What's He to You?
What's He to you? Epiphany is when we look at how God manifests Himself to us, so it's fair to ask, "What's the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to you?" I think He's several things to you even as He was to Peter.
He was Master to Peter. Peter had worked hard all night. It was a bad day at work. He and his fishing company hadn't caught a thing. Though he had worked the night shift, when he got home he still had to tend to the nets so they would be ready for that night's work. Jesus is there teaching. Jesus had called him about a year before this to be a fisher of men. He went, but lately he had returned to his fishing business.
Peter is dead tired from fishing the whole night, so you can imagine how he felt when Jesus plopped down in his boat and asked him to put out a little from shore. Now Peter can't go on washing the nets, but that's okay; anything for the Master. But that's not all. Jesus pushes his patience even further saying, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." Never mind that fish are usually caught in early morning, late evening, or night, not mid-day. Never mind that you fish with nets in the middle depths not the deep. Never mind that Jesus is a carpenter not a commercial fisherman like Peter. Peter answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because You say so, I will let down the nets." Notice Peter didn't say he would let down the nets for a catch just that he would let down the nets at the word of his master. He didn't expect to catch a thing.
Jesus is Master to Peter; can you relate to that? Is the emphasis in your relationship with Jesus on listening and obeying? No matter how tired you are, no matter how little you feel like obeying, you do it. No matter how unreasonable the request is, no matter how much it goes against what you think, you do it. And what's wrong with that? Isn't obedience a cornerstone of the believer's life? Noah is commanded to build an ark; he does. Abraham is ordered to sacrifice his son; he does. Moses is directed to build the tabernacle; he does. Doesn't St. Paul refer to himself as a slave of Christ? Doesn't St. John call himself a bond-servant of Christ?
You got me there. Jesus is Master, and we are to obey Him. But if that is what He primarily is to you, then your relationship with Him will be one of obligation. Can't you hear the obligation in Peter's words, "Master at your word I'll let down the nets?" If Jesus is primarily Master to you, then His Sacraments are something you do in obedience to Him. They are His ordinances which you obey. You baptize your children because He says so. You come to church because you have to. You go to communion because He tells you to. Words like "have to," " ought," "must," and "should" are prominent in your relationship.
What's He to you? Like Peter, Jesus is Master to you, but like Peter, He's also Lord. After the nets caught a huge amount of fish Peter calls Jesus Lord. The nets that Peter thought he would haul in empty needing to be washed all over again for nothing were filled to the point of breaking. So many fish were in the nets that 2 boats meant to hold many fish almost sank. This floored Peter. He fell at Jesus' knees saying, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" Peter isn't saying He is Lord in the sense of a master, or as some translations have it "sir." Peter is saying He's Jehovah, Yahweh.
Peter has entered into the presence of the Lord even as Isaiah did in the OT Lesson, but a vision of 6-winged seraphs didn't do it. Peter doesn't do well with visions. In Acts he has to be shown a vision 3 times before he gets the point. But this incident with the fish speaks to where Peter lives. Peter knows about fishing, fish patterns, and record catches. Peter knows that only Jehovah Creator and Lord of fish and fishermen could do something like this. Jesus often speaks to Peter with fish. He teaches Peter about paying the temple tax by sending him fishing. After the resurrection, He will teach Peter about the ministry by means of another catch of fish.
Through the fishing miracle here Peter sees the glory of the Lord, and so he sees, like Isaiah did, his own sinfulness. This is the problem when Jesus is primarily Lord to you. Seeing the Lord is a wonderful but awe-filled sight. What comfort for sinners is there in seeing the holy, Lord? Seeing Him as the sovereign Lord of not only fish but of salvation and damnation is no comfort to sinners. "Jesus is Lord" is as Paul says in I Cor. 12, a Holy Spirit-inspired confession, but try finding rest for your soul there.
Don't believe me? Look at the lessons. There was no comfort for Isaiah or Peter in the Lord's holiness and majesty, and there's none for you. Jesus is Lord is a proper confession of faith. But you'll get yourself lost in a maze of blinding light, consuming fire, and innumerable questions if this is what He mainly is to you. His holiness isn't reconcilable with your guilt. His power is not fathomable by your brain. His ways are past your understanding. Isaiah and Peter got a glimpse of the Lord's power, holiness, and ways, and Isaiah says, "I'm ruined," and Peter says, "Go away".
Thankfully the story doesn't end here. Jesus isn't only Master and Lord to Peter. He's Jesus too. After Peter begs the Lord to go away from him the sinner. The text says, "Jesus said, "Don't be afraid." Jesus means "Jehovah saves." Jesus is none other than Jehovah who walked with Adam in Eden, shut Noah in the ark, dined with Abraham, and appeared to Moses on Sinai. And He is here to save: to bring lost Adam back to Eden; to wash the worlds sins away with His blood not drown the world with water; to give His Body and Blood for food and drink, and to keep the laws He gave from Sinai.
Jehovah wrapped in flesh and blood is a friend to sinners because He so wrapped Himself to bear their obligations, debts, and punishments. The Lord is approachable in the Man of Nazareth, the Virgin's Son, the Child in the Manger, the One hanging on the cross. This Man sitting in Peter's boat is the Lord who receives sinners and even eats with them. The Lord who knows where the fish in the sea are and can send them into Peter's net isn't sitting in Peter's boat to scare him but to cast his fears away.
Jesus is whom Peter followed. Luke wants you to take note of that. The text doesn't actually begin, "One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret." No it just says He was standing by the Lake. Peter goes on to call this "He" first "Master" and then "Lord." But at the end, after Peter's confession of sin, we read, "Then Jesus said to Simon, 'Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men.'" "So," the text continues, "they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him." That is, Jesus.
Jesus is the One to follow. Acts 4:12 says of the name Jesus not of the name Master or Lord, "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Look who gives the baptismal command. Matthew 28 says, "Jesus came up and spoke." Who speaks the Words of institution? Not the Master, not the Lord, but Jesus. Even when Paul passes them down decades later he says, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed." When absolution is instituted, John tells us the disciples rejoiced that it was the Lord. But when it comes to the actual institution of absolution, John writes, "Jesus said to them."
The Holy Spirit highlights that God wants to deal with us only through the Virgin-born, Nazareth-raised, earth-walking, normal-looking, cross-dying Jesus. But like Peter, we are tempted to deal with Him as Master and Lord. This is socially acceptable. You can speak publicly of Jesus as your Master because people speak freely of this one or that thing being their master. And you can say Jesus is your Lord if you speak of Him as exalted like Isaiah saw Him. But it's another matter to just speak of Jesus; to say you follow Jesus: born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes; Jesus who walked the earth with dirty feet and a hungry stomach; Jesus who Pontius Pilate nailed to a cross. It's fine for Sunday School children to say they follow Jesus, but it sounds childish coming from adults.
Then may we become as children. Because following Jesus as Master will put you in a state of obligation, and following Him as Lord will put you in a state of fear. And that's not what the One who came to serve sinners gently and lowly wants. Jesus wants you to touch, handle and even taste Him not out of obedience, not in fear, but for salvation. He puts Himself in the waters of Baptism, in the lowly elements of Bread and Wine, in the ordinary words spoken by your pastor. In these physical things Jesus brings to you all the fullness of the Godhead bodily not so you can serve God as Master or cower before God as Lord, but so you can follow God as Savior.
What's He to you? Master? Of course. Lord? Certainly. But the church doesn't dwell on the image of Him as stern Master or unapproachable Lord. Most often He's shown in the manger, on the cross, walking the earth, teaching from a boat, blessing little children. He's shown as just plain Jesus not because Jesus as Master or Lord is hard to depict, but because there is no comfort in Jesus as Master and too much fear in Jesus as Lord. That's why while Peter obeyed his Master and feared his Lord, he followed Jesus. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (20100207); Luke 5: 1-11