‘Because you say so’

“But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’” (Genesis 50:19-20) 

“He said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’

Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’

“When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” (Luke 5:4-6)

As a concept, discipleship as total commitment to Jesus Christ is neither controversial nor a newly discovered innovation of some sort.

But the command embedded in the Great Commission defining disciple making is not “teaching them everything I have commanded you” but “teaching them to obey everything.” Teaching and doctrine can require no more than agreement, a mental assent you can give from your favorite armchair. Obedience requires acts of the will.

In today’s churches of infinite variety, you can shop around until you find something with which you can comfortably and voluntarily agree. Once ensconced among like-minded persons, you may never have to come face-to-face with certain issues that have made you uncomfortable in the past. There’s a tacit agreement not to bring them up, or at the very least, to gloss over them with minimal discomfort.

You might think that’s pretty cynical, but 44 years of experience in a variety of churches tells me it’s not. To borrow from Paul’s sermon in Athens, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). “Such ignorance” has in fact been not a lack of information for discerning God’s will, but an unwillingness to do what he requires.

And to get at our will, the Lord leads us into circumstances that force us to make choices. Of course, we can still elude his dealings with us, but to do so is, in effect, to make a choice, a choice not to surrender your will to his.

Simon Peter faced such a choice one morning after an unsuccessful night of fishing. After commandeering one of the boats from which to teach the people gathered on the shore, Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4).

Simon Peter’s vocation was fishing. Jesus was known to him as a carpenter. And this wasn’t a discussion over morning coffee at McDonald’s about the relative merits of spoons versus crankbaits for catching fish. I don’t know anyone involved in a trade who isn’t proud of the wisdom and knowledge he’s accumulated over the years of working at it day after day.

They had caught little or nothing, now they were washing their nets and they were no doubt tired since everything was done manually and without the aid of winches found on modern boats. At some point you concede it was a bad day and hope for a better tomorrow.

But for some reason, Peter acceded to Jesus’ request. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (v. 5).

Just four words. Because you say so. And the catch was incredible.

Why was this important? Sometime later, after his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5).

Do not leave Jerusalem? Remember, this was the city to which the King came and they crucified him. There weren’t any crosses in front of churches draped in purple. There were no churches. This was the headquarters of the religious leaders that condemned Jesus. It wasn’t just uncomfortable to be a follower of Jesus; it was dangerous.

And, relatively speaking, they “hadn’t caught anything” in this city. This seemed like the textbook case of a place from which you shake the dust from your feet and move on.

So why did they stay? And who must have recognized the parallels between that morning on the lake and their presence in the upper room?

Just four words. Because you say so.

On the day of Pentecost, “with many other words he [Peter] warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:40-41).

Seventeen-year-old Joseph had two dreams which assigned him a place of prominence in his family. I can’t imagine any typical teenager in similar circumstances who wouldn’t imagine, if not say out loud, I’m the boss.

And then his brothers plotted first to kill him, then threw him into a pit, and sold him into slavery. He served Potiphar until he resisted Potiphar’s wife, who falsely accused him, leading to his incarceration. While imprisoned he interpreted the dream of Pharaoh’s cup bearer who promptly forgot Joseph rather than put in a good word for him.

From age 17 until he was elevated to vizier in Egypt at age 30, there was one theme that characterized Joseph’s life: You are not the boss.

So how, finally, were Joseph’s dreams fulfilled? The two dreams never said how or when, only that Joseph would be primus inter pares, foremost among his family.

Just four words. Because you say so.

To his anxious brothers, Joseph said, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

After 13 years of rejection, false accusation, and simply being forgotten by someone he helped, after being baptized in the sometimes bitter realities of you are not the boss, Joseph recognized that despite all this, despite “working hard” and “not catching anything” to fulfill his vision, he could see the providential hand of the One who was “the boss.”

And it all came true. Because He said so.

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