Sermon for Trinity 5
Jeremiah 16:14-21 + 1 Peter 3:8-15 + Luke 5:1-11
Jesus said to Peter at the end of the Gospel, “Do not be afraid. From now on, you will catch men.” And you know what? Jesus told the truth. From then on, Peter began to catch men, and he has been hauling them in ever since.
Peter? Where is Simon Peter? How is he catching men today? Let’s go back to our Gospel and see.
As He often did, Jesus taught His disciples a lesson about the kingdom of God in today’s Gospel using picture language and analogies. In this case, the analogy of a fisherman going out in a boat, casting a net to catch fish. You have three or four basic parts to this analogy: The fish, the net, and the fisherman who casts the net. The fish are hauled into a boat, which would be the kingdom of God.
You see at least three parts right away at the beginning of the Gospel. There was a great number of people (like the great number of fish that Peter caught), pressing around Jesus (the Fisherman), to hear the Word of God—that’s the net. It’s really just that simple. Jesus preached the Word of God to the crowds gathered around, and many of them believed the Word and were “caught” out of death and brought to spiritual life, “caught” out of Satan’s kingdom and brought into the kingdom of God.
Jesus was sent by God the Father as both priest and prophet. As priest, to offer up one holy sacrifice of atonement, once for all, the sacrifice of Himself as the Redeemer, as the one who made atonement for the sins of mankind. As prophet, Jesus was sent to preach the Word of God, to preach the Law and the Gospel, to proclaim the truth—that all are sinners who must repent and believe the good news of salvation through faith alone in Christ Jesus. It’s by preaching that people are brought to faith in Jesus and saved.
So, which of these two “offices” is our text talking about today? Priest or prophet? Prophet, right? Not priest. So when Jesus sends Peter out into the deep waters to catch fish, he isn’t sending Peter to make atonement for sins or to make sacrifices to God. He’s sending Peter out to preach the Word of Christ, who is our great High Priest, who offered Himself up on the altar of the cross to make atonement for sin. He’s sending Peter out as a “caster of the net,” or in other words, as a “minister of the Word.” We learn in today’s Gospel about the role of the ministry of the Word in the kingdom of God.
What is that role? Well, it’s a humble role. As Jesus directs Peter to take the boat out for a catch of fish, Peter admits, they worked hard all night trying to catch fish, and didn’t catch a thing. The ministers of the Word don’t know where the fish are or how many they will catch in any given day. They don’t know where to steer the boat. All they see is water. All they see is the sea. They know fish are out there, but where? Only God knows. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. They go at Jesus’ Word, not knowing where they are going. They simply open their mouths as Jesus’ gives them opportunity.
What is the role of the ministry? It’s a humble role, because the ministers of the Word have no power of their own to bring people to faith and catch them for eternal life. The power is never in the minister. It’s only in net, only in the Word. Paul said to the Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”
What is the role of the ministry? It’s a humble role, because, when Peter saw the great catch of fish they brought, he fell on his knees before Jesus in horror. He had no right to claim that catch of fish as his own. It was all Jesus’ doing. Jesus demonstrated that He was the Almighty Lord of nature, which also meant He was the Holy One in whose presence no sinner can stand. And Peter knew he was nothing but a sinful man. He knew his sins. He felt his sins. Ministers of the Word are not holier than other men. Peter was a sinful man, as are all the ministers of the Word.
But see, Jesus came to save sinners, like the Apostle Peter, who would deny Jesus three times, like the Apostle Paul, who would spend years persecuting and killing Christians before his conversion. Jesus came to save sinners like me, and like all of you. He gave His life for sinners. He calls sinners to repent and believe in Him for forgiveness. And as Peter himself would one day declare to a group of “fish,” “whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
Jesus didn’t “depart from” Peter, as Peter begged Him to. No, He announced peace to Peter, as He announces peace to all who repent. And He did even more. He called Peter to this ministry of the Word.
Now, if Jesus had wanted to catch men for His kingdom without using sinful men as ministers of the Word, He could have easily chosen to send His holy angels to preach the Gospel. They are sinless. They are perfect servants of the Lord, and they would have gladly done it. But in His grace, Christ has specifically chosen not to send angels for this ministry. They serve Him in many ways, but not for this—not for casting the net that brings men into His kingdom. For that, He has chosen only sinful men, like Peter.
You want an example? Years later, after Jesus died and rose again and ascended into heaven, there was a Gentile named Cornelius who worshiped the God of Israel, but had not completely embraced the Jewish faith; he was not circumcised. And he didn’t know Jesus as the Christ. God had mercy on him. God wanted to catch Cornelius for His kingdom. God even sent an angel to Cornelius’ house. But for what purpose? To preach the Word? To cast the Gospel net and bring Cornelius into the kingdom of Christ? No! All the angel did was to point Cornelius to Peter—to send for Peter. “He will tell you what you must do,” the angel said. And then the angel was gone. God directed Cornelius to the ministry of the Word. That is how Jesus has chosen to go fishing for men.
So while the ministry of the Word has a humble role in God’s kingdom, it also has a vital role. Christ has provided this ministry for His Church, and the Church is authorized to call ministers, in the name of Jesus, to cast the net of the Word, to cast it here within the Church and to cast it out into the world. Have you sinned? Do you need forgiveness? God directs you here, to the ministry of the Word, where He will absolve you, he will speak forgiveness to you through your pastor and give you His body and blood. Do you know a Christian who has distanced him or herself from the ministry of the Word? Direct them back to it! Do you know someone who may not be a Christian at all? Then you are God’s angel, God’s messenger to direct them to the place where God has established His ministry.
This is Christ’s lasting gift to His Church and to the world. This is how Christ has chosen to be present among us and working with us to grow His kingdom until He comes again.
Now, we may look out at the world, and at the immorality that surrounds us. We may look at our culture as it changes and degenerates into Sodom and Gomorrah all around us. We may look out at the world and despair. Or just as bad, we may look out at our culture and imagine that we need to tweak something, either the message or the ministry of it, in order to “reach” the fish. But we shouldn’t. We dare not. We need not. There is only one net, and there is only one thing to do with it, and that’s cast it out into the darkness, into the deep, and trust in the power of the Gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit to catch men, where and when it pleases God.
As for us, we give thanks to God today for the ministry of the Word, the ministry by which He has caught us for eternal life, the ministry by which He will keep catching men until the nets are good and full. And even if they don’t look full to us, remember, there is only one net. It’s Peter’s net. Not, Peter the man, but Peter as he represents the ministry of the Word. One net, one ministry, one Holy Christian and apostolic Church, since the time of Christ and lasting until the end of the world. When you understand that, when you understand our tiny place in that great and ongoing catch of fish, all you can do is stand back in awe as Jesus’ disciples did, and give humble thanks to God for His grace and mercy in establishing this ministry on earth, and among us. Amen.