The Great Fisherman
Scripture: Luke 5:1-11
We continue our study in the Gospel of Luke and we’ve come to one of my favorite stories. It’s one of my favorites, because I love to fish.
One morning recently, I went fishing with a friend and we both did very well – we caught several smaller bass. After a few hours, we decided to finish up and we started walking back along the shore getting a few final casts. It was getting hot, and bass don’t usually feed as much in the middle of the day. But on my final cast, I hooked a nice fish – probably about four pounds. My best fish of the day came at the most unexpected moment.
And it reminded me of this story.
1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret,
That’s just another name for the sea of Galilee.
2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.
These little details are important. This tells us it was morning because they fished at night. During the daytime, the fish were more likely to see the net. So, the workday is almost over. The nets were being washed.
3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
Near Capernaum, there are inlets along the coast that form natural amphitheaters. Jesus often used these as teaching venues.
4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Most people won’t realize, this is a ridiculous command that Jesus gives Peter. Remember, they fished at night, and they normally fished in the shallow waters, not the deep. It makes no sense, and it was immediately questioned by Peter.
5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”
You can sense the frustration. Simon already knows that Jesus is a rabbi with a special gift for teaching. He already knows that Jesus is capable of miracles, because Jesus healed his mother-in-law in chapter 4.
But now, Jesus is stepping into Peter’s world. This is Peter’s best skill. It’s how he feeds his family. Imagine me going to Josh Edward’s fabrication shop and telling him how to weld. Bad things would happen.
Peter assumes it will be a waste of time and energy, but he obeys anyway. Why? Because He recognizes the authority of Jesus even though he doesn’t understand. Master… at your word… Peter trusts even when he doesn’t understand. That’s important.
6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.
7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
I think Jesus made his point. Now, watch how Peter responds.
8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
This is the first time Luke uses the word “sinner”. He will go on to use that word 17 times.
It’s striking that Peter describes himself in this way, because there’s nothing in the story to suggest that Peter was known as a particularly sinful man. This word will be used by the religious leaders to describe tax collectors, prostitutes, and criminals.
But Peter seems to recognize how different he is from Jesus, how unworthy he is to even be in his presence. We find a similar response by Isaiah when he sees a vision of the throne room of God. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips”
It’s also important to notice that Peter changes the title he uses for Jesus. He called him “master” before the miracle. Now, he calls Jesus, “Lord”. So far in Luke, that word has ONLY been used to describe the Lord God.
And so, Luke is beginning to reveal the true nature of Jesus. Jesus has not only come to tell us about the Lord. He IS the Lord!
9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that 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 be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
In Jesus day, the most important people were not necessarily the richest people, they were the religious leaders. Priests, scribes, rabbis – they were the people everyone looked up to. They were the best of the best.
If you were born in Israel as a Jewish boy in the 1st century, then you would have started school around age 6 to learn the Old Testament. By age 10 they were supposed to have the first 5 books memorized. Memorized!
By the end of this, most kids had dropped out to learn the family trade because they couldn’t do it. But the ones who succeeded went on to memorize the rest of the Old Testament. Of course, by the end of this, most of those had dropped out. But the best of the best of the best applied to become disciples of rabbis to continue their education and one day possibly to become rabbis.
Jesus was a rabbi. The men he calls to follow him were dropouts. They didn’t go to him. He went to them. They were fishing, which meant they weren’t good enough to be disciples. They had not memorized everything. They weren’t smart enough.
So, these young men, probably between the ages of 14 and 20, were given the opportunity to follow a rabbi, one of the most important people in their culture. They immediately got up and left. It was an opportunity they never believed they would have.
Think about this – Jesus calls these young men to follow him and no one else believed these young men were good enough to be disciples! He takes people that the world thought were least likely to succeed and he turns them into the apostles!
They have a lot to learn. They will need to be humbled and shaped by Him. But Jesus did not go looking for the best and the brightest. He picked the least.
And this shows us the heart of God! His kingdom is for everyone. It’s for the rich and the poor, the handsome and the ugly, the smart and the not-so-smart… all types of people. He wants all kinds of people represented.
So, if Jesus calls you, it is not because you are smart enough to understand the call, or because you were good enough morally to earn his call, or because of anything you did. Jesus calls us to prove that he can turn anyone he wants into a child of God.
We don’t initiate the relationship with God. He always initiates it with us. He comes to us and calls us and invites us into a relationship that we don’t deserve.
“Follow me” he says “and I will make…” Jesus is saying he will go ahead of them. He will lead. We follow. He will do the work necessary to turn us into something useful. We may not understand what He is doing or why. He just wants us to trust Him. Follow Him.
Jesus says he will make them “fishers of men” – I’ve never met a fish that wanted to be caught. Fish get yanked into the boat, whether they like it or not. That is the metaphor Jesus uses to describe evangelism and conversion! It’s not an accident.
Fish don’t swim into the net on purpose. They don’t consider the net and make a decision about it. If they see the net, they run! They get swept up by it. That’s what happened to me. I wasn’t looking for Jesus – I was running from God. He came and He called and He yanked me into the boat.
Look at Jeremiah 16:16-18 –
16 “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.
17 For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes.
18 But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.”
In this context, God’s fishing is about judgment. Getting caught is NOT a good thing.
But Jesus flips it! He calls the disciples to help Him rescue people from a judgment they don’t realize is coming. We will see more and more in this Gospel that Jesus is pursuing people who are not worthy, who don’t even realize they are in danger. Is that you? Has He set the hook? Is He calling you to follow Him?
But there’s more here I want us to see in the story. Once Jesus catches you, He demands priority over everything else.
Fishermen were not poor. They made a better living than most people. You had to own the boat and the nets. You typically had hired workers helping. So, these men were not leaving behind a bad life. They were taking a huge risk.
This was the family business. Family meant everything back then. They had probably been in the fishing business for many generations. They would fish again and see their families, but this call to immediately leave it for the moment and trust Jesus was radical. Jesus is asking them to make following him the priority even over their family business.
Let’s try to put this in modern American terms. Jesus is saying to us, “I am the priority over your dreams, your career, your dating life, your spouse, your kids, your education, your financial plans…”
Jesus is not asking us to fit Him into our busy schedule… He is demanding our complete and total allegiance.
It doesn’t mean your career and your family will stop being important. But it will greatly affect how you order your life and how your faith impacts every other area of life. In other words, you will start asking the question, “How does Jesus impact my career, my family, my free time…”
Mostly it means that you will begin to trust God with all that other stuff. Jesus will later say, “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.” It may not look the way you planned. But you’re following the King of the universe!
What Jesus did for these young men was show them that the world is bigger than their little plans and bigger than what they thought they were worth. He showed them how to care about people who have nothing. He showed them how to forgive and love and lead.
The truth is, we are all spiritual dropouts waiting for a call from Jesus. He might be calling some of you right now to abandon the life you think you need and follow Him into a bigger story. That story begins with us believing that He did what we can’t do. He bought forgiveness for our sins on the cross and He traded His righteousness to us. All we do is receive it with empty hands and follow Him.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace