FISHERS OF MEN
Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.
And I will wait for the Lord who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob; I will even look eagerly for Him.
Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:16-18).
If there is one thing that is true of Jesus and His ministry among men, it is that He came to make men different. He did not offer neatly packaged sermonettes once a week which you could hear and then go back home as if nothing had happened.
When you came in contact with Jesus, you could do one of two things. You could reject Him. Or you could follow Him. He did not allow a third option. And humanity ever since that time has been divided into those who have taken one of these two options.
Jesus called men to he His disciples. Indeed, His last words on earth would be an injunction to His followers to go forth and make disciples of all men. In this passage, we see the beginning of that call. It is a call to discipleship.
THE MESSAGE TO THE MULTITUDE
Now it came about that while the multitude were 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.
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 multitudes from the boat. (Luke 5:1-3).
The scene is the Sea of Galilee. The name "Galilee" (literally, HaGalilee - ) means "the circle." The name probably reflects the circular shape of the lake. But Luke does not refer to it as the Sea of Galilee. He does not refer to it as a "sea" at all. Luke has traveled throughout the ancient world and he has seen real seas. He cannot bring him to call this small body of water a "sea." Instead he refers to it as the lake of Gennesaret. This seems to be a Greek rendition of an ancient name for this lake from the time when it was known as the Sea of Chinnereth (Numbers 34:11; Joshua 13:27). The waters of the Sea of Galilee lie 680 feet below sea level. The Sea measures some 13 miles from north to south and is surrounded by mountains. This ring of mountains is broken by the Jordan River in the south and in the north by a narrow gorge to the north which winds its way 30 miles to the snowcapped heights of Mount Hermon.
There was a saying among the Jews that went, "If you want to be spiritual, go to Jerusalem; if you want to be rich, go to Galilee." This is because Galilee enjoyed a booming economy. Fishermen plied its lake. Farms lay scattered across its rolling hills and upon the fields of Jezreel. It was to this area that Jesus came to begin his ministry.
The morning sun has risen over the rolling hills and now the calm surface of the sea mirrors the serene reflection of several fishing boats drawn up to the shore. Most of the fishermen are sitting on the shore, washing their nets out after a long, fruitless night on the sea. On one of the boats, two brothers are laboring in the hot sun with a casting-net, throwing it out into the calm waters and drawing it back in as they fish for bait.
Into this scene comes Jesus. The news goes out like wildfire through the small fishing community. In no time at all, a crowd has gathered.
1. An Open Parish: The multitude were pressing around (5:1).
There was no microphone or public address system available. The larger the crowd got, the closer they were forced to pack together in order to hear the words that Jesus was speaking.
As they pressed closer and closer, Jesus found Himself pressed back to the waterís edge. Either He was going to have to walk on water (certainly not an impossibility for Him), or else He was going to need the use of a boat.
He chose to use the boat. This is the way that God works with us. He does not need our abilities. He could just as easily spread the gospel and teach His people and comfort the sick and give to those in need through supernatural means. But He chose to use US and our abilities to do His work.
2. An Available Pulpit: And He got into one of the boats, which was Simonís (5:3).
Simon was no stranger to Jesus. It had been nearly a year earlier that he had first met Jesus. His brother, Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew had heard John point out Jesus as the Lamb of God and, from that point, he began to follow Jesus. Not content with this, Andrew had brought his brother Simon to the Lord.
Peter had been present with Jesus when He turned the water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. He had been involved in His ministry in Judea and he had baptized many. He had returned with Jesus through the land of the Samaritans and he had been with Him as He spoke to the woman at the well and he had participated in the harvest at Sychar.
But now, as he returns with Jesus to Galilee, he assumes that his time on the mission field is completed. His tour of duty is up. He has put his time in. Now he is ready to get back into the "real world." Now he is ready to retire.
He is about to learn an important lesson. Disciples do not retire. They may stop accepting money for their work, but there is no retirement from Christian service. it is an eternal commitment. If you are the servant of the Lord, then you are His for all eternity.
You see, our relationship with the Lord does not end when we trust in Christ as out Savior. It only begins there. At that moment, we enter into a new position.
We are declared to be righteous. We are called sons of God. We become heirs of the kingdom. We are possessors of eternal life. We are holy ó set apart for service to the Lord.
But with this magnificent position comes a great responsibility. As we have been declared to be righteous, so now we are to live a righteous life. As we have become sons of God, so now we are to live as befits a son of God. As we have become heirs of the kingdom, so now we pronounce the good news of that kingdom. As we have eternal life, so we now live to make our lives count for eternity. As we have been pronounced holy, so we are to live in service to our Lord and Master.
Thus it was not by chance that Jesus came to use Simonís boat on that morning by the sea. God had chosen him to do a special work. Peter does not yet know that he has been chosen. But very shortly, he will be called into service.
THE MASTERíS REQUEST
And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."
And Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets." (Luke 5: 4-5).
I think that I know what Jesus was speaking on that day. I am certain that He was speaking concerning repentance in light of the coming kingdom. How do I know that? Because that is what He was always speaking on. That was the thrust of His ministry.
Peter had already heard this message. He had heard it for the last six or eight months. He had seen miracles to back it up.
I wonder if he felt just a bit uneasy as he sat there that day listening to Jesus. Was the Holy Spirit already convicting him, preparing his heart for what was about to happen?
Finally, the sermon was finished. As the crowd began to disperse, Jesus turned to Simon and suggested that they go fishing.
1. The Nature of the Request: "Let down your nets for a catch" (5:4).
This was no small request that Jesus was making. These men had just spent several hours washing their nets and drying them and arranging them so that they would he ready for use when they went out again. These nets were enormous.
They would lay the net out in a large "U" pattern and then draw the two ends together and then draw it in, trapping the fish within.
But this is not all. They have been fishing all night and have not caught anything. These men have only just come in from the sea. They are tired and hungry and discouraged. And now, Jesus is asking them to go right back out again.
2. A Positive Response: "At Your bidding I will let down the nets" (5:5).
Peterís response is positive. It is one of obedience. He does not obey because he expects to see a miracle. I think that he obeys because he has grown to love Jesus and he wants to please Him.
We should notice that his response is whole-hearted. He does not try to compromise with the Lord. He does not try to offer Jesus something less in return. He does not suggest that they only use the small casting net that he and Andrew have been using (Matthew 4:18).
He does exactly what Jesus asks. He and his brother and the rest of the crew of the boat move out into the deep water and begin the arduous task of paying out the long net in a wide arc.
THE MIRACULOUS CATCH
And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish; and their nets began to break;7 and 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. (Luke 5:6-7).
The miraculous nature of this catch is evidenced by the fact that these same men had used these same nets from this same boat all the previous night without catching a single fish. The fishermen hadnít changed. The boat hadnít changed. They were using the same net and they were fishing in the same sea. The only difference was that Jesus was now in the boat.
Christian ministry is like that. We can build a lofty organization, speak words of eloquence, develop a set system of training, and still never accomplish anything of true significance. It is the Lord who builds a ministry.
These were professional fishermen. This is what they did for a living. They were experienced in the art of catching fish. But they were absolutely helpless without the blessing of the Lord.
1. The Size of the Catch: They enclosed a great quantity of fish (5:6).
It was a simple matter for the God who formed the oceans and who filled them with life in a single day to direct several thousand fish into the nets of these fishermen.
But this raises a question. Why did the Lord bring about this miracle? Was it because He wanted to see Simonís fishing business prosper? Was it merely to supply a physical need? I donít think so. The primary reason was to teach Simon and the others something about who Jesus is. Only God has this kind of power over nature that can tell hundreds of fish to climb into a net and have them obey. This miracle, as well as every other miracle that Jesus performed while He was on earth, served this same purpose. That is why miracles were given. They were His credentials. He didnít have an identification card with "Messiah" stamped on it. The only way that they could possibly come to know that He was really the promised Messiah sent from God was by listening to His words and watching His miracles. Every miracle that He performed was an open declaration that He was sent from God.
2. The Disciplesí Readiness: They signaled to their partners in the other boat (5:7).
It seems as though the other boat that is described here had not been placed in a position where it could gather the fish from the net. It is possible that this other boat had been left back on shore. It may have stayed behind while Peter launched his boat out into deep water with Jesus.
If this is the case, then it tells me something about Peterís attitude. It tells me that he was acting from obedience, but not from faith. He was doing what Jesus told him to do out of respect for the Lord, but he really didnít expect to catch anything.
After all, Jesus was only a carpenter. He did not have Peter s experience in fishing. True, He knew a great deal about spiritual matters, but fishing was a little out of His line.
And so, Peter was not prepared for the full catch that now entered his net. Maybe he thought that the Lord might bring a few fish his way, but he was totally unprepared for- a catch of this magnitude.
Before we so quickly judge Peter, perhaps we need to examine our own lives. How often do we limit our prayers in order to make things "easier for God." How often do we pray for something, but then make no preparation to receive it? If you pray for rain, do you remember to bring an umbrella?
The result of this miracle was that both boats were filled to the point where they were on the verge of sinking. Indeed, had they not come back to shore with their load of fish, they eventually would have been sitting on the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.
There is a vital lesson here for us to learn. It is that the Lord is able to bless more abundantly than we can ever guess. What does He require of us? Obedience. Obedience in the face of circumstances that make it look as though no blessing is in sight. Obedience even after a long fruitless night of toil out on a lonely sea. Obedience even in the area of our secular employment. Obedience in all things.
THE MANDATE TO THE DISCIPLES
But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesusí feet, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"
For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken;9 and so also 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."
And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. (Luke 5:8-11).
The miracle of the great catch of fish resulted in more than financial prosperity for these fishermen. It brought about a change in their lives. This is seen especially on the part of Peter.
1. A Confession of Sinfulness: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (5:8).
Simon Peter had been brought face to face with the power of God and it really shook him up. While it is true that he had just witnessed the healing of his mother-in-law in the previous chapter and had likely witnessed other similar miracles, this particular miracle had a special impact on his life.I think that it was because this particular miracle took place within the realm of that in which Peter considered himself to be a specialist ó in the realm of fishing.
What was Peterís response? It was an admission of his own guilt as a sinner. It was an admission of his own unworthiness to be a disciple of Jesus. And it was a recognition of the holy and righteous character of Jesus.
This is what the Lord requires of all men who would come to Him. They must admi.t their own guilt. They must see that they stand condemned before God as a guilty sinner. They must also see the results of that sin of which they are guilty. They must realize that the wages of sin is death. They must see that they are unworthy to be used by God as a result of their sin. And finally, they must recognize the holy character of Jesus. They must come to the realization that Jesus was no mere man. He was not just a good teacher. He was the Son of God. Only if He was God in the flesh did He have power to take our sins away and give us eternal life.
Everyone who would come to God must come in this same way. There must be a realization that there is a need for salvation and that this need is met in Jesus.
2. A Converted Profession: "Do not fear, from now on you will he catching men" (5:10).
Peter is now changing professions. In the past he has been a fisherman. Now, he will fish for men. His tools have been the net and the boat. Now they will be the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. He has been catching in order to kill. Now he will he catching in order to impart life.
Peterís Former Life
Peterís New Life
A fisher of fish
A fisher of men
Tool of his Trade
Net and boat
Word of God and Holy Spirit
Catching to kill
Catching to impart life
Now I want you to notice something. Peter and his companions were totally unqualified for the job of catching men. Although there are some similarities between fishing for fish and fishing for men, the two professions are really very different. These men knew all about catching fish. They knew nothing about catching men. They were totally unqualified for the job at hand.
This teaches me something about the kind of man that God uses. He uses UNQUALIFIED men. That is the only kind of man that God ever uses. And that means that He can use me. And that means that He can use you.
3. A Complete Commitment: They left everything and followed Him (5:11).
I want you to notice that there was a cost involved in following Jesus. There was a cost involved in becoming one who catches men. It cost them everything. These men left their boats, their nets, their fish and their families to follow Jesus.
This is the cost of discipleship. It is the cost of one who fishes for men. The cost is the same for every believer.
"So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions." (Luke 14:33).
If you want to follow Jesus, then you must do so on His terms. He demands nothing less than total commitment. The cost is high. The cost is everything that you have and everything that you are. It involves giving up the person that you are to become the person that God is going to make you.
This takes faith. These men had already believed in the Lord. Their faith had been growing for several months. They had seen the miracle at Cana and had believed. They had seen Jesus turn the moneychangers out of the temple and they had believed. They had heard the words of Jesus and they had believed.
But now they are confronted with a new question. Are they willing to trust the Lord for the care of their families while they leave to follow Christ?
They believed. They saw that the One who had supplied such a tremendous catch of fish could he relied upon to care for their needs and the needs of their families. And so, they left everything and they followed Him.