Luke 5:1-10 – Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service
Let me begin by telling you my favourite true story, which is both amusing and amazing:
A few years ago a Christian minister called Graham Cooke was kicking around the house on a Tuesday morning in Southampton, just waiting for Sunday to come round. His wife said to him, “Graham darling, would you mind going down to the supermarket to buy me some cheese.” “So he thinks, “Great! Something to do.”
So he goes down to the supermarket, but as he approaches the cheese counter, he begins to feel that God is speaking to him about the woman behind the cheese counter.
He feels God say to him: “That woman was kneeling at the end of her bed last night praying”
Graham Cooke asks: “What was she praying about Lord?”
He feels God say: “She was praying about her daughter who she’s not had any contact with for four years, because she’s worried that her daughter has fallen into drug addiction or prostitution or something.”
So he asks God again, and he says: “Why was she kneeling by the end of her bed?”
And he feels God say: “She was kneeling by the end of her bed because when she was 8 years old she was taught by her grandmother that if ever she was worried or in trouble, she should kneel by the end of her bed last thing at night and pray to God.”
By now he’s arrived at the cheese counter.
Now listen to his opening line, he says: “Hello, my name’s Graham Cooke and I’m a Christian.”
She says: “yes.”
He says: “Can I ask you, were you praying by the end of your bed last night?”
And she replies: “Yes.”
So he says: “Were you praying about your daughter who you’ve not had any contact with for four years, because you’ve worried that she might have fallen into drug addiction or prostitution?”
She says “Yes” and bursts into tears.
He says: “And were you kneeling because when you were an 8 year old girl, your grandmother told you that if ever you were worried or in trouble you should kneel by the end of your bed and pray to God?”
And she says: “yes”
And at that moment, he gets further revelation. He says to this woman: “Your daughter will phone you on Thursday at 2pm. And I’ll have half a pound of cheddar cheese please.”
Now get this, on Thursday at 2pm, this woman’s daughter was walking along Oxford Street in central London, and as she passes a phone booth she feels a compelling urge to phone her mother who she hasn’t spoken to for four years.
Now just imagine her surprise when she discovered that her mum was expecting her to call. The following Sunday that young woman was in Graham Cooke’s church.
That’s an inspiring story. It’s inspiring because God used Graham Cooke to make a difference in someone’s life. All of us long to live a life that makes a difference. In whatever way, through whatever means, we want our lives to count for God.
And so this afternoon, we’re starting a series of talks which we’ve entitled “Living a life that makes a difference.”
And over the next two months, we’ll look at six of the characteristics that we’ll need if we’re going to live a life that makes a difference.
Now Jesus is of course, the ultimate example of someone who lived a life that made a difference.
And where is Jesus leading us? Well he announces the mission by telling us, “I have come to seek and to save the lost.” In fact the Bible says “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
And just in case we were in any doubt, the last thing Jesus said was “Go into all the world and preach good news to every creature.” And back at the start, the first thing that Jesus ever said to his disciples was “Come follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.”
And we’re going to look at that verse this afternoon. “Come, follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.”
Living a Life that makes a difference
“Focused on the mission.”
And so kicking off our series, this afternoon’s talk is entitled “focused on the mission.” If we’re going to live a life that makes a difference, then we’ve got to be focused on the mission that Jesus has given us.
Now, in one sense every single one of us is up for that. In theory it’s one of the most exciting things about being a Christian. To think that ‘I’m not just part of a holy huddle. I’m not just drifting through life. I can introduce people to Jesus! And by doing so, I can help people get to heaven! I can bring other people into the most precious thing in the whole universe! A relationship with the living God!’ In theory, evangelism, is pretty exhilarating, but many of us are turned off by the realities of doing evangelism for at least a couple of reasons.
1. It’s embarrassing. At least it sounds embarrassing, particularly as we may have got the impression that it’s all about approaching strangers.
For example here’s one hilarious true story.
In September 1974 on the first day of the new term, a fresh-faced 18 year old student from a Greek Cypriot family arrived for his first day of college in North London. He wandered into the college refectory not knowing anyone at all. He hadn’t been brought up in a Bible believing home and he had absolutely no experience of evangelical Christianity.
Anyway a second year student called Andy Economidies comes up to him and says:
“Hello, are you talking to me?” the fresher replies
“Yes I am.” Andy says, “What do you think of Jesus Christ?”
The fresher replies “Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve never ever thought about it.”
Andy says: “Never thought about it! Do you know something – you’re stupid!”
“What do you mean?” the fresher replies
Andy says: “You say you’ve never thought about Jesus. Don’t you realize that you’re throwing your life away?”
And then Andy Economidies gets a copy of John’s gospel out of his pocket hands it over and says, “Right you. Read this, and if when I see you again, you’ve read it, I’ll talk to you! If you haven’t read it, I’m ever so sorry, but I will never talk to you again!”
And then he just walked off.
Well, you may be surprised to hear that the fresher read John’s gospel that night. In fact, he stayed up late and read it through twice. And the next day he found Andy Economidies in the refectory again And a few months later, on 9 Feb 1975, that fresher became a Christian.
That fresher is now Britain’s leading evangelist, and his name is J John.
But how embarrassing!
Here’s another true story. A very well to do Scottish barrister is on a tube train on the way to work in London in the late 1960s. Educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge, he’s not a Christian. And as he’s standing there on a tube, there’s a man just staring at him. And then this total stranger says out of the blue: “You know that Christ died for your sins don’t you?” The barrister said, “Er . . . yes.” But the stranger wasn’t satisfied. He asked, “but have you personally experienced your sins being forgiven?” And the barrister knew the answer was no. He got off the train, but he couldn’t get that question out of his head, it was a turning point in his entire life which led him to become a Christian. He then gave up his legal career, and got ordained in the Church of England, and in 1976 became a curate at a little know Anglican church called Holy Trinity Brompton. And his name is Sandy Millar. And the rest as they say is history.
So evangelism seems potentially exciting, but pretty scary and embarrassing.
2. A second reason why many of us aren’t excited about actually doing evangelism is because we think we’re not much good at it. We’ve had a go in the past and we’ve come away feeling pretty disappointed with the results.
And so when Jesus says to us: “come, follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.” we aren’t exactly punching the air with enthusiasm.
So let’s look at that verse in its context in Luke chapter 5
SLIDE 2 Luke 5:4
The passage starts with Jesus telling Peter: “Put out into deep water and led down the nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4)
And Peter rather than saying: “Yippee! Fishing! I’ve never done that before! That sounds like fun,” is totally honest. He replies just like we would. He says:
SLIDE 3 Luke 5:5
“We’ve been fishing all night, and we haven’t caught anything.” (Luke 5:5)
He’s probably thinking: “I know a bit more about fishing than you do. Jesus you stick to your carpentry. I know this lake better than anyone. Besides, we’re tired.”
And I love Peter’s response because it’s so true to life. It’s so like us many of us, when it comes to evangelism. You see many of us have had a go before, but we didn’t catch anything. “I’ve been a Christian now for 4 years, 10 years, and I’ve never led anyone to Christ. Well I did nearly reel in a fish once, I reeled him in but then he swam away.”
And so when Jesus says, as he’s going to say to us tonight: “Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” Like Peter, we want to say, “Jesus. I’ve already tried this. It didn’t work. Either I’m no good at fishing, or there just aren’t any fish, but the fact is, I’ve had a proper go at this, and I’ve caught no fish.” Look nil points, no results.
And as a few of you know I call this situation, just to mix metaphors, the valley of disappointment.
SLIDE 4: MOUNTAIN CLIMBING
There you were at the start of your Christian life, and do you remember the first time you had a proper go at trying to witness to someone.
Maybe it was a friend at school. And you started to climb what I call the mountain of expectation. You were so excited, but it didn’t work out.
But because you’re a good Christian, you didn’t quit, oh no, you redoubled your efforts, and now perhaps you’re at university, and this person is really going to come through.
But that didn’t work out either.
So you slipped down into the valley of disappointment.
The amazing thing about the valley of disappointment is that so many Christians live there.
And the average church member’s disappointment is a problem because it makes us more reluctant next time, and we can very easily channel our energies into any number of other worthwhile things within the Christian church.
And what happens in the valley of disappointment? Christians decide what their gifting is.
And we think, well, I’ve haven’t led anyone to Christ, but I do see results in other areas. So we think, “that’s where my gifting is, that’s where I should be concentrating our efforts.”
Q. So why have we been disappointed?
A. Because we didn’t see anyone saved. Our expectations were not met.
This afternoon we’re going to see that evangelism is not simply about seeing people saved.
Now before we respond to the statement I’ve just made, let’s take a look at this:
SLIDE 5: THE ENGLE SCALE
Now, where on this scale are most people in this country?
Towards the bottom. Now that is disappointing, but we’re going to see that evangelism is a process.
So what evangelism really is, is meeting people at whatever point they are at on the scale and, through that encounter their picture of God and of the church is changed. Through this change, step by step, they see that the gospel message is increasingly relevant to them.
So if we take someone from one to two that is successful evangelism
If we take someone from five to eight, that is successful evangelism
We need to see that evangelism is a process.
How do we know that?
Because Jesus told us so!
Think about John 4. Jesus stops off at a place called Sychar, and meets a Samaritan woman at the well. Now as we all know, Jesus, the master evangelist wins her to the Lord.
But what is Jesus’ conclusion about his successful bit of evangelism?
SLIDE 6: “Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.” (John 4:37-38)
Why does he say this?
Because when Jesus found this woman he realized that someone else had already done the hard work for him before he even got to her. You see this woman had grown up being taught the truth about God. Someone else had already got her to point eight. We know that because she herself said:
SLIDE 7: The woman said: “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us” Then Jesus declared: “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25-26)
Research has shown that most people who come to the Lord need five to seven positive experiences of Christianity. Once we accept this idea it takes a lot of our self-imposed pressure off us, because every believer can play a part in the process of evangelism.
What this means is this, let’s just us as 120 people here. As a result of our evangelism, there may be 464 people who are closer to faith in Christ than when we first met them.
How many of those 464 have actually crossed the line of faith and become Christ followers. I don’t know, let’s say 20. So should we all go and beat ourselves up about that? No, because evangelism is a process.
All the analogies Jesus used for evangelism (fishing, sowing, farming, searching for lost items) all took time.
Just look with me for a second at Mark 4:26-29 The parable of the Growing Seed.
“This is what the Kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
So all we’ve done tonight is to take a look at why so many of us have been turned off by the idea of evangelism. And we’ve started by unpacking our experiences. By trying to clear some ground. We need to clear away some of our false assumptions, “such as, ‘I’m no good at this’” with some Biblical teaching.
OK, so once we’ve cleared away false assumptions, the next step is to ask why do evangelism?
Now we don’t have time to get into any of this tonight, but big truths do motivate us if we allow them into our hearts and heads. Now you know these doctrines better than I do, but let’s just take
• The grace of God. 1 Cor 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Experiencing God’s grace will leave us feeling we positively want to tell others.
• Another reason we do it is because the mission is bound to succeed. We are guaranteed success. “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” Rev 7:9. The great commission will be completed. The church wins in the end. That can lift our heads and get us in the game.
• Thinking about the return of Christ, the Last Judgement and heaven and hell can also motivate us.
Example of ‘If I can see that there’s a pothole and someone’s going to fall down it. I’m not going to think, “Who am I to impose my belief in potholes on them.” No, love warns!
OK, let’s try and apply this. The next question is who we’re going to evangelise?
1. We often find that the easiest way to reach out to people is through even the tiniest slice of leisure time:
How many of you enjoy doing, what you enjoy doing?
How many of you find you have energy for what you enjoy?
For example, here’s a story about Ray Lowe, who is an elder in the Newfrontiers church in Biggin Hill in Kent. Ray likes playing golf. And Ray made a friend at the golf club called Paul. Every Wednesday, Paul would be waiting on the first tee to play against Ray.
Paul was a successful businessman, and was happy to tell people as much. In fact Ray said that Paul was such an ultra-confident person that he almost felt intimidated by him.
One evening over dinner, Paul says to Ray: “Let me tell you about myself.” Paul then describes his involvement in a vast array of occult activity. Then Paul asks Ray: “What do you do?” Ray says “Well actually, I’m the pastor of a local church.” To which Paul says: “Oh that’s interesting, because I think the source of my power is God.” Ray replies: “I don’t. I think it’s a demonic deception.”
Anyway, months later, Paul has to go into hospital for a double hernia operation. Ray goes to see Paul on the ward, and on this occasion, Ray obviously gets through because after he leaves, Paul asks the nurse for a Gideon’s bible. He starts reading it. Next news you know, Paul discharges himself from hospital, and turns up at a church meeting. When he hears people prophesying, which he’s heard counterfeited in occult groups, he assumes that Ray has put them up to it specially. Paul says to Ray: “You’ve set these people up.”
Then Paul’s psychic circle start to reject him because they say Paul’s involvement with Christians is having a detrimental effect upon their power.
Eventually Ray ends up going over to Paul’s house because Paul’s wife, who’s totally ignorant of her husband’s occult activities, is being affected by an evil spirit. Ray arrives, tells her all about Paul’s occult life, and leads her to the Lord. And in short order, Paul becomes a Christian as well.
Paul Heather, ex-occult healer, went on to work one day a week for Biggin Hill Christian Fellowship, and his testimony has been made into a video. And he’s going on with God.
So with your church leader telling stories like that, the whole idea of evangelism starts feeling exciting. The church catch the bug.
Incidentally how did that whole amazing story come about? Golf! God used golf. Now what’s your thing? You may not like golf, but there’s something else you’d love to do, and you could meet people who don’t know Jesus yet in the process. I want to encourage you: You can lead by example in evangelism and have the time of your life in the process.
• Book club. Tell Jenna’s story
2. Those we work with:
• Pub after work. My experience is that it’s no good doing it at work, or even through work.
Let me say, finally, this Autumn we’re going to launch a huge Alpha programme. It’s obvious that Christ Church, London is already making a difference in the lives of Christians. What remains to be seen is whether or not Christ church London will make a big difference in the lives of non-Christians. The signs are encouraging. We had more than 100 guests at the Carol Service.
But if we want people on the Alpha Course, we need to let down the nets now.
We need lots of book clubs or their equivalent. Because come October we’re not just wanting our friends to come to a one-off Alpha Meal, we want them to be far enough up the scale to come on the whole course. You may not know anyone well enough right now to take them through a whole Alpha Course, but that’s OK, because October is 9 months away, and God is with us.
You see back in Luke chapter 5, after complaining at Jesus, Peter actually said
“But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5b)
And they caught so many fish that they needed a second boat. The nets began to break, and they were all astonished.
And there’s Peter saying: “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man.” And Jesus rather than replying: “Yes, you are a sinful man, you should have had more faith.” Jesus actually says to Peter what he says to us tonight.
“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:10)