Thursday, 25 September 2014

FISHER OF MEN



I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.  And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.”     
                                                                                            (Read 2 Pet 1:13-15)

It is the end of the month and traditionally that is testimony night in Oxbridge.

 Tonight’s sharer can’t be here in person but he has provided for us his written testimony and I so I will read it out for us all tonight... 


“My name is Peter. The name means “rock” but in truth I haven’t always lived up to that name.   

I was once a fisherman, like my dad Jonah before me. Fishing in truth was all I ever wanted to do all my life. If I had continued in my trade than you would never have heard of me & and I wouldn’t be writing these words to you tonight, since mine was a very ordinary existence indeed.

But Somebody changed my life.  And I want to talk to you about Him tonight.

I remember the first time that I met Him.

 The evening’s fishing had been terrible, my brother Andrew and our crew had toiled all night but we had caught nothing. Now, we were experienced fishermen,  and we weren’t used to that kind of thing. But it had almost felt like something -or someone- was working against us all evening.

The next morning a local rabbi had approached us and commandeered one of our boats to preach from (we thought the boat might as well be put to some good use). But after preaching this man suddenly tells us to put out our nets again! Well it was a waste of time and we told Him so, but for some reason we did it anyway.

I have never seen such a catch of fish!

I was suddenly very afraid. The presence of this Man made me feel uncomfortable, even unclean. None of the rabbis I had known had ever had this effect upon me before. I had the strangest sense that whilst I was dealing with a very good man it was actually unsafe to be around him.   

I wished him to leave. I wanted to feel comfortable and safe again.So I said almost without thinking, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!

But He would not depart. Instead He stared intently at Andrew and me and said,

                    “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men

It was a commandment. I don’t think we could have refused it if we had wanted to. But I had no wish to refuse it.  

 I knew that my life would never be the same again once I had hooked up with this extraordinary Man. I somehow knew that following Him would cost me my home, my livelihood, everything. And yet it was all that I wanted to do. Suddenly all those things seemed not to matter anymore.

How to describe the days that followed? Days spent trying to figure out just who this Man might be.Long hours of extraordinary teaching, followed by long queues of desperately ill people - and He healed them all.

But then he sent us out and now we are the ones with the healing ministry! We couldn’t wait to get back to Jesus and give Him a full report of how even the demons were subject to us.But He seemed unsurprised and unimpressed by our story. He reminded us that there were far more important matters than having authority over demons,

           I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” He said, very matter-of-factly

 Now this was not the only time He said strange things like that.  On another occasion I recall His disputing with the crowds and suddenly exclaiming “Before Abraham was, I am.” He told John once that when the prophet Isaiah had seen the Lord high and exalted upon His throne it was actually Him that He had seen!

We didn’t know what to make of statements like that in those early days.

 They certainly made us feel rather uncomfortable. But no matter how odd his statements they always sounded like truth. You had the strangest sense that you really were speaking to a Man who had known Isaiah & Abraham. That you were walking the dusty lanes of Galilee with One who really had seen Satan fall from Heaven. But how could that be?

Of course I shall never forget the day that He took the three of us up that mountain-top. Well, it’s not everyday that one gets to meet with Moses & Elijah but we did that day! But that wasn’t the most momentous thing we saw or heard that day.  Nor even that thunderous voice from Heaven which seemed to so effortlessly fill the sky. Mostly I remember that glimpse of Jesus. 

 We were eyewitnesses of His majesty that day. I now understood that I was seeing Him – at least the barest glimpse- as Heaven sees Him. I thought again of Isaiah and how the prophet had seen this very sight and had sought to slink away disgusted with Himself and with his people.Once again for me that there was that sense of being unclean, of being unworthy to be in His presence.  

One day the twelve of us were laughing at the stories that were being told by the amazed crowds, of which Hebrew prophet come back to life he might be.But then He suddenly leaned forward and pinned us with His stare.

                                          “Who do you say that I am?”

Suddenly I realized that I knew the answer. I just blurted it out- typical me!

I said, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” And I knew it to be true. But although we were now certain of who He was, still we did not understand His mission as yet. None of us did.

If we had we should not have been so distraught on that momentous night when he told us that He was leaving us. We thought we were ready for anything but we were not ready for that. The greatest trial of our lives had arrived and we were wholly unprepared.

I promised Him faithfully – stupidly - that even if all the rest left Him I would still be there. That ridiculous promise didn’t even survive the night.

To my shame I never saw Him hanging from that Cross the next day.

 To my shame I was not there when He gasped His last breath and purchased my wretched life for Himself and for His Father. I was not there when He cancelled my countless sins with His unspeakably precious blood.  

I recall nothing of  the next couple of days after that. They passed as though in a grey mist.But then suddenly Mary Magdalene is hammering on the  door. We couldn’t make any sense of what she was saying, “He’s gone!”, she wept. “We don’t know where they’ve taken Him!”

And sure enough when John and I got to the tomb the body had gone. We did not stay. Even if it had been safe this was the last place on earth we wanted to be. But I didn’t have to spend long wondering what happened.

Soon He was there - stood right before me! Looking at Me with those eyes that were both unfathomably deep and yet at the same time could pierce to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.

All that I could think of that day was the fact that He had sought out me. Of all the more worthy individuals He might have shown Himself to, He sought out the one who had failed Him so pathetically.    

The next few days were like a dream. Or rather like waking up and discovering that everything that had happened in a terrible nightmare was not real after all.  

Then He told us to go back to Galilee.

A strange request - a long hike all the way up there for a few short days and then back to Jerusalem for Pentecost? Galilee was the place of failure for us. The place that reminded us that we never had become fishers of men.

But I think that what He was doing with us all was taking  us back to the beginning. Taking us back to the place where we had first encountered Him, the place where He had begun the change in us.

So there I am back on the lake besides which I had grown up. Once again I fish all night and catch nothing. Suddenly the man who had failed to be a fisher of men found that he was no longer much good as a fisher of fish either!

Somehow I knew who that hooded figure was on the shoreline.

We all knew. Yet we were afraid to say anything even as a familiar voice instructed us to put out our nets once again and once again they filled to bursting. It brought to mind a Galilee morning three years earlier. Only this time I felt no fear of this Man. Only shame...    

The thrice-repeated question He put to me that day was like three dagger wounds to the heart. But I no longer doubted the answer.

Of course I loved Him! And I was finally ready to give my all for Him.

 Indeed He told me that day how I was eventually to die for Him. But I now realized that dying for someone you love is actually quite an easy trick. I was now ready to live for Him also. 

He was about to fulfill his pledge to us. We were finally to become fishers of men! 

 We followed his instructions to the letter. We returned to Jerusalem, we met, we prayed, we waited. For Whom we were not quite sure. Another Person was coming, that was clear enough from Jesus’s words. Someone else like Him - as extraordinary as that seemed to us.

But when this Person came He did not knock on the door as we had expected He would. Instead He came with a sound like a mighty rushing wind and filled the whole house where we were sitting!

I scarcely recall how I got out onto the streets. But suddenly there we were declaring the Good News of Jesus Christ! Suddenly that seemed like the most natural thing in the world to be doing. Why on earth had we never been able to do it this way before?

 Before long  I am face-to-face with the Sandhedrin - the very men who had put Jesus to death! Was this really me? Was the man who had once ran from a serving girl rather than admit an association with Jesus really delivering a blistering indictment of these men who had crucified the Lord of glory?

 I had once hidden from these men, I had thrice denied My Lord because of the fear they instilled in me!  But suddenly they seemed very small, very ordinary men. They had not changed, of course, we had. God’s Spirit had in an instant turned us from wimps into warriors.

 We would never be the same again. And the world would never be the same again because of us. We were just ignorant unschooled Galileans but we had advantages that the Sanhedrin could never match. Firstly we had been with Jesus. And now we had been imbued with power from on high!  

I remember that wretched paralytic begging at the Gate Beautiful.We had often walked past him when Jesus was around and we sometimes wondered why this man never received the Lord’s loving attention as so many others had. The poor man had looked so hopeful too on each occasion as though he were certain that Jesus would heal him. But he never did, He always just swept right on by.

The man had long since given up on healing by the time we met him that day. He looked now for charity, nothing else. We didn’t have a bean- we still don’t! But as I looked at this poor wretch I suddenly remembered what I now did have.

 An authority from Christ Himself to preach the Good News and the power to see signs and wonders following the preaching of that Word. I can still see him skipping away like a new foal in a field!   

My dad Jonah, like his famous forebear in the scriptures, never had much time for Gentiles. I was thinking about the famous prophet whilst ministering in Joppa. This was the place where centuries ago someone else had tried to run away from Gentile mission. But he couldn’t get away from it and neither could I.

I was to learn an incredible lesson in God’s grace in that place. That God's love and mercy were to be poured out on all nations of the  world. That just as there were no longer any unclean foods there were also no longer any unclean people!  

 That was a hard lesson for me. On one occasion Paul had to give me a right slating for forgetting it. I guess that whilst God finally got Gentile mission into my head He never quite got it into my heart. It would take a greater man than me for that.

Paul was that man. A true apostle to the Gentiles. An astounding theologian- sometimes there are things in his letters that are hard to understand but I have no question that the man was writing scripture. People will still be reading those letters 2,000 years from now.

But Paul has gone now. A martyr’s death as you would expect. He at least, as a Roman citizen, had the right to a swift death by the sword.

 Most of the others are gone now too. My brother Andrew, Thomas and Jude, though John is still around. But a very different man from the son of thunder I knew back in Galilee.

Now my turn has come just as Jesus  promised me on that beach in Galilee all those years ago.No sword for me- fishermen get no such privileges! Instead the cross awaits.

 Sitting here in this prison cell I can recall another cell in Jerusalem long ago. I was awaiting execution that night also. But then, as if in a dream, chains had snapped, doors had swung open and I had walked out & free.Those were incredible days!

But I know that the doors are not going to swing miraculously open tonight. The day that my Lord  told me of so long ago is about to dawn.

In truth I have no wish to escape this day.

I only hope that the Roman authorities will grant my final request. I have asked that I be crucified upside down. Quite simply I do not deserve to be crucified the same way that My Lord was.

He really did turn me into a fisher of men. And I want you to know tonight that what He did with me He can do with anyone!

He can do with you.”