The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
Rev. Paul L. Beisel
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
When Peter saw the great catch of fish, he fell down at Jesus’ knees and said: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But why? Wouldn’t most people be overjoyed at such a sight? Why does Peter behave so strangely?
Surely it is because Peter sees that there is more to this man Jesus than meets the eye. No mere human being has such command and authority over the created world. Only one who is the Lord himself could do what Jesus had just done. Peter makes the connection.
And there is only one thing to do when you realize that you are standing face to face with your Creator—you fall to your knees; you lower yourself. Peter realized that he was standing on holy ground. This was the Lord Himself, and Peter confesses this when he says: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
How about us? Don’t we also stand before the Triune God in the Divine Service? Isn’t He also present among us? And if so, isn’t this also holy ground? Jesus said that wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, there He is in their midst.
Well, here we are, gathered together in his name. And what is one of the first things we do? We confess our sins. We say with Peter: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” God is holy. And where He is present, we are right to humble ourselves before him and confess our ungodliness.
And what sins should we confess? Luther would tell you to consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments. Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful or lazy? Have you stolen anything, been negligent, or done any harm?
It’s pretty easy to confess that we are sinners. Not so easy to name those sins. That’s what individual confession and absolution is for. Peter did not hesitate to confess before Jesus that he was a sinful man, and that he was not worthy to be in the Lord’s presence. Every Old Testament believer knew the word of the Lord: “No one can see God and live.” So Peter feared for his life.
Do you? Do your sins bother you? Does the fact that you must give an account before God of all your deeds give you any pause? Or do you just use the excuse, “To err is human?” Do you think of sin but lightly, asks the hymn?
Christ, the Lord of all stands before you and you before Him, right here; right now. You cannot see him, but He can see you. So what do you have to say for yourself? Will you stand there and act smug in his presence, or will you follow Peter’s example and throw yourself at His knees in humble confession and repentance?
Will you offer the Lord your works? Will you be so bold as to stand there and say, “See what I have done for you Lord? See how much I love you?” Because God does not desire sacrifice, as the psalmist says. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
What pleases the Lord? Is it the fact that you have kept yourself from gossiping this week? Is it the fact that you have avoided mixing with sinful people? Is it the fact that you didn’t smoke or touch alcohol like all those other sinners? Or is it the fact that you look in the mirror of His Law and see nothing good in yourselves? Is it the fact that your heart is broken by your sins?
Truly we ought to tremble when we examine ourselves in light of God’s holy Law, for under the Law we stand condemned before Him. Peter was well aware of this. But notice what Jesus says in response. He does not berate Peter. He does not condemn him. He simply says: “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus came not to condemn, but to save. These words of Jesus told Peter that he was in no danger. Jesus had come to do something about Peter’s sin and all sin. He had come to carry those sins to the cross, and to pay the price for them with his own precious blood.
In Jesus, Peter was safe—safe from condemnation; safe from the righteous anger of God. And in Jesus you too are safe. In Christ there is no condemnation for sins because Jesus has already been condemned in your place. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” That means not only your big and ugly sins, but even the sins that no one knows about—even the ones that you don’t know about.
Your sins, as ugly as they may be, are covered by the perfect robe of righteousness given you in your baptism. Though you remain sinners after your baptism, by faith you are able to draw near to the holy and mighty God without fear of death and punishment.
What Christ said to Peter He says also to you in holy Absolution. In the Absolution, Christ speaks from heaven: “Do not be afraid. I forgive you all your sins. I have shed my blood for you. I have died for you. I give to you my righteousness, since I have taken all of your sin. My holiness I share with you.” He lifts up your head, and spares you from the death sentence that you deserve.
He invites you to draw near to him in full confidence, having been sprinkled with the blood of Christ in holy baptism. And draw near you do. Nowhere in the entire world are you more near the Lord Jesus than you are in the Lord’s Supper. There at the altar you are where you need to be—at the mercy seat of the Lord almighty.
See yourself in the person of Peter today, dear Christian. Say with him: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But also trust in His mercy. Christ has come to save you from those sins which cause you to tremble. He gave His life as a ransom for you on the cross. He comes even today in His Word, in sacramental bread and wine, to strengthen your faith and to grant you forgiveness.
“Do not be afraid.” These words all Christians can and should hear with joy. But Christ also says to Peter: “From now on you will be catching men.” Christ makes Peter the fisherman into a Minister of the Gospel. Instead of a net, Peter and the others will be given a Word to cast into the sea of the world.
Jesus calls Peter, James, and John to follow him, to be his disciples, and to be witnesses of his resurrection. And they leave everything behind to follow him. They are the Church’s first pastors and missionaries, servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. And their duty is to serve His Church with His Word.
And by their preaching and teaching, men, not fish, are brought into the holy vessel of the Christian Church. When Jesus calls the disciples and gives them commands to preach, to baptize, and to absolve sinners He is establishing a Ministry, and giving gifts to His Church: apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. He is seeing to the ongoing care of the souls of men after his ascension.
To this day Christ continues to call men into this Holy Office. Bankers, farmers, chemists, police officers, and countless others leave everything and follow Christ. They go to the seminary, they receive a theological education, and they are sent by the Lord into His Church, His vineyard, to preach and teach the Word of God.
Or they are sent as missionaries to other parts of the world, where the net of the Gospel has not yet been cast. Paul says that whoever desires the office of overseer desires a noble task. It is not glamorous. It is fraught with danger. People don’t always like the one who tells them to repent and turn from their sins.
But it is noble. And it is necessary. For St. Paul says, “How can they hear if there is no one to preach?” For this reason Christ chose and continues to choose men to be his preachers, to be his under-shepherds, to bring the good news of the kingdom of God to those who live in darkness and bondage to their sins.
You and I both know that fish don’t normally get into a boat on their own. So also, sinners don’t find their way into the kingdom of God by themselves. Don’t we say the same thing in the Catechism: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”
You were once in darkness. You were once in the sea of unbelief. You did not come into the kingdom of God by your own power or strength. But the Holy Spirit called you by the gospel. You were baptized, and rescued from the number of the unbelieving.
And now you are in the holy ark of Christendom. You are part of the one holy Christian and apostolic Church. Christ has taken all your sins away. You were caught by the net of His holy Word, and brought into His kingdom. You did not choose him. You did not make a decision to make him your personal Lord and Savior, for no one chooses for himself a Redeemer.
Rather, He chose you. He made Himself your Lord and Redeemer. And that is what this Gospel tells us today—no one comes into the Church on his own. No one chooses Christ. No one comes by his own will. Rather, the Word of Christ draws us and makes us disciples. But this Gospel also tells us that this Word is placed by the Lord on the lips of men, who preach and proclaim that Word to sinners.
To all the words of Jesus go forth: “Do not be afraid. The Lord has died. He has risen for you. You are free.” And to all whom He calls into the ministry of the Word, He says: “From now on you will be catching men.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.