Jesus Saves Us that We May Follow Him
Let us pray: O Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, You have given us Your holy Word and have bountifully provided for all our earthly needs: We confess that we are unworthy of all these mercies, and that we have rather deserved punishment. But we beseech You, forgive us our sins, and prosper and bless us in our various callings, that by Your strength we may be sustained and defended, now and forever, and so praise and glorify You eternally; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret,
2 and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets.
3 Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.
4 When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
5 But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”
6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.
7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, 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 and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken;
10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”
11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.
These are Your words, heavenly Father, sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed,
Back in high school, I participated in a competition for a fundraiser. It was the captains of the sports teams and other leaders among the students verses the local fire and police departments. And we played donkey basketball. We played basketball as we rode donkeys. And I learned firsthand how stubborn those things are. I have the ball, he’s running down the court for an easy shot, and then he stops all of a sudden. I want him to move he doesn’t move. I want him to go left. He wants to go right.
The donkey is what you would call stiff-necked. His neck doesn’t move the way I desire him to move. It is stiff. He directs his head the way he wants to direct it.
Such was also the term God used for the Israelites. They formed the golden calf. They grumbled against God and His leading in the wilderness. And God judged them a stiff-necked people. They did not wish to believe the Lord or follow the way He led them. They definitely didn’t act as Peter and the others who dropped their nets and followed the Lord. They wanted to be their own lord.
“Stiff-necked”: this has described mankind since the fall. Adam and Eve, previous to the fall, had the image of God. They had original righteousness. Their mind and will was completely in line with God’s. Their will was to do God’s will, and they freely obeyed Him and joyfully followed Him. He was their gracious Lord, and they were His blessed people.
But then they fell. Eve wasn’t content to be subject to her gracious Creator, to be as He creator. She was tempted and desired to “be like God.” Adam and Eve sought to go their own way. Before they were created in the image (צֶלֶם) of God, but now original righteousness was gone. Chapter 5 of Genesis depicts the difference. “Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image (צֶלֶם) and named him Seth.” Like C.S. Lewis depicted the children of Narnia, they were called “Daughters of Eve” and “Sons of Adam.” We are children of Adam and Eve, born in their fallen image. Original sin is our condition, with no knowledge of our Lord, no desire to follow him. It is our condition to go our own way, to be stiff-necked, to be our own lords.
And the message is all around us isn’t it. We hear it all the time, and perhaps we have spread the stiff-necked message ourselves. “You have to love yourself first.” “You do you.” “Follow your heart.” And so on. Postmodernism takes away God and His divine universal truth, and puts man at center: “You determine your own truth.”
Katie and I were at the Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education this week, and it was talked about how secular education is designed through and through with the presupposition that children have no Creator, that there is no such thing as the image of God or a righteousness to be restored, and that they have no lord, but themselves or society.
Inwardly directed worship seeps through all the pores of society.
And, we look around the world today, and we see the sad condition that the last verse of the book of Judges describes, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” And this isn’t just the case of the outwardly immoral and sexually perverse, but many people who quietly live their lives day by day. And are we guilty?
In Exodus, when the Israelites, by their stiff necks, kindled God’s just wrath, God threatened to abandon them consume them all. But they had a mediator: Moses. Moses said to God, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance” (Ex 34:9). We, too, have a Mediator: the greater Moses, Jesus Christ. He is true God, as He shows by the large catch of fish. He has power over creation. He is the exact imprint of God; He is God made flesh, the Lord’s anointed. He follows the will of the Father, saying “Thy will be done.” He comes before the Father on behalf of all humanity, and He takes all the world’s guilt upon Himself, He takes your guilt, all those sins that come from our stiff necks, and He gives His life for them, taking the Father’s wrath for them all. And thus by His sacrifice, you are forgiven. You are free!
But Jesus not only saves us from our sins, but He also delivers us from our sinful stiff necks. Jesus restores to us the image of God. Through faith in Christ, you have it perfectly. You are justified by faith. For Christ’s sake, you are declared righteous by God, perfect and holy. You have His righteous image. But also in your Christian life, your necks are being renewed and loosened that you follow Jesus as your Lord, that you obey His will and conform your will to His. Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthians (5:17), “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new,” and also to the Ephesians, “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” This is the newness life you have been given through your baptism, where you were joined not only to Christ’s death, but also to His resurrection.
And thus in this new life, God, the Holy Spirit, leads us to delight in the law of God, to live according to the 10 Commandments and to serve our neighbor in love and mercy, and to glorify God in all that we do. We read the Table of Duties of Luther’s Small Catechism, and we gladly fulfill our vocations, our callings that God has given us. We put down our nets like Peter, and we follow Him, for He is our Lord.
Sometimes He leads us through suffering. Peter, as a fisher of men, a missionary, was executed by the Roman emperor Nero. According to tradition, he was sentenced to be crucified like Christ whom he preached. Peter, deeming himself unfit to die as his Lord did, asked to be crucified upside down instead, and so he was. Following our Lord means that we also follow Him into suffering. And so, as new creations in Christ, the Holy Spirit leads us to endure suffering with patience and faith in the grace and salvation of our Lord.
Yet being new creations, we do not follow perfectly, do we? Our necks still get stiff. We wish to go our own way. We do not always like the wisdom of God, and think that we know better. How easy it could have been for Peter to say, we have already been fishing all night, and we caught nothing. There is little use in casting out the nets. However, he trusted the wisdom of Jesus. But that is not always easy to do. We do not always like the humility, the selflessness, the patience, the long-suffering, the mercy, and the love that God calls us to live and show. The Old Adam asserts its way and its desires, and we disobey.
And so we daily repent, daily drown the old Adam, and daily live in the confidence of Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness given you in your baptism and restored to you through absolution and the Lord’s Supper. Remember that you are already perfect in Christ, forgiven all your sins and clothed in His perfect following of His Father.
And He does not throw you away as a failed project. He continues to send His Holy Spirit to keep working in you through His Word and Sacrament, to renew you, shape you, form you more and more in the image of God, that you may follow Christ as your Lord, and love His will and live as His blessed people. God grant this work for us and in us. Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.