30 June 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Pet 3:8-15)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Our Lord Jesus did something that we might think would be entertaining. Before a crowd, He made multitudes of fish appear in a lake where seasoned fisherman had just worked all night and had come up with nothing. And what’s more, Jesus knew this would happen. He told them where to cast the nets. And even in the face of their skepticism, it came to pass in dramatic fashion.
It’s a little like Babe Ruth pointing with his bat to predict a home run, and then actually hitting the ball over the fence right where he said he would. It’s a little like a magician showing that he has nothing up his sleeve, and then making things seemingly come from nowhere.
But instead of cheering or clapping, Simon Peter’s reaction is one of horror. He is stunned. He is terrified. For this was no boastful prediction by a flamboyant athlete. This was no playful magic trick by a showman. Jesus truly commanded the forces of nature to do the impossible, and the impossible happened before St. Peter’s wide eyes. Or more accurately, Jesus did what was only possible for God to do.
It did not take St. Peter very long to figure out who this boat-preaching rabbi truly was. In retrospect, Peter realized to whom he was actually speaking when he earlier said rather flippantly: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your Word I will let down the nets.” Peter knew two things that prompted his unusual response to ask Jesus to depart. Peter understood: “This Jesus is God, and I am a poor, miserable sinner.” And Peter concluded: “Because of my sins, I am unworthy to stand before this Jesus of Nazareth, the Man who is God.”
And so St. Peter the sinner kneels before the Lord and confesses his sins, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter confesses his sins, but he also confesses Jesus as God: by kneeling and by calling Him Lord.
And that, dear friends, is the greater miracle. Making fish appear in a lake is nowhere near the greatness of the miracle of faith, of the confession of one’s sins and of the confession of Jesus Christ as God, of the forgiveness of sins, and of life everlasting.
And thanks be to God that St. Peter’s prayer “Depart from me” was not fulfilled. For Jesus would never abandon the apostle Peter, even when the apostle denied His Master three times. And he does not abandon us, dear brothers and sisters!
“Do not be afraid,” says our Lord, with a startling, if not humorous prophecy, “from now on you will be catching men.” And Peter, James, and John all walked away from their fishing businesses to follow Jesus, to study as his students for three years, in order to proclaim the good news that this Jesus, this Man who is God, has come not to frighten, but to forgive – and to draw people into the nets of the gospel using “fishers of men” who were themselves snagged by the Master.
Peter would see greater wonders, and perform many miracles himself. But the greatest miracles of all involve confession – the confession of sins and the confession of Jesus Christ as God and Lord, as Savior and Redeemer. This double confession is what it means to repent. And that is the single miracle that brings the hosts of heaven to rejoicing.
The Lord taught this same lesson to his holy prophet Elijah. Terrifying blasts of wind, horrific earthquakes, and raging fires may indeed demonstrate God’s mighty power on this created earth. But it is nowhere near the magnitude of the power of the “sound of the low whisper,” that very Word of God that calls us by name and breathes life into us. Whether shouted from rooftops or whispered in hushed tones, the real power of God is not in flamboyant displays or sleight-of-hand, but in the truth of His Word, the same Word that brought all things into being, that same Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, that same Word that declares us to be holy.
That is the real miracle, dear friends. To confess our sins is a far greater miracle than a whirlwind. To confess that Jesus has come into our world to forgive us poor, miserable sinners is a far greater miracle than an earthquake. To hear the “sound of a low whisper” pronouncing the holy absolution is a far greater miracle than a fire.
Jesus told Peter “Do not be afraid,” because Peter was made worthy to stand before our Lord, to enjoy His communion, and to never depart from the Lord’s grace and mercy. Peter would enjoy that communion in good times and in bad, in his triumphs and his failures, in his wisdom and his foolishness.
Dear friends, we partake of the same miracle today: casting our nets into what appears to be emptiness only to be rewarded with abundance beyond measure, poured out upon us at the Lord’s Word, with such lavish grace that we think our nets will break. And through everything, the good and the bad, the rejoicing and the sorrow, He also refuses to depart from us.
St. Peter would later offer advice to his fellow redeemed sinners by teaching them likewise not to be afraid: “Now who is to harm you if you are zealous for what is good. But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
The forgiving Word of God, even as a “low whisper,” is more powerful than all the tempests and storms this fallen world has to offer. For we can stand in the presence of the Lord, for it is this mighty voice that says: “Do not be afraid.”
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