The Fifth Sunday after Trinity: Peter’s Plea and Our Lord’s Response

Lessons: 1 Kings 19:11-21
Hymns: 869, 688, 505, 637, 750, 730

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s Gospel records the remarkable account in which our Lord Jesus Christ is beginning His work of calling some men to be apostles. Apostles are distinct from disciples. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. As a Christian, you are a disciple. Now, sometimes we talk about the Twelve Apostles as the Twelve Disciples, for these men are originally known as disciples and become Apostles. An apostle is one who is sent. Specifically, apostles are sent with full authority on behalf of their Lord. Jesus is the One who sends the apostles. Their task is to establish the one holy, apostolic Church. They do so by preaching God’s Word. They are given supernatural gifts of the Spirit. On Pentecost, they preach in other languages. Later, they heal the sick, make the lame walk, drive out demons, and even raise the dead.

Perhaps most amazingly, unbelievers become believers in Christ.

While the apostles only lasted that first generation and have joined the Church Triumphant long ago, the one holy Christian and apostolic Church continues. And while pastors today cannot perform the miracles the Apostles did, the supernatural work of converting sinners to the Christian faith continues. For God the Holy Spirit is at work through the faithful preaching of the Word and the proper administration of the Sacraments.

You would think that God would have chosen only the brightest and most educated men to serve as apostles. But that is not our Lord’s way. As it is written, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).

Today’s Gospel reveals the type of men Jesus called to be Apostles: simple Galileans, some of whom are fishermen by trade. In fact, Jesus doesn’t even call men who appear to have their acts together. For Jesus calls Matthew the tax collector and He calls impetuous Peter, who tries to prevent Jesus from going to the cross, cuts off Malchus’s ear, and denies Jesus three times!

In our reading today from Luke 5, Peter even says to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

But why? After catching two boatloads of fish, Peter now realizes that he is standing before the God of creation—the promised Messiah—the Lord of Heaven and Earth. You would think Peter would be filled with joy over being in the presence of God. You would think Peter would cling to Jesus at all costs, not asking Him to leave!

But let’s consider Peter’s response from two other angles. One from the angle of the Ten Commandments and the other from the standpoint of fearing God.

First the Ten Commandments. When you consider your standing before God, do you examine the Ten Commandments? Do you see how frequently you fall short? In our day, the Ten Commandments are often viewed as the Ten Suggestions. Christ’s Church stands in miserable shape when many Communicants cannot even name half of the commandments. When I say Second Commandment, you should instantly know what I am talking about. When I say Seventh Commandment, you should know immediately that I am referring to the commandment on stealing. It should be no different than when I say 1040 and you know I’m talking about a tax return.

If you do not know the Ten Commandments by heart, now is the time to pull out your Catechism or hymnal or look at Exodus 20 and speak the Ten Commandments. Do so daily. You’ll learn them quickly.

Once you have learned the Ten Commandments by heart, then examine your life according to them. Don’t busy yourself with trying to see how well you have fulfilled the commandments; instead consider how you have broken them.

The benefits for this are twofold. First, you will learn from God’s Word on how to deal with your sin and the sins of others, instead of learning from the world. For the world will tell you that you are a good person and that the world itself is not evil. The world wants you to think that you are doing fine and cause you to figure you don’t really need God and His grace.

However, if you learn that you must face God as Judge and consider your own unworthiness according to the Ten Commandments, then you will not want to flaunt your own righteousness before Him, but you will acknowledge that your righteousness is like filthy rags. You will want to claim Christ’s righteousness as yours and claim Jesus as the only One who will save you. In addition, you will not become cynical toward those whom Christ has died. You will learn to love your neighbor, forgive them, and live peacefully with all others.

Second, you will also see your unworthiness when measured against the perfection of God. You will understand precisely why Peter said, “Depart from me.” For you will know that you do not deserve to be in presence of God, nor do you deserve the least of His mercies. Peter said, “Depart from me” because he saw himself in the mirror. He saw his sin. The flaw, though, in Peter’s statement is that he did not yet see the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. He did not learn to cling to God in faith. He was a lot like Adam and Eve when they sinned. They tried hiding from God. They saw how they fell short of the perfect demands of the Law and they wanted to keep away from the Perfect One.

But, as Luke reports, Jesus told Peter to not be afraid. Peter, along with James and John, were then willing to forsake everything—even their great catch of fish—and follow Him. Simply amazing!

Why the sudden change of heart? I would say the answer lies in part with the second angle for us to consider Peter words, “Depart from me.” This is from the standpoint of fearing God. Many theologians want to tone down what it means to fear God. Though well-intentioned, they describe fear as merely trust. So, they teach to fear God means simply to trust in Him.

That, of course, makes the word “fear” palatable to our flesh. Trust in God? I can do that. Fear God? Now way!

So let’s consider fear for a moment. Think about the things that may cause you to fear. Maybe you’re afraid of the coronavirus, enduring a drought, the future, making your ends meet, or a certain person. Now, if someone comes up to you with a gun pointed right at you, you will lose all those other fears. Instead, the only person you will fear is that person with a gun. However, your fear will shift to trust and even into joy if you see that the gun-bearer is your friend and he’s actually protecting you from a criminal who is behind you.

Then consider God. He tells you not to be afraid. He promises to take care of you. And yet He tells you to fear Him. Fear Him because He is the only One who can send you to Hell. He can determine where you will spend an eternity. We don’t fear Him because He’s some random person pointing a gun at us with the threat of Hell. Instead, we fear Him because He is God, is in charge of all things, and even defeats the forces of evil. He’s actually protecting us and providing for us. He sent His Son to pay for your sin. He gives you His Word of promise. He tells you that you are forgiven. He adopts you as His own in Holy Baptism. He takes care of all your needs of both body and soul. As it is written, “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!” (Psalm 34:9)

Peter had his fears. Perhaps he feared when his mother-in-law was sick. Perhaps he feared for his future and how to pay the bills when he fished all night and caught nothing. When he suddenly realized he was in presence of the Almighty God, those fears went away. He feared God. And so, he said, “Depart from me.”

Yet, the Lord did not depart. Jesus did not stay so that He could somehow threaten Peter. Jesus did not beat up on Peter while Peter was considering the weight of his own sin and his own unworthiness. Instead, Jesus had compassion on Peter. Jesus gave him reason not to be afraid. Jesus met Peter with grace, forgiving him. You see, Jesus did not have his sights on Peter to condemn him, but our Lord’s sights were on Satan to defeat the Devil.

Jesus called Peter to be a disciple—a follower of Jesus—one who would be trained to be an Apostle. And so, Peter, the sinful man that he knew he was, was called by His Lord to catch men. To preach the Word. To proclaim the Law and the Gospel. To preach Christ and Him crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins.

Peter’s sin was always before him (Psalm 51:3). And so, Peter feared the Lord, knowing what he deserved. But Peter also loved and trusted in God, for he knew that the only way to salvation was found in Christ. God loved him first and gave him the promise of salvation. And in return, Peter loved the Lord. God gave Peter every reason to trust in Him. For Jesus paid for Peter’s sins on the cross.

During his ministry, Peter made many mistakes. He sinned against his neighbor and his Lord. Yet, Peter did not fear himself, his sin, or what others could do to him. He feared God. It is believed that Peter was sentenced to death by crucifixion for faithfully preaching the Gospel. He did not fear this death sentence. In fact, he requested to be crucified upside down because he did not feel that he was worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. Peter trusted in Jesus to deliver Him and grant him everlasting life and salvation. And God granted it.

We too, are to fear the Lord and confidently trust in Jesus as the One who will save us. Jesus redeemed us. Ministers, sent by Christ, caught us, saying, “Do not be afraid. The Lord is with you.” Amen.            

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen