Luke 5: 1 - 11
As you read this story, keep 3 things in mind:
i. The great revelation comes in a totally unexpected way.
Peter has no idea that his whole life is about to change. That’s usually how God works. We’re just going on in life, business as usual, doing our thing, and suddenly the Lord intervenes to redirect our steps. My own experience has been that you can’t predict this in advance. Jesus pointed in John 3: 8, the Spirit blows wherever he wishes. You never know when the call will come to “launch out into the deep.”
ii. The great revelation comes in the course of daily obedience.
Fishermen fish. That’s what they do. That meant going out on the Sea of Galilee at night, casting your nets into the water, fishing all night, and then coming ashore at daybreak. Peter and the others were taking care of the nets so they could go fishing when night came once again.
The way you discover God’s will for the future is to do what you know to be the will of God right now. Teachers teach. Singers sing. Cooks cook. So it goes for all of us. Where do you begin in discovering the will of God? Do what you already know to be the will of God. So many of us live for those high mountain peak experiences, for those emotional moments, for those times when the clouds part and God seems so real to us. Almost as if we could reach out and touch him. When we say “God, show me your will,” what we mean is, “Lord give me some feeling, some insight, some spiritual revelation." God says, “I have already shown you my will. Now, just get up and do it!”
iii. The great revelation comes only after the small step of obedience.
Jesus first asked Peter for the use of his boat as a kind of floating pulpit to address the crowds that gathered on the shore. That was fine with Peter who was busy cleaning his nets. It was a small thing, really. But that small step of obedience led to the miracle that changed Peter’s life. You never know when one of those great miracles is around the corner, but they are more likely to come as we travel along the pathway of daily obedience.
Having agreed to let Jesus use his boat as a floating pulpit, Jesus now challenges Peter to a much greater step of faith. “Let down the nets for a catch.” So first we obey in small things, and out of the nitty-gritty of daily obedience, we discover a greater challenge looming before us.
The progress of this story is very simple. First Peter caught fish, then Jesus caught Peter, then Peter caught men. It all begins with a frustrated fisherman cleaning his nets after a long, hard night.
1. A Sense of Need v. 1 - 3, 5a
Fishing is hard work. It’s one thing to fish on the weekends. It’s something else to fish every day for a living. Peter, Andrew, James and John fished on the Sea of Galileeyear round. They either sold their fish locally or the fish were salt-cured and sold as far away as Spain. You wouldn’t get rich that way, but a hardworking man could take care of his family.
Now it is morning and Peter and the others are tired, exhausted, and probably in a foul mood. Fishermen like to say that “your worst day fishing is better than your best day in the office,” but I’m not sure Peter would have agreed at that moment. Now they are busy mending the nets – time consuming work made more difficult by the frustration of knowing they caught nothing the night before.
When Jesus asks Peter if he can use his boat, Peter immediately agrees. He knows Jesus and admires him greatly. He is like so many church members I know in that he already has become a follower of sorts, but until now has never made a wholehearted commitment. So when Jesus wants to use his boat for a pulpit, Peter is honoured to grant the request.
How fitting it is. Jesus comes to the scene of Peter’s failure and uses it to preach the Word. He takes the ordinary and makes it sacred. He uses a simple fishing boat as the setting for a mighty miracle.
Nothing in this story happens by chance. All is meant to teach us an important truth: God still prepares us for his call by allowing us to endure personal failure.Until we sense our need of him, we will not be ready to follow him. After all, if you think you are self-sufficient, why would you need Christ? We must be stripped of our self-confidence before we can be greatly used of God. Peter must be broken before he is ready to respond to the call of Christ.
2. A Challenge to Obedience v. 4, 5
The words of Jesus contain both a command and a promise. It’s not as if Jesus is saying, “Let’s go out into the deep water, put down the nets, and we’ll see what happens.” Jesus is promising that if Peter will obey, he will catch fish. I’m sure that after a long night of fruitless fishing, this must have been hard to believe.
We can learn some useful lessons from this:
A. God never gives foolish commands, though they may look foolish at the time.
B. God intends to bless those who obey him without hesitation.
C. God’s greatest miracles usually require our cooperation.
There were certainly reasons for Peter to be sceptical. As a professional fisherman, Peter knew the lake. He could have said, “Sorry, Lord, but it’s not worth the trouble. I’m the expert here.”
I love the way Peter puts it, “Because you say so” (v. 5). Across the centuries believers have found them to be their divine marching orders. Conditions may be dark and the world may fight against us, circumstances may overwhelm us, and our fears nearly submerge us. But God speaks and his children say, “Because you say so.” And off we go in obedience to Almighty God. Middle-aged Abraham set off across the desert with no more than this: “Because you say so.” Noah built an ark in the face of an unbelieving world with no more than this: “Because you say so.” Moses defied Pharaoh, looking to heaven and saying, “Because you say so.” Joshua marched around Jericho day after day with this in his heart: “Because you say so.” And young David confounded all the doubting men of Israel by marching into the valley armed with this confidence: “Because you say so.”
Then Peter added, “I will let down the nets.” We still have a part to do. The fish aren’t going to jump in the boat by themselves. We still have to do what we have to do. We’ve got to go to work, we’ve got to go to the meetings, we’ve got to go to the counsellor, we’ve got to share the gospel, we’ve got to do our homework, we’ve got to write the paper, we’ve got to get that project done. There is still work for us to do. I believe there are many answers to prayers that await only one thing: “Let down your nets.” Put your net down into the deep water, do your part, and then God will do his. “Without God we can’t; without us he won’t.”
3. A Demonstration of Divine Power v. 6, 7
This is what fishermen dream about. They spend a lifetime fishing in hopes that maybe one day something like this will happen to them. What a sight! So many fish came into the nets that they begin to break. The men end up filling both boats with so many fish that they began to sink. This is the biggest catch ever - and it happened in the middle of the day.
Please note that the fish were there all along. It’s not as if Jesus created the fish on the spur of the moment. Those fish were in the water the night before; Peter just couldn’t find them. But when Jesus is in the boat, everything changes. He allowed Peter to fail so he would learn what he could do with Jesus’ help. There is a nice moral to this part of the story: Empty Nets without him; full nets with him. Let’s go fishing with Jesus every day!
4. A Confession of Inadequacy v. 8 - 10a
This part of the story has always intrigued me. Why would Peter beg Jesus to leave? For most of us failure is easier to handle than success. When we lose, we always have an excuse. It wasn’t the right time, the boss hated us, the job stunk, she didn’t love me, I didn’t need the money, the market wasn’t right, the refs were against us, we were cheated, I wasn’t trying to win, my head wasn’t in the game, and on and on and on the excuses go. Losing is easy. Winning is much harder.
What if God gave you success beyond your wildest dreams? What if he let you fail miserably so he could give you overwhelming success later? Not everyone can handle that kind of success. Most people can’t. We’re ready for “medium success” but not “outrageous success.” Like most of us, Peter thought in “man-sized” categories, not “God-sized” miracles. He had room in his mind for anything he could handle on his own. But when Jesus got involved, the results blew his mind and drove him to his knees in desperate prayer.
Isaiah’s reaction upon seeing the Lord high and lifted up: “Woe to Because you say some!” I cried. “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” (Isaiah 6: 5). Once Peter realized who Jesus really was-the true Son of God from heaven-he saw himself in a new light. To see God is to see ourselves as we really are. Sometimes the vision is too much for us to handle. Peter could not stand the contrast between the purity and power of Christ and his own sinfulness. Here is a man who has been deeply changed on the inside. His pride has been burned away by a transforming vision of Christ.
5. A Call to Personal Commitment v. 10b, 11
Jesus seems to ignore Peter’s desperate confession of unworthiness. Jesus knows the truth about Peter and he knew it all along. What matters is that Peter now knows the truth about himself. With his pride stripped away, he is now ready to serve the Lord.
There is an important lesson for us to ponder in all this: When we encounter Jesus, we will never be the same again. No one can meet Jesus and walk away unchanged. We may end up closer to God or we may harden our hearts, but no one ever meets Jesus and stays the way they were before. In Peter’s case, his confession became part of his testimony. He knew he was a sinner and wasn’t ashamed to admit it. God can use a man who knows his weakness and doesn’t try to hide it.
God’s will is always good, but it’s not always comfortable. It’s certainly not predictable.
Peter proves the point. One day you’re catching fish, the next you’re catching men. One day you’re on the boat, the next you’re following Jesus down some dusty road. One day you’re arguing about where to cast your nets, the next you’re arguing with the Pharisees. One day you’re washing the fish smell out of your robes, the next you’re watching Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead. That’s what I mean when I say that God’s will can mess up your life in a good way.
Walking the “Jesus Road”
For Peter and the other disciples, following Christ meant leaving behind the old life (including the incredible catch of fish), giving up their boats, their nets, and their livelihood, and following Christ into an unknown future.
Letting go must always come first. Anything that hinders our walk with Christ must go. Even some good things must go in order that better things may come from the Lord. We can’t have it both ways. The word for “followed” means “to walk the same road.” That’s what a disciple does - he walks the same road as Jesus. He gets on the “Jesus road” and follows it wherever it may lead. No guarantees, no deals, no special promises. He simply walks that road every day, following in his Master’s steps.
Don’t be afraid to follow Jesus. You’ll never regret starting down the “Jesus road.” You’ll only regret that you waited so long to do it.
Are you ready to follow Jesus wherever he leads? That’s all he wants.
They gave up everything and followed him! And my heart cries out, “Me too, Lord. Me too!”