The Lord’s Day Morning
February 21, 2010
“When an Experience Becomes a Purpose”
Dr. Joseph Wheat
It is a privilege and a great joy to be here.
As I looked out in the early service and even in this service I see so
many faces that I know very well, and elders and deacons of this church that
I’ve known a long time. It was
twenty five years ago that I graduated from RTS here.
Now in the old sanctuary I sat right about where Danny Story is sitting,
right about there, and I tell you, I had not been a believer many years when God
called me into ministry and I moved here to pursue seminary and look, I felt
like I had a lot of catching up to do.
I had a headache for three years basically in seminary, but this church
was so formative in just what it is to be a church and what it is to love Christ
and love the kingdom
And over the years I’ve always admired the tremendous, almost herculean,
bite of the kingdom that this church is willing to bite off by faith and own and
support. And yes, God does use means
and your brothers and sisters at highlands are greatly appreciative of your
support and the way God used this church to actually start Highlands
I am glad to be here. Your senior
minister, Ligon Duncan, my dear friend of sixteen years, is preaching now at Highlands so I’ll pray for him as well.
I fear y’all made a bad bargain when you did this switch, but it’s a
great honor to be here. And let’s
pray before we open God’s Word.
O Lord, we
realize that You are above all the transcendent God of majesty and glory.
There is none like You. Thank
You that even in this service we have proclaimed in song and in prayer and word
who You actually are, what You are actually like, so that we might respond to
You in reality by the working of Your Spirit here.
Lord, I thank You for First Presbyterian Church and pray as this church
enters into missions week Lord that You would open hearts and minds to go deeper
into Your very heart, Jesus, and that You would create a willingness and even an
eagerness to participate in world missions.
Lord, I pray that there would not only be enough, whatever that means, to
cover the current commitments to missions, but Lord that You would so work that
there would be an abundance and new missionaries and new opportunities.
Lord I pray that You would bless Ligon as he preaches at Highlands this
morning as our own missions week begins that You would do that same thing in
that community of believers. And we
pray now as we open Your Word, that You would bring understanding and growth and
transformation and convey to us great God a sense of Your presence that we might
respond to You. And we pray this in
Jesus’ name. Amen.
I’d like for you to turn in your New Testaments to Luke’s gospel, chapter 5,
verses 1 through 11 – Luke 5, 1 through 11.
This is the Word of God:
“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on Him to hear the Word of
God, He was standing by the lake
of Gennesaret, 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.
And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the
deep and let down your nets for a catch.’
And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!
But at Your word I will let down the nets.’
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.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying,
‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’
For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish
that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were
partners with Simon. And Jesus said
to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’
And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and
This is about when an experience becomes a purpose, when an experience becomes a
purpose. Just how many people were
there on the beach, right there on the shore of the Sea of
Galilee that day as Jesus taught.
I’ve seen pictures of where they think this is.
I can imagine the number of people.
The text just says that crowds, an enormous crowd was there, just to hear
Jesus proclaim the Word of God. So
many were there, we do know this, that they were quote “pressing in on Him” and
the idea is that there are so many and they’re wanting to get closer and closer
they’re literally pressing, literally about to back Him into the sea and He
needs to do something. And you can
see these fishermen. Can you see
them? They’re off to the side.
They’ve pulled up their boats.
They’re going through and checking their nets.
And if you didn’t go through and repair those nets and dry them out they
would rot and you wouldn’t be able to catch any fish.
They’re doing with they’re supposed to be doing.
They’re very interested in what Jesus is saying but it really gets
interesting for them when He suddenly gets into one of their boats and He asks
Simon to put Him out just a little bit into the water, to anchor Him, get the
boat put off the land, and there Jesus sat down, which is the way they preached
back then as a sign of authority, and He began to teach.
And you can see these throngs of people lining the beach of the
Sea of Galilee. I love
this picture while Jesus is in the boat preaching and I wonder how many people
believed that day, “This is the Messiah.
This is the One that we have been waiting for.”
I. Peter’s experience.
But then after Jesus teaches He turns and speaks to the fishermen about the most
interesting thing. He turns to these
fishermen to talk to them about fishing.
Now just in case you’re wondering, this was not the first time that Peter
and James and John had met Jesus. We
read in John’s gospel, in John chapter 1:35 through John 2:11 that they actually
had met Jesus when they were attending the preaching of John the Baptist.
They were actually with Jesus when He was at the wedding in Cana of
Galilee. Jesus had actually spent
time in their homes. They know who
Jesus is and they had experienced Jesus.
They were there when Jesus, in that first cleansing of the temple and the
driving out of the money changers, so you know the fact that Jesus would get
into Simon Peter’s boat is not unusual because Jesus knew Simon Peter.
What was unusual was what Jesus asked Peter to do at that moment.
If you will look at verse 4 — “When He had finished speaking He asked Simon to —
He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Well here it is, a professional fisherman who’s been fishing all his life
is now suddenly to take fishing advice from a carpenter.
And Simon knows this isn’t going to work.
Simon says to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and we have taken
nothing.” But Peter had taken
something in the last period of time.
He had taken in a powerful message from Jesus from the Word of God and he
was a great admirer of Jesus and so basically what Peter says to Jesus is,
“Well, because it’s You, because You say it, we will go through all the trouble
and we’ll go back out there and we’ll let our nets down.”
And you know everything inside Peter knew that this wasn’t going to work.
You fish at night in the Sea of Galilee, not when the sun is high — the
sun is high — you fish in the shallow water when you have these type of nets,
not in the deep water that’s beyond the capacity of your nets to be their most
effective, but there they go, out into the deep water with those nets.
And they are dog tired. And
they did it.
Of course you know many of us from
younger days in Sunday school learned of this incredible powerful miracle that
suddenly the net of Peter’s boat began to be so filled with fish that the net
was about to break. He had never
experienced this before. So great
was this miraculous power of Jesus Christ that he had to motion to James and
John to bring the other boat. And so
they brought the other boat. And now
they’re both trying to haul these fish out of the nets into the boats and
they’re so many fish the boats begin to sink.
I mean this is like fishing shock and all to people who’ve been fishing
their whole life. But I want you to
know, this was not the most shocking thing that happened that day.
You know what the most shocking thing was?
It was what Peter saw when he looked at Jesus.
Peter saw the miracle of the power of Jesus and it says that they saw
this miracle, but somehow, and the text doesn’t translate it exactly except to
say this — somehow in the awareness of the miraculous power of Jesus, Peter
began fully aware of the glory of Jesus Christ and that wasn’t even the most
shocking thing, and becoming fully aware of the glory of Jesus Christ he
suddenly became aware of the holiness, the utter holiness, of Jesus.
And that wasn’t even the most frightening thing.
That last realization was even more frightening.
It was in the presence of this glory and power and utter holiness that he
realized what a sinful person that he is.
That’s the first thing that I want you to see in how an experience
becomes a purpose. The first thing
is the experience of Peter and the glory and holiness of Jesus Christ.
You know, Peter did not thank Jesus for the fish.
You know we might have said, “Oh Jesus, thanks.
This is incredible. We
couldn’t catch this many fish in a month.
Thank you so much!” You know
why Peter doesn’t thank Jesus for the fish?
Because the fish actually are extremely unimportant at this particular
moment because after such a windfall, what Peter does say to Jesus are these
devastating words from his devastated heart.
“Go, get away from me, please.
Leave me. Depart from me.”
It’s very strong language that’s fueled by a strong realization.
Look at verse 8 — “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’
knees” like a worshipful position, “saying, ‘Depart from me for I am so sinful,
O Lord.’” You know we might imagine
Peter with all these fish responding to the glory and power, maybe we would do
this. Maybe we would imagine him
saying, “Wow, this is amazing Jesus!
Listen, I’ve been looking for somebody like you my whole life who will give me
what I want. I believe! This is
exactly what I want!”
So much religion today is just that — it’s just trying to get God to do what we
want. That is not the response of
Peter. That’s not the experience of
Peter to the glory and holiness of Jesus.
You see, he is, here’s a good word, undone.
In the presence of such utter holiness he is utterly undone and I want
you to know brothers and sisters that is what happens to us when we get a
glimpse of the true nature of God in His glory and in His holiness.
If you would turn to Isaiah 6 verse 1 it is that famous passage of when
Isaiah was taken in a vision to the very throne room of God and he had this
experience of the glory of God. “In
the year that King Uzziah died” Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord, lofty and exalted
and the train of His robe” — these are symbols of power — “the train of His robe
filled the temple and above Him stood seraphim, each with six wings.
With two they flew and with two they covered their faces and with two
they covered their feet and they called to one another these words about God,
‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty!
The whole earth is filled with His glory!”
And at that the foundations of the thresholds begin to shake at the voice
of him who called and the temple, the house, was filled with smoke and I said,
‘That’s really cool!’ — No. “Woe is me!
I’m dead. I’m ruined for I am
a man of unclean lips. I am such a sinner and I live among a people of unclean
lips and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts, undone.”
I was taking one of my daughters to a study session about a year ago.
I was the designated driver to go to the coffee shop out on
Highland Colony Parkway and my role was to sit in the
corner fall away from my daughter so she wouldn’t be embarrassed with her
friends on the other side of the coffee shop while they studied and prepared for
a test. And so they got around their
table and ordered their coffee and I tried to disappear.
It’s hard to disappear in a little coffee shop like that, but I tried.
And I was just sitting there.
You know I knew I had an hour just to watch people.
And this man I’d never seen came in and he ordered his coffee and he
turned around and I looked at him and he looked at me and he came close to me
and I said, “Come over here. Tell me
what’s your name.” And he told me
his name. He was a business man.
He was in town, he was meeting with somebody, and “What do you do?”
“I’m a preacher” — that could go either way, trust me.
But it didn’t go bad. It
actually went okay and I asked him some questions about what he loved most about
And just out of talking about what was most important to him we began to talk
about the Lord and I helped him to see how great God is and how holy God is and
at the same time what a loving heart He has for people like us because we are
intrinsically selfish and sinful and we cannot change who we are to be
acceptable to this holy God. It is a really bad situation.
But his heart of love, “as He demonstrated His love in this, that while
we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly” – that’s you, that’s me.
And the most surprising thing happened.
You know, He took this in.
You know the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
He looked at the floor and He said these words barely audibly — he said,
“I’m filthy. I’m filthy.”
Let me tell you, “I’m filthy! I’m filthy!
I’m filthy!” is an appropriate response to “Holy! Holy! Holy!”
He began to weep, not uncontrollably, but he just began to weep.
And of course my daughter’s over there and one of her friends looks and
says, “Your daddy is making that guy cry in the corner over there!”
And, “Awe, he’s just sharing the Gospel.
That happens all the time you know?”
We get a glimpse of who He really is.
That’s the experience of Peter.
“Please leave me. I’m filthy.
I’m filthy. I’m filthy.”
When I came to Christ I always tried to negotiate some kind of a peace
with God based on my own works. I
always thought more highly of myself than I should have and felt like I was
negotiating from a position of strength.
The night I came to Christ at age nineteen it was because I realized for
the first time that God was utterly holy and it was that second realization that
I’m so sinful and without any hope.
Oh, that’s why Jesus came. That’s
why Jesus died on the cross. And you
know this is a very important passage when it comes to missions because people
will never get it. If they don’t get
it they’ll never understand their real need for Jesus.
You know, it wasn’t about what Jesus could give.
It wasn’t about the fish. He
didn’t get thanked for the fish.
Salvation really isn’t about quote “all the things you’re missing that Jesus
could be giving you so you ought to ask Jesus in your life so you’ll have all
that stuff.” Look, “Forget not His
many benefits,” right? Amen!
But look, it’s not just about all the stuff you’re missing without Jesus,
it’s about who He is — the holy One — and who you are and what He’s done.
Basically the Gospel is about the holiness of God, our sinfulness and
inability, and thus grace. You might
put it this way — Salvation isn’t done until we’re undone.
Have you ever had that sense that you just couldn’t save yourself because
of who God really is and you needed Jesus and He did it on the cross in your
place? This is the first thing.
It’s this experience of Peter of the glory and power and holiness of
II. Jesus’ response to
But the second this is Jesus’ response to Peter and his corresponding experience
of God’s grace and mercy. Do you see
that? Jesus doesn’t leave Peter
undone. Look at verse 30 — “Jesus
said to Simon” — and how welcome these words must have been — “do not be
afraid.” Do not be afraid.
That is the grace of God. You
see, our sin is so offensive to this three times holy God, but because of what
Jesus has done, if you have put your trust in the cross then He is saying to
you, “Do not be afraid. I have paid
for that. Do not be afraid.”
You know, just when we’re undone before utter holiness we look in our
fear and there’s amazing love — don’t be afraid.
I mean just when we finally have that realization of how selfish and
sinful we are before this holiness and we look up expecting to find a judge and
we look up and there is a Savior there — don’t be afraid — and this fisherman is
caught by Jesus. Don’t you want to
be caught by someone like that, someone who will tell you, “Don’t be afraid.
I have paid for it.” The holy
paying for the sin of the sinful who do not deserve it — that is the grace of
And before we move on I think it would be important to say that this passage
does speak not only to people who need to put their trust in Christ at this very
moment in this sanctuary, but it speaks to those of us who’ve walked with Jesus
for a long time. We have this
problem — we still sin. And you know
just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean that your sin and my sin is not
odious to God and offensive to God.
It is a cancer. And when God helps
us see the cancer of our sin and the offense of it sometimes we can despair, do
we not? Sometimes we say, “Well how
does God feel about me now? Maybe I
need to do like five good things to make up for the bad thing that I did.
Maybe I need to atone for this.
You know, maybe I need to punish myself a little bit.”
But the Gospel is that the holy Savior still says to sinners concerning
their sin, “Do not be afraid.” And if you put your trust in Christ, what He is
saying is, “I have paid for that already.
Do not try to atone for that.
Accept My love. Don’t be afraid.
Confess it, repent of it, turn to Me, be cleaned, and follow Me.”
That is the good news, the Gospel.
Does that not draw you to want to be close to this holy Christ who gave
it all? That God shows you your sin,
that’s a good thing, and you have a place to go with it and acceptance before
God and the ability to be cleansed on the basis of what Jesus has done.
So you know there’s this experience, Peter’s experience of the holiness
of Jesus and his “Depart from me; go away from me.”
But then there’s the experience of the mercy and grace of Jesus where
Jesus says to him, “Do not be afraid.”
III. Peter’s future.
But then there is the matter of Peter’s future and that’s the third thing
I want you to see. It is when an
experience becomes a purpose. Now
look, we all get this, just intrinsically we get this.
Speaking of coffee, there are people who discover a new flavor of coffee
at their favorite coffee shop and for the next week they tell all their friends,
“You’ve got to try this!” You know
why? Because an experience became a
purpose. There are people who go to
a restaurant. The next thing you
know they’re phoning and emailing all their friends — “I had this experience.
You’ve got to try this.”
People say this about their deer camps — “You’ve got to come try out my deer
camp. It’s better than all the
others.” “Your child needs to go to
my college. I had a great experience
at my college.” Or, “I went to that
camp when I was young and you need to go to that camp as well.”
It is when an experience becomes a purpose and Peter’s experience of
Jesus’ glory and holiness and then His grace becomes a purpose.
In fact, we might call it a burning passion for other people to have that
same experience of grace.
Look at verse 10 — “And Jesus said to Simon” — remember, “Depart from me.
I’m a sinful man. I’m
ruined.” — Isaiah. “Do not be
afraid. And you’re going to have a
new purpose.” That’s what He said,
“Do not be afraid. From now on, you
will be catching men.” And it goes
on to say, “And when they brought their boats to land they left everything and
followed Him.” You know, it’s really
interesting. I don’t know how you
read the Scriptures. I don’t know if
you just read over it fast. I don’t
know if you ask any questions of it.
I don’t know if you think through the implications of things, but isn’t it
interesting that these fishermen who had been fishing since they were little
boys, they were partners in the business, they had just made the biggest catch
of their lives — translated — lots of cash!
This passion, this experience that became a purpose to then go and be a
fisher of men, it was so deep that they didn’t even cash in.
I mean there are piles and plies of fish on this beach.
I mean there is so much money lying on this beach.
I imagine I would have said, “Hey, this is my new purpose.
This is great. First of all
I’d like my cut. Now we’ve got my support issue settled.”
This is so visceral. This is
such a purpose that that is not at all what we read.
They leave the piles and piles of fish with the hired men.
They just go. They leave
their boats behind — that’s all their cattle — they leave their family behind,
they leave everything behind for this purpose.
And this picture of the great catch of fish, well, there’s also a picture of a
great catch of men. Not too distant
in the future if you were to flip over to Acts chapter 2 from Luke 5 what you
would see is the day that the Holy Spirit descended on the believers at the
feast of Pentecost where thousands of Jewish people from all over the world had
come to celebrate this feast. Do you
remember what happened? One of the
things that happened is this very fisherman stood up and in the power of the
Holy Spirit he gave the Word of God.
Does anybody here remember how many fish were caught that day?
That’s not rhetorical. Three
thousand! Y’all are chicken!
Three thousand! It’s an
enormous catch of men. Let me ask
you this — what about you? Can you,
do you have a sense of purpose in ministry that comes out of your experience of
the holiness and grace of Jesus? Can
you see the people around you who are living their lives without a relationship
with Christ? You know they’re
depending on money and status and prestige and power and sex or whatever to come
through for them and to make their life truly meaningful and it will never, ever
Matthew 9:36 — it says that “Jesus looked out over the crowds” — another
multitude. Listen to this — “and He
had compassion on them because He saw that they were harassed and helpless like
sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus
looked out at people and saw their futility.
Do you look out at the world when it comes to the Gospel and our joy to
send the Gospel? Do you see the
futility? Do you see the emptiness?
Jesus went on to say this, “He said to His disciples as He gave
compassion, ‘The harvest is plentiful’” — Do you believe that? — “’But the
laborers are few. Pray therefore,
earnestly, to the Lord of the harvest that He might thrust forth laborers into
His harvest field.’” So finally we
get to missions! At the end of the
sermon! The harvest is plentiful,
the people are empty. They’re like
sheep without a shepherd. They don’t
have the Good Shepherd.
What is missions? What is missions?
You know for some people, missions is kind of the spiritual link between
the New Testament and National Geographic Magazine.
It’s kind of what it is to people.
You know, missions is one of those things you have to have a passport to
be involved in or at least a checkbook so the other people can use their
passport. And look, all of that is a
part of missions, but maybe could we say that to really boil down what missions
is a little deeper to the heart level than that, could we say that it’s simply a
real experience of Christ and His grace that becomes a purpose that you must
follow because you love Jesus? Did
you catch that? Why would we want to
be a part of missions? Because we
have experienced the holiness of God, the undoneness before holiness.
We have experienced grace for sinners for our own sin through Jesus and
that experience of grace motivates us to want to be a part of this thing called
the great commission. That’s what
missions is all about. And strange
as it might sound, as you begin this missions conference I just think it’s
important not to go straight to the great commission and be told what to do.
I want you to encounter the great commission first.
It would be my desire and hope that you would encounter Jesus first, in
all His glory. He is the glorious
One. In all His power, in all His
holiness, the One that transforms undoneness into adoration and adoration into
outreach. That is missions.
I want you not just to understand missions better, I want you to feel
missions deeper because of an experience with Him.
Dear brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers in the faith, if that is your
experience, in this week open your ears and your eyes, open your hearts and your
minds and ask God to let that experience become a purpose that you commit to
whether it’s going, whether it’s praying, whether it’s supporting — whatever.
But you commit to because you want to because you love Jesus.
Lord, help us
to see You for who You actually are and not who we make You out to be.
Thank You for these dear brothers and sisters.
We pray that our experience of You and our salvation and even in our
continuing understanding of Your holiness and grace and forgiveness and the Word
of God and the growth that we experience because of the power of Your Spirit,
Lord, would you translate that into adoration and the purpose of missions.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
God bless you.
Let’s respond to God’s Word by taking our hymnals and turning to 165 — “Ye
Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim.”
Receive God’s benediction: Grace,
mercy, and peace from our God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you
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