To the Epicureans life was considered to be a matter of chance, while to the Stoics it was to be governed by a relentless fate. It was, therefore, man’s lot to be resigned to either chance or fate, a victim of circumstances, powerless and irresponsible. In his powerful Mars Hill sermon, Acts 17, Paul refuted both these views of life. It is God Himself that gives to ‘ail life, and breath, and all things’ and it is ‘in him we live, and move, and have our being’. Man is not a target for chance or fate but a responsible being, made in the image of his Creator, with a divine and purposeful destiny. There arc, however, situations in life when no rational explanation seems possible and resignation to the will of God is the only answer. Such were the circumstances in which Peter and his colleagues found themselves in the gospel narrative, Luke 5. 1-11.
Responsive to the Master’s Word
‘Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing; nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net’.
The Saviour had come from the synagogue to the lake-side. Soon the door of the synagogue would be finally closed to Him and His sphere of preaching become the open fields. It was John Wesley who said 1 lose a commodious room, a soft cushion and a handsome pulpit, but field-preaching saves souls’. As Jesus stood by the sea of Galilee, He saw two empty boats, for their owners were away washing their nets, a task not thrilling but vitally essential, for only clean vessels are ‘meet for the master’s use’, 2 Tim. 2. 21. There were those who were mending the nets, a work equally essential and often tedious, and demanding patience and expertise. How much easier it is to rend than to mend! To strive to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is the duty of every Christian, Eph. 4. 3. A more adventurous activity was that of casting the nets and securing the catch, but only possible where the nets were clean and unbroken.
Peter, weary from a night of fruitless toil, saw little meaning in the Lord’s command to ‘launch out into the deep and let down the nets’ but having confessed his failure responded to the Master’s word though it appeared contrary to all established methods and practices of experienced fishermen. It was as ‘Master’ that Peter addressed the Lord, not here as ‘Teacher’, for in this situation it was not instruction that Peter required but power to succeed. Peter’s reaction was one of unworthiness and inadequacy, of Isa. 6. 5. Ever ready in moments of stress to rush into speech, Mark 9. 5; John 21. 3, Peter uttered the prayer ‘depart from me’. His spoken prayer was unanswered but his heart’s desire was met, cf Psa. 37.4. It sometimes happens that our words do not describe the true wishes of the heart and this is known to the Lord and He answers accordingly.
Resigned to the Father’s Will
‘Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from Me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt’, Mark 14. 36.
One commentator remarks, ‘The story of Gethsemane, is almost too sacred to explore by methods of exegesis or exposition … there are things in it which have defied all explanation and have baffled every exegete. There are dim and darkling mysteries into which we cannot finally penetrate. Therefore, let it be understood that with profound reverence and becoming reticence we draw near’.
The Passover meal being ended and the customary hymn, the Hallel, sung, the little band resorted to Olivet and thence to Gethsemane. In this hour of trial the Saviour prayed an intensely solitary prayer. Having left eight disciples at the garden entrance and taking with Him the remaining three. He left them to ‘go a little further’ and advance into absolute loneliness and an agony which could be His alone.
It was a humble prayer for Luke relates that ‘He knelt’ and Matthew that ‘He fell on His face’. The usual posture for prayer was standing with hands lifted heavenwards, Luke 18.11; 1 Tim. 2. 8, but prostration was indicative of spiritual anguish, e.g. Num. 16. 22. Only as we humble ourselves before God in prayer can we hope that ‘He will exalt us in due time’. It was a filial prayer, ‘Abba, Father’. The Tyndale Commentary on Mark observes, ‘only the Petrine preaching has preserved the tender “Abba, Father’ from the original Aramaic prayer. Romans 8. 15 and Galatians 4. 6 show the quasi-liturgical use of this linguistic survival in the early church. It is a mistake with some editors to see this admittedly colloquial term as a “nursery-word”; what other Aramaic word for Father could the Lord have used? By this date determinative forms were used very freely in Aramaic, with little appreciative difference in meaning’. Affection must not be confused with familiarity, but nothing can forfeit a child’s right to a Father’s protection and we can with boldness call Him “Father"’. It was further a perservering prayer, for He prayed three times, if it were possible that the cup might pass from Him. Here is divine paradox for all things are by definition possible to omnipotence, but it was not possible for Jesus to be the Christ and yet to avoid drinking the cup. That would have been only a verbal not an actual possibility, for it would have been a contradiction in terms. Cease not to pray until you prevail, but ‘continue in prayer and watch in the same with thanksgiving’, Col. 4. 2.
Supremely here was a prayer of resignation; 'nevertheless, not what I will but what thou wilt’ was a summary of the earthly life of obedience of the Christ which was only perfected when it was ‘unto death’, Phil. 2. 8. In His resignation to the will of the Father the victory was complete.
Receptive to the Spirits Work
‘No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby’, Heb. 12. 11.
Life without discipline will have very little value. The writer to the Hebrews likens a disciplined life to the salutary discipline of a good father, imposed and exercised because the father cares. In the context of the times the father held absolute power over the family and his discipline would be accepted without rebellion or resentment. God’s discipline is always educative and activated by love. Four responses are possible; it may be despised and in regarding it lightly its purpose will be lost. To faint under it is to give up through failure and become despondent through self-pity. To endure it is to recognise it as that of a loving father towards his son, but to be exercised by it is to strain every muscle as an athlete does in order to derive maximum profit through the exercise, and develop a life of practical righteousness and godliness. Only in subjection to ‘the Father of spirits’ can life be fully realised.
A False Complacency
‘Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love’, Rev. 2. 4.
There is a false complacency which is born of familiarity, a fossilised orthodoxy which is devoid of passion. The risen Christ commends the church in Ephesus for its patient continuance in well-doing, its intolerance of evil men and its careful testing of professors. Important as this was, the first quality value had been lost for it had left its first, or best love. Though they had left their first love for Him they had not lost their first hate of evil practices, ‘but this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate’, v. 6. W. E. Vint comments, ‘today it seems to be thought by some to be a mark of Christian charity to hate nothing, but to take up a neutral attitude under the guise of impartiality, when evil has to be dealt with. But not so the Lord’. If we are guilty of such a condition, let us heed our Lord’s words ‘to remember to repent and to do the first works’ so shall we share the promise of the overcomer and ‘eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God’, Rev. 2. 7.
‘Thy wonderful grand will, my God,
With triumph now I make it mine;
And faith shall cry a joyous Yes!
To every dear command of Thine’.
Thrstrfckn, tr. Mrs Bevan.