When We Obey God We Can See

January 16, 2011
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Luke 5:1-11

Row Out To The Open Waters And Fish!

1. "Rabbi, we worked hard all night, but we didn't catch anything," (verse five). That's what Simon Peter told Jesus. That's right. All of his hard work through out the night ended up for nothing. That's the way things were going that morning. Fruitless toil can wear down the heart. Peter and the other fishers were probably both physically and mentally exhausted. Truth be told, they must have wanted to lie down right then and there and go to sleep. But, right after their fishing and not catching anything, they had to scrub their nets out. They had to wash these useless nets [of theirs]. That was futile too. This futility of unrewarded hard labor is something we too feel to one degree or another. I did my best but it got nowhere. Then making things worse still, the only thing left is a whole lot of cleaning up afterwards. We have experiences like that, I'm afraid.

2. On that morn, while the dog-tired fishermen were washing their nets, there was by the side of the lake a great crowd of people excited and making a commotion since morning. At the center of it was a man called Jesus of Nazareth. A huge crowd of people was going after Jesus and surging forward towards him. They had gathered in the attempt to hear the word of God which Jesus was preaching. The fishermen were probably washing their nets silently as they took sidelong glances at the the crowd-generated disturbance. Then he approached them. When he thought he might like to get on board Simon's boat, he said to Simon Peter, "Won't you row out a bit from the shore for me?"

3. "Please forgive me but, we're pretty tired here. I really don't like having to say this." However, this was not the first time Simon Peter had met Jesus. Furthermore, he had an obligation owed [Jesus]. When you look at chapter four, when Simon's mother-in-law was suffering with a high fever, the story is told that he had Jesus heal her. So he couldn't just outright refuse him. So, it came to be that Peter took Jesus on board and began rowing the boat out a bit.

4. Jesus sat down on the boat and began to teach the crowds. It seems to me that unexpectedly as it might have been but Peter had gotten the chance to hear the words of Jesus at the closest spot possible. Things were quite audible because they were right on the same ship. But, even though [the sound] could reach his ears, it doesn't necessarily mean that he heard its words as a message addressed to him. He probably didn't because it was rather hard to do, because though he was on the same ship with Jesus, he was turned towards the crowds. He might have heard it nodding his head, "Yeah, yeah, you got that right, amen to that," but even if that was the case, the words of Jesus had more than likely [sounded] to Peter [like] "a message addressed to the crowds, [and not me]" from start to finish.

5. Even if it was audible to him, it was, in [Peter's] analysis, a message for the crowds. This same thing happens in the church today. Both biblical messages and biblical interpretations reach [the audience's] hearing. Since this sanctuary is equipped with audio equipment the sound definitely reaches the audience. But, [the audience] may hear all the words as a message for somebody else, with [that] feeling of being in the same boat as Jesus [but looking out beyond to the crowd].

6. However, relations between Jesus and Peter did not end there. That's the topic for today. Jesus spoke to Peter further. He addressed Peter in the particulars of a specific situation. The particulars of the situation was in the extremity of the futility of having labored hard all night long but not catching a thing. That's where Peter was and Jesus said to him, "Row out to the open waters and fish!" Of course, it's not like Jesus had no idea how Peter would hear these words. Jesus' eyes turned to the two little boats on the bank. [The master] saw the fishermen getting up out of the boats and cleaning the nets. If he saw their situation and I'm sure he did, he knew that they had a poor catch. I imagine the eyes of the Lord going over the fishermen's faces sunken with weariness and discouragement, not getting one single fish, yet there they were cleaning nets that got as messy as can be. The Lord understood the whole situation. But still he says, "Row out to the open waters and fish!"

7. As long as [Peter] heard it as a message for the crowd there was no problem. As long as he heard it as a popular and "fine teaching" he heard it all gladly. He heard it all admiringly. But when it became a message for himself, a conflict began to emerge in him; because he was held accountable as to whether he had faith and obedience. Evidently, a huge conflict must have arisen in Peter; [for], Peter answered him, "Rabbi, we worked hard all night, but we didn't catch anything," (first half of verse five). This was the cry of his heart, that came to his lips without even thinking. It is clear what he meant by it. He meant, "What sense is there in piling up more hard work?" He meant, "I just can't take any more of it, this wasted work!" Whenever a person knows exactly how things work out, one exerts a greater felt patience over the hard work required to get there. Or, at least when a person expects some good results, then one undertakes the hard work because of the expected end results. [But] people can't put up with seemingly meaningless hard work. "Sorry but no more hard work just so [I] can expect nothing out of it, like going fishing during the day. Ain't no chance for that, you see." The words "We didn't catch anything" are showing this, they show what Peter wants.

8. But Peter's words don't end there. He added, "Yet, because you said so, we will lower the nets," (verse five, second half). In contrast to the first half of verse five with the exclamation of his feelings, the second half shows his decision based on determination and will. He did not obey his emotions. Be that as it may, he began rowing out to the open waters. He doesn't do it because he wants to row out deep, but because of the Lord's word, and so he obeyed [Jesus'] word just because of that. No matter what thoughts he was harboring in his heart, to obey saying "Because you said so" is markedly different from to not obey saying "You said so but ..."

9. Peter obeyed the word of the Lord and rowed out to the open waters. What happened as a result? The gospel narrative continues as follows. "Then, when the fishermen did as [Jesus] had said to, a great number of fish were caught and the net began to break. Then, signaling to their partners who were in the other boat, they asked them to come and lend a hand. They came, and as they filled the two boats up with fish, they began to sink," (verses six and seven). Whatever conflicts he had in his heart or whatever inability to understand he had in his head, he did obey the Lord anyway and when he did, then a miracle took place. That's right. Only those who obey the Word can experience [that]. There are some things that can never be obtained when you hear it as for someone else and put it aside from you. There are some things that you can begin to receive [only] upon obedience.

I Will Make You Fishers Who Catch People

10. But upon obedience to word of the Lord, Peter did not merely get a lot of fish. If that were all, he should have been happy at the great catch of fish. He should have rejoiced saying, "We scored big! We did!" But that's not what Peter said. Instead of saying that, Peter bowed before the feet of Jesus and said, "O Lord, separate yourself from me! I am a sinner."

11. What happened? He encountered the living God. He realized that he was actually standing before the living God. He realized that his life was right there in God's plain sight. It was, so to speak, like the light of God was shining on in. The light of God was shining into the dark life he had had to that moment. What does one look like when the light shines in? [You look] dirty. If we consider our homes, we might understand it. When it is dark, you don't notice if there is any dirt. But when the light comes in, you can see [any specks of] dust or dirt. It's the same as that. It may be paradoxical but when you try to live in obedience to God, you can begin to see how lacking in faith and disobedient you are. When you humble yourself and try to live in obedience to the word of the Lord, you can begin to see how disrespectfully and arrogantly you are living. You can see yourself as needing to admit, "I am a sinner!"

12. But then Peter heard a surprising statement. I think it was perhaps the message from the Lord that he could never forget his whole life. The Lord said to Peter as he bowed himself, "Do not be afraid!," (verse ten, first half). "Do not be afraid!" That was the announcement from God as spoken through Christ. When the words of "Do not be afraid!" are spoken from God's side of things, a person no longer has any need to say, "O Lord, please separate yourself from me!" When the words of "Do not be afraid!" are given, the sinner who cannot help but fear and tremble before the reality of God's presence can [now] raise [his or her] head again.

13. More than that even, it just wasn't that Peter was given permission to raise [his] head. Jesus also says to Peter, "From here on out, you will become a fisher who catches people," (verse ten, second half). If put more accurately, "a fisher who catches people" means "a fisher who catches people alive." [Their] being taken captive is not for the purpose of killing [them]. It is to truly make them alive. Peter would soon come to know the true meaning of this because Peter himself would be a man taken captive alive by the Lord. His life was groaning at the futility of fruitless hard labor, but Jesus brought to that life the word of God. And so it captured him and made him a person who was truly alive. In addition, Peter was called again to this same kind work of Jesus. The captured are made into persons who capture [others] with the Lord, the ones made alive are made into persons who make others alive with the Lord.

14. Soon Peter would become the central leader in the early church. He became someone who would do a great work for the Lord. But, he must have never forgotten that it all started at that lakeside in Galilee. "At that time, the Lord had spoken directly to me. I heard the words that the Lord was speaking to me. And even though I had some conflict in my heart, even though I grumbled, I did follow him somehow or other. My unbelief had truly been unlimited, my disobedience was unlimited, I was truly sinful and disrespectful, but, I obeyed saying, 'Because you said so.' Then the true Lord forgave me and made me a fisher who catches people alive." Peter must have kept testifying that way. Yes, indeed, and it is the same way for us as well. It begins after we accept the word of the Lord as a message to me, and we are obeying the Lord saying, "Because you said so ..."