Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. We are living in difficult times. The last two-and-a-half years have produced wave after wave of challenge and difficulty. We have seen this as a nation in many ways. We have experienced the chaos and difficulty called COVID-19. We have experienced unrest in many parts of our nation along with not-so-civil disobedience. And now most recently we are experiencing financial difficulties with rising fuel and food costs that show no signs of returning to normal. The waves of difficulty continue. We have seen this personally as well. Many of us have experienced those financial difficulties more strongly than we would like. We have experienced health problems, some which turned out to be minor, others which have altered our lives forever. We have experienced family struggles of various kinds and so many more difficulties that it would be impossible to list them all. We are living in difficult times. As we experience wave after wave of challenge and difficulty, we are tempted to shift our gaze away from the Lord and his Word to the concerns of life that we are experiencing. We are tempted to shift around our priorities simply for the purpose of keeping our heads above water, so to speak. From health concerns to rising gasoline costs to the world seemingly falling apart around us, the temptation to shift our focus away from the Lord is real and persistent. This temptation, sadly, will never go away so long as sin remains a force in this world. My friends, if you find that you have let your gaze shift away from our Lord to the things of this world, our Gospel Reading for today offers you an opportunity to return your gaze to where it ought to be. It offers us a reminder of what is truly important and powerful in this world.
2. Quite simply, our Gospel Reading reminds us of the power of God’s Word. Yes, the great catch of fish is what makes this text so memorable, but it is God’s Word which is at the center of this text. Notice how the Word of God permeates every part of this text leading up to the great catch of fish in verse 6. In verse 1, it is the word of God which causes the crowd to press in on our Lord. As our Lord sits down in Simon Peter’s boat a short way off from the shore, again it is the word of God which he teaches to the people. And again, it is the word of our Lord which instructs Peter to put the boat out into the middle of the lake and to let down the nets. Peter makes this clear in verse 5 when he says:
“Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”
And so, we are left to conclude that it was nothing but the Word of God which caused this great catch of fish to happen in such an improbable manner. The Word of God is powerful. And so, this text ought to norm our thinking and life not in that we all receive the same call as Simon Peter to be “fishers of men” but in that our life begins and ends, lives and dies with the Word of Christ. It would be easy to spiritualize this text and to say that it’s about the call that each of us receives as Christians to preach the Gospel and be fishers of men. That interpretive move would be easy to make because in a sense it’s true—in Holy Baptism we were made priests, as Saint Peter said:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
By virtue of our Baptism, we have been made representatives of our Lord. It is each one of your duties to represent the Lord in word and action to everyone with whom you interact. And so, yes, you are called to share the Gospel. While that is biblical truth, it’s not what this text is about. This text is really about the Office of the Holy Ministry. That is to say, this text is really about the office of preaching first given to the Apostles and now given to called and ordained pastors. And so, with this in mind, I would like to make the case for why you should regard the preaching of the Gospel as the most important delivery method of God’s Word. Our Gospel text shows us:
When the Word of God is preached
1. It accomplishes that which we cannot see and
2. It gives life to those who hear in faith.
II. The Preached Word Accomplishes that which We Can’t See
3. First, let us consider how the preached Word accomplishes that which we cannot see. Again, we return to the miracle in our text. At first glance, it would be easy to skip over the connection between our Lord’s preaching to the crowd and the miracle of the great catch of fish. It would be easy to assume that the only connection between these two parts of the text is that one followed the other. However, there is an important link between these two parts of our text. We have already seen what that link is. It is the Word of God which permeates both parts of our text. Our Lord preaches the Word to the crowd, then he gives a seemingly absurd command to Simon Peter. And as Simon Peter obeys the Lord’s command, the Word accomplishes a miracle in the great catch of fish. Simply put, this miracle was an ocular demonstration of the power of Jesus’ Word. This great catch of fish was a visual demonstration of what preaching accomplishes. When our Lord sat in the boat teaching, the power of what he spoke was invisible. Who could see that the mountains of ignorance were being removed, that the hard hearts were made like butter by contrition. Who could see that the new, immortal spiritual life of faith was coming into existence, that the frightful, crushing guilt and sin were blown away as far as the east is from the west? Spiritual things are invisible. Nobody’s eyes sees them being accomplished. Because of this, even preachers often think that their work is in vain. Preachers rarely know what kind of impact, if any, their preaching makes. How could Peter and the apostles face the challenge of spreading the Gospel in a hostile world when they only had the Word? How could they have assurance of victory when they could not see what was being accomplished? Here was the visible answer: the nets full of fish caught at Jesus’ Word, and at that Word alone. The miracle of the great catch of fish was an assurance that in the same way the net of the Gospel would become filled to the top. These Gospel fishermen would most assuredly succeed by the power of God’s Word.
4. My friends, the Word of God also accomplishes that which we can’t see. That is to say, when we hear the Word of God preached, it accomplishes in us that which we cannot observe in the moment. When we listen to the Word of God preached, we might often wonder why we even bother. We might think to ourselves, “This isn’t doing anything.” “Pastor is particularly boring today.” Or “I know that Jesus loves me, can’t we just move on already?” We might think that there are so many better things that we could spend our time on, so many things that we could do which would actually accomplish real things in this world. But my friends, we must resist the urge to think in this way. We must not despise preaching as if it doesn’t do anything. This text reminds us that God’s Word is powerful. Whenever it is spoken, it accomplishes his purposes, as the prophet Isaiah wrote:
[Thus says the Lord:] “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
My friends, you can be assured of this: When God’s Word is preached, it works in your heart, even when you don’t feel it. And so, we must never despise preaching and God’s Word. We must never pass by the opportunity to hear the Word of God preached in the community of saints because the preached Word accomplishes that which we cannot see.
III. The Preached Word Gives Life to Those Who Hear in Faith
5. Secondly, let us consider how the preached Word gives life to those who hear in faith. In verse 10 of our text, our Lord said to Simon Peter:
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
You can see the nice parallel being drawn by our Lord between the great catch of fish which had just been accomplished at his Word and the preaching task which Simon Peter would one day undertake on behalf of his Lord. Just as this great catch of fish was accomplished at the Lord’s Word, so too would the Word accomplish “great catches” of people through the apostles’ preaching. But it is important to note that this word spoken by our Lord, “you will be catching men” is not the same word used to describe catching fish. What our Lord literally says is, “you will be catching men alive.” Fish are caught to be killed. Yet the men for which the apostles would fish are caught to be made alive. In fact, it is in the act of being caught by the Gospel that one is made alive. In a similar manner as in our text, it is the preaching of God’s Word which catches us by faith and brings us into the boat with our Lord. This is imagery which the Christian Church has always used to talk about salvation. The Church is the boat in which we are given life and we are navigated through the storms of this life. That’s why the architecture of many churches is reminiscent of a boat when you look up at the ceiling. That’s why the congregational seating area of the church building is properly called “the nave”, which is the Latin word for boat. This is why we pray in the rite of Holy Baptism that the newly baptized would be preserved as Noah and his family were in the ark, when we pray the words of Luther’s famous Flood Prayer:
“Grant that [the newly baptized] be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers…” (LSB Agenda, p. 14).
In the act of being caught by the preaching of the Gospel, in the act of being brought into the holy ark of the Christian Church, we are given new life and we are preserved in that life on this side of eternity.
6. My friends, there is something utterly unique about the preaching of God’s Word. I don’t mean to suggest that reading God’s Word is utterly useless because it’s not. Reading God’s Word in private will always bear fruit as the Holy Spirit desires. But there is something unique about the spoken Word. Somehow, the Word affects us differently when it comes through our ears rather than just through our eyes. This is why Saint Paul states unashamedly in Romans chapter 10:
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
If the Holy Spirit meant for Saint Paul to say that faith comes from reading, he would have said so. But he didn’t. Faith comes from hearing. The preached Word gives life to those who hear in faith. And so, my friends, I will say unashamedly, you simply cannot be a Christian and not gather to hear the Word preached regularly. To not gather to hear the Word of God preached regularly is to despise the very gift of life that our Lord offers to his people. When we gather in this place every Sunday, we hear the Word of God which gives us life. Every moment that we live on this side of eternity, we draw one step closer to death. But here in the Lord’s house, new life is continually offered through the preaching of the Word. So, come and hear. Come and Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16) because where the Word of Christ dwells in us, there the life of Christ dwells in us as well. We must prioritize gathering to hear the Word preached because where the Word is preached, there do we find life. May God make it so for the sake of our Lord Jesus.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.