Two years’ ago a great debate rocked the classical music world. A handwritten musical score allegedly written by Ludwig van Beethoven failed to sell at a Sotheby’s auction because some experts doubted its authenticity. The manuscript for Allegretto in B Minor, thought to have been drawn up in 1817, would be worth around £200,000 if genuine – but far less if a fake. As of today the issue remains unresolved, and its authorship remains in doubt. No one is certain whether the score truly belonged to Beethoven or not.
But what makes a true disciple of Jesus? What are the ‘sure fire’ marks of Christian believer? How can you spot someone who a genuinely belongs to the Lord Jesus? Is it someone who goes to church regularly? Or someone baptised as a baby or educated in a Church of England school? Or someone born in Britain – or any other a so-called ‘Christian’ country?
The truth is none of those things are evidence of true Christian faith. None of those things guarantees someone is an authentic follower of Christ. We need a clearer definition of a Christian disciple. We all need to know where we stand. We need to know whether we are really on the road that leads to everlasting life.
Thankfully, our passage this morning gives us three marks of a genuine Christian disciple. Three reliable indicators that someone truly belongs to the Lord Jesus. Because Luke 5 today tells us that true disciples of Jesus pay attention to his words. They also know they need his forgiveness. And they follow him wholeheartedly.
True disciples of Jesus…pay attention to his words
Firstly, we see in verses 1 to 5 today that true disciples of Jesus pay attention to his words.
When I was a teenager, I used to buy most of my records and CDs from HMV music shops. You may know that the letters HMV stand for His Masters Voice. And the logo for HMV used to be a dog listening attentively to a grammaphone record. A record presumably playing his master’s familiar voice. The HMV dog clearly loves his master and listens eagerly and to his words.
We find two similar examples of eager listening at the start of our reading in Luke today. The first example of attentively listening is very public. We are told in verse 1 that one day Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret (also known as the sea of Galilee) and people were “crowding round him and listening to the word of God”. These first followers of Jesus had obviously heard him speak with power and authority, and wisely wanted to know more. They may even have witnessed some of his early miracles, and sensibly wanted to learn more about this remarkable man.
It seems this crowd was so large and enthusiastic that Jesus stepped into a boat and had it pushed a little off-shore – so he could be seen and heard more easily. We are then told that Jesus sat down to speak. As well as being a lovely little eye-witness detail, this tells us that Jesus considered himself a teacher. Because rabbis and other authorised teachers would always sit down to speak. It was a sign of their authority. A sign that their words carried weight. I suppose the equivalent today would be a politician standing at a lectern – or a vicar preaching from a pulpit!
The challenge for us is to be like that crowd. Are we eager to hear Jesus’ voice? Are we a curious to learn about him and from him? Do we come to church on Sunday like that crowd on the beach – as a group of people keen to listen to the word of God as the Bible is read and explained? I hope so!
The second example of eager listening to Jesus appears in verses 4 and 5. This time the listening is very personal and private. Jesus is no longer addressing a crowd, but in conversation with a single man. That man is Simon Peter, a seasoned fisherman and the owner of the boat.
Jesus said to Simon ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ At face value this is a crazy command! A carpenter’s son from Nazareth is trying to tell an experienced fisherman how to do his job! Its like a barber telling a brain surgeon how to perfom and operation, or an accountant telling a baker how to make a loaf!
As Simon tells Jesus, he’s been hard at work all night and hasn’t caught anything – why should his luck change now? In fact, its now daytime, when all good fishermen know the fish are deep underwater, where the water is cool and where fishing nets can’t reach.
Simon could perhaps of been excused for dismissing Jesus’ silly suggestion. But he didn’t. Like the crowd on the beach, Simon was wise enough to trust Jesus. He was wise enough to trust and obey Christ’s command. Simon was sensible enough to realise that jesus was no ordinary man, and so shouldbe listened to. In fact Luke chapter 4, verse 38 (just before today’s passage) tells us that Jesus had already healed Simon’s mother-in-law. So Simon obeyed Jesus’ strange command and faithfully let down his nets.
True disciples like Simon Peter learn trust Jesus’ words, even when they sound strange or impossible. He can be relied upon. His promises will come true. So take time to listen to Jesus’ words privately, personally, like Simon did. Read the Bible alone, on your own. And pray for the faith to trust it and obey.
True disciples of Jesus…know they need his forgiveness
Simon’s trust in Jesus words was certainly vindicated wasn’t it?! Luke tells us what happened in verse 6 to 7: “When they had let down their nets, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signalled to 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.”
It was a truly astonishing haul, a miraculous catch. It was a month’s fish caught in a single moment. A fishing quota exceeded in an instant! Verse 9 tells us that “Simon Peter and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee.” Even these seasoned fishermen were dumbfounded by what they’d just seen. No doubt they could barely believe their eyes! Simon’s obedience to Jesus’ words had well and truly paid off!
But as well as paying attention to his words, true disciples of Jesus also know they need his forgiveness. True disciples know they need God’s mercy and grace. We see this in Simon’s reaction to his spectacular catch of fish.
You see, Simon saw something even more amazing than a huge pile of haddock. It wasn’t just his eyes that were challenged by this amazing catch of fish. His head and heart were profoundly affected too. He suddenly came to realise that this man Jesus was no ordinary man. He was clearly more than just a carpenter!
This awe-inspiring catch of fish was just that. It was a sure sign to Simon that Jesus was someone awesome. Someone in whom God’s own presence and power dwelt. Simon saw that Jesus of Nazareth was a powerful man of God, a Spirit-filled prophet. Indeed, in time Simon would come to realise that Jesus was actually Israel’s long-promised Messiah – the Son of the living God.
Its no surprise, therefore, that Simon fell on his knees before Jesus. He knew he was in the presence of greatness. To be more precise, Simon knew he was in the presence of holiness. He realised he was face to face with God’s human representative. Someone immensely powerful but also perfectly good.
Simon was wise enough and humble enough to realise that compared to Christ, he was a great sinner. He was someone who deserved God’s judgement for everything he’d done wrong. So its no surprise that in fear he said “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”.
But Jesus didn’t go away, did he? Instead he offered him his forgiveness, his friendship, and a new job to do! Listen again to verse 10: Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’
Jesus’ reply to Simon should come as no surprise. Because as we heard Jesus read out his Messiah’s manifesto – his mission plan – a few weeks ago he said he had come to bring good news to the poor in spirit. He had come to bring God’s forgiveness to people like Simon. To humble, repentant people who know they have sinned and need God’s grace.
Even today, a true disciple is someone who humbly comes to Jesus in repentance and sincerely seeks God’s forgiveness. Because if we do, we can be sure to receive it. We no longer have any need to be afraid of God’s judgement. It’s a message of good news that needs to be shared today as much as 2,000 years ago. Its good news for humble fishermen like Simon, and for people of every profession today.
What’s more remarkable is that Jesus then gives Simon a privileged position. He invites him to be a fisher of people. He invites Simon to join his team, to be part of his work preaching the Gospel and welcoming people into the kingdom of God. No longer will Simon pull dead fish out of the sea. From now on Jesus wants Simon to bring people from spiritual death to eternal life. That’s what I call a great job offer!
True disciples of Jesus…follow him wholeheartedly
We don’t need to wait long to discover Peter’s response to this remarkable job offer. We learn that true disciples of Jesus follow him wholeheartedly. Because in the very next verse we read that he and his fellow fishermen “pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”
Simon, James and John were willing to leave behind their jobs, their family, their homes – plus the biggest catch of their fishing career – to follow Jesus. They were wholehearted in their commitment to Jesus, and would follow him wherever he led.
Over the next few years they would be witnesses to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And after his ascension, these apostles would proclaim the Gospel boldly and courageously, with the help of the Holy Spirit. In short, they sacrificed their lives for their Lord and Saviour.
The challenge for us is to be similarly wholehearted in our obedience to Jesus. What sacrifices are we making for Jesus’s sake? Are we prepared to use our time, treasure and talents to serve Christ and grow his church? I hope so.
So as I finish today, I hope we’ve seen that a true disciple of Jesus listens attentively to his words. They are truly grateful for the forgiveness he has shown them. And they are prepared to serve him wholeheartedly. May each of those three marks be found in our lives, just as they were in the life of Simon Peter.