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A Different Game
February 4, 2001
by Tony Grant
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Luke chapter 5 and follow along as I read verses 1-11. "Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches." (RV2:29).
1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
2 And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.
6 And when they had this done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
7 And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
11 And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Mirja McDade is a cook at a Denver tavern. Her love, however, is not cooking but sports. She plays baseball, volleyball and basketball. But she spends most of her free time with a group of young men playing tackle football in a city park. Mirja's dream? She wants to play professional football. Now, it looks like she might have a chance. The WPFL (Women's Professional Football League) was formed last fall, and over 300 women showed up in Denver to try out for the Colorado Valkyries. Three teams - the Minnesota Vixens, Lake Michigan Minx and New York Sharks - competed in a Barnstorming Tour in 1999 to test the fan interest in women's football. Based on their success, 14 teams emerged for the 2000 season - double what everybody expected. As many as 700 players have shown up for tryouts at a single site, despite the fact that the WPFL is marketing its game as "full-contact, knock-down, drag-out, bleeding football." Many of these women are mothers, and they know what they are getting into. They know that this is not touch football; This is full-contact, knock-down, drag-out gridiron battle. We wonder, what are these mothers thinking?
If all went well, just yesterday - February 3 - the American Conference champions and the National Conference champions played the final decisive game of the inaugural WPFL season. The Daytona Barracudas, Dallas Wildcats, Atlanta Amazons and 11 others all tried to pass, punt, kick and run their way through a grueling 10-game season to the final championship contest.
And if we haven't had enough football - what with the WPFL finishing their schedule, and the Super Bowl a recent memory - more is to come. Today the XFL kicks off its own brand new version of football with attitude. The new XFL season offers a rougher, tougher version of the NFL. More fun and more attitude, say its backers. NBC and the World Wrestling Federation have put together a combination of football technique and wrestling attitude in a return to "old-fashioned, smash-mouth football." As for the "X" in XFL, it stands for NOTHING, according to its Web site - "X" is just a cool letter that has come to identify an aggressive lifestyle. Plus, there are a lot of great words with the letter "X" that will be used to describe the XFL - eXciting, eXhilarating, eXplosive and eXplicit. The XFL is where they say "the future tackles the past."
As interesting as all of this is, we might as well admit that it is a bit of a stretch to link Jesus with a bunch of gridiron cowboys. But Jesus did hold tryouts, tryouts for his discipleship league. He confronted a rough group of sunburned, callused and tough-talking fishermen on the lake of Gennesaret, and he talked about playing a different game, a game of discipleship. That is what he is doing in Luke 5.
According to Luke's account, Jesus has already embarked upon a profoundly popular ministry in Galilee, a ministry characterized by tremendous healing crusades and believing crowds, yet Jesus was still working alone.
In chapter 5, Luke begins to develop another aspect of Jesus' message - his desire to put together a team of disciples to work with him. All the gospels describe the calling of the disciples. In Luke's gospel, however, the call is connected to a fishing miracle. This miracle is similar to another miracle that is recorded in John 21. John 21 describes how the Resurrected Lord made himself known to his disciples by a miraculous catch of fish. That is exactly what Jesus does here in Luke 5, except that he has not yet been crucified and resurrected. Perhaps one of the reasons that the disciples could believe that it was Jesus, risen and glorified, who was directing their fishing in John 21 was because Jesus had done the same kind of thing before he was crucified.
Luke 5 follows several mind-blowing miracle stories and eye-opening accounts of Jesus' astoundingly popular Galilean ministry. Thus, the disciples were getting a known quantity. They already know jesus was a charismatic and widely successful leader. Now he performs this awesome miracle right before their eyes. So at this particular moment, it does not require some great leap of faith for them to follow Jesus. Rather, we should ask, How could they not have followed him?
V1 indicates that Jesus is preaching "the Word of God" to a large, rather unruly, tumultuous assembly. By choosing the phrase "Word of God," Luke emphasizes that Jesus' preaching and teaching were not based on Jesus' own thoughts but were in fact the Word God was speaking through him. Jesus was God's chosen messenger. But while the message is eagerly received by the people, the messenger is in danger of being bowled over by the crowd's exuberance. Instead of seeing the water at his back as a barrier, however, Jesus determines to use it as a stepping stone. The soon-to-be-disciples are drawn into service first as providers of a floating podium. Jesus steps into one of the empty boats and invites Simon, the boat's owner, to "put out a little way from the shore" (v. 3).
From this new vantage point, Jesus can now start teaching in earnest. Jostled and bumped by the crowds while at the water's edge, Jesus had remained standing. He had to remain standing if he was to avoid being trampled, but we should realize that in the East, standing is not the accepted and most desirable position for instruction. Once afloat, Jesus immediately sits down - that is, he assumes a teaching position. This is a cultural difference. In the West, the teacher stands up to teach. In the East, the teacher sits down to teach.
The large crowd, which Jesus has been teaching for some time, is gathered directly in front of these boats on the edge of the shore. The enormous catch that results from the ensuing fishing expedition would surely have been used to feed the by now hungry throng of listeners. A few chapters further on, in Luke 9:10-17 Jesus fed the 5000 with 5 loaves and two fish. That miraculous feeding demonstrated Jesus' genuine concern for the care and well-being of the crowds that follow him. In Luke 5, the miraculous catch of fish has a dual purpose. The fishing trip can be envisioned as a provisioning expedition for the crowd and an opportunity for those on the boat with him to truly see and experience his power and identity.
In v5, Simon's response to Jesus' request reveals that he already recognized Jesus as an honored "master" or "teacher." This term denotes both a degree of intimacy and a respect for authority that certainly indicates Simon had been listening to and observing Jesus before this day. In verse 5, Simon honors this relationship by first admitting to the difficulty of the situation ("we have worked all night long but have caught nothing") and then by trusting in Jesus' word ("Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets"). So simon already has faith in Jesus at some level. He will now be led to a deeper level of faith and discipleship.
The ensuing miracle - the enormous catch that requires the efforts of all hands on both boats to bring it in safely - evokes what might seem to be a strange response from Simon. "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (v. 8). These words show us that Simon has had a revelation. God has spoken to him. God in Jesus has made himself known to Simon, and this revelation of the presence of God's holiness and power has overwhelmed Simon with a realization of his own sinfulness.
The term Luke uses here for "sinful" ('amartwlos) has a quite general meaning and may, in fact, have been understood as a class reference. The Jews of that time thought of the Pharisees as a higher class of people because they spend so much time and effort trying to keep the law of moses. By saying that he was an anhr 'amartwlos , a sinful man, Peter may have been saying, "I am low class. Lord, I am scum, because I do not observe the law like the Pharisees do. " Simon has been exposed to supernatural power, and he very clearly realizes that. He also realizes his own slipshod, sinful ways. His confession acknowledges the beginning of a new relationship between himself and Jesus--for Jesus is no longer "master" or "teacher;" now Jesus is "Lord." To emphasize this, Simon falls at Jesus' feet in a completely subservient and worshipful posture.
When Simon Peter begs Jesus to "Go away from me, Lord," the language of the text suggests that his plea is more than a desire for Jesus to physically move away from him. Though it probably included that, but mostly this is a spiritual request that Jesus' spirit depart from Simon Peter's own mind and spirit - as though this spiritual connection between Jesus and Simon is more than Simon can bear. It is not that he does not want Jesus in his life. He does, but he cannot bear his own perverseness and wickedness in Jesus' presence.
Verse 10 introduces "James and John, sons of Zebedee" and notes that they are Simon Peter's partners in his whole fishing business. They had also witnessed this miracle. In once sense, this miracle was exciting and wonderful. They were fishermen. They had just had an astonishing business success. That certainly made them want to clap their hands and jump with joy. But they also realize that they are in the presence of God which reduces them to trembling fear. Thus Jesus reassures them at the end of v10, saying, Fear not. He then tells them that he has a new career for them. Henceforth, they will be "catching people," not fish. That these three men, and perhaps others among the fishing boat crews, leave "everything" and follow Jesus appears as a logical decision, given what they have just witnessed of Jesus' miraculous power and glory. They have become aware that the power of God resides in Jesus. That does not mean that they have got it all worked out. That does not mean that they understand Jesus. But knowing what they know they can do no other than follow him.
So Jesus is starting a discipleship league. But he starts it with people who would probably be drawn more to a sports stadium than to a synagogue, and be interested more in NFL statistics than in Torah scrolls. Yet, Jesus hooks them by speaking the language of their trade, inviting them to "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch" (5:4). When they do, their nets are filled to the breaking point.
With this great catch under his belt, Jesus invites them to join his team for a different game. He calls the fishermen to become his followers. "Do not be afraid," he consoles them; "from now on you will be catching people" (v. 10). Jesus wants them to know that the game is changing, and they are moving now to a sport that may be eXhausting and eXasperating, but at the end of the day is also eXtraordinary, eXquisite and eXceptional. A most eXcellent discipleship adventure.
But what if the fishermen were not interested in playing? After all, fishing was not a sport for Peter, James and John - it was their occupation, their livelihood, their way to put bread on the table. Joining the discipleship league was not like joining women's pro football - an organization that lays out its schedule so that players are able to keep their day jobs. Jesus is asking the fishermen to fundamentally and radically alter the nature of their vocation, and move from being fishers of fish to fishers of people.
This new career requires a special touch. After all, good evangelism is a waiting game, not an aggressive contest. When fishing for people, we do not coerce the catch - we invite them to take the bait.
Jesus teaches us that our vocation is to reach out to people, to create a climate of change and to offer hope, renewal, healing and forgiveness. Jesus wants his fishing evangelists to grasp the difference between the XFL and his own game: Fishers of people are to avoid the "turn-or-burn" hard-sell tactics that pop up in some forms of evangelism today, and instead take a compassionate, transformative, inviting approach that can link the gospel with people's deepest needs. The bottom line is that bad evangelism is like the XFL, a game that deliberately promotes an outlaw image, while good evangelism is the fishing style of Jesus. In this fishing game, we offer the gospel, and the other person then makes a decision.
The assumption in this game is that Jesus has already called us. He has touched us with his love and he calls us to touch others. In that sense, the discipleship game is like a game of tag. We are tagged by Jesus and so we go into the world to tag others. We can't reach others until we've been reached ourselves.
So the question is: how might we "tag" others for Christ? Let's take an example.
Let's say we're fishing for young people. Someone might say that we should begin by updating our traditional worship music to rap. But probably not, since most young people would realize that we were trying to cater to them and by turned off by that. Besides, if you are going to do rap, there is no way the church can compete with MTV.
Studies say that today's young people can be cynical. They do not much believe in absolute truth and they certainly do not believe that any one person or institution has the absolute truth.
So, how do we do evangelism with young people. Probably we should just tell them stories. Today's young people have been raise on stories. Every part of the entertainment culture is dedicated to feeding people narratives. So today's young people are ready to listen to narratives. That should excite us because we have the greatest story in the world to tell. Look at this chapter from Luke 5. We have tales of miraculous catches, mysterious miracles, forgiven sins, and changed lives..
"Do not be afraid," Jesus says to his followers, in both the first century and the 21st. He tags us with redemption, and sends us out to tag others with the very same message.
We are not going to get very far with old-fashioned, smash-mouth evangelism, so let's leave full-contact, knock-down, drag-out, bleeding aggression to the WPFL and the XFL.
For us, the letter "X" stands for Christ, and it brings to mind not an aggressive lifestyle, but a compassionate, cross-based lifestyle. X stands for the Christ who sacrificed himself for the salvation of the world. The life to which we are called and to which we call others is a cross-based, Christ-centered life. So how are you doing at calling others? Jesus calls us to a different game. I am speaking figuratively of course. The gospel is not a game. It is the most important things in life. The gospel is so important that it needs to be shared. So how are you doing at sharing? Amen.
"Gender equity: Denver to hold tryout for
women's pro football team," CNN Sports
Hinlicky, Sara, "Talking to Generation
X," Critique 1999, No. 7, 3-4.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 02/02/01