I heard a great sermon last week on Luke 5:1-14 on the inhibiting effect of being sin-conscious. As I meditated on the passage, I found even more exciting nuggets in the details highlighted by Luke that should delight the followers of Jesus. At this point in Jesus’s ministry, Peter hadn’t started following Him yet, but Andrew, Peter’s brother, had already introduced him to Jesus [John 1:40-42]. It seems Peter was more concerned about his business than following Jesus. The TV series, The Chosen (Season 1 Ep. 4), portrayed this scene beautifully. Peter is under financial pressure and even contemplating fishing on the Sabbath, a no-no for a Jew. Luke doesn’t say anything about his situation, but something drove Peter to fish all night.
Luke 5 opens with a crowd pressing in to hear Jesus preach by the shores of lake Galilee. So, He steps off the beach into one of the nearby boats belonging to Peter, who was busy washing his nets with his fishing partners. Jesus then asks Peter to move the boat slightly further from the shore. Imagine Peter’s mood at this point. He’s fished all night and caught nothing. He’s physically exhausted, and his mental load (all his worries) is exacerbated further by a frustrating night. Then, here comes this Preacher. Jesus stepping into Peter’s boat would’ve been an inconvenience. He couldn’t leave until Jesus finished preaching. Conversely, Jesus is seemingly uninterested in Peter’s plight, which would’ve added to his frustration. He didn’t ask Peter if He could use his boat or how he was doing.
Some of us know what it’s like when God is seemingly concerned with everything else but your plight, especially when you’re at your wit’s end. But, this story reminds us God cares; your situation hasn’t escaped His notice [Matthew 6:25-32]. Luke doesn’t say how long Jesus preached (it could’ve been over an hour). But after Jesus finished with His sermon, He turned to Peter and instructed him to let down his net for a catch. They weren’t that far from the shore (not the best place to fish), and Peter had already been through a frustrating night. But he still had some faith left in him. So, he said to Jesus: “What you’re saying doesn’t make sense logically, but I’ll do it because You’ve asked me to” [Luke 5:5].
Peter’s faith-based response ushered in his miracle, but it was instructive. Don’t let your situation drain your faith completely because when Jesus turns His attention to your problem, you’ll need some of that faith to act on His word, which may not make sense when it comes. Imagine if Peter allowed his exhaustion and frustration rather than faith to dictate his actions. The fish would’ve remained in the lake, and he’d have gone home empty-handed, probably cursing Jesus. Instead, with a little faith, Peter ended that fateful day with a testimony. He’d later write, probably reflecting on this and other miracles he witnessed: “Humble yourself before [Jesus]…and cast your burdens onto Him because He cares about you” [1 Peter 5:6-7]. That compassion bails him out of a tight spot, and it hasn’t run out yet [Lamentations 3:22-23].
What Peter did next demonstrated his awareness of his sins. It was probably an act of shame. He fell on his knees and asked Jesus to depart from him because he was a sinner. At first glance, this seems pious, but as we heard in church on New Year’s day, sin-consciousness can make us push God away, even when we experience His miraculous hand. Jesus knew Peter’s sins, yet still used his boat and met his needs. Paul reminds us that we wouldn’t even know to repent without the goodness of God [Romans 2:4]. If we fail to realise that, we can miss out on all God has for us. Just imagine if Peter’s story ended on that beach because he pushed Jesus away. Mercifully, God’s grace always outweighs our sins, and Jesus demonstrated that grace with His response to Peter. In essence, He told Peter: “Don’t be afraid; your failings don’t disqualify you. In fact, I’ll use you to reach others!”.
Interestingly, the next story in the passage showcases another desperate man, a leper in need of a miracle. He fell on his knees too – but as an act of faith. Rather than push Jesus away, he begs to be healed – to be shown compassion by God. Of course, Jesus obliges, touches the man and cures his leprosy. It’s a beautiful scene too. Lepers were outcasts in that society and experienced little or no human contact from those who weren’t leprous [Leviticus 5:3]. Yet, Jesus moved beyond social and religious taboos and touched the leper. The healing demonstrated God’s power, but the touch revealed His compassion. It’s because we know that the feeling of our infirmities moves Jesus that go boldly to His throne so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need [Hebrews 4:14-16].
These two stories in Luke 5 demonstrate the truth of Psalm 103:8: “God is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy”. He meets our needs according to the riches of His grace [Philippians 4:19]. For a while, God may seem oblivious to your plight. But, as Peter could later attest, it’s good to wait patiently for the Lord [Lamentations 3:26]. You may think your sins disqualify you from being of use to God. But, the greater the mire God redeems you from, the weightier your testimony. Peter could say: “If God can use an illiterate, sinful, desperate fisherman, He can use anyone”. Irrespective of how deplorable you think you are, if you fall before Jesus like the leper, He will not cast you away [John 6:37]. I pray we all remember these truths as the year unfolds.