In Luke 5, we see Jesus gathering his disciples. He has already been doing impressive ministry before this point in the Gospel, but this is where we start to see the familiar faces being gathered into his inner circle. When we look at two brief incidents, we can find real encouragement for today. This is especially true if you don’t feel particularly impressive as a follower of Jesus. (And if you do feel impressive, it would probably be good to pray about that!)
In the first verses of the chapter, we see Jesus call Simon Peter to follow him. Jesus was teaching a crowd and ended up using Simon’s boat as a platform for his message. Then he asked Simon to head back out to sea and to cast his nets again. Simon and his friends had just worked all night and caught nothing. That was not normal (if it were, they would have found alternative employment). Now Jesus wanted the nets in the water in the middle of the day. Again, this was not a typical request, because everyone knew that fish go deeper when the sun is shining. However, they did as Jesus asked, and soon their nets were so full they began to break – unusual. Even their purpose-built fishing boats started to sink – very strange.
We all experience days interrupted by unusual or abnormal events. It is not normal to have a flat tire on your car, but it does happen. It is not normal to experience unusual weather, but we have a category for it. However, this was different for Simon Peter. This was not the typical kind of unusual event. This was the kind of combination of strange things that suddenly sent a chill down his spine and caused the hairs to stand up on his neck.
Something bigger was happening, and Simon Peter sensed it. This is what happens when you suddenly recognize that God is not just out there somewhere, aware of everything. This is what happens when you realize that God is right here and he is looking specifically at you.
Simon Peter suddenly felt completely undone by Jesus’ presence, the weight of his sin overwhelming him. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
Jesus knew that he was calling a sinner to be his disciple. Jesus called that sinner to a greater work. From now on, he would catch people instead of fish. Simon Peter and his colleagues left their old life behind and followed Jesus to a new life. Two thousand years later, we are still naming churches and places after them: from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome to St Andrew’s Church in Chippenham, from St James’ football stadium in Newcastle to St John’s in Newfoundland. How many little boys have been named Peter, Andrew, James and John in the years since? What an impressive legacy, especially when we remember that they were just sinful fishermen.
Jesus knows that the people he calls are great sinners. And he still calls us to a greater work.
But then there is another incident later in the chapter. Have a look at Luke 5:27-28:
27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.
There is no miracle story to set up this call, just a simple instruction. And Levi left it all and followed Jesus. But Luke tells us a little bit more – see verses 29-32:
29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Notice how Pharisees and scribes are in the scene, adding tension to the meal? Their complaint was simple: Jesus’ disciples should not eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners. This little group was not living up to their sinless standards. Take note of Jesus’ response. Jesus knew full well that he was dealing with sinners and that they needed healing. These were works in progress.
To put it simply, in the first story, we see Jesus calling sinners to a greater work. In the second story, we see that Jesus knows those he calls need his great work.
What an encouragement for us! Before we are anything else in the church world, we are disciples of Jesus. Whatever ministry we may be involved in, whatever position we may hold, we are disciples of Jesus. And he knows that we are sinful and broken people. He knows that when he calls us. He has a far greater work for us to do. And he knows that he will need to do great work in us.