One of the series of sermons every pastor puts together at least once in their ministry deals with Jesus’ last words. These are the words Jesus spoke from the cross just before his death. There are seven words, actually full sentences, that Jesus spoke before his death spread across the four Gospels. They are powerful words. Jesus said:
- Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34
- Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43
- Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother. John 19:26, 27
- My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34
- I thirst. John 19:28
- It is finished. John 19:30
- Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Luke 23:46
There is a great deal of meaning we can gather from each of these sayings. I offered my first sermon series on these words for the weeks prior to Easter in 2011.
People have a fascination with what are called “dying declarations,” the last words someone says just before that person dies. There is a belief that in the final moments of life the person will be truthful because they have nothing to lose. But I wonder if we could learn something equally important if we explored someone’s first words? Now I know many of you are thinking, “There is not much to be learned from our first words as a child when are first words are likely ‘Momma’ or ‘Dadda.’” That isn’t quite what I had in mind. I was wondering if we could learn from someone’s first words when that person dies to themselves and follows Jesus as a new person. Jesus said, ““Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3). If you are born again, if you have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, then you have died to yourself and live through Jesus as a new creation. As a newborn in Christ, do you remember your first words? Do you remember what you said or what you thought when you decided to follow him? Perhaps you do or maybe you do not recall. Fortunately, we have some first words and thoughts of other people who encountered Jesus recorded for us in the New Testament. Today, I would like us to look at the first words of a man named Peter.
As we talked last week, Peter was the nickname Jesus gave a man named Simon when the two men first met. It seems that before Simon said anything, Jesus said to him, “From now on you will be called Cephas,” which is translated to mean Peter. Cephas was an Aramaic word for rock or stone. Jesus and Peter met along the banks of the River Jordan, about 100 miles from Peter’s home of Capernaum, where Peter worked as a fisherman. As we open today’s New Testament passage, Chapter 5 of Luke, we find Jesus and Peter are together again. Only this time, they are very near Peter’s hometown.
Peter’s new acquaintance, Jesus, had returned with Peter to his hometown. Jesus was preaching a message of repentance; encouraging everyone to who would listen to turn toward God. Peter heard Jesus say that Jesus had been anointed by God to proclaim good news to the poor and that God sent him to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:14-19). These words from Jesus were received curiously at first by some people and by others with anger and outrage because they did not believe Jesus was from God.
Beyond the preaching, Peter saw Jesus cast out an evil spirit from a man. Closer to home, Jesus came into Peter’s house and found that Peter’s mother-in-law suffering from a high fever; meaning she was seriously ill and would die. Jesus spoke words of healing to her and immediately Peter’s mother-in-law got up from her bed. Soon thereafter, Jesus began healing many people of their illnesses. Peter was taking in all that he had seen and heard from Jesus and yet curiously, none of the Gospel writers record any of Peter’s words or reactions to Jesus’ teachings or miracles. Then Jesus and Peter had an encounter that broke Peter’s silence. Eventually, that is true for all of people. Eventually, every person will have an encounter with Jesus that loosens their tongue and they will either accept Jesus or reject him. Peter’s encounter where his first recorded words are found is in Chapter 5 of Luke starting at verse 1.
“1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret (also known as the Sea of Galilee), the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 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.” Luke painted for us a wonderful picture of people eager to hear the word of God. So eager and so many were the people that they began crowding Jesus along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I think it would be great to have a worship service like the one Luke described right along the edge of a peaceful lake. I think that would be a very powerful moment. In that scene along the lake that Luke described, Jesus seemed to have avoided being pushed into the water by the encroaching crowd by getting into a boat that was along the waters’ edge.
The boat was owned by our friendly fisherman, Simon, nicknamed Peter. Peter was busy when Jesus got into his boat. Peter had just returned from a night of fishing. While Peter listened to Jesus, he and other fisherman, sat on shore cleaning and mending their nets. Peter was a businessman and a property owner. He had bills to pay and a family to feed. He had a boat and nets that required care. Peter had responsibilities and a lifestyle that was in many ways very similar to our own. Up until this point, Jesus had not asked anything of Peter. Now he does. Jesus got into Peter’s boat and asked Peter to move the boat into the shallow waters along the edge of the lake so Jesus could finish teaching the crowds. Peter left the work he was engaged in and did as Jesus asked.
The significance of this simple exchange between Jesus and Peter could be easily overlooked. What did Jesus do in this exchange? He asked Peter to invest a little bit of his time and a small use of Peter’s property. Peter agreed. Peter’s words in response to Jesus’ requests were not recorded, but his first actions were telling. We observe two things. First, Peter obeyed Jesus by stopping what Peter was doing, cleaning nets, and doing what Jesus wanted him to do, getting in the boat. That is called obedience. We don’t like that word much these days unless it is us asking others to do as we ask. Then we want obedience. Second, Peter began using his time to further Jesus’ ministry and put his property, a boat, at Jesus’ disposal for a purpose it was not originally intended. Peter gave us some important examples to follow. First, we must be willing to put aside the things we want to do so that we can do what Jesus wants done. I once asked someone to join a Bible study. They said they would have to think about what they would have to sacrifice something else to join. This is backwards thinking. When we do something that is not with God, then that time is being sacrificed. Second, we must be willing to invest a little bit of our time in Jesus’ ministry. I spoke this past Thursday at a prayer breakfast and my topic was on loneliness. I encouraged people to reach out someone who is lonely because real relief from the suffering of loneliness requires the cooperation of only one other person. We can be that person if we give of our time for Jesus’ ministry. Third, we must be willing to let our property be used in a way that it was not intended. For example, we can let our homes be used for Bible studies or use our vehicle that we bought to help others get to doctors’ appointments or to church. That is not why we bought our homes or our cars, but we can repurpose our property for Jesus’ ministry. This is what Peter showed us here. Doing so requires no words, just actions.
Our story continued, “4 When he [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon [Peter], ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ 5 Simon [Peter] answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”
Jesus again asked Peter to follow his path. This time, Jesus asked Peter to use his talent, time, and treasure and move away from the shore and let his net down. Peter was free to say, “No.” And at long last, Peter spoke. Peter’s first words were, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” Peter, the experienced fisherman, was sharing information about his profession with his friend, Jesus, who was raised as a carpenter. Peter had fished all night under the favorable circumstances and caught nothing. To now fish during the day seemed futile. Peter was sharing with Jesus his belief that fishing now would be an unsuccessful event. By experience, Peter should not lower his nets. Peter shared with Jesus his human understanding. Then Peter said something key for a faith walk. Peter said, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” As I have mentioned in previous messages, the word “but” is one of the most theologically important words in the Bible. When we read the word “but” we should take notice because something important is going to be said or done. Peter said, “But because you [Jesus] say so, I will let down the nets.” Peter’s first words show that Peter was ready to walk a life based on faith in Jesus and not based on his own understanding. This is not easy to walk in faith but it is essential to walk in faith to become the person Jesus wants us to be. Every so often, Becky and I will talk about our lives just before we met. We joke that if anyone had said that we would be married to each other, now for 33 years, and be serving two churches as pastor and pastor’s wife we would have laughed and called thought them a fool. There was nothing in our mind or plans to do that; it would not have made any sense. But God had other plans and fortunately we followed them. Peter said, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” What is Jesus asking you to do that makes no practical sense and he awaits to hear from you to repeat Peter’s first words, “But because you say so, I will.”
Now Peter, the experienced fisherman put down his nets in the deeper water. Luke wrote, “6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 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.” Peter went from catching nothing the night before to catching so many large fish that his property was at risk. Peter’s nets were at risk of breaking and his boat was at risk of sinking. So large was the catch that even the help of Peter’s partners and their boat put both boats at risk of sinking. In the days prior to this moment, Peter witnessed Jesus cast out demons and heal the sick, but this was a new type of miracle. Nature obeyed Jesus. Who other than someone with God’s own powers could have control over nature?
The realization that Jesus was someone unique and beyond normal measures fell upon Peter. “8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” Peter saw things for the way they were. Jesus was holy and empowered with the presence of God. Peter confessed he was a sinful man and that sinful people have no place in the presence of holiness. Peter believed that in his sinfulness he had nothing to offer to a holy person other than to contaminate the holy person with his sinfulness. Peter was warning Jesus that Jesus must leave Peter’s presence before Peter’s sinfulness changed Jesus holiness.
Peter’s response shows us that Peter was an emotional man and Peter was right in some ways. Peter was right that sinfulness and holiness cannot be together. The Apostle Paul would later put it this way, “14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). Peter was concerned his sinfulness would change Jesus’ holiness. What Peter did not realize was that God works the other way around. Jesus’ holiness would change Peter’s sinfulness. This change, this transformation, of Peter would be so pronounced that Peter’s sinful would be eliminated and Peter’s record before God would be that of Jesus’ holiness. And this same transformation is available to you and me. Jesus reassured this would be so by telling Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” With these words, Peter and his partners (Andrew, James, and John), “11 [So they] pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” Peter was beginning his walk of faith with Jesus and their transformation to holiness.
Peter’s first recorded words were few, yet they are instructive for us. Peter was obedient to Jesus. Peter was willing to talk with Jesus and go a different direction in his life based on faith. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Peter confessed to his own sinful nature and confessed to the holiness of Jesus. Peter received Jesus assurance that following Jesus would transform his life.
God has given each of us one life to live, forever. We had nothing to do with or say in our first birth into this life. But we have a say in being born again in Jesus and living a transformed life and being able to come into the presence of God’s holiness. Peter’s first words in his new life give us an example to follow into that new life. Therefore, we are left with the question, “What will be our first words in a new life with Jesus?”