A hard man is converted

St Barnabas and St Michael’s, 22nd July 2012

Reading – Luke 5:1-11

Last week we came to the end of our sermon series on 1 Peter. I don’t know about you, but over the past few months this letter has really come alive for me. Because the theme of the letter – how to live as Christians in a hostile world – is as real as an issue as when the letter was first written. So Peter’s words have been a great encouragement, reminding us of the privilege of suffering with Christ, of our identity as a chosen people and royal priesthood, and of the unfading crown of glory that awaits the faithful. We’ve needed to hear Peter’s words, and I hope that in the weeks and months to come you’ll return to them, read, learn, mark and inwardly digest them as you learn to live for Christ day by day.

So today I want to ask a very simply question: who was this Peter who wrote such an amazing and relevant letter? Was he a top-class intellectual with loads of degrees to his name? Or was he a great philosopher with a library stuffed full of the greatest literature? Well, the answer’s in the reading we heard just now from Luke’s gospel. He was…. Can anyone tell me who he was?

That’s right, he was a fisherman – a very ordinary, practical, down-to-earth sort of guy. Someone who didn’t have the highest level of education, someone who knew what it was like to do an honest day’s work. And I think that’s a really important point to make. Some people think the Christian faith is only for really clever people, or for people who use long words. Maybe they’ve been to a church where the vicar has preached such a deep and meaningful sermon that no-one has been able to work out what he’s been saying, or the choir have sung something beautiful in Latin – without anyone explaining what they’re singing about. If that’s been your experience of church, I’m genuinely sorry. Jesus wants ordinary, plain folk. After all, he himself was a carpenter. He knew what it was like to get your hands dirty, and a splinter in your finger. Whatever your trade, how many exams you have passed or failed, Jesus wants you. I can’t put it simpler than that.

And the other thing we know about Peter was he was no wimp. In our reading Luke calls Peter by his real name, Simon. But we know from John’s gospel that when Jesus first met him, his opening words were, in effect, from now on, you will be known as The Rock – which is what Peter means. Now preachers tend to get all kind of super-spiritual when talking about the reason why Jesus called Simon Peter the rock, and yes, we know from Matthew’s gospel that He promised to build His church on the type of faith Peter showed. But hang a moment, wasn’t there a simpler reason why Jesus called Simon the Rock?

After all, if you are used to being out in all weathers, and it’s your job to haul in fish, and lug boats onto shore, you’re going to have muscles, real muscles. We need to move right away from the idea that Jesus and his friends sort of floated around Galilee in long, flowing robes, as if to be a Christian means only to be weak and to be wet. Simon Peter was a hard man, and one of the great lessons he had to learn was how to deal with his habit of acting first and thinking later. And it’s when you understand that, you begin to see how today’s story is really remarkable. You don’t usually get hard men down their knees, confessing their faults. Yet by the time Simon Peter has met with Jesus, that is what he is doing. “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” That’s quite some transformation, isn’t it?

So let’s look to see what exactly happened down by the Sea of Galilee, and how this man called the Rock became a lifelong follower of Jesus who many years later wrote such a remarkable letter.

First of all, he offered to Jesus what he had.

Picture the scene. Jesus is teaching down by the lake in Galilee. There are crowds of people gathering to hear this remarkable new preaching. Hour after hour, more men, women, children come streaming in from the surrounding villages. Clearly something very special is going on. But there’s also a problem. With all these people, Jesus is in danger of being overwhelmed. His disciples can’t act as minders for such large numbers, and it’s getting hard for people to get close to Him.

So what does Jesus do? Verse 3 tells us: He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. What had been just a humble fishing boat became a floating pulpit, a safe place for Jesus, and a platform for Him to teach the good news of salvation to the crowds.

And this story acts as a reminder to me that when we offer what we have to Jesus, great things happen. Now you might wonder what Jesus could do with a boat today. Well, those of you who’ve been here for a long time will remember that someone left St Michael’s a boat in their will about 20 years ago. From that bequest sprang the Horizons Boating Project run by Christians that today provides sailing experiences for children across the city of Plymouth. One offer of a boat led to something that has changed numerous lives for good.

It says elsewhere in Scripture that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). So over the summer, why not take time to think what you can offer in Jesus’ service? It may be a skill, it may something you own, it may be some free time. Whatever it is, if you believe Jesus is asking you to give it, then give. Out of one small mustard seed of faith Jesus can do far more than we can ever imagine. One humble fishing boat became the means by which many heard the word of God one day in Galilee. Let’s dare to pray in faith that Jesus can take and use us to make the good news known.

So Peter offered to Jesus what he had.

Secondly, he obeyed Jesus when he was called.

Scene two. At last the crowds have gone away. Maybe they have been dismissed by Jesus, maybe it’s getting late. The bustle and the commotion has died down. It’s been a wonderful day but Simon Peter and his colleagues are glad it’s over. Now they can get back to business of being fisherman, and carry on washing their nets, which is what they were doing before they were interrupted. Except Jesus turns to Simon Peter and says something truly remarkable. As Luke records in verse 4: When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Now I am unashamedly a landlubber. I love walking by the sea, but I rarely go out on a boat, and you will never find me in the water. I am simply too uncoordinated to swim. So if, say, I went down to my favourite holiday haunt and asked one of the fishermen in Beer to go out to sea, can you imagine what his reaction would be?

Here is a carpenter telling a master fisherman to put out into deep water. Not only that, but he’s telling him to do it at the wrong time of day. Lake Galilee is usually bright and sunny by day. Fish can easily pick up the movement of a boat from the loss of sunlight, so Simon Peter and his crew tended to work at night. You can almost hear him say through gritted teeth: Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.

Yet Simon Peter goes on to say something truly remarkable. But because you say so, I will let down the nets. Simon Peter must have already started to realise Jesus was more than a simple carpenter or travelling preacher. Hard man though he was, he was beginning to see that he was in the presence of a greater authority. And although he didn’t understand, he was willing to take a chance, even though it flew in the face of all his experience.

Maybe you are here this morning who over the past few weeks or months have gradually been learning more about Jesus. Bit by bit, you are starting to realise just who Jesus is. It’s great that you are growing in your understanding. But Jesus requires more than understanding. At some point you need to take a step of faith. You need to take a chance on Jesus and put your trust in Him. That will involve practical action. It may include baptism, it may include putting a relationship right, it may include giving up some old habit. When Jesus calls you to obey, will you act? Peter could have argued with Jesus that the time wasn’t right, or there were more important things to do, or he couldn’t be bothered, but he didn’t. He trusted Jesus enough to obey. Surely his is an example all of us need to follow.

So Peter offered Jesus what he had.

Secondly, he obeyed Jesus when he called.

Thirdly, he owned Jesus as Lord.

Scene three. Simon Peter has let down the nets. He waits. He suddenly feels a pressure, a tug. He starts to pull. The pressure builds. He pulls harder. It’s no use. The pressure’s getting too great. There is a creak and a groan – is his precious net starting to tear? He signals furiously to his partners in the other boat to help. Soon they are pulling buckets and buckets of fish on board. They’ve never seen anything like it. In fact there’s a real danger both boats are going to sink.

So what’s going on here? Is Jesus simply doing a great miracle to impress? Or making sure these poor fishing families are going to make ends meet? No, there is a far deeper meaning, which Simon Peter instantly recognises. As Luke tells us in verse 8: When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

Simon Peter owned Jesus as Lord. Now we don’t often stop to think what it means to call Jesus Lord. If you want to translate it into plain English, Simon Peter saw Jesus was the boss, the guv’nor – someone who was far more than carpenter, far more than a teacher, someone who had authority over creation itself. And when Simon Peter realised that he was sharing his boat with the very maker of heaven and earth, he fell on his knees. He saw he was unworthy to be in His presence. All his pride in his own strength and his own achievements simply melted away. For maybe the first time in his life he saw who he really was, a sinful man who had fallen short of God’s standards. And what he wanted above all else, was for the Lord to go away. He couldn’t bear the thought of being in His presence, and the weight of his wrongdoing was almost too much to bear.

I wonder if you can identify with Simon Peter at this point? Many people reject the Christian faith, not because they do not believe, or they do not confess Jesus as Lord. Rather they realise that they cannot hide from Jesus and He knows what they are really like. And so they try to run, maybe for months, maybe for years. They cannot bear the thought of coming into the presence of God Almighty and admitting they need salvation.

If that in any way describes you this morning, then I have a piece of advice for you: stop running. As the prophet Jonah discovered in the Old Testament, you can’t run forever. And as Simon Peter found out, one day you will come face to face with Jesus and there will be no way out. Yes, Jesus knows everything about you. Yes, Jesus is the very maker of heaven and earth before whom no-one can stand in their own righteousness. But Jesus has a very special word for you: Don’t be afraid. He wants to break your pride in your own strength and your own achievements, not to crush you, or leave you condemned, but in order for you to realise the heart of grace and mercy He has for all who truly turn to Him.

However don’t think there isn’t a challenge in Jesus’ words. Because to come to Jesus means to give up everything to follow Him. It means changing our priorities, our attitudes, our deepest dreams and ambitions to love and serve and Him. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” And Simon Peter doesn’t argue. Yes, of course there is a risk in abandoning his fishing business. Yes, from the world’s point of view it seems mad or extreme to go following someone who claims to be the Messiah. But Simon Peter has seen something so special that from now on nothing can ever be the same again. Jesus is the Lord, the boss, the guv’nor. There can be no greater privilege than serving Him.

And so Simon Peter, his brother, Andrew, and his business partners, James and John pull their boats up onto the shore, leave everything and follow Jesus. The hard man has been truly converted. What about you? Do you know what it means to offer Jesus what you have? To obey when He calls? To own Him as Lord? The reason Luke writes this story is not just to explain how a fisherman could one day write such an amazing letter about Jesus, or even to give us a story to admire. He writes this story as a lesson for us. You are here today in the presence of Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth. What is your response? What would He have you do for Him?

Rev Tim


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