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Working Faith

Luke 5:1 -- 26

Many years ago, before MTV, little children in Sunday School would sing a song: “I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me.” We think of fishing as a recreational sport; Christ knew it was hard work. Working faith; an essential for the Christian.

Fishers of Men

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; 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. 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. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 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." When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 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. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 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." When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.

(Luke 5:1-11 NASB)

The virtue of obedience

We live in a culture that glorifies rebellion. Sergeant York in World War I has given way to the cynical rebelliousness of Dr. Hawkeye Pierce. We are now so attuned to this that your teacher must explicitly state the obvious: obedience to God is a virtue – not a sign of lack of intelligence. We see it here in the disciples:

  • Note, please, that the disciples were hard at work cleaning their nets. They know their trade; even though the night’s catch was nothing, the nets still need care. Jesus commands Peter to take him out a little way to speak to the crowd. That means Peter, instead of tending to his business, must sit and listen. Often our questions of obedience are like this – not good versus evil, but good versus best. The right response is to ask the Lord’s will – and follow it.
  • Such obedience is shown in one word: “Master.” The word in the original means one who is entitled to give orders – a commander. So often we are pleased to call Jesus “savior”; it pleases us to think of him as “friend.” But do we really call him “Master?”
  • Peter, being an honest man, feels it only fair to warn the Lord that they’ve been out all night and caught nothing. The Man, after all, is a carpenter; what would he know about fishing? (Perhaps it’s fish he knew; he created them.) Then come the words of obedience: “I will do as you say.” I may not understand; I may think I have a better idea; I may think this just won’t work – but I will do as you say.

If we would only obey! The old hymn taught us to “trust and obey.” We want the blessings of faith without the humility of obedience.

God’s providence

The result of such obedience is the providence of God – he fills the net to overflowing. What can we learn here?

  • God’s providence fills the net. But somebody has to row the boat and let the net down and haul it up again. God expects us to do our own work; we are co-laborers with him.
  • Of course, once the catch comes in, Peter reacts (as Isaiah did) just as if he had found a ticking time bomb. How little is our faith! But see again the virtue of obedience: because he obeyed, he saw the power of God revealed to him.
  • There’s a lesson in here: when God tells you to go fishing, expect to catch a lot of fish. His providence is given for his work; if you are fighting the good fight, you will never lack for ammunition and supplies.
“Follow me”

Here is the call in its simplicity: follow me. We can see in this call the blessings and perils of the call today:

  • That huge catch is a two edged sword. You can look at it as evidence that God will provide. It is also evidence that there are still a lot of fish left in the lake. You must choose to leave the fish; he will not force you.
  • The call gives no roadmap. Indeed, the first thing Christ tells them to do is to put out into deep water. Where? Only God knows. His call is not to a route or a system, but to a guide.
  • Indeed, the call is intensely personal. It is personal in that it is for you, personally. No one else will receive the call quite like you will. Your reaction is personal too; no one else can serve him quite like you can.

Cleansing the leper

It seems like an interlude, something just stuck in along the way.

While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately the leprosy left him. And He ordered him to tell no one, "But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

(Luke 5:12-14 NASB)

Humility before God

There is a frequent connection here: the greater your needs might be, the more humbly you must approach God. We often reverse this; in our times of great need we go to God in our self-importance, telling him that he should do great things for us. This comes of not knowing who God really is. Such a misconception puts iron bars on our faith, keeping it from growing as our pride shrinks.

Do you see it here? There is no sense of this man making a bargain with Jesus. He does not promise to spread Christ’s fame; he does not promise anything. He came to beg his healing, not to bargain down the doctor’s fee. Indeed, he makes the public gesture of humility common in his time: he falls down before him and puts his face to the ground. Then he begs.

The will of God

“If” – a powerful word in our language. This man recognizes the main point: his healing depends upon the will of God.

  • We must remember that we are dealing with the will of God, not our own will. No matter how much we want, it’s his will that counts.
  • We must also remember that it’s his will. We are not dealing with some heathen god who automatically reacts to our sacrifices; we are dealing with the ultimate person.

But there is no sense asking God for anything without faith. The man acknowledges that his healing can be accomplished – both by his words and by his actions. But will Christ act?

There is only one thing of which we can be certain here: the will of God is intrinsically bound into his character. If we ask that which is contrary to his character, we court rejection and worse. But if we ask on the basis of his character, we ask him to do his will – in us.

Conforming to the law

It may seem curious: Jesus commands the man to make the sacrifices associated with his cleansing, as prescribed in the Old Testament. This is not an afterthought, but an essential part of Christ’s personality as well.

  • He does this so as to keep the man faithful. To omit these sacrifices would, in his time, defile his conscience.
  • It is also good practice. Only those who are acting in obedience can sustain the obedient mind so pleasing to God.
  • Through this we see the harmony of the Old Testament with the New Testament – God’s will is a part of his eternal nature.

Through the roof

But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him. But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, He said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you." The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts? "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins have been forgiven you,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? "But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,"--He said to the paralytic--"I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home." Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God. They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, "We have seen remarkable things today."

(Luke 5:15-26 NASB)

The mission of Christ – and the Christian

In any great work, it helps immensely to know the main point of the business. The crowds came to see the famous rabbi, to see if he would perform some miracle of healing. People still do that today; they come to God’s church to be healed of whatever disaster they have made of their lives. It is tempting for the church to become some sort of walk-in psychological self-help center. But it is not our mission.

Christ came to this place to teach; that was his purpose there. Healing was not his purpose; merely his credential. The church must remember that we are here to seek and save the lost, not just to say, “there, there.”

This includes our preparation as well. Christ went into the desert to pray before he came to teach. He kept his inner life with the Father; it precedes his works. This is an example to us: the life of prayer, meditation and study is the necessary precursor to the work of faith. Without it, we will burn out like a skyrocket when we should be a candle set on a hill, for all to see.

The nature of faith

If you think about it, it is really astounding: God allows our faith to be the source of healing for others. Intercession is an amazing privilege; the king of kings, the lord of lords, the creator of all things created allows us to approach him in petition for those around us.

He expects us to do so, in fact. Indeed, he expects us to do so under adverse circumstances. For example:

  • These men find a physical obstacle in their way – the crowd. Obstacles do not dismay a man of faith; they are simply facts to be dealt with.
  • One such an obstacle is social convention – the politeness needed. Would a good Christian tear up someone else’s roof?
  • Indeed, faith without works is dead. If our faith does not result in action, how is it really faith?
True Authority

But faith in what? Many will preach that faith itself will move mountains – that this is the nature of faith. This is not what Scripture teaches. Faith is powerful because it reaches out to the one who is omnipotent. Christ shows that power here, and in so doing demonstrates his authority over sin. The argument is relatively simple:

  • Only the one offended can forgive the offense. When we sin, God is the one offended. Therefore, he can forgive. He can also do this in a perfect way. When we forgive, we usually find ourselves forgiving each other. God needs no forgiveness, but is generous in forgiving.
  • Therefore, if I claim to be able to forgive sins in general, I am claiming to be God. Such a claim needs evidence, to say the least.
  • The evidence is before their eyes. No one but God could do such healing; God would not permit a blasphemer to do so. There is only one possible conclusion. None of the prophets did this; none of the priests; only God. Therefore, this must be God in the flesh.
Christ’s forgiveness

See, then, how Christ gives this forgiveness: gently. There is no sense here that the man is not a sinner. On the contrary, he is forgiven, which means that he certainly is a sinner. But Christ does not recite his sins; rather, in response to his faith, he forgives without embarrassing him.

In so doing he has not solved all the man’s problems. He has put an end to the disease – but not to the struggle with sin. This is why Christ often tells people to “go and sin no more.”


We are called to be fishers of men, in simple obedience to his, “Follow me.” He is the Holy One; we must therefore keep ourselves in humility, knowing that it is his grace that saves us. We are just passing on the Good News. In so doing, we must have working faith – faith that genuinely knows that God can and will act – and faith that results in our action as well.

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