Study Notes

Go away, I’m a sinner!

Luke 5:1-11 is a tremendously powerful little story.  Jesus sees two boats, and the fishermen washing their nets—after a long night of catching nothing.  The fishermen are Peter, James, and John, partners in a fishing enterprise (v. 10).

Jesus gets in the boat, and He tells Peter to go out deep and put out the nets.  The nets they just finished washing after a fruitless night.  Peter tells Jesus they just caught nothing, but unhesitatingly adds, “But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.

Right away, we see Peter is one of the believing people.  He’s not quite sure about the idea but he’s willing to go along in faith.  Jesus is already catching Peter.

Of course, they go out, and they catch so many fish that their nets tear from the weight, so they signal to James and John in the other boat to come, and they fill both boats so full that they start to sink!  This is an obvious supernatural event, not just good timing—Jesus didn’t just see some fish swimming around in the water and decide to take advantage of the situation to make a point.  No, this is a ridiculous amount of fish.

And Peter seems to know right away that Jesus isn’t just Master (v 5), he’s Lord (v 8).  And his reaction reminds me of Samson’s parents (Judges 13):

And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground. The angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife.Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord.  And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”  But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

Peter sees Jesus as Messiah and he’s—amazed? ashamed? afraid?  Maybe all three.  I love that what comes to his mouth is I’m a sinner!  Everybody else is amazed at all the fish, and Peter’s not even thinking about the fish, he’s thinking, wow, this is God, and I’m a wretch!  Just like Manoah, who realizes the angel was in fact God and—we’re going to die!

And what does Jesus say? Don’t be afraid!  Crazy incredible words.  Face to face with God in flesh and He says—don’t be afraid?  He sees right at Peter’s heart and… is kind.  This is a gloriously kind response!  He could have left Peter hanging in his terror, but He reassures him instead!  And then this tremendous sentence—from now on, you will be catching people!  What a small sentence, a small illustration, of a huge thing that was going to change Peter’s life forever, to the very very end.  Peter, who is going to go around with Jesus now, and preach His message, who is going to be His follower through His death, who is going to wait for the resurrection, who is going to play a huge role in establishing the church, who is going to write epistles that Christians through all the millennia thereafter are going to read and be drawn by—Peter is in the people-catching business for good.

And, again, what do they do? They take their boats to the shore and walk away from their lives and livelihood—to follow Him.

Study Notes

Human Sacrifice

One thing I have been really searching for in my reading for the past year or so is to grasp the surrounding context of the biblical events.  I’ve been spending a good bit of time with my nose in the biblical atlas and the encyclopedia, trying to fill in the gaps.

One of the things I’ve noticed is there was human sacrifice in the Old Testament era.  This is one of those things that gets kind of glossed over by modern historians, but we see it in Leviticus 18:21, 20:1-5, Deuteronomy 12:31,2 Kings 17:17, 21:2-6,  Psalm 106:37, Ezekiel 16:20-21, Jeremiah 7:30-34, and still more places.  The ancient gods Molech and Asherah, to name just two, apparently involved child sacrifice that reached its sinfulness even into Judah.

This was news to me.

The invisible God.

It’s into this context that we find Abraham wandering around Canaan, offering what to His God?  Animals.  In the middle of a culture that has fairly ornate worship, that demands people sacrifice their own children to the flames, where people bow down to idols made of wood and stone—and then there’s this comparatively very strange God, YHWH.  He’s invisible.  Huge leap of faith right there.  And what He asks? Obedience.  Exclusivity.  And… animals.

I was thinking what an odd, terrifying thing it must have been to live in a culture where children were selected to meet their doom for their parents’ sins.  The price of sin, the price of rain and a good harvest, the price of blessings—what a terrible price these people grew accustomed to paying.

I guess I always had this vision of pagan peoples not really thinking there was a price for sin at all, but the more I think about it, it’s really kind of astounding that in the middle of all their sinful ignorance, they had caught on to one key reality: they needed blood.

And then there was YHWH, and His acceptance of mere animals.  It might have seemed like such a relief in juxtaposition to the pagan cultures around them: here is a God who does not want the blood of your sons and your daughters!  He declares those practices are an abomination.  And so Abraham brought his animals to the altar, year after year, and YHWH promised the impossible son, and Isaac was born at last.  A faithful, powerful God, who only asks for animals.

Then comes Genesis 22.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”  He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

I can’t even begin to imagine what must have run through Abraham’s mind.  I’ve heard sermon after sermon about how because Abraham knew all along that God was going to provide a ram.  But the text says it was a test.  After all these years, YHWH was asking for a human sacrifice, just like the pagan idols around them.

And Abraham got up, got on his donkey, grabbed Isaac, some servants, and some wood to burn, and obediently went off to Moriah.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

This is the part that’s really incredible to me.  They get there, and Abraham doesn’t look around to ask God when He’s going to find a ram in the thicket.  No.  He ties Isaac up on the altar, takes the knife, and reaches to sacrifice his son.  He was invested in the follow-through here, he was really going to do it.

And then… God interrupts.

Abraham does seem to know God is going to interrupt, because he assured Isaac of this and he told the servants that they would come back after making the sacrifice, and not Abraham alone.  But it’s equally clear that Abraham was proceeding all the way to the very end to sacrifice his son, without holding back his obedience.  If blood was required, blood was what Abraham would give.

In light of Christ, the passage has yet another dimension: blood was required.  Human blood was required.  But instead of asking His followers to sacrifice their children, God chose to sacrifice His own Son.  And in the meantime, His people sacrificed only their animals, in waiting faith, trusting that “God will provide for himself the lamb.”