Today’s sermon arises out of a deep personal conviction, one which has been growing within me for many years. I’ve struggled with how to say what I want to say. It finally took shape some weeks ago when I was talking to a construction worker. He was not a believer. In fact, he was quite hostile toward the church. He couldn’t fathom how Christians could build church buildings all around the world while children and youth starve. I tried to explain that for every dollar given to a church building countless other dollars have been given to programs for children and youth, dollars which would not have been given had there not been a building where Christians met. I discovered quickly, though, that I was speaking into the wind. His opinion was formed and he didn’t wish to hear what I had to say. That okay. He’s not the first person who didn’t want to hear what I have to say, and I’m sure he won’t be the last. But these words really troubled me. With a quiver in his voice he said, “I like your Jesus but I don’t like your churches. Maybe I would like your churches if they were more like Jesus.”
I don’t want to assume that a disgruntled construction worker is right just because he mustered the courage to speak his mind. That’s not fair to the church. But that confrontation has bothered me. It tapped into that deep conviction which had been growing within me, namely that Jesus Christ and His teachings appear increasingly irrelevant to our culture, and as a result people, including people in the church, no longer take Jesus and His teachings seriously.
Be honest with yourself. Has Jesus been reduced to a relic of our past which we respect too much to discard? Has He become a museum piece which no longer has a profound impact upon who we are but which still has historical value? Has the most challenging figure in human history become like the elderly grandmother who goes to live with her children? Since she is their grandmother, they provide her with a comfortable room in the attic. They feed her and provide for her basic care. She is invited to take her meals with the family but she rarely does. She is made to feel like she is a bother; and she is, though no one would ever admit it. She is an intruder in their home, but she is grandmother. If the secrets of their hearts were exposed, they all would wish that she would move to another place, but no one would dare say that. Do they love her? Of course, they do. They gave her a room in the attic, didn’t they? Do they admire her? Yes, she is grandmother. Do they respect her? Of course they do. But do they take her real needs and feelings seriously? She would say no.
And neither do we take Jesus seriously any more. We admire Jesus. We respect Jesus. We even love Him. But we do not take Jesus and His teachings seriously. That is why there is so little difference between people in the world and people in the church. That is why the moral values of our youth only reflect the moral values of other youth. That is why the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study sound archaic to our ears. Therefore, today I’ll not ask if you love Jesus. I know the answer to that question. We all love Jesus, don’t we? I’m not going to ask you if you admire or respect Jesus. I know that answer, too. Instead, I want to ask if you take Him seriously. And if so, what is the evidence of that in your life?
I want you to walk through time with me, back to a time and culture much different from ours, to a place beside the Sea of Galilee. And there I want us to meet the man we claim is the center of Christianity. Let’s simply observe a fisherman’s response when he meets Jesus and then compare that to our own response. The fisherman’s name is Simon Peter. He met Jesus and fell at Jesus’ feet crying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” I want you to think about those words. While the church is saying all kinds of sweet, beautiful words about Jesus, Peter is begging him, “Leave me alone. Go away, for I know who I am.” Peter’s response was much like that of Moses at the burning bush. Moses hid his face and was afraid to look at God.
Doesn’t this seem to be a strange response to make to Jesus? To become acquainted with the One who radiated unconditional love and then cry, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (NRSV)
“What kind of response is that?” we ask. Why He is the “Fairest Lord Jesus,” “the Lily of the Valley,” the “Child in a Manger.” What kind of response is that from Simon Peter? I want you to consider that maybe it is the proper response from anyone who has taken Jesus seriously.
Jesus was teaching beside the Sea of Galilee, here called “the lake of Gennesaret.” He gets into Simon Peter’s boat and asks Peter to put out into shallow water. Then Jesus sits in the boat and teaches the people who are gathered on the shore.
I’ve tried to determine from the text how well Peter knew Jesus at this point. According to Luke’s narrative, this event is taking place before Jesus chose the twelve apostles. So the question I struggled with this week is this: how well did Peter know Jesus when Jesus asked to teach from Peter’s boat? Luke has already said that the people were “astonished at [Jesus’] teaching” (Luke 4:32). He has said that “reports of Him went out into every place in the surrounding region” (Luke 4:37). By this time, Jesus had become a well known figure. Jesus had been to Peter’s house and while there had healed Peter’s mother-in-law. I heard someone say once that is why Peter forsook Jesus. Jesus healed his mother-in-law! I don’t think that’s biblical, though!
It seems from the text that Peter had a superficial knowledge of Jesus. He no doubt had “heard” of Jesus, had perhaps listened to some of his teaching. Luke does not say that Peter was at home the day Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Maybe Jesus was going to see just her and not Peter. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that Peter knew who Jesus was. He was grateful for what Jesus had done for his mother-in-law. And because of that, because Peter had a superficial knowledge of Jesus, Peter allowed Jesus to use his boat to teach the people.
I know Michael Jordan — about as well as Peter knew Jesus. I know that Michael Jordan played base- ball for the Birmingham Barons. I know he now plays basketball for the Chicago Bulls. I know he lived just down the road from us in Greystone. I’ve never seen him play baseball or basketball, except on television. I have what you could call a superficial knowledge of Michael Jordan, and because of that I suspect he is a pretty good guy. In fact, if I were driving my car and found him stranded on the road, I would stop to help him. And if he needed to borrow my car, I would probably let him.
That’s the way Peter knew Jesus, and that is why Peter let Jesus borrow his boat.
When Jesus finished teaching from Peter’s boat, He suggested that Peter go out into deeper water and put out his fishing net. Now, if Michael Jordan wanted to borrow my car for a whole week, I don’t know if I would let him. You see, Jesus was imposing now. Do you remember what Peter was doing when Jesus arrived? He and the others were washing their nets. They had fished all night, caught nothing, cleaned up their nets, and put that wasted night behind them. Now this teacher who healed his mother-in-law suggests that they try one more time. Peter is more generous than I am and agreed to do what Jesus suggested. When he did, they caught such a large number of fish that nets began to break. They filled two boats with so many fish that the boats begin to sink.
And that’s when it happened. Luke says that then Peter saw “it”, and he fell on his knees before Jesus. What is “it”? What did Peter see that caused such a response? Was it the catch, all the fish, two boats so over-loaded with fish that they were sinking? No, Peter didn’t respond the way he did because Jesus was a great fisherman. It wasn’t Jesus’ fishing skill that impressed Peter. It was the miracle of the catch. You see, the miracle told Peter who Jesus really was. Peter believed at that moment that Jesus was more than a teacher who deserved respect and admiration. He believed God was at work in Jesus. Fishing skill was not the issue which drove Peter to his knees. Peter’s life became the issue. For the first time in his life Peter took Jesus seriously, and fell on his knees and declared, “Go away from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man.”
Yet Jesus did not go away. As Fred Craddock words it, “The same power that prompted Simon to fall at Jesus’ knees now lifts him into God’s service” (Interpretation, “Luke,” p. 70). Peter’s life was changed. The fisher of fish became a fisher of men and women. Luke says that Peter left his old life behind and followed Jesus, all because one day beside the Sea of Galilee he took Jesus seriously.
How many people do you know who really take Jesus and His teachings seriously? I know many people who know Jesus the way I know Michael Jordan. They have a superficial knowledge of him. But I don’t know many people who really take Jesus seriously, people whose decisions in life are informed by their faith. Do they admire Jesus? Sure, we all do. Do they respect Him? Sure. Do they love Jesus? Yes, they even love Jesus. But those are not the questions I’m asking today. I’m asking, “How many take Him seriously?”
Helmut Thielicke was a German pastor during World War II and a popular serious writer for that generation. He wrote an article once entitled What Does It Mean To Take God Seriously? These words sound as an indictment to our casually religious generation. Thielicke said, “Only those who take God seriously discover him at all.” (Being a Christian When the Chips Are Down, p. 57) I think he is right. We may know Him the way Peter knew Him before that day at the Sea of Galilee. We may have a superficial knowledge of Him. But that is not to know Him. Peter didn’t really know Jesus until he fell on his knees and begged, “Leave me alone! For knowing who you are makes me know who I am.”
This text challenges us to return to the biblical Jesus, to the olive skinned Jew who walked the arid Palestinian roads, to the controversial preacher/teacher who upset the religious system of His day. It is a challenge to rediscover Him and believe in Him and follow after the pattern He established long ago. It is a challenge not to go through life superficially committed, nominally involved. What a waste! What a waste of your life! This text challenges us to take Jesus seriously.
In Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory, a fugitive priest, a semi-alcoholic, father of an illegitimate child, awaits execution in a Mexican prison. In the absence of a confessor he tries to confess his sin to himself — he is a priest — and pronounce his own forgiveness. But it is a dismal failure, and this is how Greene describes the scene:
Tears rolled down his face: he was not at the moment afraid of damnation — even fear of pain was in the back- ground. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all…. He felt like someone who had missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place.
He had to go to God empty-handed. That is the greatest fear of all, isn’t it? That at the end of our days we would have to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. I wonder if that is what the construction worker was trying to tell me? It could have happened to Peter, but it didn’t. It could happen to you, but it doesn’t have to. Take Jesus seriously! He did you.

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