Walking in Absurd Obedience

Our church family has been studying through the Gospel of Luke on Sunday mornings. The sermons have been rich and challenging. We have just entered Jerusalem for the Passover and, as you probably know, Jesus is now just days away from his crucifixion.

This past Sunday, I was honored to be allowed to bring the sermon, and as I prepared for it, I found myself thinking back to Luke 5, but to fully appreciate what’s happening there, we have to put it in context, going back into chapter four.

Things are moving steadily but calmly for Jesus’ ministry. He has called his disciples, but for some reason a few of them have gone back to fishing. We’re not told why.

Jesus is ministering in Capernaum, and the word begins to spread because his teaching is so different than what they usually hear. Jesus teaches with authority, and that’s captivatingly unusual to the common man and woman. The rabbis of that time would draw authority from appealing to others. “As preacher Big Name has said . . .” But not Jesus. For Jesus, there is no authority higher than himself to which he can appeal.

Then Jesus moves into a ministry of deliverance. Delivering in the synagogue. Delivering in Simon’s home. Delivering all through the night until daybreak. And the people are amazed!

And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”
– Philippians 4:8, ESV

Authority again! And power! What is this new teaching style?

Not surprisingly, the people start drawing conclusions about who this Jesus is, conclusions they had not previously drawn.

Now, we need to understand that there is a difference between power and authority. Consider a police officer directing traffic at a busy intersection. By simply lifting her hand, she can bring heavy vehicles to a complete stop. That’s not power. That’s authority. Power is her ability to stand in front of the oncoming semi-truck and have it bounce off her. Authority stops the vehicle without even touching it.

Jesus has both! Look at that power! Hear that authority! When Jesus speaks, everyone is impressed. They may not like what he says, but they are impressed and impacted.

And the word of him spreads. No media. No fanfare. Just one person telling another. Even the demons are crying out that he is the Son of God.

Jesus is tired. He needs to get away, and tries to do so. The people press upon him to stay but his mission drives him elsewhere.

This is the sort of thing that is happening as Luke chapter five unfolds. I don’t know that it is immediate, but this is the tone and atmosphere in which Jesus finds himself.

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
– Luke 5:1-3, ESV

Picture this scene. The men are tired and irritable, having fished all night and caught nothing. They’re sitting on the shore, washing their nets to get the sand, rocks, and mud out of them, and likely repairing their nets as well. Jesus is there watching them, and they know that.

Now, Jesus climbs into the irritated Peter’s boat and asks him to interrupt his work to provide Jesus a water-borne platform from which to speak. We’re all aware of how one’s voice carries over the water, so this is a good set-up … for Jesus anyway.

Jesus teaches a bit, and then makes a surprising request.

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
– Luke 5:4, ESV

Now, Peter has fished all night, and he’s the professional fisherman here. He knows that fish are caught in the shallows as they feed there. But they’re not feeding now and Peter’s nets were almost certainly not for deep water fishing. They wouldn’t even make it to the bottom of the lake.

Peter knew all of this, and though not a fisherman, it is very likely Jesus knew this as well.

And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”
– Luke 5:4, ESV

Having stated his initial objection, Peter left no room for a rebuke. “But, at your word . . .”

When Jesus says to let down the nets, we let down the nets. We are in the boat with the Master, the Ἐπιστάτα. This is a commander, a captain, the one who is unquestionably in charge.

You are the master of your trade. You know your routine so well you could do it in your sleep. And yet, there are times when the Word of God will cut across your routine and tell you to do something altogether different than what your experience and professionalism tell you to do.

Go with the Master in your boat. Cast your net where he tells you to cast it. Even when your best judgment tells you that this goes against conventional wisdom, and perhaps even common sense. “At your bidding I will let down the nets.”

And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
– Luke 5:6-7, ESV

Would you not just love to see the look on Peter’s face? I’ve heard “fish stories” before but this . . . this is a fish story like none I’ve heard. Peter had to signal for the fellas in the other boat. Note, he didn’t call to them, but just “signaled.” Remember our voices carry on the water. They didn’t want everyone on the shore to come horn in on their miraculous score!

The haul of fish was overwhelming, so much so that the boats began to sink. They’re knee-deep in fish, and only one man there is not surprised.

Here we are with this wonderful thing that has just happened. Our minds are blown by these events. We are impressed with Jesus. He’s a celebrity in our boat, and generally, everyone wants to slap the back of the celebrity, to high five him and shake his hand.

But not Peter. What’s Peter’s reaction?

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
– Luke 5:6-7, ESV

This is reminiscent of what Isaiah said, “Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips.” Peter knew that he stood in the midst of holiness.

It is only by walking in absurd obedience to Christ, rather than yielding to our own understanding and expectations, that we have the catch of fish that tears our nets and sinks our boats. We must be willing to do the nonsensical to experience the phenomenal.

Luke says they were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken. We’re not astonished because we weren’t there. We’ve had centuries to reason through it, but these guys spent half their lives amazed at Jesus.

For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that 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 be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
– Luke 5:6-7, ESV

This was not a lesson in how to fish. This is about how to put people into the kingdom. This is a lesson on how to grow the family of God, and Jesus taught it to them from the familiarity of a lake.

Is this new mission important? These men thought so. Luke tells us “they left everything” and followed him on their new mission of “catching men.” The same word is used here that is used in 2 Timothy.

God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
– 2 Timothy 2:25b-26, ESV

We are “capturing back” men and women who have been “captured” by the devil to do his will. They are children of the adversary until we capture them alive with the net of God to pull them into the boat of salvation. And when Luke tells us that the disciples left everything, he means everything; homes, possessions, jobs, security of the familiar, friends, companions on the sea. They turned from it all.

Jesus moves us from the safety of what is seen, to trusting him with what is not seen. And when we trust him, even when his instructions are scary or don’t make sense, he rewards us by breaking our nets and filling our boats. But we must get beyond our fears and follow his leading. We must be willing to put out into the deep water.

Blessings upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon

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Damon J. Gray

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