Today I want to take you to the Sea of Galilee. Most of Jesus’ three year ministry took place around the Sea of Galilee. When I say, “sea,” you shouldn’t think “ocean.” The two share nothing in common. For one, the Sea of Galilee is fresh water. At 700 feet below sea level, it is the lowest fresh water body of water in the world. Secondly, it is more like a lake than an ocean. The Sea of Galilee is seven miles wide and thirteen miles long. The Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River which begins in the far north of Israel near Tel Dan, another place we visited while we were in Israel. In Jesus’ day the Jordan flowed into and out of the Sea of Galilee. Many years ago the the Israelis stopped the flow of water out of the Sea of Galilee because it was their main source of water for the nation. Today, the Israelis have mastered the process of desalination, removing salt from saltwater to make it usable, so the waters of the Sea of Galilee provide only about 10% of the nation’s water today.
The hub of Jewish life has been and remains to this day, Jerusalem. It is where Solomon and Herod’s Temple stood. For many years people believed that the people of the Galilee were less religious and more pagan than their counterparts in Jerusalem. The people of the Galilee were also viewed as simple, common, uneducated peasants, unsophisticated, working class folks. Opinion has changed about that belief during the past several years because of archaeological discoveries. Today, many people believe the people of the Galilee were the most religious Jews in the world in the time of Jesus. Many synagogues have been found around the area. The people’s love of Scripture, their devotion to their faith communities, and the fact that more famous Jewish rabbis came from Galilee than anywhere else in the world have quieted all of the talk about the backwoods, pagan Galileans.
I’m sure that a large part of the bias against people of the Galilee stemmed from their interaction with the non-Jewish world. One of the ancient trade routes, the Via Maris, ran from Egypt, along the Sea of Galilee, and all the way up to Damascus in Syria. This major trade route brought foreign merchants from other countries with different lifestyles and religious beliefs into the lives of those who lived along the Sea. Interaction with Gentiles would have been looked down upon by the hard-line Jews of Jerusalem. The Sea of Galilee was rung by working class fishing towns like Tiberias, Capernaum, Magdala, and Bethsaida. The people living on the Sea of Galilee were hard working folks who built their own harbors since no natural harbors existed. Archaeologist has uncovered fifteen harbors, the largest was found at Capernaum, which was over 2,500 feet long. The Jewish historian Josephus, wrote that there were about 230 fishing boats working on the lake in his day.
It was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus recruited four of His disciples: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. All of these guys were fisherman. Peter and Andrew were brothers who were originally from Bethsaida. Peter was living in Capernaum when he first met Jesus (Mark 1:29). The Scripture I want to share with you this morning is from Luke’s Gospel. Turn with me to Luke 5:1-11 and let’s read together.
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, 2 he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11 NIVO)
Jesus was unlike any other rabbi when he chose Peter, Andrew, James, and John as His disciples. The vast majority of Jewish rabbis chose their followers from the cream of the crop, not among the nets and boats of the fisherman on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The Mishnah, a rabbinical commentary on the Hebrew Bible, tells us about the education of all Jewish boys and girls. Scripture study began at age 4-5 in Beth Sefer, the equivalent of our elementary and middle school, but it took place at the synagogue. They didn’t study world history or science, but the Torah, the first five books of Moses. By the time this level of education was completed most kids knew the Torah by memory. Age 15 was the end of education for almost all girls and the vast majority of boys who would begin to work in their father’s trade.
The best students would continue into secondary education, Beth Midrash, by learning a trade and studying the Oral Traditions, the Mishnah and the Talmud, along with the Torah so they might learn to apply God’s Word themselves.
Very, very few students would continue their education past Beth Midrash. Those who were bright enough or wealthy enough sought to study with a famous rabbi and would most often leave home to travel with their rabbi. A young person who was accepted by a rabbi was called a “talmid.” A talmid was much more than a student. A student simply pursues a grade, a degree, in order to get a job, but a talmid wanted to be like his rabbi. A talmid was so passionately devoted to his rabbi that he was totally focused on emulating everything the rabbi did or said. As the rabbi lived and taught his understanding of the Scripture, his students, the talmidim, listened and watched and imitated him so as to become like him. Eventually the talmidim would become teachers passing on the lifestyle to their own talmidim.
I share this with you not so much to give you insight into the education process of Jewish kids during Jesus’ day, but to show you that there is no doubt that Peter never made the cut. Peter was the least likely follower of Jesus and yet Jesus chose Peter.
Let’s go back to the Scripture we read just a few minutes ago. Mendel Nun was a Galilean fisherman who died in 2010. He has written some of the most helpful articles and books to help us understand what was taking place as our study for today unfolded. Mr. Nun tells us Peter and his friends were using a trammel net to catch “musht” or what they today call St. Peter fish. Trammel net fishing always took place at night so the fish couldn’t see the nets. After a night of fishing Peter, Andrew, and the other fishermen had to carefully wash and clean their nets and hang them up to dry or they would quickly rot since they were made of linen. Jesus arrived early in the morning while they were finishing up their work.
Jesus got into Peter’s boat and asked him to push out from the shore where He could teach. Peter was dog tired from a long night of fishing, but he got into the boat, pushed it offshore, and sat there listening to Jesus teach. When Jesus finished teaching He told Peter to go out into the deep water and let down his nets. Put yourself in Peter’s shoes for a moment. You’d been out all night working your fingers to the bone and didn’t catch a single fish. You’re a professional fisherman and now a Jewish rabbi comes and tries to tell you how to fish. Really?
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5 NIVO)
They let down their nets and immediately they caught so many fish that their nets couldn’t hold them. Peter called for help. The men filled both boats to the brim with fish and then Peter fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8 NIVO) There’s no doubt that Andrew was present. We read that James and John were there as well. All of them were astonished. Peter recognized who he was and who Jesus was and that is why he said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” It is then that we read,
11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:11 NIVO)
Peter left the family business and began to follow Jesus. Peter didn’t choose Jesus, Jesus chose Peter. You and I know from reading the Gospels why the other rabbis would not have chosen Peter. He was prone to put his foot in his mouth. His loyalty, or lack of loyalty, was demonstrated when he denied he even knew Jesus at Jesus most critical moment in life. Do you know that all four Gospels record that horrible chapter in Peter’s life when he denied he knew Jesus? Matthew even tells us that Peter began to “curse and swear” when told that he was one of Jesus’ followers. He didn’t learn those words from the synagogue. Truth is Peter was much better suited for the docks than discipleship. Yet, Jesus chose Peter.
You would think that when Peter left his nets and followed Jesus full-time that we’d be able to mark a dramatic turning point in Peter’s life. Oh, he did have his moments. There was the time Jesus and His disciples were in Caesarea Philippi and Jesus asked the boys, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:28-29 NIVO)
Out of all of the disciples Peter was the one who spoke up, “You are the Christ. You are the long awaited Messiah!” Peter had to have had many wonderful qualities. He was a leader. In each of the lists of Jesus’ disciples, Peter is always mentioned first. Peter was a take charge kind of guy. He didn’t wait on others before he acted. There’s a great story in Matthew 14 about the time the disciples were out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a ferocious storm came up. Jesus came to them walking on the water. At first they thought Jesus was a ghost. Then Jesus told them not to be afraid. Peter said, “Lord, if it is You tell me to come to you on the water.” On the water? None of the other disciples were so bold. Jesus said, “Come.” Peter stepped out of the boat and low and behold he was walking on water, actually walking on the water…until he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to sink. This story is truly representative of Peter’s walk with Jesus. He had the best of intentions, but somehow he always seemed to sink.
The low point of Peter’s life had to have been the time that he denied he knew Jesus. It happened at the time Jesus had been arrested and was on trial for His life. Matthew 26:67 tells us they had spit in Jesus’ face, struck Him with their fists, and others were slapping Him. Immediately following this report we read about Peter’s denial. Read it with me in Matthew 26:69-75.
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. 70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” 73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” 74 Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:69-75 NIVO)
We’ve watched public figures during our lifetimes implode, commit some mistake, some sin from which they were unable to recover. Surely this would be Peter’s “Waterloo.”
In John 20 the women went to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty. Mary Magdalene ran to Peter and John and told them. They ran to the tomb and found it just like Mary had told them. Later in the chapter Jesus appeared to His disciples who were holed up behind locked doors trying to avoid Jesus’ enemies. Suddenly, Jesus appeared before them and said, “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ attention appears to have been focused on Thomas, the one who had said, “I won’t believe it unless I put my fingers where the nails were I will never believe.” Jesus told Thomas,
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28 NIVO)
Was Peter with the disciples that day that Jesus appeared to them? Some say, “No.” He was so crushed by his denial of Jesus that he had distanced himself from Jesus’ followers. Others say, “He had to have been there.” I have to believe Peter was with the disciples that day, but Peter was still sinking in the guilt and shame of his failure, his denial of Jesus. The reason I think he was with the disciples is because of what we read in John 21.
2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:2-3 NIVO)
Peter wasn’t isolated from the other disciples, Peter and some of the other disciples had made their way back to the Sea of Galilee, right where our story began. Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” In Peter’s mind he was done. Like Moses who was content to spend the rest of his days tending sheep on the backside of the mountain, so Peter would go back to what he had always known, he’ll just go fishing. Jesus wasn’t through with Peter. Then Jesus appeared on the shore and Peter spotted Him. You can read the story in John 21, but I only have time to tell you Jesus restored Peter. He lifted him up out of the shame and guilt. Jesus let Peter know He had a plan for His life and the one thing He must focus on was this: “Follow Me!”
Ten days after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, all of the disciples were in a room waiting together. Peter stood up and spoke to those who were gathered. Then, in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and guess who was tapped on the shoulder to deliver the sermon that ignited the birth of the Church? It was Peter. Peter? You better believe it! Jesus chose Peter, Peter didn’t choose Jesus. We read in Acts 2:41 that those who accepted the message were baptized and about 3,000 people became followers of Jesus that day. That day!
God began to move powerfully through Peter. In Acts 3 a man who had been unable to walk since birth was healed. The religious leaders arrested Peter and John and the next day brought them before Caiaphas the high priest and members of his family. Peter was unfazed. He spoke up.
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is ” ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” 13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:8-13 NIVO)
Did you notice what the religious leaders noticed? Peter was unschooled. Remember? He didn’t make the cut. No Ivy League rabbi wanted him, but Jesus chose him. Caiaphas and the others recognized that Peter was nothing, nothing more than an unschooled, ordinary man, but they also recognized that he had been with Jesus. It was his having been with Jesus, not going to church now and then, but being with Jesus, abiding in Jesus that changed everything about Peter.
What do you need to be used by Jesus? Do you need to go to Bible college or seminary? Know Greek or Hebrew? Be eloquent and able to mesmerize the crowds with your gift of persuasion? How about be a morally superior person who is better than even good people? Not hardly. Peter was unschooled. He said, “Lord, please leave. I am a sinner.” My friend if you want to be used by God then you need to recognize that you too are a sinner who is in need of Jesus’ grace and mercy; and you need to be with Jesus. The more time you spend with Jesus the more others will recognize that you have been with him. This has been God’s method throughout time.
You and I may never preach a great sermon like Peter, but God uses people in all kinds of ways. Albert McMakin was a twenty-four-year-old farmer who had recently come to faith in Christ. He was so full of enthusiasm and love for Jesus that he filled a truck with people and took them to a meeting to hear about Jesus. There was a farm boy that Albert wanted to invite to go and hear about Jesus, but he knew the kid wouldn’t go. Albert was passionate and he was determined. Albert tried to think of ways to get the kid to go when finally he asked him if he would drive the truck to take the other people to church. He told him, “You don’t have to go in, but I need someone to drive.” The kid said, “Yes.” When they arrived, Albert’s guest decided to go in. He was ‘spellbound’ and began to have thoughts he had never known before. He went back again and again until one night he went forward and gave his life to Jesus Christ. The kid that drove the truck for Albert McMakin was Billy Graham. The year was 1934. During his ministry Billy Graham preached to millions of people around the world, but it was an unknown man, an ordinary man named Albert McMakin who was used by the Lord to bring Billy to faith.
God uses the unlikely. Those who could never imagine that God would want anything to do with them. Those who know they are sinners. Those who know they are not the cream of the crop. Those who are simply willing to be with Jesus, willing to do what He says to do, go where He says to go, and share His Good News with everyone, from Presidents to paupers. How about you? Are you willing? Won’t you confess your need to Jesus this morning and invite Him into your heart?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114