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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 inclosed 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.
This beautiful story that is found here in the gospel of Luke shows us a chapter in the life, not only the ministry of Jesus, but in the process of the disciples growing in grace and in understanding of the will of God. Before this time, they had already been called. Jesus had contacted them. If you read the parallels in the other gospels, you see, that He had already given them the call to come after Him. But it would appear that this was a particular day in their lives when they were back home, so to speak, and back at the old job of making a living and fishing and doing their very best. And it shows us that there is a kind of process that goes on in all of us; a process of discipleship where the Lord leads us step by step. And certain kinds of experiences come to us. He brings them to us so that we move just step by step until we can fully, absolutely, completely turn loose of everything as they did and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
The one thing that I want to urge upon your thinking is this, that is the very heart of this message tonight, and that is we must all come to that place where we obey Christ regardless of what He says and what He tells us to do, regardless of how it sounds, or regardless of how we feel. Whether we really want to or not, we must come to that place where we obey Him and even if we have to fuss a little bit, still say ‘Nevertheless at thy word.’ Because when you recognize Him as Lord and Master, then it becomes no trouble to say nevertheless, Lord, at thy will.
So I want us to look at the special lessons that we learn about growing and maturing in our service and in our ministry and in our work for the Lord Jesus Christ that we can see that’s bound up in this particular passage tonight. In the first place, I want you to understand that the Lord has special plans for our lives. I think when we were very young we might not have understood that. When you can look back and see the hand of God leading step by step, then you understand very clearly what that means for Him to have plans and purposes for your life and to carry them out and work them out. But here, He is shown to have special plans for these men and He is choosing them right where they are. This is one of the fascinating and amazing things about Jesus and whom he uses. Because He comes to people right where they are in their lives, right where they’re making a living, right where they’re living, right where they’re working. And He looks upon them, not necessarily just for what they are, but for what they can become and He has a plan and a purpose for them that if we respond to His divine leading, He works out for His own glory and also for our good and for the sake of the work of God. His plans for these men was to be a ministry that would spread. The influence of their ministry would spread around the world. Whoever thought that day, which one of them, James or John, or Peter, bent over after a hard night of fishing and taking nothing, and now they are washing and cleaning up their nets and they are doing just plain, down-to-earth kind of work…who would have thought that centuries – centuries – after they had lived somebody in a foreign country from there would be standing, telling their story and including them in the gospel message of Jesus Christ? The far-reaching influence of their lives and their ministry lives on and on and on and will until the Lord Jesus comes.
Humble fishermen who are busy at their work and the Lord comes to them with special plans and as He looks at them, the people have pressed around to hear the Word of God. So He borrows a boat to make a pulpit out of it. And He tells Simon that I want you to push back from the bank a little bit here so that I can see the people and speak to them. I want to teach them. And He sat down in the boat and He taught them. Now, I think that would be such a beautiful and wonderful picture if we could just see it and experience it, because His voice would carry and the people would be able to hear Him talk as He sat just a little distance back from the edge of the bank. And He borrows even then Simon’s boat. He is getting him involved in ministry before he even realizes that he is involved in the ministry of Jesus.
You know, you kind of have to watch preachers. I’ve done it myself, getting somebody involved in doing something even if it was going fishing, that would later get them tangled up in ministry so that they would begin to understand that they are involved in the work of God without even asking them, without even letting them know. It suddenly dawned on them later that they were involved with what God was doing in the world. And it has a tremendous impact upon people when they suddenly wake up to the fact that ‘here I am, unworthy, but the Lord has already made a request of me and He is actually using me and my simple talents and what I am and what I’ve got.’ And that’s the way Jesus goes about it. He knows how to lead people gently into the way of responding to His call and being used for His glory and honor.
Aside from seeing them and having in His mind a purpose for their lives, Jesus then issued a great challenge. I am always overwhelmed by the challenges that the Lord brings to us because He performs a kind of active parable to teach us by example and by actual experience as in this case. He told Simon now I want you to launch out into the deep water and let your nets down for a great catch of fishes. Well, you know, if you’re talking to a fisherman who has fished all night and he has taken nothing, well he is not so very enthusiastic and maybe he has just now got his nets washed and cleaned and ready for the next night’s fishing or whenever he goes again. And he is just now ready for rest. He would like to go home and perhaps get a good meal and then sleep awhile and rest. But in his weariness and in his tiredness, he is challenged! You know, things never are exactly right when the Lord comes to you with a challenge. You never quite feel just like it. You never quite feel like it’s the right time. You never really feel too enthusiastic sometimes when the Lord tells you to do a certain thing. He tells you to go see somebody or pray for somebody and maybe it’s just the wrong time. You don’t quite feel like it. You need rest. You are tired and weary, but somehow it is in those times of extreme need that the Lord is able to work through us and we see miracles take place.
That’s the next point in this story. We must obey the directions of God! He comes and He challenges us and we may be negative about it and fuss about it. But when all is said and done, we must obey Him. We must be sensitive to what He says and we must be sensitive to His direction. I’ve seen times that in spite of the fact that I had a bad attitude, in spite of the fact that I was having a bad day, in spite of the fact that I was tired and weary and didn’t want to be bothered, nevertheless the Lord chose that time to cause me to be able to minister to somebody in a very special way, a noteworthy way that I would remember for the rest of my life.
Well it’s a wonderful thing when it happens that way because we can’t claim any credit then. We can’t claim any strength. We have to give Him all the glory and we’re just amazed that He just works through us for His glory and honor. Hallelujah! Because when He challenges us, when He comes to challenge us, it means that He is ready to perform His part of the responsibility of power and provision to be able to see us through that particular challenge that He gives to us.
For example, He walks up to a pool and there is a sick man who has been there for 38 years and He challenges him. And he says ‘How would you like to have a whole life?’ And the man said well that sounds great, but I’ve got these excuses…I’ve got no man that will put me in this water and I guess I’m too slow because while I’m coming somebody else beats me. And this man, for 38 years, just settled down and decided it’s alright. And now the Lord comes and challenges him and it’s an impossible kind of challenge almost that He gives him. And then when he offers excuses, which is so human and so much like us to offer up these excuses, Jesus busted aside and commanded and said ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ Sometimes the Lord just has to override our indifference, our laziness, or our tiredness or our feelings. Sometimes He just runs right over that and gives a specific command. And when He does and we obey, miracles happen. That’s what I want to tell you tonight. When we obey the directions of Christ, miracles really take place!
He said I’m too tired. I don’t want to go into this again. I’m worn out. I’ve toiled all night and we have been out here all night toiling without taking. You know, sometimes you just get worn out and burn out just trying to do God’s work and do good and you go on and on toiling without taking. And the Lord then asks you something else. I remember reading in Paul Yonghi Cho’s book, he only had about 100 members at the time and he was running and working and he had worked himself with such stress and burnout that he had developed bleeding ulcers and he was actually dying. He went to praying and he said ‘Now what’s the matter? What’s going on here, God? I’m working for you as hard as I can and yet I’m sick and I’m just not doing any good at all. And what’s going on here?’ And the Lord gave him a little Bible quiz! It always helps to come back to the Bible, you know, when you’re up against most anything. He said you know when the children were out there in the wilderness, how many quail do you suppose that they would have caught if they had sent out their hunters to round up quail and hunt them and bring them in ? And he said, well Lord, not very many if any, out in that desert. And the Lord said ‘Well, how did they get their quail?’ And he said, ‘Well, Lord you know that it was a great wind of your spirit that just went out and corralled them up from no telling where and had them come flying in there til they covered the ground.’ And when you look at it from what the Bible says, they were just piled up on top of each other, you couldn’t hardly walk without stepping on quail. And he said ‘Well look, why don’t you stop chasing souls and start cooperating with the Holy Spirit?’ So simple, and yet so real. Chasing around, wearing ourselves out. We need to come to that place we can say nevertheless at thy word and start cooperating with the Word of God and with the power of the Holy Spirit. I wish we could stop trying to do so much in our own strength and in our own power and in our own abilities and come back to the place where we throw ourselves on the mercy on God and rely upon the power of the Word and the power of the Holy Ghost and let God be magnified and glorified and do what He wants to do in our lives. Amen!
Nevertheless at thy word!
And he let them down and the miracle took place. Simple obedience to the direction of Christ will bring miracles.
I remember one day I left the parsonage to go to the hospital, my wife called after me and said Ed Markham is in St. Anthony’s and I said ‘Okay’ and I didn’t intend to go see him. I sort of shrugged it off because I had tried to talk to Ed Markham. I had been to his home. I had tried to visit with him. He was not a Christian. He was not a member of the church, but he had been a great help to the former pastor and the former pastor had left with some disagreement and Ed was hurt and he was just sort of shut off from the church. He just didn’t want to accept me. So I’m about to give up on Ed. I was tired and weary of fooling with him. I had other people to tend to I thought. So I got in my old blue Plymouth car and started around I-264, sort of a beltway around Louisville, and turned north on I-65 by the fairgrounds and the Holy Spirit nudged me ever so gently and said ‘Go see Ed.’ Now it wasn’t a big voice, just that little gentle voice. You know, you could miss it just that easy. Well I went right on up, turned on East Broadway, went to St. Anthony’s Hospital and walked in and he nearly fell out of the bed. He wasn’t expecting to see me. But I noticed on the nightstand there was his Bible. I thought ‘Oh! What’s Ed doing with his Bible on the nightstand?’ We got to praying. We both got to crying and the Lord gloriously saved him. And he described it like this: he said I was so hurt and disappointed and upset, it was like I had a huge chunk of ice right in the middle of my chest. When the Lord touched me and saved me, it was like you put that block of ice out on a sidewalk on a hot July day and it just melted and run away. He said that’s what happened to me; it just all melted and flowed away. He was very sick in the hospital, but he got out in a few days and I was then on the Board of Directors of Lee College and I was coming for a Board meeting and I said ‘Ed, ride with me down there.’ He said ‘Okay, I believe I will.’ So he just came with me down here and while I was in a Board meeting, he was in the motel and he began to pray, and God healed him! In the old Holiday Inn motel God healed him of that stomach problem. We stopped on the way home and ate stuff that nobody ought to eat and nothing bothered him! We ate a big meal. A miracle of salvation. A miracle of healing. And you know what? I have thanked God many, many times that in spite of my indifference, in spite of the fact that I was busy, despite all of that, somehow that still small voice got through to me and I obeyed and went out there. Oh, I know somebody else might have gone and he may have been saved some other way and he may have been healed some other way, but thank God that I had that little part in it by obeying the Lord. When Jesus gives you direction and you obey Him, miracles happen! Hallelujah! It’s not so much that you’ve got to have such giant faith all stacked up because the greatest expression of your faith is to obey Him when he tells you to do something. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Praise God Hallelujah!
I can just see Simon Peter reaches down and gives a tug on that net and before he could just kind of pull it up when it was empty. But now, uh oh, I must have hung a log or something. And he began to feel the net pull. He starts trying to pull it in. I tell you something about these fishermen. We had three preachers in Mississippi, the Lombard brothers, they were raised on the Gulf Coast. They were fishermen. Their father was a fisherman by trade. And it would be so embarrassing to go to youth camp and hear these fellows, some of them older than I was, if we went out swimming every one of them looked like Mr. America! They had big arms and big chests. I asked one of them one day why they had big arms and big shoulders and little waists and he said it was from pulling those nets. You get down on your knees in the bow of that boat and you pull those nets in and it builds you up.
I can just see strong men, Simon Peter pulling the net and the fish start coming over in that net into the boat and fills it up. They have to call out ‘Hey, partners – Peter and John are partners with him in the fishing business – bring a boat! Bring a boat over here quick! And they get over there and they start pulling that net over in that boat, too. And first thing you know it’s so full both of them are dipping water and they just have to quit. It’s been a long time now since I fished and caught so many I just had to quit. I’ve done that a few times, just take my fly rod and catch so many blue gill that I just had to quit. I didn’t want to dress any more than this, I’ve got about 40 or 45, and I just stop and go home. But that’s been a long time ago. I’m way behind with that. I wish to God someway the Lord would help me catch up some this year! Here they are. They’ve got the biggest catch they’ve ever had before and they are absolutely astonished. Listen to me. I want to tell you the greatest amazement, the greatest astonishment, the greatest experience and glory you’ll ever receive is when God surprised you and does something to you that you are not expecting and it is far beyond your expectation. Oh praise God forevermore! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
They were amazed. Simon Peter right there knee-deep bowed down on his knees and I guess he’s hip deep in fish bowed down at the knees of Jesus and he said ‘Lord, you need to depart from me. I’m a sinful man. I’m not worthy even to be here.’ Oh, hallelujah. You know, it seems to me the thing that just absolutely strips all the pride out of you is when you’re in the presence of God and He has done something wonderful and miraculous and you know you’re not worthy. And yet He has worked through you nevertheless. You see, He does it not on the basis of our worthiness. It’s on the basis of our obedience. And Jesus said to him ‘Fear not…Fear not…Fear not…’ I think that expression, that command is used perhaps more than any other in the Bible. Somebody said that it is used 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year. Fear not. He said because from this day forward, just like you pulled in this greatest catch of fish of all time, I’m going to have you to throw out the gospel net and pull in and catch men. Some of us just have a one small rod and reel type of ministry, I guess. But then, the Lord uses some like He did Simon Peter and they cast out the net and they pull in the crowd all at one time. That is a marvelous thing. He says Fear not, from this day on you shall catch men. It’s a marvelous thing to catch men because when you catch fish, you bring them from life to death. But when you catch men, you bring them from death to life. What a work! What a glorious ministry!
The final result was when they got to land Simon Peter, James and John were already thinking about more than the biggest catch they ever had. They were already thinking more than about men, how much money they may make this week, but the Bible says they forsook all and followed Him. Oh, hallelujah! When the day comes in your life that you forsake all, your heart totally moves to Jesus, and your whole heart and soul is loving Him and following Him and doing His will, that is the most victorious and blessed moment a person ever reaches in this world.
I urge you to think about the challenges that Jesus brings to your life. You may be tired and weary and feel like you’re worn out and just don’t have much energy. You’ve toiled a long time in labor. Maybe you’ve been working at some particular thing and have not been successful. Let me urge you to say in your heart ‘Nevertheless at thy word, Master.’ Nevertheless, regardless of all that, I accept Your Word, I accept Your directions, I accept Your instructions and I’m going to obey them. If there is somebody here tonight that is at that very place in your life and you are hearing the voice of the Lord, but you have not completely obeyed Him, this would be an excellent time for you to say in your heart before you leave this house ‘Nevertheless at thy word, Lord.’ Walk on the Word and forsake all your intentions, ambitions, desires, whatever and follow Him. That’s where the provision, miraculous provision, will be made in your life.
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