Summary: Luke 5:1-11 and Isaiah 6:1-8. What is the starting point for Christian service?
Today’s gospel reading is probably very familiar to you. If you attended Sunday school as a child, it is a Bible story that is popular to tell children. But familiarity can create blindness. In our familiarity with something, we can fail to see what is there. I enjoyed studying to prepare this message, and perhaps we can gain some fresh insight this morning.
First let’s set the scene. Jesus is by the Lake of Gennesaret, another name for the Sea of Galilee. When we think of a lake setting, an idyllic image may come to our mind. Or rest and relaxation. We go to the lake to cool off on a summer day, or to enjoy a water sport. But erase that from your mind, as it is not the image we should have of the ancient Sea of Galilee.
It was more about everyday life. It was a busy scene. The Sea of Galilee is 8 miles wide and 13 miles long. In Jesus’ day, 9 cities were scattered around its shoreline. Each had a population of at least 15,000 — so a minimum of 135,000 people lived around the lake.
Fishing was essential to the life and economy of this area. The names of some of the towns even reflect it. For example, Bethsaida means fish town. Galileans ate little meat besides fish; it was a staple of their diet. Hundreds of fishing boats would have trolled the lake. Fishing was a business. Besides feeding locals, fish was packed and preserved and sent to Jerusalem and exported to Rome.
My intent was not to bore you with facts, but to help provide an accurate perception of life by the Sea of Galilee.
It was while Peter (and James and John too) were engaged in their ordinary employment that they were called by Christ. More than that, this encounter occurred after a particularly lousy night at work. Have you ever had a lousy day or night at work? I’m sure you have.
Is that when you expect to have a special spiritual experience – and to have your life completely re-oriented? Probably not.
I think we expect a special encounter with God to occur on…a spiritual retreat with our church group, or when we are out in nature and able to quietly reflect. It is something we plan for or at least hope will happen. But I think God often works in the ordinary and catches us by surprise in the midst of our daily grind – If we have eyes to see and a spiritual sensitivity to it.
In this case with Peter, God worked in an overt way performing a miracle. But God can also work in quiet and subtle ways. We should not always be expecting the miraculous. I think we can miss God in the ordinary, and we can miss opportunities to influence people for Christ because we are pre-occupied. Pray for spiritual vision and sensitivity to the work of God.
But let’s move back to these verses. We have set the scene. People are crowding around Jesus to hear the word of God. Jesus decided to get into a boat, and teach from the boat. This was a wise thing to do. It was an ancient method of crowd control. Hills rolled gently down to the lake, and the beach was narrow. As people sat on the rising shoreline, it would have provided good acoustics.
Note that it said the people crowded around to hear the Word of God. Remember that Jesus was God incarnate. Jesus was the unique God-man, fully God and fully human at the same time. It is a bit of a mystery that should leave us awestruck – God came to earth and lived a human life. And these Galileans, while they likely at this point did not realize the divine nature of Jesus, nonetheless sensed something unique about him and his teaching.
At the end of Sermon on the Mount, it says that…the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority and not as their usual teachers of the law.
The people were eager and hungry for this spiritual food. The apostle Peter over in 1 Peter, written about 30 years after the events of today’s passage, says: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”
Like fish sustained the Galileans physically, the Word of God is essential spiritual food. Jesus isn’t walking among us as he did 2,000 years ago, but we have the Bible. Are you reading and studying your Bible? We encounter Jesus there. In fact, it is the whole purpose of the Scripture – to show us Jesus.
How often do you crack open your Bible and feed on it? If you are not immersed in the Scripture like you should be, why not? I do not mean “why not” in a point-the-finger judgmental way. But just in a practical way. If there is anything in your life that you should be doing but you are not doing it, “why not” is a logical question. What’s hindering you? Jot down a list. Maybe there is a fairly simple solution.