The Lord Has Called an Audible

Ask any red-blooded American male what next Sunday is, and I am sure you will get an immediate and enthusiastic reply: "It's Super Bowl Sunday!" These same guys might not be able to tell you who their mayor, governor, or even president is, but you can bet your Super Bowl ring that they will immediately notify you who Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford are. They are, of course, the respective quarterbacks for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams."

Not to disappoint any of you, but I will not talk to you about football or the Super Bowl. Through our Gospel reading from Luke, I would like to direct your attention toward another sport: fishing. Before you turn me off and put your mind on snooze, know that the incident Luke lays before us is not just any fishing tale. It is the granddaddy of all fishing tales. It is the Super Bowl of fishing! However, through this wonderful fishing experience of the apostles, Jesus means to teach us the truth about Himself, the church, and the real mission of the church: fishing for men, that is, letting down the nets to catch souls up into the boat of God's kingdom of grace and life.

Our text finds Jesus somewhat pinned in. Crowds and crowds of people had pressed him right to the edge of the Lake of Gennesaret, the Sea of Galilee. They were clamoring to hear from His lips what their preachers and teachers were not giving them—the Word of God. But such a mass of humanity in such proximity to Jesus made it impossible for Him to speak so all could hear Him. So, quite wisely, Jesus impressed upon the fisherman Simon, whose fishing boat happened to be docked nearby, to take Him in his boat a few ways from the shore. Everyone could easily see and hear him from that vantage point in the bay. The water could be a natural band shell to amplify Jesus' voice. Simon obliged and took Jesus a little ways from the shore.

But when Jesus had finished speaking, he called an audible. Already in the fishing boat, on the line of scrimmage, Jesus called a rather unusual play. Jesus ordered Peter and the others to "Put out (launch out) into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch."

Now, to an experienced fisherman like Peter, this request sounded unreasonable for several reasons. First, any first-century fisherman worth his sea legs knew that if you catch fish with nets, you need to go where the fish like to feed, which is in the shallower water near the shorelines. There's where the waving action of the lake keeps ebbing away the soil, loosening grubs, worms, and insects into the water for the fish to eat. There is one who is more likely to net fish. But out in the deep, what was Jesus thinking?

On top of this, Simon raised a second rational objection to Jesus' request to launch out into the deep. He told Jesus, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!" In layman's terms, he said, "There's no fish to be had!" or even, "We've already tried that, and it didn't work!"

But Simon was a respectful man. He recognized Jesus as a gifted preacher of the Word of God. We know from other Gospel accounts that Simon was already acquainted with Jesus. His brother Andrew introduced Jesus to him by telling him that Jesus was the one they had been looking for—the Messiah. By this time, Jesus had already been in Simon's home. He even healed his mother-in-law of a deadly fever. Accordingly, Simon acquiesced to Jesus' command and said most dutifully, "But, Master, because you say so, I will let down the nets."

On a certain level, we might consider Simon's obedience admirable. He did as Jesus' asked. However, his verbal response to Jesus' request reveals he was not enthusiastically on board with the idea. Simon's obedience was simply the dutiful obedience of a lesser to a greater. It certainly still needs to be done with any conviction about catching fish. Given that Simon had the exact human nature we do, we even surmise that Simon obeyed Jesus' strange request to prove him wrong and show Jesus how little he knew about fishing!

As the text makes clear, however, the real fisherman was Jesus. When Simon and His companions let down their nets in the deep water where Jesus had told them, they immediately bulged with a whole school of fish. The catch was so large that their nets began tearing apart, and they had to call the other boat to help them haul in all the fish. When they finally got this huge catch into their boats, the massive weight of all the fish caused both boats to start sinking! I can only imagine such a fishing trip! It is the Super Bowl of all fishing trips! Jesus' audible was right on the money!

Jesus certainly now had this old fisherman's attention! Simon immediately fell before the knees of Jesus and cried, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man. Simon knew in no uncertain terms that this fish catch was no fluke or lucky catch. It had all the markings of a divine miracle. Simon Peter had a true epiphany! He was suddenly awakened to the fact that he was in the presence of the Creator Himself, the God who was Lord of the Sea, the Fish, and All Things. That is why, unlike the first time Simon addressed Jesus and called Him Master, Simon called Jesus "LORD," the official Jewish designation for Yahweh, God Himself.

That was no longer a mere fishing trip. It was a truly religious experience—an absolute revelation! Simon dropped to his knees in full acknowledgment that, in the person of Jesus, the Holy God Himself was in his boat. Yet here he was, a sinful, earthly-minded man. His concept of what it meant to follow Jesus was blown out of the water. What he had just witnessed was far beyond any earthly, human, or even imaginative experience. He stood condemned for his half-hearted obedience. His lack of faith, his total lack of comprehension of Jesus and His kingdom In his boat was YHWH, the Holy God, and the Creator Himself, shrouded in flesh and blood! The unholy one was with him!

We see something quite similar in our Old Testament lesson this morning. When Isaiah was shown a vision of the LORD sitting on His heavenly throne surrounded by the six-winged seraphim and heard His thundering voice, he could not help but say, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell amid a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

You can bet that if we Christians today truly understood and believed that God brings His holy presence among us through His Word and Sacraments, there wouldn't be any of this contemporary nonsense of hand clapping, knee-slapping, or even chancel dancing to the rhythmic tunes of a worship band that so often characterizes much of what is done in the name of worship today. We, too, would be driven to our knees, or at least to more humble postures of worship.

Our Heavenly Quarterback has made His presence known to all who call themselves His disciples. "Launch out into the deep!" He says. As those baptized into Christ and hence given birth into the Body of Christ, the Church, you, too, like Peter, can expect something different—something beyond the normal for human experience and understanding—in fact, something beyond this world.

Throw out the world's playbook. Your head is the LORD God. Life in the church is unlike anything else in this world. His audible is beyond any play a worldly quarterback could call. His word affects what he says. Following Him, you can expect His words to not make sense according to temporal logic but to accomplish unconventional and even miraculous results.

Something else beyond the big fish catch had an even more significant impact on Simon, producing such repentance and humility in him. That something was God's unmerited grace that Jesus had extended to Simon in his sin.

After all, despite his doubt and obedience under protest, Simon was overwhelmed by the fact that Jesus still so richly blessed him with the largest catch of his life! When such grace given to sinners in Jesus Christ is realized, even the most hardened, self-reliant, and arrogant person is immediately brought to his knees before Jesus.

But in His grace, Jesus is not finished with Peter yet. While still on the line of scrimmage, Jesus calls to this humble, contrite fisherman with another audible. However, this audible is not a command but, amazingly, a promise. It extends the true grace of God in Jesus Christ. "Stop being afraid," Jesus says, "from now on you will be catching men."

That was Jesus' word of absolution to Peter. He was saying to Peter, "Yes, you have been faithless. Yes, you have doubted my word. Yes, you have not fully recognized me as God, your Savior. But no longer be afraid. I have not come to condemn you or any other sinner. But instead, I have come to save all sinners. Even though I have the right to punish you for your sin, I am forgiving you. You see, Peter, I'm going to bear your sin in my own body and feel the stripes of your sin against me. I will be the sacrificial lamb for you so that you might live free in God's forgiveness. So, be at peace, Dear Peter!"

Right from the line of scrimmage, as we engage our world, Jesus calls the same audible for us: "From now on, you will be catching men." To be sure, He has said it in other words, like these: "Make disciples of Jesus Christ." We often refer to His call as a mandate or a commission. But in reality, it is the gospel.

Jesus' audible is not placing any game-winning expectation upon us, as if we have to win it for the team. Just as Jesus' telling Peter that from now on, you will be catching men did not place some expectation that Peter was the savior of those men, neither does His call that we are to make disciples of Christ imply that somehow we are disciple-makers. He is not expecting Peter or any of us to be God. He is God. He does not expect us to save the day or save souls. He is the Savior of sinners. He has not asked us to build his church. He has given us His word and sacraments, through which He builds and establishes His kingdom among us. He appoints us fishers of men not because He trusts our skills and abilities, but, like with Peter, despite our weaknesses, lack of skills, and unworthiness. He calls for us to participate in His play to share in his victory and glory. Is this not pure grace?

Jesus has not asked us to produce results. He is a miracle worker. It is His Word and Sacraments that He has asked us to let down for a catch. He has placed us deep in the sea of this world to let down his nets for a catch. "What are we afraid of? He promises that my word will always accomplish that for which I send it. He has made us His receivers, catchers of fish. He'll do the quarterbacking, the passing, and the fishing!

"Go and make disciples of all nations" is the Lord's call to His church. It's a remarkable audible. When he said it, he had just been sacked big time. He had been crucified and left for dead for three days. But he rose to say that the game was not over. In fact, in his defeat, he had already won the game.

Now, in the confidence of a winning quarterback and to catch the opposition off guard, he called an incredible audible. He is the great fisherman, yet He has entrusted you and me to be "fishers of men." He says to you and me. "Stop being afraid. You will be fishers of men!" That's a promise! You will reap the rewards of my work! I know you are not the greatest receivers in the world. You often miss and fumble my passes. But I have redeemed you from the errors of your ways. I have forgiven your failures. I have already received the punishment you deserved. I'm not throwing you out of the game and putting you on the bench. In my love for you, I want you to reel in my flock, haul in my catch of people for my kingdom so that you might share in my joy of saving others like yourselves in my boat of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Shall we go fishing?

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