In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. Drop an axe head into the water and you wonâ€™t soon recover it. Unless, of course, the prophet Elisha is there to speak Godâ€™s word, and bring it back. But under normal circumstances, if you drop an axe head into the water, you will not soon recover it, because water scatters. What is released into the water will soon be scattered and lost. Think for a moment about the prophet Jonah. Jonah was aboard a ship sailing for the city of Tarshish when they encountered a storm. The sailors decided to cast off the extra weight, throwing their belongings and things into the sea. And so those things were scattered and lost. Or consider the apostle Paul. He was in a similar situation on a boat sailing for Rome. When they encountered storm, they too cast off the extra belongings, and those things were scattered. What is released into the water is soon scattered and lost, unless, of course, God has a specific purpose for it. If God has a specific purpose for that which is cast into the water, He will call it back. Just ask the prophet Jonah. When Jonah himself was cast into the water, he was not scattered and lost. Rather, he was called out of the water so that he might go to the city of Nineveh and preach. Or ask the apostle Paul, he was cast into the water at the shipwreck of Malta, and the Lord preserved him from evil and called him out of the water so that he might continue to Rome to preach the gospel there. That which is cast into the water will soon be scattered, and only Godâ€™s word can call it back.
2. In our Gospel text for today it is not an axe head which has been cast into the water. It is not possessions of sailors which are cast into the water. And, indeed, it is not a preacher or man of God who has been cast into the water. Rather, it is fish who are in the water and must be called back. These fish are the people of God, who have been cast out, who have been scattered across the face of the earth, and who therefore must be called back.
3. In the beginning, God created a perfect paradise. He placed Adam and Eve into the Garden of Eden. This was their home. This was their eternal paradise. It was where they lived with God. But the serpent schemed that they might be cast out. So, Eve was deceived and took of the fruit and ate, as did Adam and her husband. And so, man was cast out of their perfect home in paradise. They had sinned against God. And the punishment for sin is scattering. Several generations later, the descendants of Adam and Eve resisted this punishment and consequence. They gather together to build the city called Babel. Here in the city they would make a great name for themselves. And they built a tower to reach up to the heavens so that they would become like God. But God would not allow these rebellious sinners to have their way. The punishment for sin is scattering, and He would scatter them because they had forsaken Him. They had gone after other gods. They had refused to listen to the true God, and so they were cast out. The Lord confused their languages and scatter them over the face of the earth.
4. Sin scatters us away from the safety and presence of the Lord. Those who exchange the glory of God for their own will and ways will be given up to the lusts of their heart and so scattered over the face of the earth. Like a school of fish which is dropped into dangerous water and soon scatters and disappears, so too does sin scatter us. Such was our condition. We were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked following the course of this world. We carried out the desires of the body and were thus scattered by sin.
5. But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, made us alive. When we were scattered by sin, Jesus sent fishermen to bring us home. This was the purpose for the calling of the twelve. In our text for today, we heard the story of Jesus calling four of His disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John. These men were fisherman, and Jesus decided to use their work as fisherman to show the nature of the ministry to which they were being called.
6. So, this miracle of the great catch of fish is not a miracle which is intended to show off, so that Jesus might make known how much greater and wiser and more powerful He is than these fishermen. No. It is a miracle which is meant to show the nature of the ministry to which the apostles were being called. â€œFrom now on you will be catching men.â€ But the aftermath of this miracle shows us that these men were not ready. Their equipment could not handle the great multitude of fish which our Lord brought to them. The nets began to tear. The boats began to sink. These men were not ready. They could not handle what the Lord was giving them. Peter was correct. They were sinners. But he was also incorrect in that he did not need Jesus to depart. What he is needed was Jesusâ€™ absolution. â€œFear not.â€ This word of absolution was exactly what Peter and the others needed. He was standing in the presence of the Almighty God. But with these words, the coal has touched their lips. Their sin has been taken away. â€œFear not.â€ But more than Jesusâ€™ absolution, what these men needed was Jesusâ€™ resurrection, because it is the resurrection of Jesus which gives power to His word of absolution. It is the resurrection of Jesus which gives new life. And so, it is not insignificant that after the resurrection, our Lord would work this same miracle again. In John 21, the great catch of fish is repeated. Peter and Andrew, James and John, and several other disciples were out fishing. They had toiled all night and caught nothing. And then Jesus came. He instructed them to cast down the nets again. And He brought to them another great multitude of fish. And this time things were different. The resurrection had changed reality. The nets did not tear. The boat did not begin to sink because of the resurrection. The disciples were now ready to be sent out as fishers of men. And so, this is the mission on which the disciples are sent. They are sent to fish for men, so that they might preach Godâ€™s word, and so call back those who have been scattered.
7. The Lord uses these same means today. He sends out preachers of the gospel to fish for men, and to call us home by the preaching of the word. Saint Peter writes about this in 1 Peter 3:9, where he says: â€œFor to this you were called (with the result) that you may obtain (or, literally, â€˜inheritâ€™) a blessingâ€ which is from God. The blessing and life that you have been given is yours by virtue of the call which has been extended to you by the word of God. You are no longer lost and scattered. You have been called home by the word of the Gospel.
8. But those who have been called home by the message of the Gospel were not called in order that we might rest on our laurels. We were called to join in the task of catching men because there are many who are still scattered and need to be called home. Some men are called to participate in this task of catching by surrendering everything. Some men are called to leave behind their life and go out to preach the Gospel full-time as fishers of men. The prophet Elisha is an example of this. He was called to follow the prophet Elijah, so he put to death and offered up his old way of life as a burnt offering. He would not return. He would be a full-time fisher of men. Or consider the disciples. They left behind everything. They left behind their livelihood, and significantly, they even left behind more fish than they had ever seen in one catch beforeâ€”enough fish to make them wealthy, at least for a time. And so, some men are called to surrender everything for the sake of catching men.
9. Other men, however, are not called to surrender everything. Some men are called simply to remain living the life that they have been given. Naaman is an example of this. He was cured of his leprosy. He was brought to faith by the prophet Elisha. And then, he returned back to his home and to his work as a changed man to live in his vocation. Or consider Simon Peterâ€™s mother-in-law, who was healed of a sickness, and she immediately returned to her vocation of serving. Some men are not called to give up everything in order to fish for men. Some men are called to remain in their vocations as witnesses of Christâ€™s gracious calling.
10. All men, regardless of your station in life, are called to speak Christâ€™s word. This is how we participate in the task of catching men. We are all called to speak. We are called to speak Christâ€™s word around the dinner table with our families. We are called to speak Christâ€™s word with our co-workers or classmates. We are called to speak Christâ€™s word in the gym and the community. We are called to speak Christâ€™s word in our neighborhoods. Saint Peter gives us the charge to â€œAlways be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in youâ€ (1 Peter 3:15). So, as one who was lost and scattered, and has now been called back by the word of the Gospel, this is now your calling. There are no exceptions. There is no one who is exempt from this. All men are called to speak Christâ€™s word. May God grant us the grace, the strength, and the wisdom to speak boldly, so that others who remain scattered may join us in receiving the blessed inheritance of an eternal home.
In Jesusâ€™ name. Amen.