The Great Physician: Was An Irritating Teacher

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, 10 February 2019
A Sermon on Luke 5:1-11 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS

Luke 5:1-11 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

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, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 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. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 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.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

The Great Physician: Was An Irritating Teacher

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine this, and some of you won’t have to try very hard to imagine. Suppose that unbeknownst to you, you had a serious illness that, if untreated, could kill you sooner than later. And, because you were feeling pain or discomfort from this illness you didn’t know about, you went to see a physician. And, suppose that physician said to him- or herself, “My patient isn’t going to like me very much if I tell the truth. So, I’m going to give my patient something for pain and say ‘check back with me if this doesn’t help.’” Well, when things went bad, when the illness had grown worse, and the patient died, his or her family would be angry and might file malpractice charges against the physician, who didn’t want to be disliked and didn’t want to say anything upsetting.

Imagine this, and, again, some of you won’t have to try very hard to imagine. Suppose you had a child or grandchild who didn’t like teachers who said things the student didn’t like. And, because you the parent or grandparent preferred that the child be happy all the time, whenever the child was unhappy, you did your best to do whatever would make the child happy. So, then, when your child said he or she didn’t want to go to school or didn’t want to have any teachers who said things the child didn’t like, suppose you said: “Well, you don’t have to go to school” or “We are going to make sure you never have any teachers that say irritating things.” I can safely say, that unless you plan to leave your child enough money to never have to work a day in his or her life, your child will find it hard to live in a world where most don’t live to insure his or her happiness.

So, then, what if it isn’t all about you or me or those we love? And, what if the world is a place where people get sick and die and before that spend a lot of hours being unhappy? Is it wise to pretend otherwise? Or, in the case of some prominent narcissists in the news, is it really possible to suspend reality because life is difficult and will always be difficult? Let’s go deep with Jesus.

We Need Jesus the Great Physician

Peter and his fishing partners knew a lot about fishing, because they had been raised from childhood to take over the family business. The lived in a world where people didn’t ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up. They lived in a world where no one ever said, “You can be whatever you want to be.” Unlike a lot of us, they knew better. As someone once said, the secret to happiness is learning not to want what you can’t have.” In other words, the world doesn’t exist to give us whatever we want. Please, tell that to some power-hungry politicians.

Peter and his fishing partners knew fishing. They knew the Sea of Galilee. And when they fished all night and caught nothing, well, some days were like that. Win some. Lose some. Some called on account of rain. The last thing they needed to hear was some rabbi tell them how to fish.

What Peter and his buddies didn’t know about Jesus was a lot! There’s still a lot of that going on in this culture that thinks diversity is a new idea. Of course, if you don’t know the Scriptures and the cultures to whom the Word was first spoken, you will think like that. For instance, Corinth, the city of the church to whom Paul wrote in the 2nd lesson, was the most culturally diverse city ever. There were temples to various gods all over the place, and sleeping around with whomever, whenever was normal. It was also a port city. Leaving unwanted children to die on the side of the road was common, so our culture is still in the minor leagues both of diversity and perversity.

In Genesis 12, God called Abram and Sarai to be the parents of a new servant people, who would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Israel had forgotten who she was called to be, and so the Great Physician, God’s Son Jesus, was born into that history in order to do what Israel had failed to do – to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Everyone needs God’s Son Jesus!

Why did they and we need the Great Physician? Because we are born into a sinful, sick world and we are carriers of that sin-sickness. It’s a sickness unto death. Preachers who fail to tell the truth to their congregations are like physicians who don’t want to give their patients bad news because that will make the patients unhappy. Preachers who fail to speak what their hearers don’t want to hear are like teachers who never want to say anything that makes the students unhappy. And parents and grandparents who spend their whole lives trying to make children happy are greatly at fault if their children and grandchildren grow up listening to and believing nonsense.

We live in an age in which some people pick a church on the basis of whether the church agrees with what they already think… or whether the church makes them feel good. Let’s be clear. The word for the place where the congregation sits is called the nave. It comes from the Latin word for boat. Here’s what that means. You are only in the right boat if the real Jesus is in that boat!

So, the Lord Jesus was an irritating Teacher, then, and He is still an irritating Teacher today, because He tells us what we don’t like to hear. We need saving every day until we die. The fishermen thought they knew everything, but they didn’t know Jesus was and is God and Man. They also didn’t know everything there was to know about fishing, and they didn’t know what the rest of their life was going to be. In other words, what they didn’t know was a lot. Period. It wasn’t what they didn’t know that was their biggest problem. It was what they were sure of!

Baptism is the Only Death You Ever Have to Die!

The only cure for sin-sickness is death, the death of God’s beloved Son Jesus. God does for us what we cannot do by becoming human to live the obedient life we cannot live and to die the innocent death we cannot die. Let’s be clear. Sin-sickness kills not only the body but the soul. The only cure for sin-sickness is to be crucified with Jesus in Baptism and raised to new life. That’s not a one-time thing. It’s the pattern of dying to self and Christ living in us day by day!

When you and I come to worship, we don’t need to hear someone say it doesn’t matter whether a person is baptized. It does. We don’t need to hear that once we invite Jesus into our hearts, then we are saved. We aren’t. Sin-sickness is fatal. The question is whether it will only kill the body. And it is a damnable lie to tell people that sin-sickness is cured now so we can focus on having our best life here. The first apostles died for preaching the truth that there is salvation in no other name than Jesus. Christians are even today being persecuted and killed for saying to Muslims, Hindus, and Asian atheists that there is salvation in no other name than Jesus. Come to Jesus.

The real Jesus sat in a boat and taught the crowds that there was a cure for sin-sickness. The real Jesus sat in a boat and taught professional fishermen how to fish and for what they would be fishing for the rest of their lives. They all needed to be in Jesus’ boat. The whole world needs to be in Jesus’ boat. And when Jesus calls you and me, as He called the crowds and Peter and the rest of the guys, He called them to Himself, the Great Physician, who alone cures sin-sickness.

Our congregation belongs to a denomination whose health plan for pastors and professionals pays for abortions. That’s a violation of the 5th Commandment against murder, and you and I are all complicit in those murders. Our denomination allows homosexual pastors with partners to serve the congregations who call them. That’s a violation of the 6th commandment, and you and I are complicit in the breaking of that commandment which supports the marriage of one man and one woman until death parts us. We cannot pretend that Baptism has cured us of sin-sickness when we say and believe things to which the real Jesus said no. He is very clear on the value of each child. He is very clear that marriage is a man leaving parents to join with his wife. As with Corinth and the rest of the Roman world, civil law can permit anything. But not Jesus’ boat!

Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only death you and I ever have to die. But, as Martin Luther made clear, repentance is daily dying to the sin-sick self inside us that always seeks its own happiness over others. We won’t be saved by a Republican or a Democrat vision of the world. We will only be saved by being in Jesus’ boat when we close our eyes in death.

When I was a young man, I worried a lot about what people thought, and, about how they felt about me. That was narcissistic. So, the more I listen to Jesus, the more He irritates me, because He tells me I am sin-sick and am going to need Him to save me every day until I day. If I were not a pastor, I would still show up every weekend and probably oftener to hear Jesus irritate me some more as He calls me away from myself to Himself. That’s practicing my Baptism: to renounce the devil, his works, and his ways day by day. Most of all, I show up every week to lift my sin-sick hands to receive Jesus with my sin-sick lips. He purifies me like Isaiah and sends me out to cast the net far and wide to draw as many people as we can into Jesus’ boat to be saved.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©The Rev. Dr. Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
The Great Physician: Was an Irritating Teacher


“Lord God, we ask you to keep your Church and household continually in your true religion, that those who lean only on the hope of your heavenly grace may evermore be defended by your mighty power; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 611).


Luke 5:2 “and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them….”

St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa]: “The nets were cast. The Lord had not yet suffered, not yet risen again. The nets were cast. They caught so many fish that two boats were filled, and the very nets were torn by that vast quantity of fish. Then he said, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They received from him the nets of the Word of God they cast them into the world as into a deep sea, and they caught the vast multitude of Christian that we can see and marvel at. Those two boats, though, stood for the two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, synagogue and church, those circumcised and those uncircumcised” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, 87-88).

Luke 5:4 “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

St. Maximus [5th century Bishop of Turin, Italy]: “This boat sails upon the deeps of this world, so that, when the earth is destroyed, it will preserve unharmed all those it has taken in. Its foreshadowing can be seen already in the Old Testament. For as Noah’s ark preserved alive everyone whom it had taken in when the world was going under, so also Peter’s church will bring back unhurt everyone whom it embraces when the world goes up in flames.” (88).

Luke 5:6 “… they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria [5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “By a visible sign and by a miraculous type and representation, they were fully convinced that their labor would be rewarded. Within this net they should most certainly catch the shoals of the heathen. But note the neither Simon nor his companions could draw the net to land. Speechless from fright and astonishment – for their wonder had made them mute – they beckoned to their partners, to those who shared their labors in fishing, to come and help them in securing their prey. For many have taken part with the holy apostles in their labors, and still do so, especially those who inquire into the meaning of what is written in the holy Gospels” (88).

Luke 5:5 “But at your word I will let down the nets.”

St. Maximus of Turin: “When Peter lets down the nets at the word, therefore, he is in fact letting down the teachings in Christ. When he unfolds the tightly woven and well-ordered nets at the command of the Master, he is really laying out words in the name of the Savior in a fitting and clear fashion. By these words he is able to save not creatures but souls…Peter, who beforehand was unable to see in order to make a catch, enduring darkness without Christ, had indeed toiled through the whole night” (88-89).


1. In what ways does what you are sure of get in the way of where Christ wants to take you?


The Lord’s Prayer (from Luther’s Small Catechism)

As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.

The Seventh Petition

But deliver us from evil.

What does this mean?

We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.


1. Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend what it means to ask your heavenly Father to deliver you from evil. In what guise is evil attacking you?

4. Evil can attack us physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, maritally, sexually, vocationally, et cetera. The old enemy is the father of lies and deceit, manipulation, fear, and utter confusion are his favorite tools. As you pray the seventh petition, examine the origins of the attacks that keep coming at you internally and externally. Pray the seventh petition and name aloud those things, works, and ways from which you need to be delivered. Speak aloud the Word of God that rebukes the devil, his works, and his ways.

5. Focus on the words of the Lord’s Prayer, praying them slowly, and thinking carefully to what the Lord Jesus is calling you as you pray His model prayer.

6. We are just over three weeks away from the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, March 6. Pray for and invite to worship someone close to you who is unbaptized or functionally unchurched. Now, show up for Bible study on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday, so that you may be a better “fisherman” for the Lord.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”