At Christ’s Word
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Nothing happens apart from the Word of God.
On the shore are two boats. Because of the crowds, Jesus gets into one boat and asks Simon to put out a little from shore. The reflection of the sound off the water enables a larger number of people to hear. Peter's boat becomes a pulpit. From the boat our Lord preaches His Word of salvation. Christ is in the boat for the people, drawing them to Himself. Like a fisherman, He casts the net of the Gospel to draw the fish into the boat.
The boat and the water remind us of Noah. At God's Word Noah built an ark. In that boat eight people were saved from the Flood which drowned all of wicked mankind. Salvation was only in the boat. And Peter tells us in his second epistle that Noah and the flood is a foreshadowing of our baptism. Just as the Lord washed the earth clean of the wicked in the flood, so He washes us clean of our wicked sinfulness in holy baptism and gives us new life. This happens because our Lord combines His Word with the water. Nothing happens apart from the Word of God.
Our Lord now speaks His Word to Simon Peter, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." Simon knows that no fisherman goes to the deep for a catch. For a living catch fishermen stay in the shallows where the nets can reach the fish. Furthermore, Simon knows that no fisherman fishes in the heat of the day. What our Lord commands Simon to do here makes no sense. That’s not how it's done. But that’s the way it’s done with the Lord.
There are those today who question the Lord's methods of baptizing and teaching to draw fish into the church. They say we need something more than the Gospel—groups and programs and gimmicks; changing the liturgy to be more user-friendly to the culture. They say we need to go to where we're most likely to catch fish, relying more on statistics than the Word of Christ to lead their outreach efforts. It's no wonder that, even in our own church body, so many of the new churches are started in the safe, white, middle class suburbs or small towns. Often these churches are growing for reasons other than faith in Christ alone.
But our Lord's thinking is unconventional. "Launch out into the deep," he says. Not only in the suburbs but in the cities and rural areas; not only to people who seem open to Christian spirituality but also to the "unspiritual." Not only to young families with children, but to people of every age and color and nationality and marital status. The church is to proclaim the Gospel wherever Christ gives us opportunity—pastors by visits and by preaching from the pulpit; and you by confessing your faith in your daily callings as family members and workers and citizens and neighbors, so that others might be drawn in to get caught in the net of Christ's preaching and teaching and baptism and by these things enter His boat. Sometimes the catch will come in surprising places.
Peter responded at first by saying, "Master, we toiled all night and caught nothing." By nature we labor in the darkness apart from the Lord. From our own efforts comes nothing. However, in the Light Peter goes on to say, "At Your Word I will let down the nets." Purely by faith Simon surrenders all that he knows and all that he has experienced and lets down the nets. So it is to be in the Church. Not our word but the Word of Christ is our life and salvation. What counts is not what seems reasonable to us, but what is good and right in the sight of the Lord. The Gospel, the message of Christ crucified, is foolishness to the world; but to faith this message is the power of God. His truth orders our lives. Again it is written, "But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."
Simon does what our Lord commands, and the nets fill up. Simon calls to his partners on shore to come out with their boat. With his partners both boats are filled so that it seems that they will not make it back to shore. So great is the catch of fish that one boat cannot hold them all.
Peter's reaction to this miracle seems a bit surprising. "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!" This mighty work of Jesus causes Peter to see that he was in the presence of the holy God. And so the unbelief that remains in Peter rises up and begins to overwhelm him. "This is God. God is holy. God hates sin. I am a sinner. I am lost." That is the work of the devil. God does indeed hate sin, and the devil wants you to believe that God’s judgment against sin is the final word.
However, the One who stands before Simon Peter and before you today, Jesus the Son of God, did not come into this world to condemn the world but to save the world. He came to rescue Peter; He came to rescue you. Just as Simon trusted in the Lord when he went out to catch fish in the deep, so now you are to trust in the Lord as He speaks His mercy to you. Notice our Lord doesn't say, "Oh, that's okay, it's not really that bad." Instead He says, "Do not be afraid. I forgive you all your sins. You are reconciled to the Father through Me."
And finally, our Lord does one more amazing thing. He says to Peter, "From now on you will catch men." In other words, He makes this sinner into an apostle, a preacher of the Gospel, so that more fish might be drawn into the boat. So it is with all the preachers Christ calls and ordains: they are sinners. What counts is not what they are, but what they preach. Don't pay attention to your pastor or his personality or quirks; pay attention to Christ who uses pastors as His voice and hands to speak His Word and administer His Sacraments, that you fish might continually be drawn into the church.
Today, our Lord feeds you with the riches of the Sacrament of the Altar. He puts His body and blood into your mouths to hook you and reel you in. The Word alone brings you to repentance and keeps you in the faith. After all, nothing happens apart from the Word of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.