Working with the Word

Text: Luke 5:1-11

St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16, English Standard Version) With these words, St. Paul encouraged the Colossians in their Christian life together, as they bore the family resemblance of their heavenly Father in lives of forgiveness, love, compassion and generosity. In all things, the Word of Christ should dwell in them richly – in their hearts, in their teaching, in their admonishing each other, in their singing. St. Paul encouraged this because, of course, faith comes by hearing. The Word is the instrument of the Holy Spirit to create faith. Without God’s Word, everything fails. Faith is not created through being nice to other people, but by the Word of God. Without this, our work is in vain. But with it, faith is created and Christ’s Church is enlarged.

We are taught this from our text this week. Peter, James, and John toiled all night at the nets, but caught nothing. Yet, at Christ’s Word, they received a miraculous catch of fish. It even says, “their nets were breaking.” (Luke 5:6) They didn’t receive that catch because they found the perfect place to fish or a golden technique, but only because of our Lord’s Word. Then, the Lord commissioned them as His first disciples to carry that same Word into the world, to be, “catching men,” He said. (v. 10) Today, we learn that it is the Lord’s Word that does the work, and without it, our labor is in vain.

I.

If you were to look at our text today in a Bible, you’d likely find the heading, “Jesus Calls the First Disciples.” The events in the text happen near the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The temptation of our Lord takes place in Luke 4, and after that He went up into Galilee. There, He taught, cast out demons, and healed many. As you can imagine, word about all this spread. Crowds started to follow our Lord, curious about the healings and desiring to hear His Word. “On one occasion,” St. Luke wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “the crowd was pressing in on [Jesus] to hear the Word of God.” (v. 1) Our Lord had been standing beside the Sea of Galilee and, noticing a couple boats there, got into one and taught the crowd from a little bit out. Now, St. Luke tells us, the one He got into was Peter’s.

When He finished teaching, Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (v. 4) Up to this point, Peter had been listening to Jesus’ teaching while, also, washing the fishing nets. Washing the nets was something you did after you had finished fishing and, evidently, their previous night’s catch was disappointing. Peter said, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” (v. 5) They had toiled all night and were exhausted, even catching nothing, but the Lord’s Word produced a faith in Peter, James, and John that saw them putting out the nets once again. “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.” (vv. 6-7)

If you think back to Trinity Sunday, the Old Testament reading was from Isaiah 6. That’s where Isaiah the prophet receives a vision of the heavenly throne room. Remember how the angels were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy,” and the foundations of the place were shaking. (Is. 6:3) Isaiah concluded from all this that he was about to die – being a sinner in the presence of God. But, then an angel flew to him with a burning coal from the altar and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away.” (6:7) The same sort of thing happens with Peter in our text. The miraculous catch didn’t come from fishing in a great spot or casting the nets just right, it was all Jesus; and he knew it. He begged Jesus to go away, since he was a sinner. Jesus said to him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (Lk. 5:10) With these words, Jesus heard Peter’s confession that he was a sinner and forgave him. Peter was right to feel guilty over his sin, but now he need not be afraid; he is forgiven. With these words, Jesus also called Peter, James and John as the first of His disciples.

II.

In the Gospel this week we see the power of Christ’s Word. With His Word, faith was created in the heart of the crowd and of these first Disciples. With His Word, Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. With His Word, He produced the miraculous catch of fish. With His Word, He has also called us to faith. St. James, the brother of our Lord, wrote, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of Truth.” (1:18) St. Peter, likewise wrote, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God.” (1 Pt. 1:23) Through the preaching of the Law, Christ brings us to know and lament our sins. Through the Gospel, He teaches us that He bore our sins on the cross and made the once-for-all-time payment for them in His death. By His Word, He calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light, He brings us to and keeps us in the faith.

Just a little later in St. Peter’s first epistle, he wrote, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (2:9) Peter isn’t saying here that we are all pastors, but he does mean that same Word by which Christ called us to faith He also places into our mouths. He does this so that in our daily lives, in our vocations as father, mother, grandparent, friend, worker, we might also bear witness of His love to those around us. We give evidence of His goodness by our works, but especially by our words. The Word is what convicts of sin, it is what comforts with forgiveness. It is what creates faith and saves.

We live in a time where there’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the course of the world and even, in our congregation(s). If we’re being honest, we can see that there are empty spots. There are innumerable places out there offering strategies and solutions, who promise they can fix things if we just buy their product. Do you think our situation is new? Do you think that the Colossians might, also, have had the same worries as us? I’d bet so. This was St. Paul’s (or, really, the Holy Spirit’s) encouragement, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” It was the Lord’s Word that produced a miraculous catch of fish in the Gospel, and it’s the Word that produces miraculous catches today. Not all catches are huge in number, but they are all miracles. Jesus said a few weeks back, “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk. 15:10)

This is both our confidence and our encouragement today. The Lord’s Word does the work. It’s His Word that grows the Church. Not us. That doesn’t mean we should be lazy or lacking in labors of love. It does mean that the same Lord who worked through the preaching of the Apostles works through us. When His Word is present in our worship – through the Liturgy, the readings, hymns, Sacraments and sermons – and in our lives, there, the Lord is at work. He will grant growth where, when, and how it pleases Him. Let us give thanks that the Lord has given us His Word of forgiveness and pray that He would cause it to dwell among us richly – that it would both rest in our hearts and come out of our mouths.

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