month ago I completed a six-week course called “Making 4 hours
count.” The aim of that course for pastors was how to study
the Bible in preparation for writing a sermon. Studying scripture
goes a step beyond reading. I don’t remember taking a course
on Bible study as focused and compelling as this one -- and it feels
important to share. One student’s seminary dissertation on “Engaging
with Scripture” notes four foundational focuses of biblical
study. First, it is meant to transform us. Second, it is meant to
be taken as a whole. Third, it acknowledges God’s authority.
And fourth, it shows us how God’s story and our story interconnect.
The class I took made Bible study exciting. We concentrated on
Luke 5:1-11 about Jesus calling his disciples. The four hours not
only taught me how to creatively engage with the story, identify
questions it raised, use appropriate resources, and discover how
its message coincides with my needs and experiences.
Our first assignment was to collect a number of resources in one
place. My resources were spread out on several bookshelves around
the house. My desktop now includes three or four versions of the
Bible, an atlas of Bible lands, and a Bible dictionary. A set of
commentaries by William Barclay is within reach. By the way, you
have access to all of these resources in the church library, including
the Barclay commentaries! Check the top shelf of the library bookshelves.
Other more scholarly commentaries are available online.
This kind of Bible study is doable for anyone. I am sharing this
with you this morning because people who believe in scripture should
not just read it but also study it. I decided it is worth a Sunday
morning sermon to introduce one method of study. Don’t be
frightened by the idea of “four hours.” They aren’t
meant to be done in one sitting. Take one hour at a time, and spread
them out over a week or two.
HOUR 1 – Getting into the story
The purpose of the first hour is to immerse yourself in the story
-- use your senses to feel and see and hear and practice. This is
the step I enjoyed most. I would suggest for each hour you begin
by lighting a candle and asking God for illumination. If you are
willing to do this study with me, read Luke 5:1-11 in several translations.
If you can, print out the scripture and underline all the verbs.
(You can go to www.biblegateway.com and print out any version you
like.) Highlight the verbs that create a picture or action in your
mind. What is the emphasis of the story? Next, think of a creative
way to get into the story. Draw a scene that stands out to you.
Pretend you just experienced this exciting, incredible story and
you are telling it to a friend. Be dramatic! There are scads of
ways to be creative--find one you are comfortable with. At the end
of the hour, jot down a few notes for the next time.
HOUR 2 – Asking questions
Do a quick mental review of what you already know about the story.
What questions do you still have as you read Luke 5:1-11? Are there
words or places or actions or “why” questions you need
to look up in the Bible dictionary? Jot them down. Check the Bible
atlas for the location of the seas and towns mentioned. The Wikipedia
website is a good resource for a quick summary of almost anything.
It is important to compare to fishing stories in Matthew and Mark.
How do they handle the call of Jesus? What does Luke include that
the other gospels don’t? Take a few minutes to jot down what
you learned and what you still need to know. Hold those for the
HOUR 3 – Digging deeper
Hour 3 is more in depth, looking at context and background. This
is a good time to use commentaries or online resources if you have
a computer. Review what you still have questions about. How does
this story fit into the larger Biblical story -- does it remind
you of other biblical texts? Are you curious about the authorship
of Luke, or what sources Luke used for his gospel? If you have a
study Bible there may be information in the front or back of the
book, or separate introductions at the beginning of each gospel.
Don’t get caught up in scholarly differences of opinion --
it’s enough to know there are many theories about the authorship
and date the book was written. In the last few minutes, review your
notes and summarize what you learned.
HOUR 4 – Seeking transformation
In the end, Bible study is for transformation, not just information.
This is the time to look at the passage from a personal perspective.
How does this story dovetail with my own experience? What is the
challenge for me? One of my favorite quotes is from Kierkegaard,
a Danish philosopher and theologian in the 19th century. He says,
“We don’t go the mirror to examine the mirror; we go
to the mirror to examine ourselves in the mirror.” Likewise,
we don’t go to the Bible just to examine the Bible; we go
to the Bible to examine ourselves.
That’s the framework for studying scripture the class was
introduced to. Let me share how the study went for me.
HOUR 1 – Getting into the story
My creative hour began by reading the story aloud in four versions.
In order to keep my mind focused, I read it while pacing the house
to keep my mind focused. Using my senses -- feeling, seeing, hearing
-- helped me get into the story. I looked at verbs that caught my
attention. I am no artist, but I drew simple pictures of each scene.
I told the story dramatically as though I were sharing an exciting
event that just happened.
These are pictures that came to mind as I read:
- I could feel the
crowds pressing against Jesus, backing him up to the water, making
it necessary to teach from Peter’s boat.
- I was impressed by
the hunger of the crowds to hear what Jesus had to say.
- I was surprised that
the disciples obeyed Jesus’ instructions to “push
off” and “let down” the net, considering that
their recent fishing effort was futile and they had just cleaned
- I was amazed that
when Jesus told Peter to cast the net back into the lake, strong-willed,
independent Simon would tell Jesus, “OK, if you say so.”
- Why did express such
guilt and fear at Jesus’ display of power? It seems a bit
- I was struck by Jesus’s
response when Peter acknowledged his sinfulness. He said “Don’t
be afraid” rather than “I forgive you.” Jesus
recognized the real emotion behind what Peter said.
- The words “catching”
and “releasing” intrigued me. What have we caught
that needs to be released?
HOUR 2 – Asking questions
I underlined anything I had questions about and looked them up in
Setting – This story appears in all four gospels, yet the
setting of varies from gospel to gospel. Only in Luke was it preceded
by Jesus being thrown out of Nazareth and by Jesus healing Peter’s
Lake Gennessaret – we know it as the Sea of Galilee, but
because Gennessaret and Tiberius were important towns on the west
side of the lake, some referred to it that way.
Miraculous catch of fish – William Barclay says that miracles
require three things: eyes to see the possibility, a spirit that
makes the effort, and the willingness to do what seems hopeless.
“Crowds were pressing in” – Why “pressing
in”? Was this a mob mentality? A curiosity about Jesus?
Was it just a space too small for a large crowd? Or was it their
eagerness to learn from a great teacher?
down your nets into the catch of fish.” Note that the fish
were already there!
away from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord.” The Message
says, “I can’t handle this holiness.” It’s
much the same reaction to God’s holiness that Moses felt
at the burning bush and Isaiah experienced at his call.
now on you will be catching people. “ The Greek word zogron
used here is commonly used for trapping, or capturing alive.
everything, they followed him.” There is a shift in priorities
here -- from full-time owner of a fishing business to a full-time
follower of Jesus. It was a clear choice, not half- hearted.
HOUR 3 Further research
I had three questions I still wanted to pursue in this hour:
Why did Peter react with such guilt or shame at the massive catch
- I checked Matthew
and Mark. Both of them separate the stories of Jesus’ teaching
from the boat from the story of Jesus calling his disciples. Neither
of them include the miracle catch. And in the context of their
gospel stories, there appears no reason for Simon to feel guilty
or fearful and want Jesus to go away.
- John, on the other
hand, includes the miracle catch as part of the post-resurrection
story. Peter’s response there seems appropriate. He denied
Jesus three times and had a reason to feel guilty. Jesus asked
him three times, “Do you love me?”
- Luke used two major
sources for writing his gospel -- the gospel of Mark, and an ancient
source known as “Q.” He probably used a source called
“L” as well -- for Luke’s own version!
- When we care more
about transformation than information, the discrepancies in the
stories don’t really matter. The ultimate point for us is
the bold decision to leave our pursuits and follow Jesus.
What did Jesus mean by telling Peter, “Follow me and I will
make you fish for people?” For a fisherman, the idea of fishing
is to sell them for food. So how does that compare to catching people?
The literal translation is “You shall be capturing people
alive.” SermonWriter says “Jesus’ disciples will
be inviting people into the kingdom of God, where they will become
free from the things that had bound them.”
How in the world could the disciples just abruptly leave their
occupation and livelihood to follow Jesus? What happened to their
equipment? What happened to that load of fish? Were they responding
to the miracle, or were they truly changed on the inside? I’m
looking at it in practical terms, of course. I’m not sure
I have ever dared to be impractical in my walk with God. Aren’t
we to use common sense? Or does our faith in God call us to take
risks beyond our comfort zone?
HOUR 4 Seeking transformation
Following up from that last question, my thoughts turned to our
study on Outrageous and Courageous. I don’t know about you,
but that study challenged me to take a risk. Will I? How do we move
from “fishing for fish” to “bringing “live”
people into the kingdom of God? Like the disciples who put down
their nets into the catch of fish already there, our neighbors in
Stonegate and Ashton Pines are already close by. The disciples’
response to leave all and follow is a risky and scary step. But
we aren’t even called to leave home. We are simply asked to
invite and listen and offer friendship.
Here’s a crucial question we need to answer for ourselves.
How convinced am I that Jesus loves me and that knowing Jesus is
life-giving? We aren’t all conversationalists. But we can
all smile and shake hands and perhaps offer a small gift with a
letter of introduction to our church. We can make it possible for
bicyclers and walkers to use our property and invite them to use
our prayer garden and playground. If you saw the list of ideas from
the small groups, we’ve got ideas to last a lifetime, but
our energy needs to focus on a few doable ideas at a time. Like
the disciples, we need to respond to the call. When we share the
good news with our neighbors it isn’t like Christians are
superior -- it isn’t an “us” and “them”
thing. We are all God’s children. It’s more like sharing
and encouraging each other on our life journeys. May we seek to
understand and experience more of God’s life-giving love,
and may God grant us courage to follow God’s call.
I hope this study method
has whet your whistle for digging into Bible study. It actually
fits well for a New Year’s message. Hour 4 challenges us to
respond. What better resolution can we make than to release whatever
muddies our focus on God? Can we move beyond what is comfortable
and practical, and respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Come
follow me”? Happy New Year! May you be blessed!