What makes a true disciple of Jesus? What are the ‘sure fire’ marks of Christian believer? 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?
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.
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 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 gramophone record. A record presumably playing his master’s familiar voice. The HMV dog clearly loves his master and listens eagerly 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.
The challenge for us is to be like that crowd. Are we eager to hear Jesus’ voice? Do we open our Bibles with a hope and expectation that the Lord will speak to us? I hope so!
The second example of eager listening to Jesus appears in verses 4 and 5. Jesus is no longer addressing a crowd, but one man, 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! After all, its now daytime, when all good fishermen know the fish are deep underwater, where the water is cool and fishing nets can’t reach.
So Simon could perhaps of been excused for dismissing Jesus’ silly suggestion. But he didn’t. He was wise enough to trust and obey Christ’s strange command and faithfully let down his nets.
True disciples like Simon Peter obey Jesus’ words, even when they are unexpected, strange or challenging. He can be trusted. So if you hear the Lord speak to your heart as you pray or read the Bible, then trust and obey – don’t delay!
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. 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 month’s catch caught 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 left speechless by what they’d seen.
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. And we see this in Simon’s reaction to his spectacular catch of fish.
As Simon looked at his huge pile of haddock, his head and heart were profoundly affected too. He came to appreciate that this man Jesus far more than merely a carpenter! Here was someone in whom God’s own presence and power dwelt. Indeed, Simon would soon become the first person ever to confess 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 someone immensely powerful but also perfectly good. 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 description! Because Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’
If you can remember Jesus’ Messianic manifesto from a fortnight ago, Jesus’ attitude to Simon Peter will come as no surprise. Jesus had said his mission was bring good news to the ‘poor in spirit’. To humble people like Simon Peter 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 receives God’s forgiveness. Its good news for fishermen like Simon Peter, and for people of every profession today.
Jesus immediately sets Simon Peter to work as part of his preaching team – he commissions him to spread this Gospel of grace. No longer will Simon Peter pull dead fish out of the sea. From now he will bring men and women from spiritual death to eternal life. He will become a fisher of people!
Peter’s response to this remarkable job offer was positive and immediate, wasn’t it? Because Peter and his fellow fishermen “pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” We see by this reaction that true disciples of Jesus follow him wholeheartedly.
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. 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, at great personal cost.
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? What are we prepared to risk for the cause of Christ? Do give it some thought.
So as I finish today, I hope we’ve seen that a true disciple of Jesus: listens attentively to his words; is truly grateful for the forgiveness he has shown them; And are prepared to serve him wholeheartedly, whatever the cost.
May each of those three marks be found in our lives, just as they were in the life of Simon Peter.
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