Pastor Drew Williams
Do you trust me?
This is a famous quote from a famous literary character that is probably one of the biggest influences on my young life.
Of course, the character I’m referring to is none other than Aladdin, the prince of thieves. But NOT the new live-action Disney remake from a couple years ago. No, I’m talking about the golden animated classic from 1992 that sits at the epoch of cinema as a shining example of pure genius.
I mean, this movie is total perfection. You’ve got the beautiful princess, the talking parrot, the maniacal villain, the incomparable late, great Robin Williams as the genie, and of course, the lovable street urchin, Aladdin.
When I was growing up, I wanted to be like Aladdin SOOOO bad. Not only does he have a pet monkey, but he also always manages to stay one jump ahead of the breadline, one swing ahead of the sword, and he ONLY steals what he can’t afford.
He’s charming, confident, a bit of a thrill-seeker, and when he meets the princess, there’s a moment when they are on the edge of a building, running from goons, and he turns to her, stretches out his hand, and says, “Do you trust me?”
Oh MAN I always wanted to be that cool! I always wanted to be so secure, so confident, so charismatic that I could just turn to a pretty girl I had just met and say, “Do you trust me?”
But, you know, I never really thought about what it would be like to be on the other end of that. I mean, for Jasmine, here’s this guy she just met, a little scruffy, asking her to TRUST him. And the next step she takes with him might be…risky.
Even later on in the movie when he’s pretending to be Prince Ali, and he’s on the edge of her balcony, floating on the magic carpet, hovering over a very long drop, he asks her to trust him, and she’s just supposed to…what? Actually trust him?
Even if he IS offering a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view, she still has to be willing to let go and take that next step.
When was the last time you had to make that decision? To trust someone and take a step that might be…risky?
Today, we will be looking at a similar kind of encounter, though it won’t involve a prince of thieves, or really catchy showtunes (though you are MORE than welcome to spin up that soundtrack after this. You won’t regret it)
No, today we’re looking at an interaction between Jesus and Peter in Luke chapter 5. Even though the NIV translates the beginning of this chapter as “One day…”, the Greek could just as well be translated to say, “Now, it happened that Jesus was standing…” So it seems like this story could have picked up the very next morning after Jesus’ successful night of ministry in Simon Peter’s house that we looked at last week.
So, with that idea, let’s read together the beginning of Luke chapter 5.
For some of us, this is a very familiar story. Some of you have seen this story told with cartoon characters. Some of you have taught this story before. Some of us perhaps picture the Jesus film from the late 70s or early 80s.
Whenever I come back to a part of Scripture that is quite familiar, I usually try and ask a couple questions to engage myself differently. I ask what this would have been like if I had been there, watching it play out? I pretend to be one of the characters, to see it from their perspective. And I was just so intrigued by Simon Peter in this story.
This is before he had become a close follower of Jesus. He was still a local businessman, running his fishing boats with his partners. And they had just spent a long night fishing. This was because the large nets that were used to catch fish in the lake were better used at night, when the fish couldn’t see the net coming for them.
Unfortunately, the night of fishing had NOT gone well. All they had caught was silt, and kelp, and some trash. So Peter and his partners are at the edge of the water, cleaning out their nets. No one is talking, because everyone is tense. They’re all tired. They’re all bummed that they didn’t catch anything. Nothing to sell in the market means they’re already behind their margin for this week.
Peter is especially tired. The traveling teacher, Jesus, has been staying with him. That’s been nice. It’s been an honor. And amazingly, Jesus actually was able to heal Peter’s mother in law from a really high fever, which was incredible! But then, everyone from the town came over and crowded into the house to get close to Jesus and be healed by him.
Peter had felt something electrifying. Being with this Jesus was amazing. He wasn’t sure, but he wanted more, somehow. He wanted to be a part of that kind of freedom and joy.
But the lackluster fishing overnight had taken away all those feelings. Peter wasn’t excited anymore. He was mad. And tired. All he wanted to do was finish up, go home, not make eye-contact with anyone, and just go to sleep.
The commotion behind him caused Peter to turn around and notice the huge crowd of people. And there was Jesus, at the head of the pack, walking straight for him. Oh no, did he expect something from Peter? I mean, he HAD healed his mother in law, and though there hadn’t been any conversation at that time, Peter felt like he owed Jesus something, ANYTHING, as a thank you. But he didn’t have anything. He started feeling a little panicky as Jesus stepped closer and spoke to him.
In fact, he almost didn’t really hear what Jesus had said. What? You want to borrow my boat? To…teach in? Umm, sure!
Jesus asking for a favor. From him! And he was able to do it! There, now they were square. It’s all good. And I’ll be able to get some rest after this.
So Peter launches the 20 foot boat out a little ways, so that the teacher could speak to all the people without being crowded. Peter made sure they didn’t drift too far while he tried to listen to the things Jesus was saying. Stuff about righteousness and the kingdom of God. Peter didn’t understand all of it, but he just hoped the crowd wouldn’t notice Peter in the boat and start to tell the teacher to keep his distance. Peter wasn’t a criminal or anything, but he had a bit of a…reputation, let’s say, in the town for flying off the handle from time to time.
The sun continued to climb. Peter felt so sleepy in the warmth. And hungry. And then he remembered the lousy night and the fact that he didn’t even have a single fish to cook for breakfast.
Just then, Jesus dismissed the crowd and turned to Peter. Peter had already lifted the anchor and was getting ready to bring the boat in when Jesus told him to head out to deeper water to put down his nets for a catch.
It took a LOT of self-control for Peter to respond with a measured voice. “Master, we’ve actually been fishing all night. No dice.”
But Jesus just kept looking at him, with almost a whimsical twinkle in his eye. Peter stared back. Then he got uncomfortable with the eye-contact and glanced away. He looked out over the water, and saw the sun dancing on the ripples of the waves. There was NO WAY that the fish weren’t going to notice the net. But of course Jesus wouldn’t have known that. He’s a religious teacher, not a fisherman. Peter was the expert here!
What was Jesus getting at? The gall, to come out here when he KNOWS I’m tired and mad and then TELL me how to go get a catch?
Peter swallowed and turned back to Jesus to tell him all this, but he couldn’t. Jesus just kept looking at him with those piercing eyes. Innocence and authority. No anxiety in his gaze.
Peter gave in, “Fine. Because you say so, I’ll let down the nets.”
Not that it will do any good, he almost muttered under his breath. But they were off to deeper water. A little bit of a breeze distorted the surface of the water. At least THAT was good, it might give them a small chance to get the nets into the water without spooking the fish…if they found any, that is.
As Peter started to grab the nets, he was surprised by Jesus rolling up his sleeves and grabbing the other end. He clearly had never done this before, but that wasn’t stopping him. He picked up the other end of the bunched net, and then looked to Peter for direction.
Peter was a little dumbstruck. No other religious teacher he knew had ever stooped to do physical labor. But there Jesus was, waiting for instructions, paying no mind to the salty water dripping all over his clothes.
Peter showed him how to let down the net with the weight first, so that it would fully expand under the water and hopefully cast a wide enough reach to surround some fish. But he had been doing this long enough to know their chances of catching more than some rocks was next to zero. He really hoped Jesus wouldn’t be disappointed or mad.
Once the net was down, the surface of the water started rippling even more. Peter couldn’t even see clearly to know what was down there. He looked at the horizon to see where the strong breeze was coming from. Maybe a storm was coming. But the breeze hadn’t picked up at all.
Meanwhile the water started to boil and splash around them. Then he saw it.
That wasn’t the surface of the water that was flashing sunlight back at him, those were fish!
Torrents of fish. More tightly grouped than he had ever seen! Instinctively, he started pulling in the net and shouted at Jesus to do the same.
But he couldn’t get the net over the lip of the boat without almost capsizing them. He had tied off the net, but the fish were thrashing about in the nets so much that it was causing them to take on water!
He yelled to James and John, who were still on the edge of the water with their boat. They had started to see the commotion from where they were, so they were paddling out to them in no time. As they came alongside, their concern turned to amazement and then sheer joy.
“God has blessed us!” John said. “Peter, I don’t know what you did to make God so happy, but it worked!”
They scooped as many fish as they could into each boat. Both boats were overflowing with flopping fish, and were dangerously close to sinking from the weight of it. None of them could believe it! Their exhaustion mixed with the surprise caused them to all just start laughing together. Peter looked at Jesus, who was drenched and definitely covered in fish stench. He was laughing along with them!
Jesus had done this. He didn’t know how, but Peter knew Jesus had caused it. He had seen him heal people, and now this.
And what if Peter could convince him to do it again? Peter and James and John would be the richest fishermen in the area! All they needed to do was get Jesus to use his power for each catch, and they’d be set!
Peter had scarcely had the thought when Jesus made eye contact with him again. The same innocence and authority, but this time, it almost seemed like Jesus had heard what Peter was thinking.
Immediately, Peter was overcome with guilt. Are you kidding? This incredible teacher and healer, and all you can think about is how to USE him? For your own benefit? After he has given you such a gift?
The gift. Now he KNEW he was in debt to Jesus. First, the healing of his mother in law, and now this! And Peter’s thought was to use him. To control him.
“Go away from me, Lord.
I am a sinful man!”
I’m a deadbeat, no better off than these fish.
Caught in a net and headed for death.
“What if you didn’t catch for death?”
Peter snapped his head up to look at Jesus. What had he said? Had he really heard his thoughts? He searched his face, but only saw that whimsical twinkle.
“What if you didn’t catch for death? What if, instead, you caught for life? Come on, I’ll teach you how to catch PEOPLE alive, and then free them into a full life.”
Peter was stunned into silence.
But he wasn’t afraid anymore. Not anxious anymore.
No, somehow, he felt…called. Compelled. Whatever he did, he knew he NEEDED to follow Jesus. So when they got to the shore, they pulled their boats up onto the sand along with the record catch of fish and then followed Jesus as he walked back to town.
James and John must have felt the same thing Peter had, because they came, too. Peter wasn’t worried. He knew the big catch would be sold in the market and settle things for his household and provide for them. He had no idea what came next, but he trusted that Jesus did.
Now, I hope you’ll forgive the narrative expansions I just offered, but explorations like that help me get into the story from a different angle. And as we reflect on the encounter, there are a couple takeaways I’d like to offer as well.
One of the main things that stands out to me from this story is how Jesus chooses to partner with normal people to accomplish his mission. He could have taught the people by floating above them, or by making his voice miraculously louder, but he chose to ask Peter to help him out with the boat.
And when Peter had his shame-filled reaction to the enormous catch of fish, Jesus just responded by inviting him into a journey of transformation.
It’s so incredible to me, and I never get over it, how Jesus WANTS to partner with us. How he wants to INVOLVE us in his work. Could Jesus do it better without me? Absolutely! I probably slow it WAAAY down and mess things up as I go. But Jesus still chooses to partner with us to accomplish his mission.
But it’s also incredible that he doesn’t coerce us. Jesus doesn’t force us. He invites. He beckons. With a twinkle in his eye. Jesus asks for your “yes.”
And what happens when we say yes? Well, I can’t guarantee with certainty what will happen in detail, but I CAN tell you that something incredible happens when we say yes to Jesus. Something miraculous happens when we give him our “yes.” Something that wouldn’t have happened otherwise occurs when we say yes to Jesus and turn our life to fall in step behind him.
When we say “yes” to Jesus’ invitation, which he offers to us every single day, by the way, God involves us in his work. We get to join in what he is already doing. We get to be a part of the bigger work of redemption and reconciliation that God is working out around us. We get to experience something we wouldn’t have if we denied the offer, if we stayed back in what was comfortable, if we stayed back in our inward focus.
But what happens when we DON’T say yes? What does it look like when we say, “no thanks.” Well, thankfully scripture gives us a couple case studies of people who did just that. And we can learn a lot from them. Pharisees said “no thanks” to Jesus’ invitation to follow him in his way. The Rich Young Ruler, who had originally come to him for advice and guidance, ultimately didn’t give Jesus his “yes” when the invitation was too hard to accept.
Well, I’M not a PHARISEE! And that Rich Young Ruler, he seemed pretty arrogant and full of himself. If I had been there, speaking with Jesus, having seen the miracles he could do, I TOTALLY would have said yes to Jesus!
Perhaps. But if you’re like me, there are MANY days when you get to the end of the day, and you realize that you haven’t even really thought of Jesus at all, let alone noticed where he was inviting you to follow him. And even when we DO feel that tug of invitation, or when we hear something at church that shines a light into our heart, what is it that stops us from giving our “yes” to Jesus?
One thing that stops us from saying yes to Jesus’ invitation is the fact that we’re holding onto CONTROL of our life. This is closely related to the Love of Self that we talked about last week. We LIKE how our life is going, and we don’t really want to change it up. Or perhaps, you’re like me, and you’re always looking ahead, making plans, researching things, coming up with ways to improve your life, or your stock options, or your seat at the concert hall. You’ve got plans, and gumption, and you’re going places! And anyone who stands in your way ends up not doing it twice!
The Pharisees were a bit like that. They had figured out the structured way of following God, and ordering their life around the way that THEY thought was the foolproof way to earn God’s favor and bring about his blessing. They had created the path to a better life for themselves. And they weren’t willing to change it, no matter who stood in their way. Jesus’ way of loving people, and playing loose with the religious rules just didn’t jive with them. There was no way they were going to let go of their way of life and risk following the way of Jesus.
Holding onto control stops us from saying yes to Jesus’ way, but so does holding onto STUFF. I’m not sure I can stop and give that person a ride because I JUST got the car detailed…
I would love to build a relationship with that young family, but I don’t think we can have them over to our house until their kids are older, because our front room has too many breakables in it…
I’m definitely feeling a HUGE tug from God to lean into this new activity, but I’m too busy at work, and I just couldn’t lessen my hours or walk away from this job. It’s secure, and I worked too hard to get to where I am…
The Rich Young Ruler fell into this camp. Do we remember the story? He wanted to know how to have a full, abundant, eternal life, so he asked the “good teacher,” Jesus. And when Jesus had confirmed that he was already living according to God’s law, he added one last recommendation for a full life. He said, “Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and come, follow me.” And the Rich Young Ruler said, no thanks, and walked away.
Now, as a quick tangent, Jesus ISN’T saying that wealth is bad, or stuff is bad, but there might be times when Jesus actually offers us an invitation to follow him in a big way that involves a sizable change in our life. And if we’re holding onto our stuff so tightly that we can’t imagine a different way of life being BETTER, then we probably won’t give Jesus our “yes.”
Because THAT’S what it’s really about, right? The REAL reason that stops us from saying yes to Jesus’ invitation is more than holding onto control or holding onto stuff. It’s because we don’t TRUST him. We don’t trust that Jesus’ way is actually better. Isn’t that it?
And when we actually drill down on that, do we start to see how crazy that is? Because, if you’ve been following Jesus for ANY amount of time, that means you believe that there is something in him that is worth your time. You believe he’s the Savior. You believe he’s covered over your sins. You believe he’s God! That he created everything. That he’s going to come back one day and bring you with him into eternal life!
And yet, when he’s inviting us to follow him in his way of life right now, whether that looks like offering a smile to a stranger, or letting a family member live with you after some questionable life choices, or changing jobs so that you can have more time with your family, or walking across the yard to get to know your neighbors and be a light in their life…
We might hesitate, because we’re not sure that’s a better way of life.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Jesus’ way of life will make your life better. Jesus isn’t guaranteeing our comfort or preferences. Jesus is inviting us to join his lifestyle and his mission in the world… and THAT’S a better way of life than one where we pursue our own desires and sit on the sidelines and read our Bible sometimes but don’t DO what it says and share friendly smiles with friendly people in our friendly church and then go back to our private life Monday through Saturday without actually getting involved in the lives of the people around us in a way that helps us follow Jesus better.
But it’s really hard to say yes to Jesus if we don’t actually TRUST that he’s offering a better way of life. Just like we talked about last week, if there is something in our life that seems too important to let go of, too sacred to sacrifice, that MIGHT be something we’re allowing to be prioritized above our trust in Jesus. THAT might actually be the thing we’re putting our trust in to give us the life we think we want.
Peter thought he wanted the life he had. He had a good life, a good business, a home, close friends that he partnered with in his job. It was stable. Familiar. Comfortable. And yet, Jesus offered him something different. Something that lit a fire in Peter’s heart. Instead of catching fish destined for death to be sold in a market, Jesus wanted to transform Peter into someone who caught people ALIVE and then freed them into the full, abundant, eternal life found only by following Jesus as king.
And so Peter realized that he didn’t want to hold on to control anymore. He didn’t need to hold on to his stuff anymore. He relented, he repented, and he realized he could trust Jesus.
So how do WE learn to do that? How do we learn how to trust Jesus?
Well, first, we REMEMBER. One of the easiest ways to trust that Jesus will be with you is to look back at all the ways he already has been with you. Or look back at the ways he has shown his faithfulness to his people. Whole sections of the Old Testament are dedicated to this, remembering how God has provided, protected, and guided his people as a way of helping them REMEMBER so that they can learn to trust God’s future actions.
And whenever you remember what God has done, for you personally, or for others, it’s incredible because the natural response is to be blown away by the character of God and that leads you to praise!
Remembering leads to REJOICING. Thanking God for what he has done. Thanking him for choosing you before time began and sending his son to save you and claim you as his own. Thanking him for protecting your family members. Thanking him for sending the people into your life that introduced you to Jesus. Thanking him for inspiring the Bible so that we can have a lasting testament to his faithfulness and love.
And once remembering has led you to rejoicing, it enables you to have the firm foundation to then REDIRECT your path. This is where trust is strengthened and then enabled to be expanded, by setting out on a new adventure, a new direction.
Remember. Rejoice. Redirect. That’s a simple way to learn how to deepen our trust in Jesus. So that as we hear his invitation to follow him, each day, each hour, we slowly learn how to give him our “yes” and take that next step in faith, TRUSTING that his way is better.
So ask yourself this question today, tomorrow, this week: What new adventure is Jesus inviting you on? What new direction is he inviting you to take? It might be big, or it might seem really small. What is he inviting you to trust him with? What is he inviting you to try?
Maybe he’s inviting you to take a new attempt at an old failure? To reach out to your kids again. To engage that neighbor again. To invest in community again.
The good news is that Jesus is the true source of power and strength. Just know that HE accomplishes what he sets out to do. Not us. It’s not relying on our power.
Jesus is the one who invites. He initiates. He chooses us to partner with him. Even sinners. Even nobodies. Even unskilled people.
He’s actually already reaching out to you, right now! He’s inviting us, and our only responsibility is to RESPOND. He’s asking for your “yes,” and we get to give him our “yes.” And then take that next step in following him.
Following Jesus is a JOURNEY. And he’s PATIENT. And he’s not done with you. He’s the God of restoration and renewal. He’s the God of the weak becoming strong. He’s the God of death to life. He’s the God making all things new, and we’re invited to join in and take part. Isn’t that good news?