10 February 2019

Doing All Things at the Word of Jesus

Rejected by His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus has returned to the other regions of Galilee, and by His Ministry of Word and deed He reveals Himself as the Son of God, the Christ (or Messiah), the Savior sent from heaven for the life of the world.  He comes in the footsteps of the Old Testament Prophets, speaking and acting in the Name of the Lord, suffering rejection and hostility in return, but thereby fulfilling all the promises of God.  For His entire life and Ministry, and finally His death, are the accomplishment of all that the Prophets before Him spoke and did and suffered.

He not only walks in the footsteps of the Prophets, Himself, but He also calls and prepares others to follow in His footsteps, as well.  As the Prophets prepared the world for the coming of Christ, so do their successors, the holy Apostles and the ministers of the Gospel, deliver the Christ who has come into the world in the flesh, who abides among His people in His Word and Sacraments.

As in this Holy Gospel, the teaching of Jesus is the Word of God.  He is the source and the location of all that you must hear to be and to live as a child of God.  Learn from the example of the crowds, therefore, to press upon Him wherever He is found, in order to hear and learn His Word.

Bear in mind that St. Luke has written for those (including you) who already know the rest of the story.  Not only the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, but so also His ongoing Life and Ministry within His Church on earth, as in the Acts of the Apostles.  He is the One who is actively present and at work in the words and deeds of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, and all those whom He calls and sends in His Name.  So does He continue to guide and govern, feed and protect His holy Christian Church, and so is He with you always, even to the close of the age.

It is with that ongoing Apostolic Ministry of Christ in view that you are given to hear and receive the Holy Gospel.  It is for this very reason that it is read and preached in the Liturgy of the Church, not simply as ancient history, but as a very present reality and truth right here and now for you.

In the case at hand, for example, you know from the start that Simon the fisherman will become St. Peter the Apostle, and that his preaching and ministry of the Gospel will continue the teaching and miracles of Christ Jesus as the Word and works of God; so also to this day and to this place.

It is important, therefore, that you should think about Simon Peter and his fellows properly — not only who they were, but who they have become for the entire Church: at the Word of Jesus.

The bottom line in this Gospel is that Simon Peter and his partners will become “fishers of men.”  But as always, the initiative belongs entirely to the Lord Jesus.  These fishermen have already given up before He arrives; they’re not even in their boats anymore when Jesus enters the scene.

It is the presence of Christ Jesus that converts, not only Simon, but first of all his boat into a little church, a little “Ark of the Holy Christian Church.”  When the Lord Jesus sits down and begins teaching from Simon’s humble fishing vessel, it becomes at once a mighty cathedral from which the Word of God sounds forth and gives life.  In this picture is found Simon Peter’s own future.

The transition from the Ministry of Jesus Christ, God’s Son in the flesh, to the Apostolic Ministry of His servant, Simon Peter, is depicted in the fishing expedition that follows.  St. Luke writes that Jesus stopped speaking — not permanently, of course, but as an indication that He will complete His personal Ministry on earth with the fulfillment of His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.  And as He stops in this case, He directs the Apostle to cast his nets out into the deep; for as the same Lord Jesus will subsequently say to Simon Peter and the other Apostles, “You will be My witnesses from Jerusalem into all Judea, to Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”  But here is where it all begins, from a little fishing boat on the Lake of Gennesaret.

If you would find yourself in the story, look into those nets of Simon Peter, that is, among the fish.  That is where you also find your dear Lord’s tender concern for all those, such as yourself, who are so far from the shores of Galilee, across a great span of time and space, a seemingly impossible distance from the Lord Jesus Christ — if not for His provision of these fishermen and their nets.

Simon thus puts into words what he and every pastor and congregation must recognize: All our own toiling, all our own efforts and striving, all of that will accomplish nothing.  Only at the Word of Jesus do we dare attempt anything at all, for only by His Word is there any hope of success.

If not for the Word of Jesus, the Apostles would never have made it out of Jerusalem; their nets would have remained empty, and the Church, as well.  And that is no less the case in our own day.  The Church is nothing, and has nothing to offer, except by the Word of her Lord Jesus Christ.

As pastors and people, His Word in every case remains our saving grace and our only hope, even when it makes no sense to our mortal flesh with all its knowledge and experience.  Like heading out to fish in the middle of the day after a long hard night with no success, and casting the nets in the most unlikely place, the Word of the Lord often seems like nothing but foolishness.  Hence Simon’s caveat in response to Jesus, clarifying that a day-fishing attempt is certainly not his idea.  And yet, he does what the Lord has spoken.  And consider what happens then at the Word of Jesus.

They go out to the deep waters — recalling the “Deep” waters of the Creation in Genesis — with the Spirit-filled Word of Jesus moving over the surface of those waters, as though to administer a “mass Baptism” of all those who have been lost at sea.  You already know how the fish will come to signify people — adrift in the deep, like those poor, unfortunate souls who went down with the Titanic.  But thus says the Lord, “Cast out your nets and let them be rescued!”  “And it was so!”

The Apostles immediately catch such a great plethora of fish that their nets begin to rip and tear.  Always it is the case that the Lord provides far more than we could ever hope or expect or imagine — to such a great extent that our own frail resources are frequently stretched and challenged.

It is not only our physical and financial resources that are challenged, but all of our finite human resources.  And as such, whatever temptations Simon Peter or anyone else might have had to view this great Apostle as a one-man show, that would never be the case.  The Lord would use him mightily, as St. Luke makes plain in the Acts of the Apostles; St. Peter preaches and acts with the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, who calls him and sends him in His own Name.  But from the start there are others, his brother Andrew, his colleagues James and John, Twelve Apostles in all, the new Patriarchs of a new Israel.  And, in their footsteps ever since, many others have followed.

The fact is, one could hardly over-emphasize the importance of St. Peter for the life of the Church; which is no doubt why St. Luke focuses so much attention upon him.  But for that very reason, it has always been necessary to recognize that Simon Peter is upheld by his Lord Jesus; alongside St. Peter are his fellow Apostles; and following after St. Peter are the ministers of the Gospel who continue to preach and teach the same Word of the same Christ Jesus, to baptize, absolve, and commune the congregations of His people all over the world, as also here among us to this day.

So it goes at every level of service within the Lord’s Church.  You are not called to “go it alone.”  Nor are we as a congregation an island unto ourselves.  Together as Christians, as a congregation, we are members of one Body in Christ, and each of you are called to live in communion with all those who belong to His Body, not only in this present time and place, but of all times and in all places.  So has Violet been grafted into that Body of Christ this morning, born again as a child of our one God and Father, a member of His household and family together with all who are baptized in His Name.  She belongs to you, and you to her, in Christ Jesus, who is with you always in His Gospel–Word and Sacraments, and who supplies the people and resources for all that is needed.

Whenever you are brought to recognize the true depths of this blessed fellowship, you may well be overcome by your own unworthiness, especially in contrast to the Divine Glory of Christ Jesus.  As Simon Peter learned in this Holy Gospel, and as Isaiah recognized in the Temple, the Epiphany of God is a terrifying experience for such wretched sinners as you and all of us are.  There can be no pride or boasting in His presence.  “We are beggars, that is true.”  We live solely by His mercy.

So it is that Simon Peter prostrates Himself before Jesus, whom he has recognized as the Lord, as Yahweh in the flesh.  This man who will in due time be given the keys of forgiveness for others, is here brought to his knees in repentance, confessing his sins and his unworthiness to his Lord.

But this Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has not come to punish the sins of men as they deserve.  Instead, His Word rings out again: “Do not fear!”  With those words of grace and peace, He bestows His Holy Absolution upon Simon Peter — as He does now through my lips, cleansed of sin by the burning Coal from His Altar, that I might speak His forgiveness to you.

He comes in the flesh, and He lays down His body and life in death upon the Cross, that He might raise you up from death to life by His Word of the Gospel; that He should make you His own in Holy Baptism, and feed you with His Body and His Blood at His Table, and so give you His Life.

To be and to live as a disciple of this Lord Jesus Christ is not to raise yourself up by your own bootstraps, nor to impress Him with your bravado, savvy, or achievements, but to hear His Word and to receive the good gifts that He freely gives you by grace alone.  That is where and how your life as a Christian begins, and that is how it continues, unto the Resurrection and everlasting Life.

As you have been caught and rescued in the nets of His Gospel, no less than Violet Victoria this morning, and as you receive all good things in heaven and on earth at the Word of the Lord Jesus, so does He also manifest Himself in your body and life, in the works of your calling and station.

For my part, I have been called and ordained to serve in the Office that began with Christ and His Apostles.  Thus do I preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name, I catechize you with His Word; I baptize in His Name, and I call you daily to the significance of your Holy Baptism, as I shall do by God’s grace for Violet henceforth; I feed you with the Food and Drink that Christ Jesus provides, that you should not die but live as a member of His Body and Bride, the Church.

As I carry out these works in His Name, at His Word, they are His own works of grace, mercy, and peace, whereby He manifests the Glory of His Gospel for your life and your salvation in Him.

And you, in turn — baptized into Christ, cleansed and forgiven by His Word of the Gospel, and fed from His Altar with the burning Embers of His Sacrifice — you are called to show forth His praises in your body and life, to manifest the Glory of His Cross and Resurrection in that which you are given to do.  Wherever He has put you in this world, whatever your place in life, He has re-created you in His Image and Likeness, and He epiphanies His Glory in your words and works.

To be sure, bearing His Glory in this fallen and perishing world means bearing His Cross in this poor life of labor.  For His Cross and Passion remain the greatest revelation of His Glory on earth.  To suffer and to die with Him is not easy, but the Cross that you carry as a disciple of Christ Jesus is not for your destruction; it is the way and means by which you enter into Life with Him forever.

It is from His Cross that He feeds and strengthens you with His own Body and Blood; and so it is that your flesh and blood are given in love, to and for your neighbor, to the Glory of Christ Jesus.  Likewise, the Word of Jesus that you hear and receive becomes a word in your mouth for others.

Are you a parent?  Speak the Word of Jesus to your spouse and to your children.  Are you a child?  Speak the Word of Jesus to your father and mother, to your brothers and sisters, to your playmates and your friends.  Are you a worker?  Speak the Word of Jesus to those you are given to serve.

This life that you live, these Words that you speak, they are not of yourself, but they are the very things that you have received by the grace and charity of Jesus, who has made you His own; who has caught you in His nets; who has taken you safely aboard the holy Ark of His Christian Church; who does not cast you away from His presence, but pours out His Spirit generously upon you.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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