We have read a scene from early in the ministry of Jesus. People had become impressed by Jesus and wanted to hear his teaching, and Jesus was happy to accommodate them. This scene is set at the “lake of Gennesaret” – a very large lake with 9 townships clustered around its shores … the centre of Galilee’s fishing industry. Jesus chose to teach from a boat and clearly targeted the one operated by Simon Peter. We then see Peter respond positively to Jesus in successive ways.
What does it mean to leave everything (to follow Jesus)?
The first disciples were in a different situation to us – we are not likely to be able to leave our jobs and families to physically follow Jesus around for three years. Yet these disciples did set us some sort of example by being willing to give up their businesses, professions and political ambitions.
If we take up this Gospel challenge – what will it mean for us to “leave everything”?
It's more than just moving house, changing location, or leaving a church behind, for there will likely be a new home, new friends and a new church. It must go deeper than just this.
Perhaps we could say … leaving behind anything that gets in the way of our relationship with God (and our service with Jesus)! Or maybe, making sure we are free from any hindrances that will get in the way of God’s best for us.
(i) Self-interest – no longer will we make decisions purely on how they affect me. We will have a much broader, more inclusive, more communal, more Kingdom of God way of thinking. This will include dealing with any prejudices we carry toward any particular people group, and dealing with any bitterness we carry from the past. This is because we are following Jesus, who spent his time loving and teaching and offering grace to all people … people with all kinds of conditions that led them to be treated as outcasts; people outside of his own people group; even spending hopeful time with people who ultimately would be a party to his crucifixion.
(ii) Personal Ambition – no longer will we put personal desires above the common good. We might desire recognition or power or status or even security, but if this is to be gained at the expense of any other person, then maybe it should be laid aside. If this leads us down the path of any sense of superiority, then this needs to be laid aside. You might remember the incident when James and John asked Jesus for special positions in the coming Kingdom … they were reminded that God’s ways are often upside down (or perhaps better ‘right-side up’) to the world’s ways. To be great is to serve (refer Mark 10:35-45). Sometimes we only see things from a very limited perspective, but we need to come to see God’s much bigger picture.
(iii) Our Grip on Life itself – no longer will we take a defensive position in life based on fear. [Fear, not doubt, is the greatest enemy of faith.] We will still take normal rational steps to protect our well-being, but we will also become more ready to take on new adventures and opportunities, without so readily being daunted by the possible obstacles, risks or (unpredictable) outcomes. That great disciple Simon Peter was overcome by threats to his person. What was Peter afraid of when he denied knowing Jesus three times?? Losing his grip on life (or losing control)! Later, following Peter’s reinstatement to ministry, Peter had to cope with these words of Jesus … “When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18). This is the Jesus following life.
(iv) Sin – you wouldn’t want to take persistent sin forward into following Jesus, but rather leave it behind. Forgiveness and cleansing goes along with the mindset of not committing that sin again … which is of course the meaning of biblical repentance – a change of mind, a change of direction. When Jesus showed all that magnificent grace to the woman caught in adultery (mentioned in John’s Gospel 8:1-11), he concluded that interaction with the statement, that if this woman was going to go forward in life, she would have to ‘sin no more’.
So, to ‘leave everything’ is quite a big ask! How do we place ourselves in a position where we can actually do it? How can we meet this challenge?
(a) OPENNESS – Look at Peter … despite tiredness from a long hard unsuccessful night of fishing, and a probable preference to finish his cleaning up and just go home to bed, Peter was willing to take a step of trust (refer verses 4-5). No-one had ever heard of being successful in catching fish in the daylight having been unsuccessful through the night, but Peter took his boat back out. Note that Peter already referred to Jesus as “Master” only just beginning to get to know him – there was something about this Jesus worth wholly responding to … “yet if you say so …”! And look what happened!! What seemed under normal circumstances to be impossible … actually happened!
(b) WILLINGNESS – BEING RESPONSIVE TO BLESSING – (refer v. 6-7) When remarkable things happen there is good reason to be thankful and find ways of responding. Such incidents as this great and unprecedented catch of fish should lead to a response based on any ever-growing faith in what Jesus can do. One step of faith leading to blessing should point us to the next necessary step of faith.
(c) HUMILITY – (refer v.8-9) – We also need a sober assessment of our situation as human beings – sinners in need of a Saviour. We would not want to take God’s grace (& blessing) for granted, but rather be constantly seeking forgiveness, and be constantly tuned in to what God is trying to say to us and teach us. Peter felt unworthy that such a great thing would happen to him, and that he was in the presence of One (who Peter now called “Lord”) who could bring such an occurrence about. Yet this level of humility and this understanding of his need for mercy, was exactly what Peter needed to become a true follower of Jesus. Rather than departing from Peter, as had been requested, Jesus actually called Peter into service. Follow me, and we’ll collect many others along the way!