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Life of Peter

The Call

Luke 5:1-11

Lesson audio

The Character of Peter

Luke 5:1-11 NASB  Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret;  (2)  and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets.  (3)  And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.  (4)  When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."  (5)  Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets."  (6)  When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break;  (7)  so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink.  (8)  But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  (9)  For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken;  (10)  and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men."  (11)  When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.

 

History

The story given here in Luke's account clearly indicates that there is some prior history that Luke assumes you know. In fact, this is the second time that Christ has called Peter. Peter and his brother Andrew were disciples of John the Baptist. John did not particularly attractive the wealthy and influential of Palestine; in fact, the phrase "tax collectors and prostitutes" is used to describe his followers. Peter and Andrew would be what we might call today "blue-collar workers."

·         These men worked with their hands every day. Being a fisherman requires some experience and probably an apprenticeship, but unless you're flyfishing in the high Rocky Mountains it's not really an intellectual endeavor.

·         We also know that these men moved in the commercial circles of their day. The apostle John, who was called at about the same time, was well-known to the intellectual hierarchy of Jewish society — he was the guy who sold them the fish. That's why, on the night of Christ's trials, John was admitted into the house. Peter was not.

Virtue of Obedience

Christ's actions here are rather pragmatic. He had the problem that all public speakers did until the 20th century — how to be heard in a large crowd. He took advantage of the fact that a small they on this Lake would serve as a natural amphitheater. To put himself in the correct position to speak, however, he needed to be out on the water. Speakers in those days sat down to deliver their message; it was a way of assuming authority in your teaching. Remember, chairs were not common. The most ordinary use of a chair was as a throne, literally a seat of authority.

Be that as it may, this technique has one interesting side effect: Peter has to listen to the whole sermon. To be polite about it, he's going to have to listen intently. We can see the relationship in the matter of Christ's instructions to the fishermen. Think about: what does Jesus, the carpenter, know about fishing? Perhaps more to the point, what does Peter think of taking instructions from a carpenter? You can see the delicacy of the situation in Peter's comment. It's not like he's giving back talk to the boss, but he does point out that the fish seem to be in some other part of the lake. Christ, however, created fish.

The core of the argument is this: Peter calls him "Master." By the best of Peter's knowledge there are no fish in that part of the lake. But he is obedient to his Master's command. This might just be why Christ likes the man so much; even when he "knows better" he still does what he is told, when he is told, how he is told. It's a good example.

I Am a Sinful Man

Peter is Jewish; no doubt he had read of Isaiah's meeting with God:

Isaiah 6:1-7 NASB  In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.  (2)  Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  (3)  And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory."  (4)  And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.  (5)  Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts."  (6)  Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs.  (7)  He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven."

 

Both of these instances have a lesson for us: you don't have to be perfect to be God's chosen implement. God will deal with your sins and imperfections if you are obedient to his commands. Notice here that Jesus pays no attention to Peter objection. He doesn't even pause to dismiss it. Instead he does two things:

·         "Do not fear." The normal reaction to meeting God in all his might is absolute terror. Angels begin their discourses with the words, "fear not." God must deal with our fear before he can command our service; we are but human.

·         Christ then tells Peter the service he will perform. He gives them no information on the difficulties, the sufferings, the nights of sleeping in the open in the cold or other minor difficulties.

It seems that our focus when we meet God is on our sins. His focus is on our service.

The Call

So now you have it. Peter has been called to service, to become a "fisher of men." We may now examine the nature of the call; not just Peter's, but the call for each of us.

Personal

It seems to be a consistent quality of the call of Christ that it is personal. But what's it all about?

·         It's about trust. The call is personal because Christ wants a personal relationship with each of us. You cannot have an effective, continuing personal relationship without trust. If you've ever seen a marriage where there was no trust, you know the problem.

·         It's about example. Modern educators (note that I did not use the word teachers) see themselves as shaping the children into a mold of political correctness, and filling their little heads with facts. This is a relatively recent development; most of human history would proclaim the idea that the teacher was to disciple the student so that the student would be, like the teacher. We are to become like Christ; we are Christians — the word means little Christs.

·         The way the call is usually phrased is simply this: "follow me." It is not about following a system of belief; it is not about following a collection of rules; it's about following the son of God.

Bearing the Cross

One of my favorite authors, Thomas a Kempis, put it this way:

TO MANY the saying, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross and follow Me,” (Matt. 16:24.) seems hard, but it will be much harder to hear that final word: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” (Matt. 25:41.) Those who hear the word of the cross and follow it willingly now, need not fear that they will hear of eternal damnation on the day of judgment. This sign of the cross will be in the heavens when the Lord comes to judge. Then all the servants of the cross, who during life made themselves one with the Crucified, will draw near with great trust to Christ, the judge.

Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross when through it you can win a kingdom? In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There is no salvation of soul nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross.

Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life. He Himself opened the way before you in carrying His cross, and upon it He died for you, that you, too, might take up your cross and long to die upon it. If you die with Him, you shall also live with Him, and if you share His suffering, you shall also share His glory.

 

There is a vast difference between being number one and number two. All loyalty centers on number one. This is a principle of leadership in any organization, including your family. If you take up the cross, you put Christ at the center of your life and make him and his commands the most important things for you. If you do this, your family and friends will be impacted; sometimes, they may even suffer for it. While would like to think that Christ's coming into our lives makes us such a better person that all would see it as good, the truth is to the contrary. Sometimes your Christianity becomes their burden. This is perfectly normal, for to the Christian Christ comes first. All else must be arranged around that. For example, your family may have to put up with you trying to evangelize them.

So how do we deal with this? The answer, as it is to so many questions, is this: "in love." We need to remember that perfect love casts out fear, including the fear of being rejected by our families. James and John left their boats at about this time too; one wonders if their father Zebedee had anything to say about it.

Discipleship

We are all different; God knows it, and therefore the call to each of us is different. I am called to teach. That involves standing in front of a group of people every Sunday morning to deliver what you have searched out during the week. To some of you reading this, such a life would seem a terror; public speaking is worse than death. It certainly not something I'm rather glib about. But that is the call that I have. The question is not which caught you yet, but whether or not you answer it.

·         Good work habits apply no matter what call you get. If you are called to sweep and mop the floors, timeliness and diligence still apply. If you are called to preach the gospel to millions, you have the same timeliness and diligence.

·         Sometimes we think that the call is a sort of magic. Once you get the call you are to be transformed into someone very different from who you were with cosmic capabilities. I suppose that happens; it's just that I haven't seen it. Most of us grow slowly and gradually. So whatever your call is, expect to change. God will determine the rate, and he knows what you can do.

What God Will Do

It is said that a paratrooper is someone who is stupid enough to leave a perfectly good airplane to see if he has a perfectly good parachute. Many Christians have the same attitude about the call of God; they were content before they got it, and are not at all sure they want to go that direction. After all, what if God doesn't uphold his end of the bargain?

Providence

Much of God's providence depends on your point of view. Consider the fish that were caught this night: from our perspective as Christians, this is just an example of how God can and will provide for his children – his Providence. But you can also look at it another way: it tells you there are still a lot of fish left in that lake. You might look at it from a commercial point of view. The temptation is to tell God that you really don't need to call right at the moment, after all — you have all those fish to sort out.

The secret is this: expect God to provide. Do not doubt. Most of us think we're pretty good at this; our usual problem is that we expect God to provide – but not that way. We want him to provide, and also to take our advice on how to do it.

Permit me an old example. One night, many years ago, I had checked into a hotel late at night. I turned on the television; the only thing worth watching at all was a sports event, Russian weightlifting. Out came Ivan. He sees this bar full of weights and with a mighty heave put it into the air. After the applause 10 Russian soldiers came out to carry the barbell off stage. Later on Igor came out to pick up even larger barbell. He threw it into the air to great applause. Afterwards, they sent out one Russian soldier to pick up the barbell – with a forklift. Most of us are still looking for our 10 soldiers when the forklift arrives.

Promises

God, it seems, expects us to take it at his word when it comes to this matter of Providence. There are three common arguments for why we should do so; all of them revolve around the promises of God.

·         The first is this: "consider the lilies." Christ in essence tells us to look around and see how God provides for everybody else. He sustains this universe that he created; gravity works the same way today that it did yesterday. Is it therefore a great and difficult thing for him to provide for you?

·         Americans in particular have a difficulty with this. They look around and they see the riches of this world. It's easy to forget that riches are temporary, and so are our needs. We see wealth is a permanent solution to our provision, when it's really passing and fading.

·         Finally, if it gets down to something remotely difficult, remember the fishes and the loaves?

God's Paradox

Humor is the sudden perception of the absurd. God gave us a sense of humor so we could deal with the absurd. It is a point of divine style; God is fond of paradox. Let me give you some examples:

Matthew 10:39 NASB  "He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

 

1 Corinthians 3:18 NASB  (18)  Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.

 

It is as if God is telling us that we have the entire perception of the universe backwards. But could it be otherwise? Could it possibly be that we are so smart and so strong as to be the equal of God? You have only to ask the question to see how absurd it is. Dealing with God cannot follow the rules we use for dealing with the rest of the universe. So it is that the things we learn all our lives long somehow don't apply when we talk with God. In fact, he condescends to us. We don't necessarily see his power and wisdom:

1 Corinthians 1:25 NASB  (25)  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

 

Do you see it? When the call comes it seems absurd to you that any such thing could possibly work. By the world's standards, it can't. It's just that God doesn't go by the world's standards. He loves us so much that he lets us see his foolishness so that we might become wiser and greater.

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