24. July 2011
One of the hardest things to understand about Jesus’ ministry is the seeming willingness of the multitudes, the crowds, and the the disciples to leave their belongings behind and follow Jesus. It happens so often, we are led to believe by the Holy Scriptures that this is normal behavior. If it was so common for Jesus, then why doesn’t it happen today, among us?
The rampant plague that ravages the faith today is a Christ-less Christianity. Jesus takes second stage to the ecstasy and practical life lessons. Many Christians think that God cares most about how we feel. God does not want anyone to be sad, to suffer under the weight of depression, to grieve interminably. He wants us to be happy, clappy, and overjoyed.
The problem is things aren’t all that good. Our job is still on the chopping block, the plethora of meds we take still hasn’t lifted the dense fog of gloom, the loved one is still gone and our heart still aches. The only way to make us feel better about the reality is for our churches to try to help us forget. The problem is that the upbeat songs and hymns fade, the cheery sermon becomes a wisp of a memory, the coping mechanisms aren’t practical, and no vibrant congregation will substitute for the bone of our flesh that death ripped from us. Who wants a savior who brings them sadness and grief?
Many other Christians think God cares most about how we live. God wants everybody to be little, perfect angelic cherubs, fluttering about in their lives with not a care on this earth. All Ten Commandments are joyfully kept. No hatred is on the lips. No greed in the heart. No lust for the other. Parents loved and cherished. The Sabbath kept faithfully. Prayers and songs proclaimed to the LORD in all we do. No idolatry of the ourselves.
The problem is that no one is holy except God himself. No one loves God completely. We love ourselves more than our neighbor. We even cast off our own flesh and blood when we crave the companionship of work or mistress more than they. Nothing is enough for our greedy hearts. Bigger, better, newer, and shiny is our way. We even place our pursuit for rest and vacation over the rest of the LORD on the Sabbath. The problem is that none of us has the sanctified life our faith demands. All of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Even when we desire to do better, we falter and fail. All those practical life lessons, telling us how to be a better Christian, even the best of the bunch, the cream of the crop, end up collapsing under the weight of our own sinful condition. Who wants a savior who shows us our sin and brings us to despair?
We should be shocked that people followed Jesus. The Christ, the Son of the Living God, cares most for redeeming you. He wants to save you from your sin-wrecked lives. He wants to lift you out of the pit of despair. He wants you to be washed in the blood of his sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. He wants your parched lips to taste and see that he is good.
That’s why our churches are filled with weak Christians who only reluctantly come to church. That’s why our churches are filled with hatred, greed, power, lust, adultery, homosexuality, and every other manner of shame and vice. Our churches bring sinners what really matters—Jesus and his shed blood. Forgiveness, life, and salvation is only found in Jesus. When we take our eyes off the LORD whom we crucified, our teaching becomes vapid and pointless.
Its no wonder then that the multitudes don’t flock to church each Lord’s day. Its no wonder crowds don’t gather around our pulpits to hear the Word of God. Its no wonder our members don’t drop everything and become our LORD’s disciples. What we suffer is a absence of Jesus.
Just this week, Campus Crusade for Christ decided to change their name to “Cru.” They immediately went on the defensive, saying that “campus” and “crusade” no longer represented their locale or method. So why take “Christ” out of their name? They said: We were not trying to eliminate the word Christ from our name. We were looking for a name that would most effectively serve our mission and help us take the gospel to the world. Our mission has not changed. Cru enables us to have discussions about Christ with people who might initially be turned off by a more overtly Christian name. We believe that our interaction and our communication with the world will be what ultimately honors and glorifies Christ.
Sounds like folks ashamed to confess Christ’s name. Sounds like out-and-out rejection of the second commandment. It seems like such a practical decision, yet one has to wonder if its motivated by the desire to boldly confess or by the fear that confession will leave you high and dry.
Not so in today’s Gospel. St. Luke records: 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, 2 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.
These crowds knew exactly where to find the Word of God. Namely, in the person of the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ. So passionate, even obsessed, were they that they pressed in on him. We know what kind of message Jesus gave. His word is recorded in the Word. The utterances from his mouth were and continue to be the very Word of God. They hung on his every Word for they knew it was of God.
That’s not to say everyone listened. Scripture is replete with rejections of the Word of the Lord. Adam and Eve rejected the good word. One patriarch after another thought they knew better than God. The people of God were plagued by disease, invasion, and captivity for their rejection. Even Jesus was rejected by many and crucified when finally everyone abandoned Him.
So we can’t expect complete success. The Spirit blows when and where He wills, granting faith to follow the Word to those whom he elects. We don’t know who will believe. We do know something though of these crowds. I don’t think it would surprise us to learn that they are same sort of sinners and tax-collectors, prostitutes and thieves, pagan Gentiles and faithful Jews, that keep popping up through his whole ministry.
The kind of people who hear our Lord’s Word, follow him, even press around him to hear every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God, are the same sort of people who have been burned by every false religion out there. They have burned by the churches who thought they could cheer them up with a spectacular worship extravaganza. They have been burned by churches who told them to shape up so God will love them. They have burned by every church that refuses to come to grips with Jesus.
They know their life stinks. They know that they’re not good enough. They know that sorrow, depression, and grief are real. They know that there is no earthly solution for this eternal problem. The despair drives them to hear the remedy that is Jesus. They want Jesus, the one from God, who will save them.
They might not know it yet. But I think they suspect that Jesus is going to bless them in ways none of their churches did. So also, Jesus. He know what he is about to do. He is going to suffer and die for them, to redeem them from their sickness, from their grief, and the grave. He hears their pleas for mercy and will relieve them.
There is something yet about this Word though that is hard for us to grasp. Consider St. Luke’s account:
4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 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. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 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.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Those clear and simple words “do not be afraid” cause the disciples to do the outrageous. Simon Peter, James, and John, leave everything. They leave mother and father, they leave occupation and home, they leave livelihood and friends, to follow Jesus. We probably don’t like this word all that much. We love our parents, our job, our home, our friends, and our multitude of toys. To leave our life behind for Jesus sake and the Gospel, that’s a mighty tall order.
And not only the disciples but the crowds. Jesus had to feed the four thousand and the five thousand because they followed without packing lunch. Multitudes gather, crowds assemble, widows, orphans, the sick, and lame all press on Jesus without thinking of the consequence, the future, or anything but the moment with Jesus.
The closest we come is the popular worship of celebrities. Adoring fans will do nearly anything to catch a glimpse or even a touch of their favorite star. Jesus is a superstar of sorts. The light of the world really. The light no darkness can overcome. But unlike the pop celebrities of our age, Jesus is about to do something truly spectacular. His victory will be so risqué that not even News of the World will print it.
He will lay down his life, suffering cruelty and death, for the sake of each and every follower. And on the third day, He rose just as he prophesied according to the Scriptures. His victory is accepted by the Father in His glorious ascension to the right hand. He exercises all authority on heaven and earth now upon us, his disciples.
Jesus set aside his glory to be incarnate of the virgin Mary. We rightfully call his life from birth to death, resurrection to ascension, his humiliation. For he humbled himself, not in glory and splendor, but he rode forth in lowly pomp to die.So it is with all his disciples. His authority and majesty still act in utter humility here on this earth. We receive our LORD’s forgiveness not as the gift of a superstar. His gifts are diamond-studded, glitzy affairs. No, he comes to you know with simple pastors who probably are a lot like simple fishermen. They have common names and common skills. They may even be a bit boring or tedious. Yet, like Jesus who sat in the boat and opened his mouth, so also your pastors stand before you opening their mouth. And God-willing, out comes the very Word of God.
This Word is the net let down into the sea. Of itself, it does nothing. All night we might toil and still catch nothing. In the morning, at the time we least expect it and at our LORD’s behest, we let out the Word again. And behold, by the power of the Spirit sinners come into the holy ark of the church for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
Its no wonder that Simon Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” That’s what the crowds were doing, too. We too are rightly astonished at the great things our Lord has done for us. We are flabbergasting that God would take on our wickedness and crucify it in His own body. Not only that, we are thankful. Amazed. Joyful.
One can understand how a Christ-centered Gospel for forgiveness of sins transforms the lives of everyone who hears it. That’s why you’re here right now. You desire this Word to be placed in your ears and on your tongue. You long to be fed by the pure Spiritual meal that is Christ himself. Its no wonder then that faithful Christians recenter their life around Jesus. Their finances, their homes, their work, and even their leisure is dedicated to Jesus Christ and His Word. Our days begin and end with prayer. Our offerings come out of our paychecks first. The catechesis of our youth is considered before academics and extracurriculars. Our work must be first of all God-pleasing. Even in leisure, we take time for prayer, for hymn-singing, and for hearing the Word.
We hold Jesus to this promise. “if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31ff) Jesus Christ and Him crucified will always be held front in center in our churches and in our lives. For He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Perhaps our Lord will bless us with an abundant catch of fish according to His good and gracious will. Let us not grow weary of doing this good work. Let us remain steadfast in his Word, pressing in on his every word, whether from the font, the pulpit, or the altar. We only say, “teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church