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When God Interrupts

A sermon by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.

Luke 5:1-11, 27-32

February 23, 2014

Don’t you just hate interruptions?  Finally, at last, on a Sunday afternoon, the weight of the previous week making you weary.  And the prospects of the week to come a future burden.  Somewhere in the middle of the Cowboys’ game, when they are already 28 points behind, you enter that Nirvana of Nothingness – that moment when your eyes close and all the world and its worries go away.

And the phone rings.

It’s your cousin, Beulah, who wanted to make sure that you didn’t miss the PBS special to be aired on Sunday evening.  The special was going feature the world’s largest hairball, as well as the second largest ball of string.  Well, it was too exciting to miss.

Interruptions.

Changing the light bulb without the ladder.  Thinking you could climb up on the chair.  There’s not even time to think about it – you’re on your back, your femur is crushed, and crutches are part of your world for the next six weeks.

Taking a trip across the United States, the car starts humping and jumping, popping and pouncing.  It’s overheated.  Smoke comes out from under the hood.  You’re going to miss your flight, which was going to take you to your cruise ship.

Interruptions.

Making your way to work when the stranger hands you the papers.  You’ve been served – divorce papers, lawsuit papers.  Whatever kind of papers interrupt your life.

I guess there are good interruptions, like a fire alarm, if the building really is on fire.  Or the doorbell ringing on a Saturday afternoon and the florist is delivering a big bouquet of flowers.  Or the phone ringing and the college kid says, “Dad, I made an A” or your adult married son says, “Are you ready to be a grandpa?”

Some interruptions are good, and some interruptions are bad.  But there is no interruption that compares to the interruption  when Jesus taps you on the shoulder and utters two words – the same words that Peter, Andrew, James and John and Matthew heard – leave it all behind, your life has just changed.  It’s time to “follow Me.”

Jesus’ popularity is growing.  The crowds are pressing as He tries to teach on the shore – the shore of Galilee.  As the multitude was pressing Jesus and listening as He spoke God’s word, He eyes two boats lying at the edge of the lake.  The fishermen had already gotten out of them.  They were washing their nets – mending them, perhaps.  Even as the crowd presses Jesus all the more, He has an idea.  He jumps into one of the boats – it happens to be Peter’s – and asks him to push out so there will be some distance between him and his listeners.

He sat down in the boat, as was the custom when teaching in the synagogue, and began to teach the multitudes.  When he had finished teaching, Jesus wanted to go fishing.  He asks the water-weary fishermen: “Go out a little deeper.  Let your nets down for a catch.”

Now Peter didn’t know a lot about preaching, but Peter did know about fishing.  “Master, we’ve worked hard all night.  We’ve caught nothing.  But at your bidding – because you say so – we’ll let down the nets.”

I.  Jesus interrupts us even while we sit in sin.

Watch them now as these suntanned fishermen cast their heavy nets into the water, going through the motions only to satisfy this new, shore-side teacher. To their complete amazement, they draw in so many fish that the nets begin to break, so many fish that both boats are filled with fish.  Simon now knows this is no ordinary catch of fish.  This is no ordinary command.  This is no ordinary man.  He realizes at that moment that Jesus is Messiah, the Holy One of Israel. 

He does what the prophet Isaiah did when he found himself in the house of holiness.  He does what we all ought to do when we find ourselves in the presence of Christ.  He falls down.  Look at verse 8.  “Get away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”

When we find our sinful selves in the presence of the Holy Christ, we feel like we are wearing worn out rags to a black tie gala.  All of a sudden, Peter feels exposed.

Yet, Jesus had a habit of being around sinners.  He comes to us however we are.  He doesn’t seek out the saints.  Rather, He seeks out ordinary fishermen and frauds.

As He calls Matthew, another disciple, in chapter 5, the story happens much the same way.  Beginning in verse 27, the story goes something like this.  There is a tax gatherer, an IRS agent by the name of Levi.  Jesus comes to the tax office and says to him – look at the command in verse 27 – “Follow me.” 

T. B. Maston was one of the most godly professors to ever teach seminary.  He was one of those men that people have an unusual reverence for.  Maston used to tell the classes of old, those men and women fortunate enough to sit under his tutelage, “All the claims of Christ can be summed up in two words:  ‘Follow me.’”  He had a student one year named John.  John was taking notes for the future test, but when Maston said that “follow me” summed up all the claims of Christ, John wrote in his notebook a large question mark in the margin.  He had memorized Maston’s claims for the test, but he wasn’t sure that Dr. Maston was right.  After spending a life time in ministry and preparing to move to a new home for his own retirement, John came across that old classroom notebook and read his notes again.  In doing so, he re-read the statement, “All the claims of Christ can be summed up in two words:  Follow me.”  John, now a retired minister, took out an eraser and erased the question mark from the margin and wrote at that point:  “I am convinced that the only way to win the world is to understand Jesus’ challenge [to follow Him] and to take seriously all that implies.” (David M. Hughes, “Drop Everything,” Following Jesus: Sermons on Discipleship, ed. Hulitt Gloer, p. 86.

What does it mean to be a disciple?  You can say it in two words: “follow Jesus.”  It means to drop our nets and rearrange our priorities and reorder our lives about and around Christ.  It means to go as Jesus went, to serve as Jesus served, and do as Jesus did.

Matthew does the unbelievable.  He closes the tax books, pats his co-workers on the back, and says, “You handle it from now on, boys.  I don’t think I’ll be coming back.”

Notice what they say about Jesus in verse 30.  “Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?”  Jesus said folks who are well don’t need to go to the doctor.  It’s those who are sick.  “I didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus comes to us exactly as we are.  He came to Simon Peter and his fellow fishermen.  He came to the fraud – that is to Matthew, the one who made his living cheating folks out of taxes.  And He says to them, “Follow me.”  He comes to them while they are still rugged and rough, sly and sneaky, sorry and sinful and says, “Come on and follow me.”

II.  Jesus was always including the excluded, eating with the tax-gatherer and the sinner.

The first thing I want you to see in this story is that Jesus comes to us as we are, but secondly, I want you to see Jesus includes the excluded.

Turn to Luke 7:33.  It says “John the Baptist has come, eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinner!’”

Jesus was known as a friend of sinners.  Jesus included the excluded.

Where did anyone get the idea that the people of God were to turn their back on and to stiff-arm sinners away from the community of faith?  We have missed the point.  The point is we are to be seeking sinners for the kingdom interruption. 

Jesus didn’t hesitate – didn’t even think twice.  Just pulled up a chair and sat down right beside the sinners – didn’t care what other people thought – and broke bread and ate a meal.

III.  Jesus’ interruption is a call to repentance.

But I want you to see that if Jesus comes to those who are sinners, He doesn’t leave them in their sin.  He doesn’t leave them as they are.  Rather, He calls them to repentance.  He calls them to change.  He doesn’t see them for who they are, but He sees them for who they can be.  The same Jesus who is so holy that Peter, in his sin, has to fall at His feet, lifts Peter up into the service of the kingdom of God. 

In fact, Luke uses the  idea of repentance or changing or turning more than any other Gospel writer – more than Matthew or Mark or John.  Turn to Luke 13:3. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus makes no bones about it.  “I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

He was bold.  He was honest.  He called them to repent.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the board meeting Satan called in Hell.  He assembled his cabinet and said to his senior advisors, “We need to develop a strategy for wrecking havoc upon the earth.  Do you have any suggestions for new ways for reaching human beings for our side?”

One advisor suggests, “Tell them there is no heaven.”

Another says, “Tell them is no hell.”

“They won’t believe that,”  the senior advisor said. “Simply tell them there is no hurry.”

At the interruption of Jesus, right then and there, the fishermen and the fraud follow Jesus.  In fact, in the parallel passage when Mark is telling the story, he says it this way:  “And as He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’”  And there it is, Mark says this word in verse 18 of chapter 1, “And they immediately left the nets and followed Him.”

Of course, being a disciple doesn’t mean you always walk off your job or walk out of your family.  But at some point you do have to realize you don’t have all day to make this decision.  Every minute you sit around, wrestling and equivocating, just falling asleep in the pew, you’re pushing aside the most important decision of your life.  Jesus came to them, and Jesus comes to you today, and Jesus says, “Just as you are, as a sinner, come, repent, and follow me.”  (David Hughes, “Drop Everything,” p. 85)

William Willimon, the chaplain at Duke University, shared a personal story in the Christian Century.  He told about serving at a church in rural Georgia, where one of the member’s relatives died.  He and his wife went to the funeral as a show of support for the family.  He was serving a small church and, likewise, this funeral was held in a small, hot, crowded Independent Baptist country church.  They wheeled in the coffin, and the preacher began to preach.  He shouted and he fumed and he flailed his arms.  The preacher said something like this:

“It’s too late for Joe,” he screamed.  “He might have wanted to do this or that in life, but it’s too late for him now.  He’s dead.  It’s all over for him.  He might have wanted to straighten his life out, but he can’t now.  It’s over.”

“What a comfort this must have been to the family,” Willimon thought sarcastically.

“But it ain’t too late for you!” the preacher continued.  “So why wait?  Now is the day for decision.  Now is the time to make your life count for something.  Give your life to Jesus!”

It was the worst thing Willimon had ever heard.  Can you imagine a preacher doing that kind of thing to a grieving family?  Is he just trying to cut down on the funerals he’s asked to do?

On the way home, Willimon said to his wife, “I’ve never heard anything so manipulative, cheap, and inappropriate.  I would never preach a sermon like that.”

His wife agreed with him.  She said it was tacky, manipulative, and callous.  There was silence, and then she said, “Of course, the worst part of all it that it’s true.”  (William Willimon, “Take Heed to Yourselves,” Christian Century, December 3, 1986, p. 1085-86)

Jesus calls you, Jesus calls me, to repentance – to come and to follow Him, to follow Him today.

IV.  Jesus’ interruption means we must leave everything behind.

As I read this story again, I was struck by the commonality of the pattern of the story of the call of both the fishermen and the fraud.  Look at Luke 5:11.  Jesus tells them to come; He will make them fishermen for men – not fish anymore, but, rather, they will be seeking out people for God’s kingdom.  But notice what it says in verse 11.  “…they left everything and followed Him.”

Now look at verse 28 of this same chapter where Jesus is talking not to the fishermen, but to the tax-gatherer, the fraud – to Matthew.  It says, “And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him.”

Jesus called them to follow Him.  They knew that meant they had to drop everything.  In their case, they had to drop their old job.  In their case, they had to drop some family.  In their case, they had to leave anything behind that would hinder their following in the footsteps of Jesus.

There is only one way to follow Jesus – and that’s to leave everything behind.

My friend Jim Denison was pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas.  While in college, Jim served as a summer missionary in East Malaysia.  During one of their worship services, a teenage girl shared her faith in the small warehouse that was used for a church.  She was baptized that day in their baptistry, which was a bathtub, and glowed with the love of Christ.  While all of this was going on, Jim noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the wall.  He asked a church member for an explanation of the suitcase.  He pointed to the girl who had been baptized and said, “Her father said that if she was baptized as a  Christian she could never go home again.  So she brought her luggage.”

The very essence of discipleship is surrender.  

Jesus’ interruption is always costly.  “Leave it behind and follow me.”

Jesus did say, “Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Jesus did say, “Come and follow me…take up your cross.”  The Divine is present in the world in complex ways.  The notion that you’re going to have an orderly life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is bunk.  You want a conventional, convenient, consistent, predictable life?  Then don’t follow Jesus. (Leonard Sweet, Soul Tsunami, p. 99)

Leave it behind.  Ships and shores.  Family and friends.  In Matthew’s case, money and materialism.  Leave it behind and walk in the steps of Christ.

When you are interrupted by Jesus, you have to rearrange your whole life.  Your priorities have turned upside down.  If you want to come to Christ, if you want to follow Jesus and leave everything the same in your life, you’re not going to follow Jesus.  It’s a radical interruption demanding a radical response.  Get ready to re-order your life if you try to follow Christ.

As you follow Him, you, too, will be sharing in serving, in helping, in healing, in feeding, in forgiving.  Following the steps of Jesus, wherever they go.

Jesus comes to us today as he came to the four fishermen and the fraud years ago, and He interrupts, “Hey, leave it all behind and come and follow me.  It will radically reorder your life, and I’ll put you in the business of seeking others for my kingdom.”

You don’t have any more promised than the breath you breathe right now.  You don’t have any more days promised than the day you live right now.  Don’t let Satan fool you into waiting until tomorrow, because tomorrow may well be too late.  The call is today.  Come and follow me – the call of Christ.  An interruption from God.