I had only lived in China for a few months. I was out for a walk in our neighborhood, known as a "compound." (This sounds more like a prison, but it really was lovely.) Several times I passed an elderly Chinese woman shuffling along with three 狗狗 (dogs).
Finally, I decided to buck up and practice my baby level mandarin:
早上好！我喜欢您的狗狗。Good morning! I like your dogs.
To my utter surprise she began spewing forth mouthfuls of Mandarin that quickly put my brain into a tailspin. Somehow I caught the gist:
"Follow me! I want to give you a dog!"
Oh. My. Goodness. Now I really didn't think I wanted a dog, but I longed to interact with a Chinese person. She didn't seem to mind my baby Mandarin and even wanted to give me a dog! Curious, I followed her. To follow means to move behind someone… to go after, to obey.
All the while I was thinking thoughts like:
"My mom told me never to follow strangers!"
"I taught my kids: NEVER FOLLOW STRANGERS?"
"Lord, should I be following this stranger?!"
We arrived to her home, entered and left our shoes by the front door. Being the matriarch of the family, her bedroom sat just inside a little hallway to the right of the front door. Lo and behold! There was a mamma poodle with a wee little six-day old baby 狗狗!
Well, you can probably guess how this story ends.
A few weeks later I end up with a cute, but very needy six-week old baby 狗狗! If you watch any of the Simply Bible videos, you may see him from time to time. He's now eight years old. His name is Gou Gou which literally means "dog," a seemingly ridiculous name to any native Mandarin speaker.
Who names a dog, "Dog?" I guess we did.
This past week in inductive study, we sought to get a better feel for the author of I & II Peter, Peter himself. On Day One of our study, we learned that Peter left everything and followed Jesus. (Luke 5:11)
Peter has a pretty epic "follow" story.
Let's dig right in.
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he [Jesus] was standing by the lake of Gennesaret... (Luke 5:1)
The lake of Gennesaret is simply how the local people of the day referred to the Sea of Galilee. When doing inductive Bible study, it's always a great idea to find and learn about places using an atlas. Biblical places are real places where real people lived. (See a quick tutorial on drawing your own map of Israel.)
Jesus is here at the Sea of Galilee, Peter's stomping grounds. Why is the crowd following Him? What do they want?
Scripture often answers Scripture. Do you see the answer? To hear the word of God. The crowd wants to hear the word of God so bad that Luke says they are “pressing in.”
“Pressing in” literally means “To lie upon, be imposed.”
I am from the USA. We are known as a cold culture, meaning we like our personal space. We communicate, "Here is my space. (Imagine a circle about an arm's distance all the way around me.) Do not enter my space. If you enter into this space, you are imposing.”
Moving to China and being in the midst of a warm culture was a shock. People like to be close. My hubby worked on an upper level of a very tall building and daily rode the elevator. Normally very crowded, one day, he stepped into the elevator surprised to find that no one else was inside. However, the elevator stopped at the next floor. A man got on, stood right next to my husband, pressing in on him shoulder to shoulder even though they were the only two there with plenty of space available.
Right off the bat, as I read and understand the passage, I'm struck and challenged by a crowd that presses in on Jesus. What does it look like for me- for us- to press in on Jesus and His Word like this today? Am I seeking to be close to Him? Shoulder to shoulder? Or am I pressing in on my own desires and agenda?
Jesus appears to welcome the crowd. He certainly has a plan.
...and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. (5:2-3)
When studying Scripture, I like to use my imagination.
I want to put myself in that boat. What was it like? What do I see, hear, and smell? In this case, as Jesus hops onto Peter's boat, I imagine Jesus exuding authority, but I also imagine Him exuding warm hospitality, kindness, goodness... an engaging appeal. I think there must be a twinkle in his eye that sparkles, “Oh Simon! I have a surprise for you today!”
The camera leaves the panoramic view of the crowds and zooms directly on Peter and Jesus. The main point of this passage is not the crowds.
Jesus is after personal relationships:
4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Putting on our 1st century glasses: Jesus’s instructions to Peter appear absurd. Here’s a professional fisherman whose night’s work produced nothing. NOTHING! Ever had one of those days? Then you know the feeling. He's being told by a carpenter how to fish. Scholars identify 1st century fishing nets as “trammel nets.” These nets were specifically for night fishing, requiring two to four men to maneuver. Made of linen, the nets are visible to fish by day.
5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”
Peter does not talk “smack” to Jesus. He may have already witnessed Jesus’s power in healing his mother-in-law (Luke 4:38), but clearly Peter has just now witnessed Jesus’s teaching. When Peter refers to Jesus as “master,” he is agreeing in essence, “You are master over this boat.”
Peter's obedience to Jesus brings forth blessing!
And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. (Luke 5:6-7)
What is this??? Nothing less than the miraculous!
Look at the magnitude of the catch! Nets are breaking. Multitudes of fish literally fill the boat. Peter puts our an SOS for a second boat. The second boat overflows! There are so many fish that both boats begin to sink!!!
Do you think this has ever happened to Peter before? What could have been Peter’s response?
Yippee!!! We hit the jackpot!
Woo-hoo!!! We hit the big time!
Oh, Jesus! This is GREAT! Stay in my boat and give me, give me, give me more!
Imagine happy dances in the boat!
But notice Peter’s response…
8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.
A beautiful cross reference to Peter's response is found in Isaiah 6:5:
And I [Isaiah] said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
When catching a glimpse of God and His glory and goodness, humility is the correct response. We ought to see our utter depravity. A recognition of sin.
I have a sense that Peter wasn't naturally a go-to-your-knees-kind-of-a-guy, after all, he's the leader of this fishing gang. But are we a falling-on-our-knees-kind-of-a-people? Especially if we grew up in church (I’m pointing to me), it’s so easy to become desensitized to God’s work and gloss right over these miracles and glory of Jesus.
May we catch a fresh glimpse of Jesus!
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” In his humility, what did Peter find?
And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
Here’s grace! GRACE!
When Jesus states, "Do not be afraid, Peter," we might ask, "Afraid of what?"
In essence, Jesus says, ""Do not be afraid, Peter. Your sins are forgiven."
Does Jesus stare disdainfully at Peter’s past sinfulness? Nope! His words “from now on” emphasize the disciple's break from the past. Jesus is on His redemptive mission. He looks ahead to this mission and looks forward to Peter's part in it.
Why-oh-why do we waste time and energy looking back regretting and bemoaning the past when grace has been extended to us? The past becomes a history lesson. There is life to live and kingdom building work needed.
Friend, if there is sin to be confessed, confess it! Receive His grace. Then look forward, not backward. (How could we drive a car if we’re looking backwards?)
Peter looks forward with Jesus:
11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Peter responds in trust and discipleship, a fancy word for following Jesus.
Of course, leaving everything behind has economic and vocational implications. But it also has tremendous social ramifications: Leaving all that is behind, Peter now finds his fundamental sense of belonging in Jesus and in the community Jesus is building.
What does following Jesus look like for us today? Same as Peter.
Catch a glimpse of Jesus. Peter saw Him, His power, His sovereignty, and His grace.
Respond with humility. "Lord, I am a sinner."
Receive His grace. He sees. Knows. Loves. You are a twinkle in His eye.
Leave everything. Leave the past behind and turn to the future with Christ.
Leaving everything means leaving our own selfish desires, familiar habits, brokenness, unforgiveness, bitterness, hate, shame, guilt, disappointments. We can leave these in a big old heap at the foot of the cross.
Leave everything. THEN follow Jesus.
Actions often speak louder than words. Peter leaves everything to follow Jesus. So what do his actions declare to Jesus?
“ABOVE ALL ELSE, I want to be with you. I want to know you, Jesus.”
When we leave everything to follow Jesus, what do we declare?
“Jesus, ABOVE ALL ELSE, I want to be with you. I want to know You. I want to soak up your presence.”
Friend, the overflowing boats provide a prophetic symbol for Jesus's mission that Peter will participate in. A mission that is not defined by health and wealth and fame, but one that is defined by an adventure and an abundant life with Jesus. A life abundant with hope, peace, joy, love and freedom.
Can you imagine if Peter had not followed Jesus? Imagine him toiling day by day by day in his own power.
Did you know there is a cost of NOT following Jesus?
By not following Jesus, we toil in our own power day by day by day. We sacrifice an adventure with Him that includes abundant life and a treasure trove of hope, peace, joy and so much more.
Once I followed a little old Chinese woman and got a cute, but very needy little 狗狗.
But once I followed Jesus... And I found grace.
I continue to follow and put my trust in Him. Daily I choose to follow: to sit and stand and walk in the safety of His Presence where I find a continual outpouring of His grace. You can too.
Jesus said in John 10:27:
My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.
It’s as simple as praying:
Lord, I want to follow You. Be Master over this vessel. Help me to press in and know the safety of Your Presence.
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