It seems like a straightforward passage. Fisherman are cleaning up from the previous night’s work when Jesus comes along and says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” The fishermen go follow Jesus, end of story. Right? Wrong. There is all kinds of interesting stuff going on here both about the original text and about how it applies to our lives today. This account is found in all three synoptic Gospels but we will be studying from Luke’s version of events. You can read the other accounts by clicking on these links: Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
These events chronologically follow Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth. It may have seemed like a bad thing that Jesus was chased out of town but it allowed him to travel to the town of Capernaum. Capernaum was a fishing town along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, here called the Lake of Gennesaret. Jesus was standing on the shore of the lake and people were crowding around him to hear him speak. There happened to be a couple of boats with fishermen who were washing out their nets. They had been fishing all night and were cleaning up before heading home after a long night’s work. Because of this we can assume that it is some time in the morning. Jesus hopped aboard the boat that belonged to Simon. We also know from the other accounts in Matthew and Mark that Andrew was present on the boat as well.
Bible scholars think it was about a year ago that Jesus first met Simon and Andrew (you can read about it here). Now it is a year later and we see Simon and his brother Andrew still fishing with their father. Remember Andrew, especially, seemed to want to follow Jesus exclusively, but we learn here that at some point along the way he went back to his everyday life. Perhaps the pressures of bills or his wife or whatever started to pull at him and he started to doubt the lifestyle of a disciple. Maybe it’s because Jesus was mostly stationed in Capernaum during that year and he could still work and follow Jesus. Whatever the case, he probably believed in Jesus but he was still heavily involved in his old life.
Simon, dear, not-so-sweet Simon. We know from looking at the New Testament as a whole that Simon was a bit impetuous, a bit ill-tempered at times and hasty or even reckless. Can you imagine Simon’s reaction when Jesus climbs aboard his boat? Simon was already tired from a night of fishing and he was probably grouchy because it was bad fishing at that. I imaging him giving Jesus a “you’ve got to be kidding me” look when Jesus then asks Simon to cast off again. But (with or without protest we don’t know) he did it. We don’t know what Simon, Andrew and the other fishermen were doing while Jesus was teaching. But they would certainly have been within ear shot. I wonder what they heard that day. I wonder what Jesus was teaching about when he turns to Simon and tells him to go fishing again. Actually, what the text says is, “let down the nets for a catch.” Jesus doesn’t imply that if they do they might catch something. He is saying that they will catch something. Then we begin to see a bit of Simon’s character show through. I image that there is just sarcasm dripping off every word he says to Jesus, “Master,” he says, “we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Remember, not only did they just return from a bad night of fishing, but also they already cleaned the nets. And you have to remember there were no motors back in the day so it took some work to cast off again. Jesus is really making a big imposition on an already frustrated Peter.
I often wonder why Simon went along with Jesus. Was it because he was too tired to argue or because he just wanted to appease Jesus? Knowing Simon’s personality, probably not. Did he think there was a chance for a miracle? Again probably not, judging by his mild protest before he agrees to cast off again. I think he wanted to prove Jesus wrong and wanted to make him look bad. Simon was after all an expert fisherman and if he couldn’t catch fish after a whole night of trying what was a carpenter going to do? Did Jesus really think he knew better than the expert? So can you imagine Simon’s surprise when they caught so many fish they had to signal to the other boat to help pull in the nets. And then when both boats began to sink from the weight of all the fish they caught, well it was too much for Simon to bear. He fell at Jesus’s knees and confessed his sin while at the same time confessing Jesus as Lord. The falling at Jesus’ knees shows abject humility on Simon’s part. He recognizes that Jesus is more powerful than he is and is in some way supernatural, too. The confession itself shows that Simon Peter recognizes that Jesus is holy and that he is aware of his own sinfulness. He tells Jesus to go away because up to this point no one could look at God directly and live. He probably thinks Jesus is going to zap him to Hell, if not for his other sins, certainly for his attitude just a few moments before. He’s starting to realize that he is in the presence of God, himself.
Let’s look at a couple of word observations about Simon. First notice earlier in the passage he is just referred to as Simon, his old name. Then when he falls to Jesus’ knees, he is called Simon Peter. I think this marks a transition between the old person of Simon dying to self and the new person of Peter living for Christ. I don’t think it is by chance that the name difference is made here. I think it is only after Simon has a lightbulb moment that he starts to grow into his new nature. The other word observation I noticed is the first time ‘Simon’ addresses Jesus he calls him “Master” which means “one placed over.” I think it shows Peter’s contempt for the situation. But the second time he addresses Jesus he calls him “Lord.” Peter goes from using a term of a master/servant relationship to one of God/worshipper. He gains a new awareness of his relationship with this man called Jesus.
Peter isn’t the only one that is amazed by what just happened. It says, “he and all his companions were astonished,” at what Jesus did. I’m not sure how many people were there but we know for sure that besides Peter and Andrew, James and John, there were other people there because it says, “all his companions AND so were James and John.” Peter is just the only one that is recorded as giving a response. Personally, I imagine the others just standing in piles of squirmy fish with their mouths wide open both at the miracle they just witnessed and Peter’s uncharacteristic behavior.
Jesus, sensing that Peter is scared to death, tells him not to be afraid. Remember, Peter had good reason to be afraid. He was standing in the presence of a holy God! Yet, Jesus didn’t didn’t come “to condemn the world but that through him the world might be saved,” (John 1:2). Perhaps Peter was also afraid of the effects of following Jesus like what would his wife and friends say? How would he support his family? Then he speaks prophesy into Peter’s life. He tells him that from now on he will fish for people. Notice he does ask Peter to follow him, he doesn’t tell Peter to follow him; he tells him what he will be doing. There is a difference. I want to look at the words Jesus uses, “fish for people”. The word literally means “to catch alive”. I think it is interesting that Peter will go from catching live fish that will die to catching dead men that will become alive! Also, Jesus’ words recall Jeremiah 16:16 which says, ““But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the Lord, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks.” Here God is talking about catching and punishing the rebellious Israelites. This is what the law demands but Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and he has come to catch people to restore them. Then it says they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Jesus. Up to this point there was only partial commitment from Andrew and we don’t really know about Peter and as far as we know this was James’ and John’s first run in with big J. But we know that after this they were all in which bring us to our first life application point.
- Following Jesus requires a total commitment. It means being willing to give up that which you hold most dear. Look at Peter, he defined himself as a fisherman; it’s who he was. And this is where we see Jesus in action. Peter must be willing to forgo everything he knew to do something that he didn’t know anything about- evangelism. What captivates you? What piques your interest? How do you define yourself? Are you willing to give all of that up if Jesus asks you to to do that which you know nothing about? Will you jump in with both feet or go kicking and screaming or will you not go at all?
- I don’t know if Jesus was telling Peter not to fear because he was afraid of becoming an evangelist or not but it brings up a good point- Evangelism can seem scary. What is the scariest part of evangelism for you? For me it is that people will think I’m crazy… which is kinda funny since I already admit I’m a little nutso to begin with. My prayer is that God will give you opportunities to overcome your fears. For me, I had two separate people that I met while out and about with my kids. I even had casual conversation with them. I would like to say that I tried to work Jesus into the conversation but I didn’t even think about using it as a chance to tell them about Christ until hours later when the time had passed. As I pray for you, pray that I too, see the opportunities that God provides.
- Sometimes we need to let God’s expertise usurp our own expertise. Imagine expert fisherman Peter’s shock when carpenter Jesus tells him how to run his business especially when it didn’t make good business sense. Sometimes doing what God says takes an extraordinary amount of faith. Which leads me to number four…
- Following God takes faith. Faith can overcome our fears. Faith can help us leave behind or give up old and sometimes important things for something new. We don’t need to have blind faith either. We have evidence of the resurrection to back up our faith. We have the entire Scripture to help us as well. Hebrews 11:1 says this about faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It may be hoping for that which we can not see but we can have faith because of what we have seen and read.
Jesus, Thank you for using ordinary people like us to accomplish your will. Show us how we can be a part of your plan so that your will, not ours, can be done. Help us to accept whatever life changes you may decide to make for us and help us to find joy in them. Thank you for the resurrection, the proof of our faith. Just thank you so much for everything. We are grateful for you and your unending mercy, Amen.