Text: Luke 5:1-12
Date: Sunday October 29, 2023
A Opening Illustration: Every week in this Church, I conclude our Sunday gathering with the same benediction. I proclaim over us Christ’s final words to the disciples, what we call the great commission.
Matthew 28:18–20 ESV And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We are commanded in that commission to make disciples. But what is a disciple? It is is important every Church to have a definition of what a disciple is and what a disciple isn’t. Indeed many have gone out baring the name without the proper authority to do so.
B Personal: What are the marks of a disciple? And how can you distinguish a true disciple from a counterfeit? Are you truly a disciple?
C Context: Today’s story, continues our survey of the Gospel, a history of the life and teaching of Christ. Our story today is the moment when the Apostle Peter became a disciple. The story begins with a crowd in awe of Jesus, and ends with a few disciples following Jesus. Today I want to look at those disciples, and specifically what happened in that boat that moved them from one of the crowd, to faithfully following Jesus. What does it truly mean to follow Jesus?
Luke 5:1–11 “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astoni…”
Meaning & Application
I THE WATCHING CROWD (COME & SEE)
A Peter Is Just One of the Crowd: The first group we encounter is the watching crowd. At the beginning of this story, Peter is simply part of that crowd. He happened to be in a place where Jesu was preaching, but as far as we can tell, he wasn’t even there to hear the preaching. Peter had just wrapped up a long evening of fishing. He was tired, and ready to clean his nets and go home.
B Who Are the Crowds Not?: Notice particularly who these crowds and who they are not. These are not crowds that are hostile to Christ. These crowds have gathered to hear Jesus teach. Maybe they liked him as a preacher. Maybe they had heard of some of his miracles. Whatever it was they wanted to be around Jesus so much so that they were “pressing in on him to hear the word of God.” They were attracted to Christ and to his teaching. But they were not disciples of Christ as far as we can tell. They were not following Jesus. They were not commissioned by Jesus.
C Gospel of John Crowds Dispersed: Even though they were there to hear the word of God, we are not told that they were there to submit to the word of God. The Gospel of John in fact tells us that during Jesus’ Capernaum ministry, when the crowds were following, that Jesus taught such hard truths that the crowds abandoned him (John 6:66). And why do they disperse? They disperse because they have not counted the cost of following Jesus (Luke 14:28).
D Illustration – Bears: This is what happens when the Bears are playing exceptionally bad. The fourth of a game rolls around, and it is clear the game is not going to be won, the crowds begin to disperse. The stadium begins to empty. Why? Because the crowds to be pleased, but as soon as the object for which the crowd assembled does not please them anymore, the crowds disperse.
E Today: Today, there are many crowds that surround Jesus. Our Churches are full of them. These are people that are loosely affiliated with the general movement of Christianity, but who have never actually experienced the abundance of Christ in any real way. I believe that many who are in the crowds, can and may become disciples one day, but they are not disciples yet. At this point they are only tasting of Christianity, not experiencing Christianity. What do the crowds do with the teachings they hear. Perhaps they discuss them a bit, but the teachings never get beyond their mind. They don’t reorient their lives to be in accordance with the teaching. It is as Jesus taught,
Mark 8:18 ESV Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?
G The Condition of His Soul: Most importantly, what is the condition of the soul of a person who only ever remains in the crowd and never becomes a disciple. What is the condition of his soul he stands before a Holy God? That man is lost, uttlerly lost. In all his coming and seeing, he has gained nothing of salvation. On his judgment day when he cries, “Yes, but I followed the crowds as they followed you,” the judge will look upon him and say, “But I never knew you.” His soul is utterly lost, and as a result his life is in utter confusion. He does not know his purpose. He does not know where he is headed. This man is treating God as he would a sports team. God is simply a form entertainment or development for one portion of his life. But he is not a disciple Jesus.
H Is This you?: Perhaps that is you today! Perhaps you came here today on the arm of a friend. And as you come today you are experiencing and tasting a bit of the teaching of God, and the gathering of the saints. And you see that it is good. I plead with you, do not stay simply part of the crowd. There is more to Christianity than sitting on the sidelines. Christ invites you in, to relationship.
II THE CULTURAL CHRISTIAN
A Peter Knows Better: The second group that is represented in this story is the Cultural Christian. This is represented by Peter after Jesus tells him to put out to the deeps and let down his nets again. Simon responds, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” There is strength and weakness in this response. The strengh is in his use of the word of Master. At this point he is recognizing the superiority of Christ as a teacher. It’s a good word, that connotes some kind of submission. But the rest of what he says is more of a “I know best” statement. What’s going through Peter’s mind is, “Jesus, you know a lot about preaching. But I am a fisherman. Respectfully, you’re not going to do better than me.”
B Actions With No Worship: What is going on in that heart of Peter’s? At this point he is skeptically at best and begrudgingly at worst, following Christ’s commands. He doesn’t actually believe that Jesus is going to catch any fish, but he doesn’t want to disrespect Jesus. He’s in the boat and along for the ride, but he’s not a disciple. He believes he knows more about fishing than Jesus.
C Cultural Christianity Today: Today, millions of Christians in our country are cultural Christians, who have adopted a lifestyle of Christianity, with very little actual faith or expectations in Christ. On the outside, these people look like genuine Christians. Their actions, to the outside world, are following what he said to do. Perhaps they’re going to Church. Perhaps they’re tithing. Perhaps they are very charitable to others. Perhaps they love their kids and are part of the PTO at their local school. Perhaps they have signed their name to any number of Christian causes. The cultural Christian will do all of these things without every having a heart transformed by them, without ever experiencing a heart of worship for Christ. In a word, cultural Christians live an externally as if they are Christians but miss the internal heart of a Christian. Kyle Idleman, an author who wrote a wonderful short book titled Not a Fan, says it this way,
“My concern is that many of our churches in America have gone from being sanctuaries to becoming stadiums. And every week all the fans come to the stadium where they cheer for Jesus but have no interest in truly following him. The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ.”Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan
The Great Danger: The great danger of cultural Christianity is how deceptive it is. If you are a cultural Christian, others in the Church might form very high opinions of you because they see the type of actions in you that Christians ought to do. And when others think highly of you, you begin to think highly of you. You begin to deceive yourself. But underneath, there is this sinking feeling, that the Gospel has never really penetrated your heart. Jesus is just part of the world you live in, but he is not driving your life. Church, the prophets, and all of the Bible condemns outward religion with no inward affection for God. This is why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was rejected. Cain offered the sacrifice, but it didn’t have the heart of worship behind it. God speaks through the Psalmist and says,
Psalm 50:16–17 “But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you."
This is the reality of the cultural Christian.
The Condition of His Soul: Does the cultural Christian, have any of Christ? No! His soul is dead as the others in the crowd. Oh, I lament how that the pathways of hell are lined with cultural Christians who were deceived in this life into thinking true religion was only in the externals. No, that’s Phariseeism. That’s legalism. The Gospel is not that you can reorient your life to be more Christ like and therefore live a better life. The Gospel is that Jesus went to the cross to suffer under the wrath of God, for you. And he offers you new life, if you will repent of your sin, and believe in God’s Savior.
Are you a Cultural Christian: Are you a cultural Christian? Is your Christianity full of all the outward signs of a Christian, with very little inward worship? Oh, do not let this be you. Do not forget Jesus’ firm warning in Matthew 7 when he said,
Matthew 7:21–23 ESV “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
May those words never be said to any in this room. For you have now received both the warning and the plea. Receive Jesus.
III (THE CONVICTED SINNER)
Third, we come across the convicted sinner. I will show you why. This is represented by Peter immediately upon witnessing the miraculous catch of fish when he falls on his knees before Jesus. Believe it or not, this person is still not a disciple of Jesus. They are close, absolutely, but they are not a disciple.
A Two Aspects: There are two things that take place in this moment.
Enthusiastic Admiration: First, there is an enthusiastic admiration for Christ. Peter is overwhelmed with his catch of fish, and he has begun to realize deep in his heart that the one before him is more than simply a wise rabbi. He is now experiencing something of Christ personally. Though not yet a disciple, the move of the Spirit is prompting his heart and bringing about a conviction.
Many have had an emotional experience regarding Jesus that leaves them with an overwhelming admiration for Jesus. They’ve heard a message that sounds like this, “Jesus come into my heart.” While this is partially true, it is missing the core distinctives of a disciple.
An Overwhelming Sense of One’s Depravity: Secondly, this leads to an overwhelming sense of one’s own depravity. Look at Peter as he falls on his knees and grabs the legs of Jesus. He cries out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” What is happening? Peter is not only astonished at the catch of fish, he is overwhelmed by the holiness of the man before him. And that causes him to suddenly realize how morally unclean he is as he stands before Jesus. He is just a common fisherman. O how sensitive souls are in these moments. But one is not a believer simply because they have looked in their soul and seen their own depravity. One is not a believer because they’ve fallen on their knees in some moment of rock bottomness, and lived to tell about it.
C Do Not Keep a Trembling Conscience: I hate to push further into this, because this is a terrible state to be in, and I have so much hope still to preach. But the sad reality is that many find themselves here at some point in their life, and they never grasp onto Christ as a result. Can you imagine Peter falling on his knees in desparation and not then following Jesus, what a fool! But so many do just this. Sinful choices over time drive a person to desparation, they fall on their knees, they cry out for help. They have to the end of themselves. They have what Samuel Annesley called a ‘Trembling Conscience.’ The trembling conscience has two causes, first is the inward acknowledgement of sin, and second is the growing fear that God’s wrath still hangs over your soul.
B Preparatory Grace: In theological terms we call this period immediately preceding someone coming to faith in Jesus, ‘Preparatory Grace.’ Many people experience this in a very real and visceral way. In this seasons of a person’s life, their conscience is weighing heavily on them. Their sin is before them. They’re thinking about God, and fearful over their own eternal position. They are not saved yet, but they are coming to the end of themselves. William Perkins, the Father of the Puritans, says it this way.
“The law, especially the moral law, urges and compels men to go to Christ. For it shows us our sins, and that without remedy: it shows us the damnation that is due unto us: and by this means, it makes us despair of salvation in respect of ourselves: and thus it enforceth us to seek for help out of ourselves in Christ. The law is then our schoolmaster not by the plain teaching, but by stripes and correction.”William Perkins
This is Peter in this moment. His conscience is seared. He’s fallen on his knees into a state of desparation. He needs help for his situation.
D The Mistake: Many, at this point make a strange and pitiful mistake. Rather than reach out to Christ, the only one who can soothe that trembling conscience, they find a false solution. Some will distract themselves with hours of work and the chase of success. Some will drown themselves in alcohol and other addictions. Some will bury it, and just hope their conscience doesn’t rise up again.
D The Gospel Offer: No, if you have come thus far, to a trembling conscience before a holy God, do not settle for a cheap solution that will leave ultimately in the same condition. Reach out and grab a hold of Christ. You can have the sweet inward sense of a good and clear conscience before God, but that can only come through faith in Christ.
Matthew 11:28–30 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Christ lifts the trembling and penitent soul up and wraps him in divine light. Turn to Christ. Embrace Christ. Follow Christ.
V LEAVING THE WORLD BEHIND TO FOLLOW JESUS (THE TRUE DISCIPLE)
Lastly, we have the true disciple. In our narrative of Peter today, he, James, and John become true disciples of Jesus. We read at the end after Peter cried out,
Luke 5:10–11 ESV and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to be a fan of his, not to be in the crowd, not even to be in the boat with him. We see three elements to what happens here.
A Three Marks of Discipleship: And these three elements must be true of every follower of Jesus. If they be absent, discipleship be not true.
#1 Christ Ministers to Them “Do Not Be Afraid”: First, Jesus ministers to them and heals their inner torment. Jesus sees Peter’s fear, and he speaks to him, “Do not be afraid.” A Christian who has had their inner soul ministered to by Jesus. Jesus is not just some distant teacher, or some character in a book. He is not someone simply to write about or talk about. A Christian has a personal relationship with Christ where Christ speaks to and ministers to a person’s heart and conscience and life. Upon believing in Christ, a person begins a relationship with Christ. As the Apostle Peter writes,
1 Peter 1:8–9 ESV Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Has Jesus truly ministered to your soul? Have you discovered delight in the great physician of our soul? In your worries, have you discovered that Jesus is enough? Have you learned to trust him in areas where you used to fear? Do you find yourself strengthened daily in faith, longing for more of Christ’s healing balm? Yes, the true disciple says yes. I have tasted and I have seen, and I cannot go back!
#2 They Leave Everything: Second, Peter left everything to follow Jesus. A mark of a follower of Christ is that they are willing to go anywhere Christ tells them to go, and willing to do anything Christ tells them to do. Following Jesus is truly following Jesus. And following Jesus means becoming like Jesus. In Israel, it is not uncommon to see a rabbi being followed by his disciples. They walk the same, they talk the same, they hold the same philosophies. So it is with us. To follow Jesus, to be a disciple of Jesus is for our life to look like Jesus. If you’re life looks barely like Jesus, and a whole lot like the world, you’re probably not following Jesus. Following Jesus is not something you can do privately and no one takes notice. It’s an all of life thing. It’s all or nothing.
Have you counted the cost of what you left behind, and have you considered all rubbish for the sake of the upward call in Christ Jesus? Do you recall old habits and ways that you once found right and good, that now you look back and you know they were empty and vain and worthless? Do you have a love of Jesus above every other thing in this world? If the world were to offer you the wealth of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, you’d turn it down in a heartbeat in order to follow Jesus.
#3 They Become Fishers of Men: Lastly, Jesus makes them a fisher of men. The imagery is of course perfect, because they just saw the massive catch that was brought in at Jesus’ command. But what it means is that Peter and James and John are now going to be used by God, to see many people come to saving faith in Christ. They are going to be used by God to share the gospel with many, and as a result of their labor, many will turn from their sin, and believe in Christ.
Are you a disciplemaker? Do you prayerfully seek out opportunities to lead others to Jesus? When speaking with non believers, do you consider their soul, and pray for opportunities to point them towards healing in Christ? Have you ever shared the gospel with somebody? It is interesting, in the western Church, there is no expectation that a believer would share the Gospel with anybody, and so most in the western Church spend their whole life never sharing the gospel with anybody. That’s impossible. There are countless opportunities before us, especially in a city like Chicago that is so broken by sin, to bring Him up. Do you bring him up? Again, Kyle Idleman says it this way.
“Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. Fans come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul. Fans think a little makeup is fine, but Jesus is thinking makeover. Fans think a little decorating is required, but Jesus wants a complete remodel. Fans want Jesus to inspire them, but Jesus wants to interfere with their lives.”Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan
B Encouraging Word: Let me close with an encouraging word. This Church has a lot of true disciples. I see the hands and the feet of Christ being lived out in ways that challenge me regularly. I see a passion for discipleship, a passion for serving others, a passion for opening your homes, a passion for adoption, a passion to make godly decisions, and a passion to navigate our culture faithfully. To you who are chasing after Christ, well done.
But permit me to give you a final plea and application. Over the years we have lost the ability to examine our hearts and lives. This was a common practice not long ago. My final plea is that you will be serious about frequently examining your heart and soul to discern if you are a true disciple. Are these marks true of you? Do you see them in your life, or are false motivations crowding out a genuine love of God?
There are many that know the histories of a thousand years past, and yet cannot tell you the particulars of their own lives; men well-acquainted with the mysteries of arts and nature, but utterly ignorant of the secrets of their own souls
O may you make it a regular practice to examine your own soul. To let the Lord search you. To let the Lord reform you. And whatever you do, Church. Do not settle for an easy-believism. Christianity is not simply a mental ascent to a faith in a particular God. We are called to pick up our cross and follow him. And so, I adjure you, follow him.