This coming Tuesday, I plan to give the following teaching to a group of about 15 men. The first part of it draws heavily on concepts and content from the book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” (chapters 8 & 9)
1 Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.
4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink.
8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which 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 fear, from now on you will be catching men.“
11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. 12 While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 13 And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him.
14 And He ordered him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 15 But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. NASB
The Plausibility of Miracles
Luke 5:1-16 gives the account of 2 miraculous signs performed by Jesus in the presence of His disciples and many other witnesses. The miraculous catch of fish (v4-10) and the healing of the leper (v12-15).
Atheism / Naturalism
The atheistic worldview asserts that only the natural, material world exists. According to atheists, miracles are impossible because there is no supernatural realm. According to them, to believe otherwise is to believe in fairy tales. However, if God exists and created the universe (inferred from many lines of evidence), it is reasonable to believe that He can intervene in the natural world He created. With regard to the Bible, if Genesis 1:1 is true – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (we have good evidence to believe it is) – then every other miracle in the Bible is easy to believe. Can a God who created the entire universe out of nothing part the Red Sea? Bring fire down from heaven? Keep a man safe in a great fish for three days? Accurately predict future events? Turn water into wine? Heal diseases instantaneously? Raise the dead? Of course. All of those miraculous events are simple tasks for an infinitely powerful Being who created the universe in the first place.
As C. S. Lewis put it, “If we admit God, must we admit Miracle? Indeed, indeed, you have no security against it. That is the bargain.”
David Hume’s Argument against Miracles
David Hume was a famous and influential skeptic who lived in the 1700s. His argument against miracles is one of the pillars of the so-called Enlightenment. Here is Hume’s argument against miracles:
- Premise 1: Natural law is by definition a description of a regular occurrence.
- Premise 2: A miracle is by definition a rare occurrence.
- Premise 3: The evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare.
- Premise 4: A wise man always bases his belief on the greater evidence.
- Conclusion: Therefore, a wise man should never believe in miracles.
If those four premises are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows – the wise man should never believe in miracles. Unfortunately for Hume, the argument has a false premise—premise 3 is not necessarily true. The evidence for the “regular” is not always greater than that for the “rare”. Here are some examples:
- A hole-in-one: A hole-in-one is a rare event, but when we witness one we have no trouble believing it. We don’t say to the golfer, “Since the evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare, I’m not going to believe your shot unless you can tee it up and do it five times in a row!”
- Winning the Lottery: A winning lottery ticket provides evidence that a certain person (improbably) won the lottery no matter how regularly that person had failed to win in the past.
- The birth of every person: Each person is only born once (physically), which is a rare occurrence.
So, the 3rd premise of Hume’s argument against miracles must be disregarded. If Hume really believed in that premise, he would not have believed in his own birth! Hume rules out belief in miracles in advance because he believes there is uniform experience against them.
C.S. Lewis again is insightful here as he comments on Hume:
“Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely ‘uniform experience’ against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.” from Miracles (1972), pg. 105
So, Hume is committing the fallacy of begging the question – assuming what he’s trying to prove.
In 1820, Thomas Jefferson used a razor and glue to cut and paste (literally) selected verses from a 1794 bilingual Latin/Greek version of the Bible. He called it “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth”. Jesus’s miracles and most supernatural events are not included in Jefferson’s heavily edited compilation.
Categories of unusual events
As we consider Luke 5:1-16, let’s keep in mind the different types of unusual events that can occur:
Take note that there is a difference between the last 2: Providence and Miracles. An example of providence may’ve been the fog at Normandy during the Allied invasion June 6th 1944 (D-Day):
It could be an example of providence because it helped conceal the Allied attack against the evil Nazi regime. It was not necessarily a miracle, because it could be explained by natural laws, however God may’ve providentially acted through weather conditions to accomplish His will (similar to Jesus’s death – see Acts 2:22-24). By contrast, a miracle would be something like bullets bouncing off the chests of soldiers as they assaulted the beach, which could not be explained by any natural laws (of physics).
Objection: No Miracles Happening Today?
Some people object, “If there are no public miracles happening today, then why should we think they happened in the past?” There’s a common misconception behind this question. It’s the belief that the Bible is filled with miracles that occur continually throughout biblical history. That’s only partially true. It is true that the Bible is filled with miracles (about 250 occasions of them). But many of those miracles occur during the lifetimes of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the apostles. Why then? Because those were the times when God was confirming new truth (revelation) and new messengers with that truth. This is not to say that God cannot do miracles today, or that He never does. As the sovereign Creator and sustainer of the universe, He can do a miracle anytime He wants. In fact, there is a 2 volume book “Miracles” by Craig Keener that documents numerous modern reports of miracles.
Q: As you share your faith with those around you, does the “implausibility” of miracles ever come up?
1 Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret
As happened many times in the early ministry of Jesus crowds were around him, and the Word of God was being preached to these crowds.
2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.
Simon was a fisherman and owned a boat, which Christ used to separate Himself from the crowd so that He could teach them. Christ undoubtedly was a wise teacher and many religions acknowledge that (e.g. Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, Bahá’í, Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age Movement). However, only Biblical Christianity understands Christ in His true nature. He was and is:
- Uncreated (John 1:1-3; 8:58; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 1:8)
- God in human flesh (John 1:14; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 3:16)
- King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16)
- Lamb of God (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29; 1:36; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5-7; 12-15; 17; 19; 21; 22)
- The Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5)
- The Messiah/the Christ (John 4:25-26; 17:3; Mark 14:61-62; Luke 24:13-27)
- The one and only Son of God (Matt. 16:16; 26:63-64)
- The Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14; Mark 14:62; Luke 9:26)
- Highly exalted and worthy of worship (Philippians 2:9; Revelation 1:12-18; 5:12)
- 2nd Person of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19; John 14:26; Mark 1:9-11)
- Will return a 2nd time and judge the living and the dead (2 Tim 4:1)
- The Creator (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-3)
- The Savior (Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 2 Timothy 1:10)
- Fully human (John 1:14; 4:6; 11:35; 20:25-27; 1 John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:20)
- Teacher/rabbi (Matt 23:10; 26:18; John 1:38; 3:2)
- Miracle worker (John 3:2; Acts 2:22)
- Exorcist and healer (Matt 4:24; 8:16; Luke 11:14-20)
- Died on a Roman cross for our sins, was buried and rose bodily after 3 days and appeared to witnesses (1 Cor. 15:3-8; Colossians 1:20; Acts 2:23-24)
- Ascended to heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9)
- Is at the right hand of the Father (Mark 14:62; Acts 7:55; Hebrews 1:3)
See article from J. Warner Wallace in resources for a list of extra-biblical references to Jesus. In the book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” (the section in chapter 9 – THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO NON-CHRISTIANS), extra biblical references of Jesus paint the following picture of Him:
4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.”
Jesus asked Simon, an experienced fisherman, to do something that seemed nonsensical – after failing to catch anything in an all-night fishing expedition, and Jesus said to do it again. Simon could’ve told Him to “pound sand” – that He doesn’t know what He’s talking about… But he obeyed Jesus – he did what Jesus said, despite it not making sense to him.
In another Gospel, it is recorded:
John 8:31-32 – To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.“
Again, later in Luke, He says:
Luke 6:46-49 – ” Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.“
It has been said that the Jews believed that you “do first, understand later”. This is based on the phrase recorded in the Exodus 24:7: “We will do and hear everything the Lord has said.”
Q: Is there any area of your life where you’ve not obeyed Jesus because it didn’t make sense to you?
6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.
Jesus enables a miraculous catch of fish here. We don’t know whether it was providential (Jesus, in His omniscience, simply knew where the fish were [i.e. in the “deep water”]) or a miracle of creation, where He produced (or multiplied) the fish “on demand” (like in the feeding of the 5,000). In either case, Peter, an experienced fisherman, realized a miraculous sign had been performed by Jesus. Take note that Simon Peter’s first reaction was to worship Jesus, knowing he was in the presence of deity, and confess his own sinfulness.
J.C. Ryle says – “When men are brought close contact with God, the sight of divine greatness and holiness should make them feel strongly their own littleness and sinfulness. Like Adam after the fall – his first thought is to hide himself. Like Israel at Sinai, ‘Do not let God speak with us, lest we die.’ (Exodus 20:19).”
There are other places in Scripture, where encounters with the miraculous or divine lead to similar actions – here’s one:
Isaiah 6:1-5 – In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”
10 And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.
After reassuring Simon (“do not fear”), Jesus reveals to him what the rest of his life will be about – evangelizing the world. He says “you will be catching men”. Simon, being a fisherman, was familiar with catching fish. In order to catch the fish, you couldn’t just wait for them to come to you, you had to go to where they were. After being filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, Peter’s post-conversation life would be testifying of Jesus, his Master, to the world. Peter travelled throughout Israel:
Acts 9:32 – Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda
History records that he went as far as Rome, where he was crucified (legend has it “upside down”) for holding to his confession. Let’s read an incident in the early church describing Peter “fishing for men”:
Acts 2:14-36 – Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: … ” Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a Man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This Man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him. … God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. … Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Q: In what ways have you been able to interact with non-believers and do some “fishing” for men?
12 While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 13 And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him.
14 And He ordered him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 15 But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
This was clearly a miracle rather than providence. If you remember back to our table on page 3, a miracle never fails and is immediate, whereas providence has a natural explanation.
People diagnosed with or suspected of leprosy were excluded from the community (Lev 13:45–46, Num 5:2–3). Contact with lepers had to be avoided and lepers had to warn others not to come close to them:
Leviticus 13:45-46 – “As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
What a horrible life for the leper… Therefore this makes Jesus’ touching of the man (v13) significant.
J.C. Ryle says “We have in this wonderful history – a lively emblem of Christ’s power to heal our souls. What are we all, but spiritual lepers in the sight of God? Sin is the deadly leprosy by which we are all affected. It has eaten into our vitals. It has infected all our faculties…We are in one sense dead – long before we are laid in the grave. Our bodies may be healthy and active – but our souls are by nature dead in trespasses and sins! Who shall deliver us from this body of death? Let us thank God that Jesus Christ can! He is that divine Physician, who can make old things pass away, and all things become new. In Him is life. He can wash us thoroughly in His own blood – from all the defilement of sin. Let this truth sink down deeply into our hearts. There is only one medicine to heal our sin-sick souls … However corrupt our hearts, and however wicked our past lives – there is hope for us in the Gospel. There is no case of spiritual leprosy too hard for Christ!” Hallelujah!
Resources Used in Preparing this Teaching
- Who Is Jesus, According to Other Religions? By J. Warner Wallace: https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/who-is-jesus-according-to-other-religions/
- The Fallacy of Begging the Question: https://answersingenesis.org/logic/the-fallacy-of-begging-the-question/
- J.C. Ryle’s Commentary on Luke 5: https://gracegems.org/Ryle/l05.htm
- Do First, Understand Later: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/do-first-understand-later/
- We will do and we will hear (Mishpatim 5780), by Rabbi Sacks: https://rabbisacks.org/mishpatim-5780/
- The Commitment of the Apostles Confirms the Truth of the Resurrection, by J. Warner Wallace: https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/the-commitment-of-the-apostles-confirms-the-truth-of-the-resurrection/
- Jesus healing the leper and the Purity Law in the Gospel of Matthew: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269974647_Jesus_healing_the_leper_and_the_Purity_Law_in_the_Gospel_of_Matthew
- WAS PETER CRUCIFIED UPSIDE DOWN? By Sean McDowell: https://seanmcdowell.org/blog/was-peter-crucified-upside-down
- How did the Apostle Peter die? https://www.gotquestions.org/apostle-Peter-die.html
- Jefferson Bible: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible
- Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World (pg. 9)
- I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (by Dr. Norman L. Geisler and Dr. Frank Turek)