Following the Right LeaderErwin W. Lutzer | March 1, 1992
Selected highlights from this sermon
About 90% of all Christians have never led anyone to saving faith in Jesus Christ. We use excuses like “it’s the wrong time” or “this is the wrong place” and we forget that it’s not for us to decide where—and, more importantly, with whom—we should share the Gospel. You never know whose hearts have been prepared by God.
It’s been said, and I suppose the statistic is accurate, that about 90% of all Christians have never led anyone to saving faith in Jesus Christ. I would like to think that those statistics aren’t accurate, but they may be.
Let me ask you why it is that we do not witness. Why is it that sometimes even those of us who know the Gospel very well keep it to ourselves? Sometimes we may say, “Well, it’s because I’m not spiritual enough.” These are excuses that all of us have used. I’ve used them on occasion.
We say, “You know, if we only had it together more, if we were really godly, then we’d feel free to share the Gospel with others.” Well, of course, the fact is that there are many people who have walked with God for many years and they don’t witness either. Sometimes even the godly ones don’t. Or we may say to ourselves, “I don’t know how.” That isn’t a very good excuse, is it, because all of us know that witnessing is nothing more than one beggar telling another beggar where he can get bread? We can all point men and women to Christ. And we have seminars from time to time here available at the church that help us become better witnesses.
Another excuse may be, “Well, we don’t have the gift.” If you know anything about spiritual gifts you know that one gift is the gift of evangelism, so it’s easy to say, “Well, that isn’t really my gift.” And so we excuse ourselves from witnessing to the Gospel of Christ.
But I think that when all of this settles down, probably the real reason that many of us, myself included, have bypassed wonderful opportunities to tell others about Christ (the real reason) is because of a fear that we might be thought of as oddballs, that we may be thought of as just a little bit kooky to talk to others about Jesus.
Remember when Larry Poland was here two or three weeks ago when he spoke at our business luncheon, he told us the story of leading a man to Christ in Hollywood. And after the man was gloriously converted and his life changed he told Larry, “You know, it was interesting.” He said, “When I was addicted and ruining my life and my health, nobody in Hollywood told me I was crazy.” He said, “When I was destroying my marriage, nobody told me I was crazy. When I was alienating my children, nobody told me that I was crazy. But after I accepted Christ as my Savior, I said to a friend, ‘I’ve met God,’ and he said, ‘You’re crazy.’” You see, the truth is that most of us don’t want to be thought of as just a little bit crazy, and so we don’t share our faith in Christ.
Those of you who were here last Sunday know that I’ve begun a series of 13 messages on the life of Peter. Last week we looked at the way in which Peter met Christ, and Jesus beheld him. Jesus gazed at him. He looked into his eyes and said, “Peter, your name is Simon, but you’re going to be called Peter, which means rock.”
By the way, we had several people last week who had their names changed. I even received a letter from a visitor who said, “I came to church, and my name was Abuse, and my name was Anxiety, but Jesus changed me and gave me a new name, and my new name is Peace.” Christ still does that, by the way, but today we come to a second episode in the life of Peter, and that is when Jesus Christ called him to be a disciple.
Take your Bible and turn, first of all, to Mark 1 where we see a summary version of his call. But then also while you are turning to Mark 1, turn to Luke 5 where we see the same incident (I believe it’s the same incident) in a little bit more detail. It says in Mark 1:16-18: “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee (That is, as Christ was going alongside the Sea of Galilee), he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon. (Remember it was Andrew who actually brought Peter to Christ.) And they were casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And notice verses 19 and 20 indicate that these brothers had a business going. There were a number of people who were involved in the business. There was also James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. It says, “And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.” Notice how many they had working for them, and they went to follow Christ.
Now I want you to look at the fifth chapter of Luke because I think that Luke 5 is essentially the same story where Jesus is again asking Peter to come and to become a fisherman of men. For example in verse 10 it says: “…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.’”
Now I need to explain that “catching men” has nothing to do with perhaps some enterprising single young lady who attends the singles ministry. You know, there is that line that says, “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, catch a bachelor by the toe. If he hollers let him! (laughter) Eeny, meeny, miney, moe! Catching men has to do with winning men and women to Jesus Christ, and so even though it talks about catching men, it also means catching women, and bringing them to a saving knowledge of Jesus.
Now, Luke 5, which is going to be the passage for this morning! Jesus is preaching to a large crowd of people, and as He does, He continues to go backward and backward because the crowd is pressing around Him. And finally He says to Simon, “Let me use your boat,” because Jesus was at the shore of Galilee. And Christ sat in a boat and used the boat as a pulpit and actually preached from the boat to the people who were at the shore. It says: “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 (which is the lake or the sea of Galilee), and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. (They had had what sometimes is called a fisherman’s bad day and now they were putting all their gear away.) Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's (that is, Peter’s), he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’”
Just that far for now! I want to reconstruct the scene. These men had been out all night fishing, and now they were putting everything away, discouraged because they had caught nothing. And Jesus, the teacher, comes along and says, “Now, take your nets. Take them all back out and let them into deep water for some fish.”
There are two reasons why the command seemed unreasonable and senseless. First of all, it was because it was the wrong time. Any fisherman knows that you don’t fish in the middle of the day. You fish during the night and early in the morning. And I can almost see Peter and his companions thinking to themselves, “Jesus may be good at theology. He talks as if He’s really plugged into God, but He doesn’t know anything about fishing. This is the wrong time. You don’t do it now. We have fished all night and we have caught nothing. We fished at the good time and none bit. Why should they bite now?”
Secondly, there was another reason why this seemed to be an improbable and even foolish request. Jesus said, “Take your nets and let them down in the deep.” And once again, the fishermen and the Sea of Galilee know that you don’t do that. What you do is you fish near the shore. That’s where the fish are. But to Peter’s everlasting credit, he says (and I like the King James translation here), “Nevertheless, at Thy Word I will let down the net.”
Aren’t these excuses that you and I use for not witnessing to people and sharing the Gospel? We say, first of all, “Lord, it’s the wrong time. This is not the time to do it. I will wait for an appropriate time.” And I say to my shame that sometimes I have said that, and I have waited too long, or years have gone by and it didn’t seem to be quite the appropriate time. Second, we say, “It’s the wrong place. Sure I want to witness but the context must be absolutely correct, and I’m going to wait for that opportune moment.” Now Jesus said to Peter, “Peter, respond to My Word and let down your nets right now. Take all your gear and put it back out in the boat and do it.”
Notice what happened. I pick up the text now in verse 6. “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.” This is incidentally what is happening in Russia today. There are so many people that are believing on Christ that we’re receiving signals from the Eastern European country saying, “Come over and help us because the nets are breaking. The harvest is so great we need others to come and share in the bounty.”
So they signal to their partners and they came and filled both of the boats so that they began to sink. Verse 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.’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken.”
A. T. Robertson, in his commentary, says, “Sometimes we need to fish again. We need to fish again where we have failed before. We must go down deeper than we were before, but we must fish again.”
Have you ever thought to yourself that you could be successful if you did it somewhere else, if you weren’t only in Chicago but in some other area? I want you to notice that success is really tied to the command and the obedience of Christ. Without His command they caught nothing, and with His command they had two boats filled with fish, net after net cast into the sea and every one of them coming up with hundreds of fish until the boats could scarcely bear them all. Yes, sometimes we must fish again. You may be discouraged in your walk with Christ or where you are, or even in your witness, and I encourage you sometimes in the same place, in obedience to Christ, to do it one more time. Be obedient.
But notice Peter’s response. He said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The Greek word for Lord is Kurios. It really means God. Isn’t it interesting that Peter didn’t say, “Well, just think! We’ve made a thousand dollars in fish. This is fantastic. This is our best day.” Why is it that Peter, standing there in the presence of this miracle, recognized who He was? First of all, he knew that the fish were there by divine command. It’s not because the fish were there naturally because they had toiled all night during the best of time and in the best of way. And now Jesus had spoken and they had acted in faith, and the response was so great, and he recognized now that he was in the presence of God, a very God! And what does he do? He does the same thing that every person does in the presence of the living God. He falls down and recognizes his own helplessness and sinfulness in the presence of this Lord Jesus Christ. And at the one hand he says, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man,” but on the other hand he is also clinging to Christ and saying, “Oh Christ, You are God, a very God.”
Remember that blasphemous movie a few years ago called The Last Temptation of Christ? Martin Scorsese said this: “What I’ve tried to do is to create a Jesus, who in a sense is just like any other guy on the street. In his struggle to reach God and find God he reflects all of our struggles. I thought this would give us all hope.” And I want to scream and say, “No, no, a thousand times no. A Jesus who is like the rest of us does not give us hope but leads us into despair because if He is like the rest of us He cannot save us. We need a hand to come down from heaven that is a divine hand. We need a divine Savior who is sinless, who is God, a very God.” And apart from Him we are damned forever.
Do you know why it is that we sometimes pray about revival, but in our hearts we really don’t want it? It is because when God really comes to town and when people really begin to see the glory and the wonder of Christ, all of us then find within our hearts inexcusable sin. We are suddenly revealed for whom we really are up against the holiness of a wondrous, blessed, pure God. And that is a very uncomfortable moment.
You say, “Well, isn’t that pitiful? I mean here is a disciple of Jesus Christ saying, ‘Depart from me, O Lord,’ going through a lot of existential guilt.” The answer is, “No, this is not a pitiful moment. This was Peter’s finest hour of hope, because only when we see who we are in the presence of the risen Christ (it is only then) that we can finally be forgiven of our sins and we can be hearing the voice of Christ say, ‘You are forgiven.’” But our age does not like this.
Someone sent me a cartoon, which I have on my door, of a pastor pointing to his congregation and saying, “Do you know what the problem with Cain was? Cain’s problem was low self-esteem.” I can imagine someone saying, “You know, that’s why Peter did this. He suffered from low self-esteem.” I’ll tell you something. It is only when we are willing to give up finally all of the game playing and see who we are in Christ’s presence that we can hear Him tell us we are cleansed and forgiven and belong to Him.
But now let me answer a question. I was talking to you about witnessing, about sharing the Good News of the Gospel. Why should we do that? Why should we cast out our nets into the deep? Why should we let our witness be made known in our offices, in our homes and in our communities? First, it’s because of the power of Christ. As I’ve already mentioned, it is because of Jesus that the fish came to these nets. In effect, Jesus said to the fish, “Hey fish, you see those nets? Go for it.” And so you have hundreds of fish going for the net. I want you to know that the same Christ has the hearts of the world in His hands.
You say, “Well, it’s one thing for Jesus to command fish to go to a net. It is quite another for Christ to command men and women to believe.” But I want you to know that Jesus today is the Jesus of power. He has, first of all, power to convict. “When the Holy Spirit of God is come into the world, He will convince the world of sin, of righteousness and judgment.” You and I can’t do that. We really can’t. Three times in my life I have met people who have actually looked me in the eye and told me that they weren’t sinners. Could you imagine that? One even had the nerve to say that in the presence of his son. Thankfully the boy corrected him.
How can we convince men and women of their need for Christ? We can say the words. We can present the truth, but unless God breaks into the soul and takes them apart, it is only when that happens that they will say, “I am a sinful man, or a sinful woman.” Jesus has the power to convict, and He has the power to convert. “As the Father raises up the dead and quickens them, even so the Son quickens whomever He wills.” And we can have the best net, and we can have the best scheme to catch fish, but unless Christ is in the middle of it, unless Christ speaks the word, we can toil all night and come up empty. But thankfully Christ can save. And don’t you ever say whom He can save, or whom He can’t save. Don’t ever say, “Well, you know, I have this uncle who is so hard.” He may be, but Christ has saved some rather unlikely people.
Remember Mel Trotter and his story of how he was such an alcoholic that when his little girl died, he went into the funeral parlor and looked at her little body in the casket and took off her shoes so he could sell them for drink. But Jesus saved him, and he went up and down the country telling people that there is a Christ who can change and save individuals. Remember that. Remember Christ’s power.
Remember in Hebrews it says that He able to save unto the uttermost those that call unto God by Him. And the uttermost may be interpreted as a length of time. That’s why my translation translates it, “He is able to save forever those who call unto God by Him.” But another possibility is to say that the Word has to do with the depth of their sin. He is able to save unto the uttermost. We could say, unto the “guttermost” those who call unto God by Him. Christ has power. That’s one reason why we can witness with confidence.
Secondly, we do it because of His command. Peter said, “Look, Lord, this is crazy, but nevertheless at your word, based on Your bare command, not because it makes sense, but because you said it, we will let down the nets.” Do you think that they expected fish? I don’t think so. But because they were obedient to Christ; therefore Christ honored that obedience and He did a miracle because they obeyed.
Sometimes we may witness and we don’t necessarily have a lot of faith. We may not think that someone will believe, but don’t ever underestimate what Christ might do in the human heart simply because people have heard the strength and the power of the Gospel. It may well fall on soil that has been prepared and grow and change people forever. It’s not for you and me to decide where we should fish, and with whom the Gospel should be shared.
Now when it comes to catching real fish, I am not a fisherman. I just marvel at the patience of some people who can spend an entire morning drowning worms. That does take some ingenuity, but one day on Lake Michigan, perhaps 15 years ago, I was on a boat, and this man had several different lines that he was running, and he said to me, “Let this one be your line,” and eventually a fish bit, and I actually saw it. But do you know something? If you are really a fisherman (and there are some like that who are apparently perfectly utterly normal in other ways), and if this really just is deep within your soul and you are just committed to being a fisherman, there are people who even continue to fish after they’ve had a bad day. There are!
Have you ever gone to a fisherman, I mean a true fisherman (not me but a fisherman) and you say, “Did you catch anything?” “Nope!” “Well that means then you’ll never be going out again. Right?” “Oh no, where would you get that idea?” And yet so often when it comes to catching men and women, we say, “You know, I tried it and it didn’t work. I explained the Gospel to somebody. I expected him or her to believe. They didn’t and therefore I am finished.” Wait a minute. Wait a minute. “At Thy Word!” You do it again and again and again, and in God’s good time fish will result.
I notice something else in the text that is very encouraging. You know, since Jesus did a miracle here, He could have done it without the disciples. He could have done it without the nets. He could have simply said, “Now what I want you to do is to get into the boat and go and you’ll have some fish.” And Jesus, who is King of the earth, the One who has all things in His hands, could have very easily caused the fish to come up and just jump into the boat. Why bother with nets? In fact, why bother with the fishermen? He could have brought them all to shore. He is God! Oh, He could have, but He didn’t. What He said was, “I want to make you partners in this miracle. You go out and let down the nets, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
You know that Jesus could do without us. He would not need our witness to save anybody. He could save people just like He converted the Apostle Paul on the way to Damascus. A light comes out of heaven and there’s a revelation from God directly, and Paul gets zapped. Instantly he believes, and he recognizes that Jesus is the Son of God. Christ could do that to people today because He is God.
Did you know that Jesus doesn’t need our money? Always beware of somebody who says, “You know, without my money that place would collapse.” Aw come on! What an insult to the Almighty! He doesn’t need our money, but do you know what God says? He says, “I want you to be partners in my ministry on earth. I want you to be letting down nets. I want you to be giving generously and contributing because in the process, I will reveal Myself to you because we will be co-workers (co-fishermen) on earth.” What an incredible privilege to have a partnership with Christ in ministry, to know that we’ve been chosen by Him, to play a role in what He is accomplishing in the world.
Someone has said that today we are not fishers of men. We are keepers of the aquarium. We are more comfortable only here with those who belong to us and who are a part of our fellowship, and we have that comfort zone that we protect. But I want you to know today that sometimes we can find fish in the most improbable places, at the most inappropriate time, and even among impossible people.
Now here’s what I want you to think about. Think about someone whom God has placed in your path to whom you will have the opportunity of sharing the Gospel. Resolve right now to do it. And I might say that I say this also to myself, and I already know exactly who it is that God has brought to my mind with whom I must share the Good News of the Gospel. Let down the net at Christ’s Word.
Something else! You may be here today and you’ve never believed on Jesus. You can’t be a fisherman because, if we may use the analogy, you are today still a fish. You’re a fish. You are out there swimming around and what you need to do is to be caught. You need to be won to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Through His work on the cross you need to be brought to believe in Him.
Maybe as I was speaking there was something that resounded in your heart when you recognized your sin. That’s a good place to begin. Like Peter you, perhaps, cry up as all of us have on occasion, “Depart, oh Lord, because I am sinful. You have seen me.”
I remember the words of David in a Psalm. He said, “Oh Lord, rebuke me not according to your anger, neither chasten me in your haunt of displeasure. Behold I am vile,” and he said, “I will lay my hand upon my mouth.” That is not a terrible state to be in. It is terrible only if you don’t go on to believe in Christ who came to save big sinners. Have you believed in Him?
You know, here at The Moody Church, if you go up into our Sunday school area you come to a hall, and that hall happens to be named after John Harper. It’s called Harper Hall. Some of you have seen it up there. Back in the days when the Titanic left Europe for the United States, John Harper was on the Titanic en route to The Moody Church. And remember how that big ship went down. My daughter became very interested in the Titanic last summer, reading books and seeing a movie that has been made on it that is absolutely awesome when you think of what took place on that Titanic because it sank over a period of hours.
John Harper’s name, by the way, is in one of those books. We looked at the back and found out that he traveled second class. I just wanted to check out these pastors to see how they booked themselves on these big ocean liners. But as he was going down in the water, there he was bobbing in the cold water. You recall the story because some of you have heard it, how that someone came near him, hanging on to a life raft. And Harper shouted to him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” And then they drifted off into the ocean, and then they came together again, and Harper said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” And this went on a couple times and that man, hanging onto that life raft, believed in Christ, and was saved six miles above the bottom of the Atlantic. Harper went down, by the way. He drowned and soon he disappeared.
You say, “Well, how do you know that the other man believed?” It’s because years later in Toronto, Canada, he stood up and told the story that I am telling you because his life was spared. And he said, “I was John Harper’s last convert.” But there in desperation he believed.
You say, “Well today I’m not drowning. I’m not going under. I’m going to live until tomorrow.” Don’t be too sure, by the way. But secondly, let me tell you this. If God has responded to you, if you have sensed His work in your heart, would you today be saved? Because He has pointed out your sin, it shows that you need Him to be your Savior. “You are guilty; you are self-righteous,” Christ is saying, but to you today He says, “You can be cleansed, forgiven, changed, accepted forever.”
And let us pray.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for Peter. Thank You that in Your good time and according to Your grace, he understood how sinful he was, and then he believed. We pray that You might help those who do not know You as Savior today to come to saving faith. And may they believe even at this moment. And then for those who know You, we think, Father, of the lost opportunities, and we blush for shame for we are guilty. Oh God, at Thy Word, let us let down the nets. Bring to mind those with whom we must share the Good News of the Gospel and trusting the results wholly to You, the miracle worker. And thank You for the privilege of making us co-workers with You in the great task of fishing. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.