Read Luke 5:1-11
These fishermen have already been called once. We were told that they left everything and followed Jesus. Now they are being called again, and again they leave everything and follow Him. What is going on here? Is this the same incident told differently, or is it a second incident?
It seems like a very different incident. The circumstances are different, Andrew is not mentioned, and the sequence is different.
|Lakeside call||Lakeside call|
|Galilean ministry||Galilean ministry||Galilean ministry|
|Healing of demon-possessed man||Healing of demon-possessed man|
|Simon’s mother-in-law healed||Simon’s mother-in-law healed|
|Crowds||Crowds healed and delivered|
|Travel to other villages||Travel to other villages|
|Miraculous catch call|
|Leper healed||Leper healed|
I think this is a second, separate incident but how do we explain that when we have already been told that they left everything to follow Jesus?
Have you ever made a promise to Jesus that didn’t endure; you drifted away from it and back to your old life? Has God ever had to say the same thing to you twice? Is it possible that that is what happened with the disciples – that there was still some appeal in being on the lake, fishing, making money?
We read last week that Jesus said He must go around the villages preaching. All of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record a period of teaching, preaching, healing and deliverance around Galilee, primarily in the synagogues. So, quite a bit of time elapsed. No doubt it was exciting but maybe the disciples also hankered for their former life and they took time out from being with Jesus.
Jesus ministered in the synagogues but here He is teaching a large crowd down by the lake, amongst the fishermen – in the market-place or the place of commerce. What does that say about where Christians should be? Not just inside the church walls but out where people are.
The crowd was so big Jesus had to borrow Simon Peter’s boat to use as a floating pulpit.
When He had finished teaching, Jesus instructed Peter to head out to the deep water and put down his nets for a catch.
Jesus was a carpenter and a travelling preacher. What was He doing telling the fisherman how to fish? Peter also seemed to question that. They had worked hard all night and caught nothing. “Actually, Jesus, let me explain this to you. Night is the time for deep-water fishing. We have worked hard. There has been no lack of effort. We are the fishermen. We caught nothing, but…”
Look at Peter’s words. Was he saying yes or no?
“But because you say so, I will let down the nets. It is all wrong but yes, I will.” The reason was “because you say so”. Despite all of his professional knowledge, and Jesus’ lack of it, Peter still said “Yes”.
“Because you say so.” If it had been someone else offering fishing advice, Peter would have probably just smiled and thanked them and carried on mending his nets. Or maybe, and not quite so politely, told them to go and jump in the lake – which would have been very appropriate.
But it was Jesus, and Peter had learnt enough about Jesus to know that His words had authority. He had seen Jesus’ lordship and wisdom. If Jesus said “Go fishing” then Jesus had good reason to say that and Jesus knew what He was talking about. Even a fisherman should listen to Jesus, and so Peter’s response was “I will. Because You say so, I will”.
Peter’s first response was obedience – even when it didn’t seem to make sense.
The result was a catch so great that their nets started breaking and, when they called James and John to help, both boats began to sink.
Then Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord: I am a sinful man.”
Peter had already seen multiple healings and deliverances. His own mother-in-law had been healed in his house, and yet, in this miraculous catch, he saw something more of who Jesus was – something so much more that he fell down and begged Jesus to leave him. His reaction was similar to Isaiah’s in Isaiah 6: “Woe, to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Did Peter really want Jesus to go away? Probably not but he was overwhelmed by his sinfulness and unworthiness. It is dangerous, and terrifying, for a sinner to be in the presence of God. Maybe he felt inadequate for what Jesus wanted. “Leave me. Find others who will be more what you want.”
But that response was exactly what qualified him to be a disciple. “Blessed are those who know they are spiritually bankrupt.” He felt he was inadequate. He was very aware of his sinfulness. Despite all of the time he had spent with Jesus, he felt that he was not what Jesus needed. Peter was terrified in Jesus’ presence and Jesus would be better off looking elsewhere.
Peter’s second response was humility, including the fear of God. The fear of God is a right and proper response. The Bible is full of examples of people who, when they sense the presence of God, fell with their faces to the ground. This is one of those examples. God is so holy and we are so sinful, meeting Him becomes a terrifying experience.
But Jesus’ response was “Do not be afraid.” It is a little bit of a paradox but it is those who fear God who have no need to fear God. Those who recognise God’s holiness and their own sinfulness; those who cry out for mercy; those who honour God; those who recognise, as Hebrews says, that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, they have nothing to fear. It is those who arrogantly defy God or who mock Him (and I am astounded at some of the things people say online about God) who ought to be afraid. God is not to be mocked. Rebellion against God will have terrible consequences.
Why did Peter feel so sinful? Maybe it was a general sense of sin and unworthiness in the presence of Jesus. Maybe he knew that he had cast the net out without much expectation, and he was convicted of his lack of faith. Or maybe he knew that he had failed in his commitment to Jesus. He had said “yes” and drifted back to fishing.
But Jesus said, ‘Do not be afraid.” The humble are the very people God can use because they know how much they need God and how little they can do without Him. Peter might have felt useless but that is exactly what God needs – people who do not trust in their own abilities but who know that they are utterly dependent on God.
Jesus re-issued the invitation to be part of His mission. “From now on you will fish for people.” Peter wasn’t just told that he would go to heaven; he was recruited to do the work of the Kingdom.
So far, everything has been addressed to Simon Peter but the last sentence tells us that he and James and John all pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him. It is as if Peter is the representative but the lesson and the call are for all of them – and for all of us. We too are not just saved so as to go to heaven. We are recruits for the mission of Jesus. We are called to fish for people.
Peter did three things in this story.
- He cast the nets = obedience
- He fell at Jesus’ knees = humility
- He followed = commitment
All three are crucial to experiencing God. Imagine what Peter would have missed out on if, when Jesus said to let down the nets, Peter had said, “No”. He would not have experienced the miracle of the huge catch. He would not have experienced the conviction of sin coupled with the words of assurance: do not be afraid. He would not have received the second call to be part of Jesus’ mission. He might have been a fisherman for the rest of his life and not experienced all the learning from Jesus and all of the joy of spreading the gospel.
Likewise if he had not humbled Himself, recognising his sinfulness, and if he had not chosen to follow Jesus that day. All of that later experience of God was dependent on his obedience, his humility and his commitment. Obedience: are we willing to do exactly what God says even when we don’t understand it? Humility: have we also fallen at Jesus’ feet knowing that we are sinners and that we can achieve nothing without Him? Commitment: have we left everything in order to follow Jesus?
The fishing theme is very strong here. This was a call to mission.
I said last week that fishing is a strange image to represent making disciples but it also has real strengths.
- Like fishing, disciple-making is not automatically successful. The fishermen had fished all night without success. Disciple-making will be equally unsuccessful without God being involved.
- Like fishing, disciple-making requires preparation and hard work. The fishermen were mending their nets and had worked hard all night, and had to work hard even to bring in this catch.
- Like fishing, disciple-making requires teamwork. Peter needed James and John. No one of us can make fully-rounded, Christ-like disciples by ourselves. It takes the whole body – the church.
- Like fishing, disciple-making is enormously satisfying. There is nothing more satisfying that knowing we are doing the work God has called us to do and seeing results – experiencing Him in that work.
Obedience means: do it Jesus’ way. Jesus understands the mission. Let Him give the instructions. Humility means: don’t try to do it without Jesus. Recognise our own complete helplessness.
Commitment means: forsake everything else. Follow Jesus, learn from Him and do it.
The overwhelming size of the catch obviously pointed to Jesus’ authority but does it also have anything to say about the mission? Is it possible that, if we are simply obedient, the results might be far greater than we had ever expected? If we do it; if we recognise that Jesus knows more about fishing than we do; and if we do it together, might the results far exceed our expectations?
I don’t think the story is promising that but it does illustrate Jesus’ ability to give a harvest so great the boats began to sink; so great that the churches will be bursting at the seams.
Peter and James and John may have not made the best start and may have drifted back to what was familiar. Maybe their commitment was wavering; the old was calling them back, but Jesus, graciously, invited them a second time. Peter had already learnt basic obedience but, on this day, he would learn another lesson: humility and fear. Perfect! God can use humble people, and so Jesus called Him to renew His commitment. And he did?
Has anything like this ever happened to you? God has called you to be part of His team; you have said “yes” but it hasn’t lasted? If Jesus was to give you a second opportunity, how would you respond? Where are you at now? Will you respond with obedience, humility and a new, deeper commitment?