Sunday, November 19, 2023

Stinky Fisherman

God's timing is perfect and Jesus' knew His time had come. The Son left the desert, after He had received the comfort of the angels (Matt. 4:11). The Son deeply identified with our frailty: He experienced our physical hunger and knew what would satisfy our spiritual hunger: the bread for life and the Bread of life.  He felt Satan's assault on identity: "If you are the Son of God..." Finally, He saw the supposed freedom and tantalizing wealth that the world holds out to us in exchange for worshiping  Satan. Satan said to Jesus and us:

Just ignore God.  All of this is mine to give and what an offer it is! Just a nod here and there would be fine, but even better: Deny God.  Live as if He doesn't exist. Attribute His creation to other gods, philosophies, scientific theories, whatever. Just keep God out of sight, and out of mind.

Jesus replied that only God is worthy of our worship, for any other candidate is a lie from the Father of Lies.  He showed us that Satan is not all-powerful.  He showed us that the very words of God are the only sufficient weapon to drive Satan away. He showed us that there is a way out of the desert: "Resist Satan and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)  

Jesus walked out of the desert and into the human community. That's where we live and so does He. You can just hear Satan laughing as the men came and arrested John the Baptist: Well, Jesus. So You scored the victory in the desert, but I got John!  It's not going to end well for that bug-eater. If You think about it, maybe the only way you could be the Messiah is for him to be killed, so all of the attention is on You!"

No. Another lie. John's ministry was not ended because of Jesus' arrival. John was arrested by an evil man who bowed down to Satan so he could have all the world's "splendor" (4:8)

Reversal? Satan's disbursement of wealth, privilege and power provides a seductive package to those who, in the desert of their souls, choose to bow down and ignore God. God's bounty is beautiful, soul-nourishing and filled with love, all presented without pretension or deception. Satan's is ugly, soul-sucking and filled with destruction, presented with a false veneer and lies.  

Slaves to sin have a hard time choosing God's way; children of God know they now have a choice to choose rightly and try to do so. So, Jesus's reversed the lie that we really can't live lives of victory--that we belong in the desert, for we deserve it. We can walk out of the desert.

So, Jesus walks out and settles in Capernaum. Isaiah sketches out the place: 

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”

He is going to a land filled with Gentiles. There's a reversal, isn't there?  Shouldn't He have gone only to the Jews? Judaism had become very insular and had severely limited its contact with non-Jews. So, while Jesus is amongst His fellow Jews around the Galilee, He is also around Gentiles. More than that, this is northern Israel, and Zebulun and Naphtali were the tribes who were swept away from Israel by the Assyrians, 700 years before. (1)  Jesus is in the heart of a devastated kingdom, and He is bringing restoration to those who are in "darkness"--the darkness of lives without the one true God and the darkness of a history without hope. Jesus is bringing light to all of it.   

What the world says is something is "over and done with," or "You need to get over it," Jesus acts out the words of Isaiah, 

"But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
'Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine... 
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.'" (Is.43:1, 19)

Jesus now says, "Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand." He is going to build His community of apostles--ones who will be sent out to proclaim this "new thing." Jesus could have done this all by Himself.  But God, from the very beginning, is interested in a relationship with us, and we with each other. Relationships are more important than black and white rules.  The Pharisees were the exact opposite:  They wanted a strict adherence to rules, and condemned anyone who fell short.  Jesus interacted with people who had broken societal rules or were marginalized because of those rules: prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, losers of all kinds.

In fact, Jesus picked losers to begin His ministry. Bible teacher, Ray Vander Laan, teaches the ancient rabbis were approached by prospective students, and asked if they could study under him.  You picked the rabbi. Simple. 

But we are in reversals when we step into the Kingdom of God.  Jesus asked them to come and follow Him, and He would "make them fishers of men." (Matt. 4:19)

Evidently, these men had not approached any local rabbi to follow him.  They were fishermen, and they saw themselves as such. Lowly workers, not disciples. 

We are losers in any spiritual school--no one would want us. We sit on the sidelines, watch others join a rabbi and learn from him.  We sighed and go out every day on that lake. Why ask to follow a rabbi when we smell of fish?  He probably turn up his nose at us.  What do we have to offer, anyway?  That's who we are and that's all we'll ever be. 

But Jesus beautifully blends the two occupations: a fisherman and a disciple, trained to catch people for His Father's kingdom. 

Jesus pursues us. He asks us to join Him in His work. But do we, like the fishermen soon to be disciples, that we are not worth it?

Why would God want me? I am so used to sitting on the sidelines that the bench perfectly matches my butt. I sigh every day and just go on living.  Existing, really. I smell of sin, failure and shame. God probably turns His nose up at me, because I have nothing to offer.  I will always be me and nothing more. 

But Jesus reverses our low self-worth into a Kingdom asset: Follow Me and I will make you a vital part of My Kingdom. I will transform your ashes into beauty, your heartache into joy and your sense of worthlessness into an empowered child of God. 
What did our loser-boys do after Jesus called them?  They dropped everything--that's how ready they were.  If they had been truly committed to life as fishermen, they would have respectfully declined. James and John even left the family business to follow Jesus. 

John and James, Andrew and Peter.  All eager. All willing. Right?  Let's explore this a bit more.  

Luke gives us some added detail here:  

"One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

"When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, 'Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.' Simon answered, 'Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.'

"When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, 'Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.' So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him." (Luke 5:1-11)

Let's learn from Peter how it feels to be called. Simon Peter is a knowledgeable fisherman; he knows how and where to catch fish. He is willing to loan his boat to Jesus for a teaching platform; he hears what Jesus has to say, but Peter just keeps cleaning his nets...

Interesting teaching, there, Rabbi.  The people seem enthralled with you.  Been a long time since anyone came around teaching and reaching out to us.  But I'll just keep cleaning my net.  Gotta earn a living, you know. Go out again? What? We fish at night, Rabbi--but I wouldn't expect you to know this. I do, though. OK, why not?  Can't hurt. Deep water, hmmm. Now everyone is staring at me.  My partners, the crowd. Great. I am a nobody, and now everyone is looking at me. I did hear your teaching, Rabbi, and I gotta admit, you had some very powerful things to say. I am no expert, but your words rang true.  So, if you say go out again, I will. 

WOW!  The nets are boiling with fish!  Help me! 

Oh, I cannot do this!  Yes, I can haul in this catch with my buds, but why me?  Why did you allow every fish in this lake to come into my net?  I am simple fisherman with a simple catch each day--not great, but I squeak by. THIS is way more than I deserve...Jesus!  I must tell you:  You don't know who you are talking to!  I am just a man, with a sinful heart and your generosity is so beyond anything I deserve. I am a sinner who deserves, well, if truth be told, nothing. I am going to fish for what?  You are picking me to fish for people? Me? 

Yes, you. And you. And you.  Jesus knows our hearts and loves us anyway.  When we walk out of the desert with Him as former slaves, He calls us to serve with Him to reach a world where shame and guilt drown people as surely as Pharaoh's army.  We part the sea with our proclamation that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life!

When the world says, "Losers! Slaves! Low-lifes!"

Jesus says, "Child of God! Freed captives! Called to serve!"


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