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Jesus Invites Sinners

As most of you know, for the past month or so, we have been creating a timeline of significant events in the life & ministry of Jesus. Now of course, we certainly won’t get a chance to touch on every event in Jesus’ life – as we intend to wrap this all up around Easter time – but we do want to point out some of the more significant milestones along the way.

And so last week we looked at two significant ‘firsts’ for Jesus. We met some of his first disciples (specifically Peter, Andrew, John, Philip, and Nathanael) and then we watched him perform his first miracle as he transformed ordinary water into wine for a wedding celebration.

And we noted that Jesus didn’t perform this miracle in a flashy, spectacular way as to announce his arrival to the public – but rather, this was a rather subtle miracle – where only a handful of people even knew what He had done. But for those people – specifically those first 5 disciples who where with him – this was their first glimpse of the glory of Jesus, and as a result, his disciples believed in Him.

Of course, this would not be the only time that Jesus would reveal his glory to his disciples in miraculous ways so that they would believe in Him. This would continue throughout Jesus’ ministry. In fact, at the end of John’s Gospel we read:

30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. John 20:30-31

And that’s really the overarching purpose of Jesus’ many miracles – so that his disciples (and us) would believe that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him we would have life by the power of his name.

God’s purpose and desire is the same for us as it was for those first disciples – it hasn’t changed over these last two thousand years – He still desires for us believe in His Son Jesus and have life through the power of His name!

And that’s exactly what we’re going to see this morning as we continue to look at the early days of Jesus’ public ministry. Today, we’re going to see how Jesus continues to gather his disciples – showing them his glory in miraculous ways – and then inviting them to come and join Him in his mission.

We saw last week that Peter was one of the first disciples of Jesus – and was introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew – although at that time, Peter was still going by his given name, “Simon”. 

Jesus would rename him “Peter” at that first meeting, but it seems’s he’s still going by Simon in today’s story. But AFTER today’s story we see Peter adopt his new name. And I think that makes sense.

If someone met me for the first time and declared, your name is David, but you shall be called “Henry” – I don’t know that I would immediately go around and start introducing myself as Henry just because this stranger told me so.

But after what happens in our story today today, it’s not surprising that Simon would suddenly give a whole lot more weight to words and instructions of Jesus. But you’ll see what I mean as we go through the story. 

If you want to follow along in your Bibles, we’ll be reading from Luke chapter 5 today – and we’ll be starting at verse 1.

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

Luke 5:1-3

So there are a couple things to notice here. First of all, we see that already, very early in Jesus’ ministry, He has great crowds of people coming to listen to him as He preaches the Word of God. This would actually be one of Jesus’ main activities throughout his earthly ministry. We often think of Jesus as going around the countryside doing miracles and healing people and casting out demons – and he did certainly do that – but as you read through the Gospels, it seems the majority of Jesus’ public ministry was preaching the Word of God.

And I think that really speaks to the importance of that for us even today! In all our ministry activities – whether it’s kids club or youth group, Sunday morning service or community events or helping those in need or whatever it is — proclaiming the Word of God must be a central part of everything we do. That’s not to say that we necessarily need to preach a sermon at every event – but we need to understand that it’s the Word of God that has the power to change lives – and thus, everything we do should be to lead people to hear and obey the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us:

12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.  Hebrews 4:12

We need to remember that it’s not our flashy presentation or our fun-filled activities or even our endearing personalities that changes lives – but rather, its the Word of God. Even Jesus’ ministry wasn’t solely miraculous signs and wonders, but He too spent a great deal of time preaching the Word of God. Because that’s where the power is! That’s the stuff that changes lives! So that’s the first thing I noticed in this passage.

The second thing to notice is that even though Peter had been introduced to Jesus some time earlier, it seems that Peter still hadn’t fully committed to being His disciple. And I say this because, while crowds of people had come to listen to Jesus preach the Word of God, Peter was not part of those crowds. As the crowds pressed in to hear Jesus, Peter was busy washing his fishing nets. Verse 2 tells us that Jesus….

…noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. Luke 5:2-3a

You see, unlike the crowds, Peter hadn’t followed Jesus to the shore – hoping to hear what He had to say – but rather, it seems that Jesus came to where Peter was. And I don’t say this to put Peter in a negative light (as if he should have already been following Jesus), but it just struck me that Jesus seems to be pursuing Peter more than Peter was pursuing him.

And I guess that’s the way it is for all of us. Jesus pursues us far more than we pursue Him! He loves us like crazy and he is always working to draw us to Himself. That’s the very reason Jesus came to earth in the first place… Luke 19:10 says…

10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:10

Jesus came looking for us! And even today, He continues to seek us! He deeply desires for each one of us to know Him more and more and He is always at work – drawing us to Himself through all our different life circumstances. Through our blessings, through our trials, through our victories and through our failures… Everything He does and everything He allows in our lives is to draw us to himself.

And I think that’s exactly what He was doing on the shore that day with Peter. Yes, he was teaching the Word of God to the crowds – but at the same time, He was very deliberately pursuing Peter… So let’s see what happens… Verse 4

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”

Luke 2:4-5

Now I find it interesting that Peter actually listens to Jesus in this case, because he had all kinds of reasons not to.

First of all, you need to realize that fishing was commonly done at night – not during the day, as Jesus was suggesting. Not only did that help the fishermen avoid the scorching heat of the day, but typically, the bigger fish were more active at night and the darkness made the nets harder for the fish to see. So it really made more sense to fish at night – as Peter explained that they had just been doing the night before.

Secondly, Jesus was a carpenter by trade – not a fisherman – what did he know about fishing anyway? Apparently not much, based on his suggestion to go fishing in the middle of the day. Peter, on the other hand, was a professional fisherman. This was not a hobby of his – He did this for a living. If anyone knew anything about fishing, it would be Peter – not Jesus.

And then finally, if that were still not enough reasons to say no to Jesus, Peter pointed out that they had just been fishing all night and had caught nothing! They were likely worn out and tired and discouraged and frankly, ready for nap. Besides, they had just cleaned their nets! If they threw them out now just to appease Jesus, they’d just have to clean them again before the serious fishing that night.

So Peter had all kinds of reasons to say no to Jesus. But yet, despite all those reasons, Peter says to Jesus in verse 5 – “But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”

And right there – we could wrap up this sermon and have a great take-away for the week! What a great example for us! I don’t know how well Peter had gotten to know Jesus by this point, but apparently he knew him well enough to know that he needed to listen to what Jesus said. And so if Jesus said to go fish – even in the middle of the day after a night of futile fishing – then that’s what Peter would do. He would listen to Jesus and he would go fish.

And I just wonder, is that the kind of obedience we have for Jesus? In those times when we have a million reasons to say “no”, do we we still say “yes” to Jesus – to whatever it is that Jesus asks us to do?

In our world of instant communication today, we have more people than ever telling us what to do or what to think or what to believe. And so when God asks us to make a certain choice or to live a certain way – we are quickly told all the many reasons why obeying God would be a foolish mistake. But despite what everyone else tells us, do we, like Peter, say to the Lord, “But if you say so, God, I’ll let the nets down again. I’ll do whatever you ask me. I’ll trust what you say over everything else.”

That’s what Peter did. He loaded up the freshly-cleaned nets into the boat and headed out to deeper water to try to catch some fish. And then we read in verse 6….

And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Luke 5:6-10

This was an amazing catch of fish! Peter’s obedience to Jesus had paid off big time! Contrary to everything they knew about fishing, obedience to Jesus brought them enough fish to fill both boats – so much so that they were on the verge of sinking! I don’t know exactly how many fish that would be – but from Peter’s reaction, it was obviously far more than they had ever caught before.

I mean, look what He does in verse 8. He falls to his knees before Jesus and says, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” It seems this incredible event has triggered two significant realizations for Peter.

First of all, it seems that Peter realizes that Jesus is not just another teacher – to say the least. There was something unique – something incredible about Jesus. I don’t know if Peter fully understand exactly what that was, but He knew that something like this only happened through the power of God. Jesus was obviously filled with the spirit and power of God in a way that Peter had never seen before.

And that’s what led Peter to the other realization – and that is, He became painfully aware of his own sinfulness. It seems that being witness to the power and the presence of God will do that to a guy!

When Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord, he responded in a very similar way. Isaiah writes in Isaiah chapter 6…

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2 Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

4 Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke. 

5 Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

Isaiah 6:1-5

When we compare ourselves to other sinful people, we can sometimes feel pretty good about ourselves – because “We’re not as bad as that guy.” But when you stand in the presence of a holy God, a God who is completely sinless, a God who is completely just, a God who is completely righteous – a God who is Holy, Holy, Holy – then suddenly, we can’t help but realized the depth of our sinfulness. We know in our hearts that we are sinful, rebellious people. And our response should be to feel doomed. We should respond like Peter and ask the Lord to leave us – because that’s exactly what we deserve!

But thankfully, in his mercy, God doesn’t always give us what we deserve. When we acknowledge our own sinfulness and we humble ourselves before God, God doesn’t pound us with condemnation – instead He gives us grace. He gives us forgiveness. He gives us cleansing.

In the case of Isaiah’s vision, God sent one of those seraphim to cleanse his unclean lips with a burning coal. It says in verse 6…

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.”

Isaiah 6:6-7

While God very easily could (and probably should) instantly destroy us for our sinfulness and rebellion, He chooses instead to offer us forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration.

And that’s what we see in the case of Peter as well. As Peter humbly acknowledged his own sinfulness, Jesus extends to him both grace and an invitation. Verse 10 says…

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” Luke 5:10b

I love how Jesus told Peter not to be afraid. Not to be afraid of what?

Afraid of judgment. Afraid of condemnation. Afraid of punishment. Peter knew in his heart that that’s what He deserved. But Jesus said “Don’t be afraid.” 

He hadn’t come to that shore that day seeking Peter so that he could condemn him for his sin. No, Jesus had something else in mind. Jesus had come to transform Peter and give him a whole new purpose in life.

Despite the huge catch of fish that would have been a real financial boost to Peter’s fishing business, Jesus invited Peter to make a slight change in vocations. Yes, he would continue to fish – but not FOR fish. Instead, He would learn how to fish for men – sinful men & women – like himself – and he would invite them to receive the grace of God, as he himself had done.

God’s plan for Peter did not involve condemnation – but restoration! 

And so how did Peter respond to this invitation of Jesus? Verse 11 tells us…

11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Luke 5:11

And really, I think that’s the only logical response! How else would you respond to the amazing grace of God? Why wouldn’t you follow the one who graciously offers you forgiveness and a brand new purpose in life?

And actually, that’s exactly what we see when Jesus invited another disciple – Levi – to come come follow him as well.

If you can indulge my rabbit trail for just a few moments, can we go look at that passage for a minute?

I want you to see this… The calling of Levi is a very different story from Peter’s in how it all plays out – but the same themes are all there. Have a look with me at Mark chapter 2 – starting at verse 13… (This, by the way, is just a short time after Peter started following Jesus.)

13 Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. Mark 2:13-14

Now I’ll pause here for a minute because this is pretty incredible. In those days tax collectors were considered to be some of the lowest scum in society. They were notorious for being dishonest cheats! Many tax collectors had become rich by overtaxing their fellow countryman – keeping the excess for themselves. And what’s worse, as Jews collecting money for the Romans, they were considered to as traitors to their country. They were despised and hated by everyone. Everyone – it seems – except for Jesus.

Now we don’t really know what kind of interactions Jesus had with Levi prior to this – I assume they had crossed paths at least a little bit before this, but we don’t really have that information. All we know is that Jesus invited this tax-collector – considered to be one of the greatest sinners in society – to follow him and be his disciple. 

This was an invitation that I’m sure Levi would never expect. How could a righteous teacher like Jesus invite a sinful tax-collector like him to be his disciple? Well, again, we don’t know what kind of interactions Jesus had with Levi prior to this, but I would guess that somewhere along the line, Jesus had shown Levi the same care and compassion that Jesus had shown to Peter.

And so, like Peter, Levi accepted the invitation to become one of Jesus’ disciples. He walked away from his very-well paying job and He too, began to follow Jesus. That’s pretty amazing!

But it’s the second part of Levi’s story that really drives the point home – and this is where we’ll conclude…. let’s finish up the story now in verse 15

15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”

17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Mark 2:13-17

And it’s that last statement by Jesus that really ties these two stories together. I mean, this is really the foundation of the Gospel message!

Jesus did not come to call those who think they are righteous, but He came to call those who know they are sinners.

These three men that we’ve talked about this morning – Peter, Isaiah, and Levi – all through a variety of different circumstances, all experienced the incredible compassion of the Almighty God. As they humbly recognized their own sinfulness, God reached out and extended to them compassion, forgiveness, and a whole new purpose in life!

And God continues to do that today. Jesus is still calling those who know they are sinners. As we talked about earlier – He’s still pursuing us – He’s still seeking us out.

    • Sometimes he allows us to witness the miraculous power of God (like He did with Peter).
    • Sometimes he allows us to see the incredible holiness of the Almighty (like He did with Isaiah)
    • Sometimes he allows us experience the painful consequences of our own sin (like He did with Levi)

But He does all those things – so that we might recognize our own sinfulness and our own desperate need for his forgiveness and mercy.

And when that happens – when we come to the point where we know we are sinners – that’s when Jesus comes in with compassion, forgiveness, restoration, and an invitation to come follow him.

Can I just encourage you this morning to take a moment to reflect on your own life? What’s God’s been doing recently? Has he been showing you his incredible power? Maybe revealing his awesome holiness? Or perhaps God has been allowing some hard times in your life and maybe it does’t feel like God’s present at all?

But I assure you, God is there. And he is working to draw you closer to Himself. He’s pursuing you! And regardless of how He goes about doing it, our response should always be the same: We need to humble ourselves before this awesome God, recognizing our own sinfulness and unworthiness – and then to accept God’s gracious gift of forgiveness and restoration through His Son Jesus.

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