this day (they didn’t even get the full implications until he went back into heaven after the resurrection), but they were beginning to grasp that he was much more than just a powerful teaching, healing, traveling rabbi. Before the fishing trip, Simon addresses him “Master”, (meaning Teacher, Rabbi, or in our day, “Sir”. Someone whose words are wise, respected, and usually followed. After the catch -- after Jesus shows his power in their area of life, Simon impulsively falls at Jesus’ knees and calls him “Lord”, which in this context, the word means he is filled with reverential awe, knowing he is in the presence of someone special – the presence of God. Like others who found themselves in the presence of divine holiness, Simon becomes very aware of his own spiritual shortcomings -- and utters a phrase similar to Job and Isaiah. (Job 42:5-6, Isaiah 6:5) and these phrases reference the Old Testament belief that being in God’s holy presence is a life-threatening place to be (Exodus 33:20, Deuteronomy 5:26).
He asked Jesus to go away but he does not. Instead he reassures Peter in a way that only a fisherman could be reassured, “Don’t be afraid, I will make you a fisher of people.” In current language, that would be “Simon, you don’t need to feel spiritually lost or a failure, I can disciple you, teach you, to live as a faithful follower and you will be as comfortable in that role as you are in your professional fishing role.” This is the tipping point that moved Simon’s faith from a casual and occasional acquaintance with Jesus to building his life around a new priority. The humongous catch revealed who Jesus was, but it also had a practical side effect. It provided for their families so they could feel more free to change vocations and begin to follow Jesus full time – because of the provision Jesus was giving them.
Simon’s experience has some parallels with the prophet Isaiah. Unlike most prophets, whose story begins with God’s call on their life, Isaiah has already been be speaking for God, saying the nation had turned its back on God and because they refused to repent, they would face judgment. And then the king died, and his son took the throne. The father was a good king, mostly, and the son was a good king. But it raised the question in everybody’s mind. With this pending judgment, with a new king, a new regime, would this be enough to turn the nation around and God will not destroy us after all?
Like Simon, there came a crisis point where God needed Isaiah to be “all in”, and so he ushers the prophet into this heavenly vision. I’ll read the verses (from Isaiah 6:1ff (all NIV)) which is in bold italicized print, and make comments in-between.
In the year the King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord… That puts Isaiah in the very limited company of humans who see God face to face and live. I saw the Lord high and exalted, seated on a throne, and the train of his robe filled the (heavenly) temple. God’s glorious presence fills - dominates the scene. Above him were seraphim elsewhere called sons of God, heavenly hosts, cherubs, messengers, angels; but only here are they described this way: each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces in respectful submission to God’s glory, with two they covered their feet let’s call that a sign of modesty, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” or literally, “the fullness of the earth is his glory”. Not only is his glory everywhere on earth, he created the earth so great and grand that that fullness reveals who he is. Holiness describes God’s innermost nature -- perfect, pure and entirely other than what is created; while glory describes his decisions and works through which he becomes known.
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. That imagery is vastly different that Simon’s experience on the Sea of Galilee with his bountiful reception of fish. The message to Simon was a reassurance of provision and an opportunity to follow God through Christ. The message to Isaiah feels terrifyingly ominous. The context is affirming God’s irreversible decision of Israel’s destruction, new king or not. But these encounters are also alike -- they both give Simon and Isaiah insight into the overwhelming imminent presence and holy character of God - so where Simon says, “Go away, Lord, I am a sinner.” Isaiah says, “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! The first phrase is one connected with funerals and Isaiah is basically saying, “I’m a dead man”. The second phrase has been translated as ruined, undone, lost - the word technically means “silent” -- Isaiah wants to join the praise of these angels who are surrounding the throne, but he realizes who he is and what he is and he doesn’t speak, For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, that is, he as a sinner in a nation of sinners, and has no right to say anything in the presence of the holy One in the holy Temple in the heavens. and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” He is amazed his is still alive, much less able to speak, but he doesn’t dare speak.
Simon is assured of forgiveness with the encouraging words of Jesus, while Isaiah’s sin problem is addressed by an angel. Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and you sin atoned for.” This action represented the sacrifices needed to enter the Temple, that is, metaphorically, to enter into God’s presence. Isaiah is now safe, and safe to speak in God’s presence, Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” to deliver God’s message -- in this case -- the decision to destroy the nation of Israel. This question, asked in the heavenly temple, is (except here in Isaiah) always answered by a member of heaven’s court. It is an angel or spirit that says they will go and then they go and do it. (See 1 Kings 22:19 ff, for example).
But like Simon, who with sins forgiven and the confidence of provision, is prepared to leave his fishing business behind and follow Jesus, Isaiah also jumps at the chance to serve, And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
And God accepts the offer. He said, “Go and tell this people: (and the tense is one of continuation – “keep on going and keep on telling the covenant people…” “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Simon’s new full-time job is going to start out much more palatable than Isaiah’s. Simon is going to catch people while Isaiah might as well be talking to the wall in an empty room. This idea runs throughout the first 40 chapters of Isaiah, saying the people are (by choice) blind and deaf to God’s message, and some translate this passage that way too. The translation I read puts a little more emphasis on the messenger “making them that way” (because God’s decision is mad made final and he doesn’t want repentance to get in the way). Don’t get hung up on that.
The critical idea is that the people had been given every opportunity to see and hear God’s message and understand their sinfulness, (like Isaiah and Simon did) which would cause most people to wake up, repent (change, be healed, and start a new direction) (like Isaiah and Simon did). But not these people. They had hardened their hearts and calloused their spirits and so engrained their evil patterns as normal for so long that they passed a point of no return. It was too late to change, too late to save themselves or their nation from their wandering ways. Prophets of this era were called to speak, but successful repentance was not a part of their commission. Past the point of repentance, the message is simply a warning of what is going to happen and not a call to turn, because it is too late to turn.
And then I’ll just sum verses 11-13. Isaiah persists in the details of the message for the sake of future generations and asks, “How long (do I give this glum message of judgment -- is it temporary or is permanent)?” The Lord answers, “Until the cities are vacant, the fields are in ruins and everyone is sent far away.” And then there is an implied question (not actually stated) by the prophet about the distant future -- “If a remnant of people survive, will they ever be able to return and rebuild?” And the answer that is given in this text is that their lives will have this important continuing role: of being like a funeral monument - reminding future generations of a nation that is now dead and why it was destroyed. In other words, at this point, while a return is not denied, for now, the message is to be utter destruction for generations to come and will only survive as a warning sign to future generations. And in fact, Judah, the southern kingdom returned under the authority of Persia. But the people today’s message is directed at -- the northern kingdom, Israel, never received any official permission to return…
Now. We do not have Assyrians or Babylonians or Persians breathing down our neck. If we traveled across the world to the Sea of Galilee, where we may expect something special, but would probably not expect that Jesus would approach us and ask us to drop everything and follow him. Contexts change. Isaiah sought but didn’t a word for future generations, in this particular text – people who would read it and look back and wonder, “What does that mean for us?” But that is a good question for us to ask as well. “What does all this mean for us?” So let’s answer in the from of questions.
1) Are we open to an ongoing shaping of our lives? These encounters of Isaiah and Simon were not the first, nor the last special events in Isaiah or Simon’s life. God prepared them for this point and continued to work and shape, and build their lives after that point. Are we willing to let God shape us day by day?
2) What is our attitude when we enter God’s presence? In our devotional life, our prayer life, our worship life. Whether it was Simon’s joyful celebration of God’s abundance, or Isaiah’s being deeply troubled by a gloomy present and future, both experienced a combination of holy reverence with a keen awareness of their human limitations – how do we approach God?
3) Do we allow God to deal with our failings? Confession of who we are and what we’ve done is a start. Accepting his forgiveness and a willingness to let him reassure us that whatever is in our past, it is not too late to change and adjust our lives -- for we are deeply loved and God’s covenant commitment to us offered through Christ does not go away. The fact that we are here in this room means we haven’t hardened our hearts too far. And I believe most of us have extremely soft hearts, eagerly desiring to do what God wants us to do for him. So allow him to encourage and teach and shape us as a continuing process - and know that he can make us as comfortable in our new adventurous life of the Christian way as we were comfortable in our old familiar patterns.
4) Are we willing to make ourselves available for God’s mission through us? Isaiah said, “Here I am, send me”. Simon left everything - changed careers and followed. I can’t say what God’s mission for you might be. I suspect his mission, your call, will be based on the needs that surround the circles of your life in which you “travel” (the people you encounter on a regular basis at home, school, work, recreation, social life or other routines you may have) In those contacts you will notice certain needs, and they will be combined with the gifts and graces you are given to be a part (with others) of helping bring solutions to those needs.
5) Are we willing to reorient our lives and make God central? For Isaiah, it was a continuation of what he was already doing. For Simon, it was a complete overhaul of his life’s direction. For both, it required an “all-in” commitment. Like I said last week, all God wants of you is all of you. And in heeding (listening and following through) with his daily call and direction, we will, perhaps not in the moment, but in God’s time, we will experience more joy and fulfillment than any other avenue of life, for God knows what it is that makes us the best us we can be, and when we will feel the best about ourselves when we are doing our best at what we are best at. And we can find peace -- even during dark days. Let’s pray.
Closing Prayer Heavenly Father, even in restless days, perhaps especially during restless days, your call comes to us. It seems our lives are always busy, scrambling from one thing to the next -- so caught up in our agendas that we fail to stop and see what is going on around us and how we can participate in your mission and message. Reshape our hearts that we may more easily hear you over the cares that weigh us down and the pleasures that pursue us to distraction. Then, perhaps, we may learn to love you more, accept ourselves, and serve you through serving others and bring glory to your holy name. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 398 (vv 1,2,4) Jesus Calls Us
Closing Blessing Now as we go, may we be strengthened, comforted, and inspired to live lives worthy of God, who calls us into his kingdom and glory. Amen.