2/25/2018 Life’s Difficult Questions: What If I’ve Failed?
Luke 5:1-11 1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, 2 he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
This passage in Luke 5 gives us a glimpse of the early days of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Verse 1 says that “Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening.” The Lake of Genessaret was a large body of water in the northern part of Israel better known as the Sea of Galilee.
As was common in the early days, Jesus could command a crowd. And why not? Who wouldn’t want to hear the One who could heal their diseases, feed their hunger, fill them with hope, and teach the way to God and the way to live like no one they had ever heard? Mark 12:37 is typical, “The large crowd listened to him with delight.”
Verse 1 says the people were “crowding around him” to listen to the Word of God. Most preachers fantasize occasionally about preaching to vast crowds,
a full sanctuary, people pushing to get to the front and contending for the best seats—and, if only in dreams, imagining people shouting down the benediction demanding longer sermons and more preaching.
In our better motivated moments, though, we want to have that great an impact for the Word of God and see many people come to faith in Christ and be transformed by the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
For Jesus, at least in the early months of his ministry, vast crowds and surging multitudes were the rule rather than the exception—that is, until he started talking about being crucified and denying yourself and taking up your cross—which is when the crowds started to thin out.
But here in Luke 5, Jesus was at the zenith of popularity. The Bible says the people were “crowding” upon Jesus. What’s the biggest crowd you have ever been in? A game? A concert? A parade? Church?! A few years ago, my niece and her husband went to New York City for New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
Like all those people crowded in a small space, people were crowding around Jesus here in Luke 5. The word used here for “crowding” means to be pressed, like ironing clothes; or to have a heavy weight laid on something.
Jesus’s choice of the lakeshore was practical. It would have been like a natural amphitheater. Perhaps Jesus started out a few feet from the water’s edge, but people kept pushing forward, maybe people in the back pushing to get a better view; and I can imagine Jesus backing up and backing up, about to go in the water, when he requisitioned Peter’s fishing boat.
Some years ago, Becky and I attended outdoor worship service by the boat docks at a resort lake. Some people sat on lawn chairs looking out toward the water and quite a number of people pulled up in boats and bathing suits for a “boat-in” worship, complete with loudspeaker and, so nobody would feel left out, long-handled baskets for the offering.
The passage doesn’t say whether Jesus had a long sermon or just a few thoughts, but when he finished, he turned to Simon, the owner of the boat, and said, “Push out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon (whom Jesus later named Peter) was a fisherman, along with his brother Andrew, another of the Twelve; as were two other disciples, James and John. At least a third of Jesus’s disciples were fisherman, which made them ideal candidates for Jesus to send out to fish for lost people.
Put yourself in Peter’s sandals here. Apparently, it was early in the day, packing up after a fishing all-nighter, cleaning their nets and stowing their gear; tired, worn-out, ready for some sleep; when some itinerant preacher commandeers his boat. What can you do but wait? And he heard Jesus. Maybe he was impressed. Maybe he was unsure. When Jesus finished, he was probably ready to go home and sleep when Jesus said, Luke 5:4 “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
What does he think we’ve been doing? Stick to preaching, pal. Simon was the professional here. He knew his business. He knew when it was time to fish or cut bait.
My Dad used to talk about somebody freely giving out lots of free and unsolicited advice. The last thing we want in our job or expertise is some outsider, some sidewalk superintendent, bossing us around.
Simon Peter insisted he had already done everything there was to be done. “We’ve been fishing all night. If there were fish to be caught, we would have caught them, and nobody knows that better than I do, and that’s that.” Except for the inconvenient fact of those empty nets. You can act all self-sufficient and be too proud to accept help and be too proud to admit you’ve blown it and you might pull it off except for those empty nets.
We do the same thing. Oh, it may not be about fishing, though I know some people here would welcome a little divine intervention when you go fishing. Come on, you’ve prayed for a big fish, haven’t you? You’ve prayed on the golf course, right? You’ve prayed for your team to win, haven’t you? You’ve asked God for all green lights because you’re running late, or for a parking space to open up close to the door—or for the preacher to go short for once.
Maybe it’s a lot more serious than empty nets or a bad day fishing. Maybe you’re coming up empty at home. Maybe things aren’t working in your marriage.
You’re having problems knowing how to relate to your son or daughter. You want someone to love and someone to love you back, but at the end of the day, once again it’s just you and an empty, broken heart. You’re in a relationship going nowhere, or a relationship going to a wrong place; and you know it’s wrong and there are sinful things going on.
There are times when you wonder whether it matters or whether it’s worth going on. You’re working hard, you’re putting in the hours—but when you try to make ends meet at the end of the month, there’s more month than money.
Maybe your empty nets are an empty spirit. For some people, their nets are full to overflowing. Materially, financially, it couldn’t be better. But you still feel like something’s missing on the inside. Is this all there is? What am I doing with my life? What do I have to show for it all except some toys and trinkets?
There are the empty moral nets, falling short again and again—a habit you can’t break, a net empty of integrity—being one person at school and somebody different at home or church, regret or shame for something from your past, a feeling of guilt or real guilt before a holy God which leaves you uncertain and unready to stand before God—so you don’t dare get too close to God in prayer or worship or in the Bible—because the hypocrisy is too uncomfortable.
Beyond that, the nets are coming up empty in our community and in our culture and in our economy and in our identity as a nation. Violence, political strife, drugs, addictions, pornography, and all sorts of rotting fruit after tossing aside any kind of moral center or authority, elevating one’s feelings and urges and preferences above all else.
Marriage is in such decline that single households now outnumber married households. More couples are cohabiting without marriage than ever before. Easy divorce has eaten away at the foundation of a society of stable families and healthy children. Four out of every ten children are born to unmarrried mothers.
We long ago waved the white flag on sex before marriage or outside of marriage. We’ve failed to secure God’s design and desire for marriage. We’ve failed the very existence of tens of millions of children never even allowed to live. We’ve failed the Word of God, trusting in our feelings and urges more than our Creator’s eternal truth and love and design for our flourishing.
And even truth itself is up for grabs. Even absolute truth has now become debatable and malleable. Moral standards are considered optional and situational or private.
Success has been reduced to money and things or power and prominence. Governments and public institutions are being systematically divested of all things God and religious; and in the eyes of media and entertainers and popular culture, the worst sin is daring to say there is such a thing as sin and right and wrong and holiness and judgment and heaven and hell—but there is, no matter how incorrect somebody says it is.
Remember this: you always get more of what you tolerate.
“We’ve been fishing all night and caught nothing”—a picture of life’s futility, of personal frustrations, of our past failures, and falling down and falling behind in the here and now.
We’re in the same boat as Simon—going to our jobs, trying to get a job, filling up the calendar, emptying the checkbook, chasing the kids, running the kids—going, doing, wanting, buying, getting, running faster and faster—fishing all night and catching nothing, at least not the happiness and contentment and satisfaction we thought we’d have by now.
Peter tried it his way and that wasn’t working. Sound familiar?
Jesus said, “Listen to me.” Put away your pride and stubbornness long enough to listen to someone who may know more, who may see more than you can. “Sail out into the deep water and give it another try.”
Peter wasn’t convinced, but as if to humor Jesus, he did it. Luke 5:5-7 “If you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 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.
Why do we so stubbornly insist that we can manage life better than Jesus? Why do we keep thinking you and I make a better Lord and Leader than Jesus? John 14.6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Is he? Really? Then why do we live as though it’s up to us to figure life out?
John 1.3 says, Through him (i.e. Christ) all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Why, then, do we try make life work by trying everything and anybody except the Maker?
As soon as we’re through trying it our way, when we get to the end of our rope, when we’re cleaning and dragging our empty nets around, Jesus will be waiting with arms of love, of power, of goodness, and of real and lasting hope.
This incident teaches us what to do when our best is not good enough; when we give it our best shot, but still come up ten feet short. We study diligently for a test and only get a “C,” or we work hard to make our marriage better but still don’t see any progress; or we play our heart out, and still lose the game.
Let’s give it another try. The night is past, the dawn is breaking, the Son of God is on the scene. He is not here to beat us down for the mistakes and failings and shortcomings of last night, but to raise us up to meet the dawn of new hopes and possibilities—the dawn of forgiveness and the power to get up and head back out to the deep water.
I’ve heard and read much about Billy Graham this week as have many of you, and among all the explanations for his tremendous impact and influence are the many ways he lived out and extended the love of Jesus to people, always taking more interest in the other person than himself or his ministry or agenda.
An article by Michael Brown (who I strongly recommend you read and listen to) told about Jim Bakker, of the PTL ministry, disgraced and imprisoned as a fraudulent televangelist. Bakker’s moral failings were prominent and tawdry and humiliating, but he said that “at my lowest moment, Billy Graham walked into my prison, threw his arms around me and said, ‘Jim, I love you.’ The day before, I had heard that he had been voted one of the top three most respected men in the world, and now he was in my prison, comforting me.
“The week I was released from prison, I was sitting in the Graham home eating chicken dinner. That first Sunday out of prison, I was surrounded by the Graham family.”
While the world mocked Bakker and the church discarded him, Billy Graham embraced him.
Your nets are empty, your bones are aching, the dawn is breaking, and Jesus is saying to you, “Put out into the deep water, and throw out your nets one more time.”
Scott Hamilton (Olympic champion ice skater; survived cancer/three brain tumors): In an interview, he talked about teaching young people to skate and a key part of the training is “teaching them how to fall.”
“That’s the first thing we do. When they come to Learn to Skate and Skating Academy, no matter how old they are, no matter what, we go here’s how you fall and here’s how you get up. Because you’re going to. And if you don’t fall, it’s like oh, you didn’t even try, well, you played it safe. You got to get out there and really feel the air, your blades under you, feel the ice under you, feel the movement, feel the speed.
“And that goes with anything. If you didn’t fall, you didn’t try. I fell 41,600 times (laugh). What do you do? Well, you get up 41,600 times.”
Sometimes, if we insist, God will let us fish and fish and fish—and fail and flop and flounder until we figure out that, “You know, this isn’t working. Maybe Jesus was right. Maybe the one who made me in his image, the one who loved me enough to sacrifice his life for me, the one who rose again the winner over every possible demon, enemy, and threat there can be—maybe, just maybe, he can forgive me and heal me and pull me up and point me in the right direction—out where the big fish are.
Or as someone has put it, “When you finally get to the end of yourself, you get to the beginning of God.”