The Lord's Day Morning
May 10, 2009
“How Jesus Makes Disciples”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 5. As we continue to work our way through this Gospel, let me remind you that the last time we were with the Lord Jesus in this Gospel, at the end of Luke 4, Jesus was preaching in Galilee and in Judea and was proclaiming the kingdom of God. We talked about what that meant for His proclamation to be about the kingdom of God, and we talked about how that was a theme in the Gospel of Luke.
Today, we encounter Jesus in a great miracle. He is teaching the multitudes on the shore of what the other Gospels call most frequently the Sea of Galilee (which John sometimes will refer to as Tiberias, which Luke always calls a lake). There is a story in there somewhere. I am not sure what it is. Luke always calls it a lake. Here he calls it the Lake of Gennesaret. It is the only place where he calls it that. More frequently he speaks of the Lake of Galilee. But Jesus is teaching on the shores, and there is a large multitude that has been following Him to hear His teaching and they are pressing in on Him because they can't hear. And so He gets in a boat and goes out just a little ways and speaks to them from the boat. What follows is an amazing miracle. And, after that miracle, Jesus issues a call to His disciples. So, it is a very important passage.
Let me invite you to look at three parts of the passage. If you look first of all in verses 1-3, you will see Jesus teaching to the multitudes and you will see something of their response to Jesus’ teaching.
Then, if you look at verses 4-10, you will see Jesus’ miracle and you will see Peter and the other disciples’ response to that miracle. Then, if you look again, at verses 10-11, you will see Jesus’ call to the disciples and their response to that call. So, in three different scenes in this one connected story we will see Jesus’ teaching and the response of the multitudes; Jesus’ miracle and the response of the disciples; Jesus’ call and the response of His disciples. So the passage is perfectly crafted to show us what an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ looks like and how it plays out, and that of course fits in with one of the great themes of the Gospel of Luke.
Luke is concerned to put Jesus before your eyes so that you understand who He is, what He is here for, and how you ought to respond to Him. So this is a word for us, every bit as much as Jesus’ word on the lake of Gennesaret that day was for the gathered multitudes who were there to hear Him.
So, let's pray and ask for God's help and blessing before we listen to God's word.
Heavenly Father, Your word is living and active. It is not a dead letter. It is not a dusty volume filled with musty stories meant for people two thousand years ago. It is Your word in our ears and for our hearts and lives. So, by Your Holy Spirit, open our eyes to appreciate that, that when we hear Your word read and proclaimed, we are hearing Your voice speak to us just as surely as Jesus’ voice was heard by the multitudes and by His disciples on the day the story of which is recorded in the passage we are about to read. Keep us, Lord, from being blinded to this enormous truth and reality and open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your word. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the word of God; hear it:
“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. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing. But at your word 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man,
0 Lord.’ 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, the 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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's Holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth on all our hearts.
What would it be like if you encountered Jesus? If you could hear Him with your own ears read the word of God, and teach the word of God, and preach the word of God? Explain the word of God, proclaim the word of God, apply the word of God? What would it be like to encounter Jesus in one of His mighty miracles? What would it be like to be right in the middle of one of those like the disciples were that day…literally in the middle of one? How would you respond? What would your reaction be? What would you do? What would you say? What would it be like to encounter Jesus in one of His amazing calls, where He gives this direct call to action to the people that are hearing Him? You know, once upon a time (Matthew tells us at the end of chapter eleven) He looked out at the people who were assembled around Him and He said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
The passage we are looking at today is one of His great calls: ‘Don't be afraid. From now on you are going to be doing something very different from what you have spent your life doing heretofore. Now, you are going to be catching men. Come. Follow Me.’ How would you respond if you were there to hear one of Jesus’ calls?
Well, my friends, you are. This is not the word of the church. This is not my word that I bring to you today; this is the word of Jesus. Jesus — in the word of God — is coming to you and He is laying claim to you and to your life in His preaching and in His miracle and in His call. Let's give close attention to it today.
First, let's look at His preaching. Look at verse 1. What was the crowd pressing in on Jesus for? When the crowd was pressing in on Him to hear the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. You understand what is going on. Jesus is teaching on the shore. There are so many people there that they are having a hard time hearing Him. They are getting closer and closer. He knows that that is making it harder and harder for the people that are on the fringes of this multitude. We don't know how many are there…hundreds, maybe. And so He decides [since He doesn't have one of these things] that He is going to get in a boat, go out just a little ways and use the water as His amplification system. If He can get a little distance from them and speak up, more of them will be able to hear Him plainly teach the word of God. But why are they pressing in on Him? Because they want to hear Him. (Again, look at verse 1). They want to hear Him preach and teach the word of God. Jesus is teaching the word of God, and the crowd is responding by pressing in on Him to hear the word of God because they sense the importance of hearing the word of God…of hearing Jesus teach the word of God. They want to hear the word of God.
And, my friend, it ought to be an agenda of ours when we gather in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to hear His voice in the preaching of the word of God. We should accept no substitute. It is not the wisdom of men that we need. It is not interesting stories and entertainment that we need. It is the word of God that we need. And it is the word of God that is causing this multitude on the shore of Galilee (or the lake of Gennesaret, or whatever you want to call it) to press in on Jesus to listen to Him. Because they knew that they needed to hear the word of God. And it is the aim of all of your pastors to be sure that we are servants of this word of God… that when we preach the word that we are preaching Jesus’ word, that we are preaching God's word to you. And your response, like the response of these people on the lake of Gennesaret that day, ought to be to press in to hear the word of God. It is that important. And it is not just the messenger of Jesus that you are to give attention to, it is the message of Jesus. It is the word of God itself.
A friend of mine, many years ago, became the president of a mission organization that had been founded by a man that had been greatly used of the Lord in the lives of hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people in the time of his ministry. Let's call the founder of the ministry John and let's call my friend Steve to protect all of the innocent involved in this story. When Steve became the president of this mission organization, it was decided that a good thing would be to bring all of the missionaries together (many of whom had been personally blessed and powerfully impacted in their lives by the founder, John, of this mission organization) and have Steve, as the new president, along with others they loved and regarded and respected, preach God's word to them to encourage them in their mission work. As the leadership team was gathering to organize this conference, they started talking about what topics would be spoken on and who would be invited to speak. And they said to my friend Steve, “Now look, we don't want you to preach. We want you to read a sermon that John wrote twenty-four years ago.” Now you understand, my friend Steve was the new president of this organization. He was an ordained minister and a very effective and powerful preacher. But the leadership wanted a sermon written by a dead man twenty-four years ago to be read instead of having my friend Steve to preach.
My friends, you already sense how out of whack this is. It is almost cultish, isn't it? They didn't want to hear the word of God preached by a faithful minister who was alive; they wanted a man who was now dead — a faithful man, a godly man, a man who had been used in the lives of others for years and years and years — they wanted his message read. What did they confuse? They had confused the messenger with the message. It was the word of God they needed to hear. It wasn't that particular message. Messengers come and go.
We are only judged insofar as we are faithful to the word of God. I want you to understand that one of the reasons that we are constantly bringing before you faithful men to preach the word of God from this pulpit is to send this message loud and clear: It is not about the messenger up here. What you are looking for is the word of God. Who cares who the messenger is as long as he is faithful?
It was my privilege a couple of weeks ago to hear a very, very different group of brothers preaching the word of God. Eight men expounded a passage of scripture — all of them different, all of them having different personalities, all of them having different styles, all of them attempting to be faithful and bring the message of the word of God to the people of God.
It struck me how many different ways there are to faithfully bring the word of God. But the important thing of course is that we are listening to and for the word of God.
Jesus on this occasion is bringing a message of the word of God. It is a word from God, it is a word about God, and it is a word that these people need to know. All around us, my friends…all around us are Christians gathering Lord's Day after Lord's Day who are not hearing the word of God served to them, and “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” We need that word.
You ought, like these people at the Lake of Gennesaret, to press in to hear the word of God. You should demand no substitute for that word. The word of God is what you ought to be looking for, and not a particular messenger. But faithfulness to the word of God, because it is what we need. We don't need bright ideas by brilliant people. We don't need stories and entertainments. We need the word of God. That's what we need.
Second, look at verses 4-10. Here, Jesus displays his power and we see something of Peter and the disciples’ response to the miracle. Look at verse 5. It is a fascinating exchange, isn't it? After Jesus has finished preaching, He says, “Peter, let your boat go a little bit deeper in the lake. Let's go out a little ways and let your nets down.” You see just a little hint of a rebuke in Peter's response. Look at his first words: “Master, we toiled all night and caught nothing.” You can almost hear Peter (not quite saying out loud, but he is thinking it): ‘Look, Jesus, I'm a fisherman. You are a carpenter. Leave the fishing to me.’ But Peter, notice, also says ‘Master, if you say so. On your word I will do what you say.’ Night time was the time that fishermen thought was the best time to fish. They had fished all night and hadn't gotten any fish. Now a carpenter is telling them to go out deeper and let their nets down. And he says, ‘Okay, Jesus, if you say so I’ll do it.’
Let me just pause right there and say it is sometimes tempting for us to think that Jesus doesn't have anything to say to us about our vocations. You know… ‘Jesus, You just tell me how to get saved. You leave the banking to me. Jesus, You tell me how to get saved. You leave the lawyering to me. Jesus, You tell me how to get saved, but You leave my school teaching to me…or how to be a mom to me, or how to be a doctor to me.’ Notice that Jesus has something to say to you in your profession. Jesus is ready to tell Peter how to be a fisherman, and Peter wisely listens despite his instincts. He wisely listens.
Jesus has something to say to all of us no matter what we do, in what we do, about what we do. We had better listen, because Jesus is Lord of everything and everyone, and every inch of our lives belong to Him and are under His Lordship. You better listen.
Well, Peter does it. They let down the nets and you know the rest of the story. Not only did they fill up one boat, they fill up two boats. Their nets begin to break and the boats begin to sink. John actually counts the number of fish that day. You remember? I can almost picture John with the tarps out on the beach counting: ‘One, two, three, four….’ And very frankly, it blows Peter away. Peter had fished this spot the night before. Peter had caught nothing. Peter knew what the haul was that they had brought in, and he immediately knew that he was in the presence of someone far greater than a prophet or a man. He was in the presence of the Son of the living God, and suddenly he finds himself prostrate in the boat before Jesus, at His knees, at His feet, saying, “Lord, depart from me. I'm a sinful man.”
Now it is an amazing thing, isn't it? There has been nothing in this passage so far said about sin. I don't know, maybe Jesus preached about it in the sermon, but it is not recorded here. There is nothing in this passage about Jesus’ holiness or about sin, but immediately in the wake of this miracle Peter is overwhelmed by two things: the greatness of Jesus and the greatness of his own sin. He is brought face to face with the inestimable, the incalculable greatness of Jesus and he is brought face to face with the greatness of his own sin.
And, my friends, this is how encounters with God happen in the Old Testament. (You are going to hear Derek preach about one tonight, by the way, in First Samuel.) In the Bible when people have a real encounter with the living God, they always come away with a sense of the greatness of God, and the smallness of themselves, and the sinfulness of their own hearts. You remember Isaiah, seeing a vision of the Lord, high and lifted up, in Isaiah 6? And what is his instinctive immediate response?
“Woe to me for I am a sinful man. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”
He senses the greatness of the Lord and the sinfulness of his heart, and he longs to get away
because he rightly senses that he deserves the judgment of God.
If you have ever heard R.C. Sproul's series on “The Holiness of God,” this is one of the themes that he will work out in that series and show how people respond when they are in the presence of the living God. And repeatedly, in the Old Testament when people encounter the living God they are struck with terror and fear…with a sense of His greatness and a sense of their sinfulness…and in some cases, people encounter God and die. After hearing R.C.'s series on the holiness of God, my friend, C. J. Mahaney went out and preached a sermon series called “People Who Met God and Died.”
The whole point is, my friends, Peter was right to tremble. When you really encounter the living God, you know that He is not the God that you have fashioned in your mind. He is something altogether on a different order of magnitude, and especially the holiness of His being becomes transparently clear to you.
Is that the Jesus you have encountered? Is the Jesus you know and love big and great and holy? Or have you scaled Him down and you up? Are you big and Jesus is small? Then you have not met the Jesus that Peter met. This Jesus is great. It is precisely because of His greatness and His love and His holiness that He is capable of changing your life, and that is exactly what happens in response to this miracle.
Do you know what happens next? Look at verses 10-11 again. Jesus says, “Peter, don't be afraid.” Jesus is not saying this because it was inappropriate for Peter to be afraid. He is saying this just like God said so often in the Old Testament to the people of God, like in Genesis 46:3, when He says to Jacob, ‘Don't be afraid. I'm going to go with you to Egypt. Israel, don't be afraid, I am going to go with you down into Egypt.’ It is not God saying, ‘You know, there is really no reason for you to be afraid.’ It is God saying, ‘Oh, there is every reason for you to be afraid, but here is the reason for you to not be afraid: I love you. I am on your side. I'm going to be with you.’ In other words, it is the gospel that makes the presence with God a joy and a comfort and a delight rather than an occasion for terror.
You know what hell is? Hell is eternity in the presence of God.
You know what heaven is? Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with a Mediator who has given Himself in your place so that you are not the vessels of wrath any longer, you are the objects of mercy. So when Jesus says “Do not be afraid” to Peter, He is preaching the gospel to Peter. ‘Here is the reason you do not need to be afraid, Peter. Not because I am someone who ought not to be feared, but because you need not fear Me, for I have set my love on you and I am going to die for you.
You don't need to be afraid in My presence, Peter, because I love you and I am going to save you, and I am going to cleanse you from your sin, and I am going to present you faultless with exceeding joy before My heavenly Father in heaven. So don't be afraid.’
And then He says, ‘And by the way, Peter, leave your boat, leave your nets. You are coming with Me and we are going to fish for something else.’ And the response is really astonishing, isn't it? Luke puts it so simply:
“When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”
Now, my friends, I don't know a message more timely for us today than that message, because, you see, Jesus’ call for us to leave everything and follow Him is not His call just to a unique group of super apostles at the beginning of Christianity. It is not just a call to people who are going to be deacons or elders or leaders in the Women In the Church. It is not just a call for ministers or missionaries. The call to leave everything and follow Him is the call of Jesus to every disciple…every disciple. Now what leaving everything and following Him looks like is very different for every disciple. For instance, did His call to them to leave everything and follow Him mean that they would never fish again? No, you will find them fishing before you have gotten to the end of the Gospels. But it is a call to recognize that everything else does not equal to Jesus, and that Jesus is greater than everything else; and, therefore, He is worth leaving everything else behind to follow Him.
Sometimes, God teaches us that message by taking away things that are exceedingly precious to us…sometimes taking away people that are exceedingly precious to us. Sometimes God pulls the rug completely out from under us…to teach us what? That Jesus is more than everything else, and that Jesus is all we need, and that henceforth forevermore we are going to be pursuing Him. In the words of Matthew — recording Jesus’ words — we will “seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness.” And all these other things …? Well, God will take care of that. He’ll add those things. He’ll provide for us what we need, but henceforth and forevermore we are following Jesus.
Have you come before Jesus and seen Him as He is and said, “My God how great You are!” and then realized that everything else that we are so caught up in does not compare in the least to Him? If you have, you have taken the first step of a disciple. It is the call of Jesus to every disciple, and it is so important for us especially because of the people and stuff that God has showered on us. We have been given so much that while the world is literally falling in around our ears, we are hanging on to our stuff with all of our might instead of realizing with Martin Luther that the only right response of the believer to the majesty and the holiness and glory of Jesus Christ is to let goods and kindred go. [Can I say that on Mother's Day?]
“Let goods and kindred go;
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill….”
They can take all of that from me but they can't take Jesus. And therefore we are going to leave everything and we are going to follow Him.
Now for some of you that may mean being uprooted from your present vocation and winding up in the ministry or the mission field. For others of you, that may mean staying right where you are in your vocation and being such a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ that you offend someone and you lose advancement in your vocation, or that you stay in your very vocation and you serve the Lord faithfully and the Lord uses that to bring a gospel witness to many souls who would never ever have heard it. It could work out a million different ways, but the call to every Christian is the call to be a disciple and to leave everything and follow Jesus.
There is not a more important lesson for us to learn as a congregation than that lesson. Join me in this adventure.
Our Lord and our God, we hear the Lord Jesus calling us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Make our answer to be “Yes, Lord, we will follow you.” We pray it in Jesus' name.
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