Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each report how shortly after Jesus began his public ministry he began to call disciples to follow him, learn from him, and eventually be sent out as full time ministers to preach the Gospel in his name. (cf. Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:1-11; John 1:35-51) We hear these accounts several times each year. And often when you read these texts or hear them preached, the emphasis is that just as Jesus called disciples to preach the Word and gather other people into the church then, so he calls us to gather other people into the church now. That that is such a common interpretation is less about the actual words of Scripture, however, and more about our own narcissistic and legalistic tendencies. Narcissistic in the assumption that the Bible is about me (and you) instead of Jesus; legalistic in assuming that the main message of the Bible is the law – what God is telling to do (law) rather than what he has sent Jesus to do for us (gospel). Without belaboring the point, this morning, instead of considering how we are called to be like Peter, we will consider that Jesus called Peter for us, for you.
Just last week, Jesus had narrowly survived attempted murder at the hands of his own hometown friends and neighbors. They wanted nothing to do with him or his message of forgiveness and grace. One would think, then, that Jesus might be a little “gun-shy.” That he might stop preaching or only do it in secret or, at the very least, that he would be very careful about when and where and to whom he preached. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He doesn’t continue his preaching in a corner, in hiding, in secret. Why not? Because he knows Paul’s logic of salvation: if the Gospel isn’t preached, no one can hear; if no one hears, no one can believe; if no one believes, no one will be saved. (Romans 10:13-15) He knows that while he will suffer, die and rise to save the world – no one in the world will receive salvation if they don’t hear this good news. So Jesus not only continues to preach himself – in spite of any hostility or obstacles, but he calls prophets and apostles and in the centuries after them, pastors so that the Gospel of salvation would reach every corner of the world. But first, before he changes Peter the fisherman into Peter the apostle, he’s got to get Peter ready for the job.
And so we don’t find Jesus hiding behind locked doors but standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the Word of God. Peter, James and John were there, and they had fished all night with nothing to show for their efforts. Now they were cleaning up their nets so that they could go home and rest and do it all over again that evening. But Jesus spoils their plans. Peter knows Jesus. His brother Andrew had introduced them a year or so earlier. (John 1:41) Peter had witnessed Jesus’ power at the wedding at Cana. (John 2:2) Peter has put his faith in Jesus as the Messiah. (John 2:11) Peter is already a Christian, but he’s not yet an apostle.
And now Peter is back in his day job. Maybe Jesus had sent his disciples away for a time; maybe Peter had left in order to go back to work to provide for his family (Luke 4:38) – we don’t know. But what we do know is that this day Jesus stepped into Peter’s boat and asked him to put out a little from shore so he could use his boat as a pulpit. But it’s when Jesus finishes preaching that things get really interesting. He shocks Peter with another request: put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.
Peter could have protested. He could have said “Lord, we’ve fished all night and caught nothing, can’t we just go home and rest.” He could have taught this carpenter-turned-rabbi that if you want to actually catch fish you don’t do it in deep water and you don’t do it in the middle of the day. He could have pulled rank on Jesus, saying “Listen, Lord, this is my boat and I’m the professional fisherman. You stick to preaching and leave the fishing to me.” But he didn’t. In spite of the obvious, logical reasons for refusing, Peter obeyed. Even more important is why he obeyed: not because the command was rational or reasonable – but because of who was issuing the command. Did you catch that in Peter’s response? Master we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets. So Peter does. And Luke reports the miracle in such an understated fashion that it’s almost a minor detail – which, in this context, it is. But miracle it is, nonetheless. The one who spoke on the fifth day and filled the earth’s seas and oceans with fish (Genesis 1:21) now summons his finned creatures to Peter’s nets. And not just a few (so that it might’ve just been chalked up to beginner’s luck) but enough to break the nets and nearly sink two boats. (I doubt any of the fishermen here, even on the days when they’ve stretched the truth to its limit, ever claimed that the fish they caught nearly swamped their boat!)
But we need to look beyond the nets tearing at the seams with fish to see the more important work Jesus was doing there. Jesus wasn’t there to catch fish, he was there to catch and call Peter to full-time service in his kingdom. This miracle was not intended to make Peter a famous fisherman so that he could get his own TV show, but to end his fishing career completely. Jesus is revealing his glory – his power as the Maker and Lord of creation – to Peter right in his own boat as a none-too-subtle reminder that he is Peter’s Lord, too.
And this realization scares the living daylights out of Peter. In the middle of a huge pile of flopping fish, on a sinking boat, this big, tough fisherman falls down at Jesus’ feet and begs him “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Now, it’d be hard to blame Peter if he was anxious about getting all those fish into shore safely, you couldn’t fault him if he was afraid of sinking, drowning, or dying. But that’s not what Peter was afraid of. He’s afraid of Jesus, afraid of his power and holiness and righteous wrath, afraid that Jesus was in his boat with him, a sinner. And Peter was right to be afraid.
Fear is a window into our souls. It is a form of worship. What are you afraid of? The answer to that question is the same as the answer to another question: who/what is your god? The First Commandment teaches us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. But how many other things do we fear more and before God? Are you afraid to hurt, to suffer, to lose something or someone, to be left behind or forgotten? Are you afraid of the past, the present, the future? Are you afraid of what you’ve done or what you might do? Are you afraid to fail, to succeed, are you afraid of being average, everyday, ordinary? Are you afraid of crime, terrorism, climate change, political and economic uncertainty? Are you afraid for your children and grandchildren’s future? Are you afraid of pain, afraid that disease might take your mobility or your mind, afraid of dying, afraid of the devil? Whatever you are afraid of, that is your god. And that fear will result in worship – it will change how you think, behave, and live.
Peter had the right kind of fear that day as he was waist deep in fish in a boat that was sinking from under him. He is afraid of Jesus and he’s afraid because he knows he’s a sinful man – not that he’s made some mistakes in the past, but that he is sinful through and through. The last thing sinners want is to hang around with Jesus because Jesus is holy. For all of the talk today that Jesus just wants to be your buddy, your friend, your life-coach – the more important reality is that he is your Lord and Judge. (John 5:22, 27) No matter what other issues and concerns might be causing us anxiety or fear at any given moment, this one concern should trump them all: At any given moment, Jesus should judge us, condemn us, send us to hell because we are sinful men, women and children (and we prove it every day). For that reason alone, we should all be terribly afraid of Jesus – we should be afraid to come here, into his presence – because he should judge us, convict us, damn us to hell for our sins.
But he doesn’t. Instead of judging and damning you for your sins, Jesus takes your sin from you, makes it his own, carries it to the cross. Instead of condemning you, he is condemned. Instead of casting us out of his presence he is cast out of his Father’s presence. Instead of banishing us to hell, he endures hell in our place. Instead of judging us, Jesus suffers for us, dies for us.
Jesus conveyed all of this good news to Peter in just three words: don’t be afraid.  Don’t be anxious or fearful in my presence. I’m not angry. I didn’t step into your boat this morning to judge you, condemn you, or destroy you. I know you’re a sinful man and I’ve come specifically to take care of that for you. I’ve come so that you can escape the death you deserve and live with me forever in heaven.” Today Jesus says the same to you. Don’t be afraid. Did you hear it earlier when you confessed that you deserve nothing but God’s punishment now and eternally? “God, our heavenly Father, has been merciful to [you] and has given his only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for [y]our sins.” You will hear it again when Jesus invites you to come to his table – the closest we will get to his presence this side of heaven (which should rightly make us think twice and examine ourselves) – to receive his body and blood with the words “the peace of the Lord be with you always.” (John 20:21) Don’t be afraid. Why not when we know we have every reason to be afraid as sinful, guilty men, women and children? Because when the only thing you truly fear is God himself, then there’s nothing left fear. Because then God says to us: “There’s no reason for you to fear me or my wrath. Because I have poured out my wrath on my Son instead, crucified him for you, in your place.”
And then he gives more evidence to prove that we have nothing to fear. He says, “I’m not going to speak to you in a voice that thunders from heaven, I’m not going to send my heavenly hosts to shock and awe you. Instead, I’m going to send people like Isaiah and Peter to speak to you. Sinful men – just like you. Don’t be afraid. Look at Peter’s example to see my love for sinners who fall again and again. Open your Bible, read his letters and the books penned by his fellow apostles – those who were first-hand witnesses of my life and death and resurrection for sinners like you. I commissioned them to write to you so that you might know and believe that I lived and died and rose so that you have nothing to fear.” Last he says “Here is your pastor, whom I have sent not primarily to frighten you with the reality of your sinfulness but to bring the good news to you, to absolve your sins in my name, to baptize you, to give you my body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Jesus is not content to let the good news of his words and work sit hidden on a shelf or buried in a cave somewhere. He wants it to be preached to you. He wants his Word to be heard by you. He wants you to believe them. He wants his word and promises to echo in your ears and take root in your heart because he loves you. Jesus’ love for you, that’s what you should see in Peter’s call to apostleship. Jesus loves you so much that he not only lived and died and rose for you, but he calls sinners like Peter and the other apostles and pastors today to tell you about his love so that you would know it, believe it, and have eternal life in his name. Peter’s call today is just like everything else Jesus does: it’s not about you, but it is for you – and that’s good news indeed! Amen.
 Two Greek words: Μὴ φοβοῦ