1One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around Him and listening to the word of God, 2He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3He 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.
4When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7So they signalled 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.
8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10and 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 catch men.” 11So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him.
Each of the synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke - gives an account of Jesus’ call of a closely-knit group of fishermen to become His disciples. Luke though, goes into greater detail as he records the miracle of the great catch of fish.
According to Luke and Mark, the call of the disciples came after miracles Jesus performed in the synagogue at Capernaum. This may seem a minor detail, but it’s actually important. Had we not known this, some might assume that Jesus just happened to be at the seaside, where he invited four strangers to become His disciples, but it wasn’t like that at all.
Jesus already had a relationship with the fishermen. He knew Peter, Andrew, James, and John very well by the time we come to the events described in Luke 5. Peter and Andrew had met Jesus the day He was baptised by John the Baptist months before. James and John were partners with Peter in a successful fishing business. And several of these fishermen, almost certainly all four of them, had been with Jesus in Cana of Galilee, where they witnessed His first miracle when He turned water into wine at the wedding.
They had been witnesses to many miracles Jesus had performed in Jerusalem before returning to Galilee to go back to their livelihood as fishermen. They’d been together in the Capernaum synagogue when Jesus cast a demon out of a man in the congregation. This is the miracle we looked at last week.
The point is that the four were already very close to Jesus, so His call to discipleship was no spontaneous invitation issued to strangers. Jesus had invested significant time in their relationship before calling these four to become His disciples.
It’s good to remember this. At times we try to rush others into a decision about faith in Christ, when it might be more appropriate and wiser to invest time as Jesus did, building a relationship with them as they come to know and trust us. Probably the most important thing when it comes to witnessing the truth of the Gospel to those who are seeking the truth, is to be authentic. Just be yourself as you allow the transformation Jesus brings into your life to become real. If they are genuinely open to hearing the truth, they will notice the change in your life.
As someone once said, make a friend, be a friend, then lead that friend to Christ.
Sometimes the word disciple is used in the Gospels to describe the curious who became not really much more than loose adherents of Jesus. Jesus had many disciples, and many of them fell away, as they still do today, but when the word disciple is applied to the Twelve, it has a different, more technical meaning.
In the first century, those who had ambitions of becoming religious leaders attached themselves to a man who was already recognised as a rabbi, an expert in written and oral Law. They became disciples and lived with their teacher, under his discipline for a period of years. It was during this time of mentoring and discipling that the disciples were to master all that their teacher knew. The goal was to become as much like their teacher as possible. In Luke 6 Jesus was teaching His disciples when He said to them, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)
The training that first century would-be rabbis went through was a rigorous spiritual apprenticeship, and it was the only way a person could gain a position of religious authority in Judaism.
And so it was to this same rigorous spiritual apprenticeship that Jesus called the four fishermen that day. They would have to leave their business behind, abandoning everything to be with Jesus night and day. They couldn’t keep their day time jobs and study after hours.
And here we find a lesson for modern-day discipleship of Jesus. We’re not called to abandon everything for the sake of Christ, but we are called to surrender all things for Him. We can’t have a secular life consisting of family, career and possessions, and those things are ours, and have a spiritual life after hours – a part of our lives we dedicate wholly to God, that we ration and regulate how much of our time we’re to give to Him.
As Christians, we understand that everything is sacred, because God is the Creator and provider of all things. When we separate our personal lives from our Church lives, we’ve missed a fundamental principle of Christian discipleship. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
During the next three or so years, Jesus’ disciples would gradually learn from His example and from His public and private teaching, until they were fully equipped to become powerful, Spirit-filled leaders in the Christian Church.
True discipleship of Jesus Christ, both then and now, calls for informed commitment. There is a cost. There are sacrifices to be made if you’re going to be serious about a commitment to Jesus, and you need to be prepared to make those sacrifices.
This is why Jesus spent so much time with these men who formed the core group of the Twelve. They had to know and trust Him, so that when He called them to discipleship, they would make the choice with their eyes wide open.
And so, one day Jesus was teaching the crowds that had gathered in response to His spreading fame. Yet He paid primary attention not to the multitudes but to individuals, and particularly Simon Peter.
In spite of his closeness to Jesus, Peter was still busy working as a fisherman, and by all accounts he was a very successful fisherman.
He and his partners ran their business from Capernaum. Peter was clearly the most influential in the partnership – he was the senior partner, something which continued after he became a disciple of Jesus.
In almost every recorded conversation between Jesus and the disciples, Peter’s is the first voice we hear. He was certainly opinionated but not always right.
The two best known examples of Peter opening his mouth just to change feet are in Matthew 16 and 26: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’” (16:21-24) “Peter replied, ‘Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’” (26:33-35)
Andrew, James, and John were there that day. They also witnessed the miracle and responded to the call to discipleship, but Peter was their spokesman.
The crowds that had gathered to hear Jesus pressed so close to Him that He climbed into Peter’s boat and asked him to push Him out a little from the shore. There, isolated from the crowd, Jesus taught from the boat. He would have stood at the raised platform in the front of the boat, so the crowd could see and hear Him better. That platform was usually occupied by one of the fishermen who would act as a lookout, but in this case, Jesus used it to preach from. Interestingly enough, that raised platform in the bow of a fishing boat was called the pulpit…
When He finished teaching, Jesus told Peter to row out to deeper water and let down his nets. Peter was an experienced fisherman. Fishing was his livelihood, and he knew there were no fish there. They’d been fishing all night, which was when most of the fishing was done, and had caught nothing, so Peter knew what he was talking about when he said, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.”
The NIV translation of verses 4 and 5 say, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch. Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Both plural, but the KJV makes a distinction: “Launch out into the deep, and let down your netsfor a draught. Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net.” Singular.
Was Peter merely humouring Jesus, muttering under his breath to himself, “Really? I’m tired, I’ve been fishing all night and I just want to get some sleep, but whatever…”
I don’t think so. He called Jesus “Master.” Peter already understood the authority that this man had. He didn’t fully understand yet – that only came after he nearly lost both his fishing boats as they were swamped with fish, but he did obey, albeit partially.
Peter let down only one net rather than the “nets” Jesus had called for, but even this partial obedience was rewarded overwhelmingly. This shows the value of humility, of teachability, and of obedience.
So many fish were caught in the net that it began to break. It was quite literally a case of all hands on deck as they struggled to bring in the catch. The two boats were so full of fish that they began to take on water.
Then we come to the most important part of this miracle. As a commercial fisherman, what would you expect Peter’s reaction to be? I know how I’d react. There would be back slapping and high fives all round, especially for Jesus. I’d want to clear those boats and get back into the water as soon as I could to grab another few netfuls of fish. Can you imagine how much money they could make?
This miracle had a peculiar effect on Peter. Verse 8 says, “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Just a few minutes earlier, Peter was clearly reluctant to launch out into deeper water and let down a net. After all, he was an experienced fisherman. He knew the ways of fish, and where they could be found. Peter knew there was no way any fish would be in the spot where Jesus told him to let down the net. In spite of all this, Peter respected Jesus. He obeyed not because he expected a miracle, but out of respect.
But respect only carried Peter so far. Peter couldn’t see the sense in letting down “nets.” Reluctantly, Peter did push out and let down one net.
But Peter was unprepared when suddenly the net bulged with fish. When Jesus tells us to obey and get ready for results, it’s best that we be prepared!
In our English translations, when Peter talks to Jesus in verses 5 and 8, he addresses Jesus with two different names. In verse 5 Jesus is “Master,” while in verse 8, after he witnesses the miracle and falls before Jesus, Peter calls Him “Lord.”
The Greek word we have translated as master is epistata. It’s the same kind of word we’d use as a mark of respect by calling a superior boss, or sir. This again is proof that Peter wasn’t annoyed or just humouring Jesus by casting his net. By calling Jesus epistatahe recognised His authority.
But after the miraculous catch, there is a huge change. Now, Peter falls on his knees before Jesus and cries out, “Kurios” – “Supreme Lord.” Peter was overwhelmed with the realisation that God was present in this man whom he had been treating only as a respected friend until now.
It is good for us to be on familiar terms with Jesus. We can go to Him as epistata, or even as a brother and friend. But we must never forget that Jesus is at the same time God Himself, Kurios, the Supreme Lord of the universe, whom we are to view with respect and awe, and before whom we must bow the knee.
Peter’s response to the miracle does seem a little strange at first. Why did he ask Jesus to go away, using the excuse that he was a sinful man? Why wasn’t Peter excited about the miraculous catch? Why wasn’t he grateful? Why didn’t he immediately try and catch more fish?
Because Peter’s focus now, quite correctly, was not on the miracle, but rather, on the miracle worker.
Peter’s reaction is rooted in the fact that he was no longer concerned with the miracle. The miracle had forced Peter to look at Jesus in a new way. It was one thing to see Jesus perform miracles for others. But it was another thing entirely for Peter to experience a miracle personally.
Now he was forced to look at Jesus with fresh eyes and to see Him for who He really was.
In that moment of personal discovery, Peter fell to his knees and cried out, Kurios, “Supreme Lord.”
Peter, at this life-changing moment was no longer a fisherman, but a sinner in the presence of a Holy God.
Just as the miracle forced Peter to look at Jesus with fresh eyes, the sudden realisation of who Jesus was triggered self-discovery. Peter had thought of himself primarily as a master of his trade. Now he was overwhelmed by the realisation that “I am a sinful man.”
If we are ever going to grasp the central message of the glory of the Gospel of Christ, we have to understand who He is, and who we are. We need a clear understanding of both extremes.
It is one thing to accept and believe that God is holy and perfect, but it is an entirely different thing to confess that we are miserable sinners who have offended this God, and that we deserve eternal condemnation.
We cannot stand in the presence of Jesus and see Him clearly as the Holy One of God without becoming sensitive to the fact that we are sinners, who, without the grace of God, are doomed forever. Years later, when Peter preached to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost, we’re told that they were so filled with remorse that they were “cut to the heart.”
And so must we be cut to the heart by how our sin has offended God. If you think that Jesus is just going to help you along in life and hopefully perform the odd miracle for you here and there, then I’m afraid you have yet to meet the real Jesus.
The real Jesus is the eternal God Himself, and our first response to Him as we’re given a glimpse of His Holiness should be the same as Peter’s. We should be cut to the heart by our guilt and our shame.
Peter’s impulsive, yet theologically correct solution was to beg Jesus to leave Him. And so He should. God, because of our sin, should have nothing to do with us.
If God did leave us, as He should, we would be left with our problem of guilt and shame unresolved, and with no hope.
“Don’t be afraid,” is what Jesus said to Peter.
Because of the grace of God, revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ, we need no longer fear condemnation and judgment for our sin. As Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
Because of Jesus, the righteous anger of God against us was poured out on Him on the Cross. That’s what the Gospel offers us – peace and reconciliation with a Holy God. And then He is able to use us for His glory and His purposes.
“From now on you will catch men.” Jesus knew that Peter and the other disciples were sinners. But Jesus wanted them as His own nonetheless. By choosing to follow Jesus, their lives would be radically changed.
They would now share in Jesus’ ministry, investing their lives in capturing human hearts and turning them to the Lord. And that is our task as the Church today.
Verse 11 says, “They left everything and followed Him.”
The miracle had its desired effect. Peter, Andrew, James, and John, and countless others through the ages who have looked not so much at what Jesus had done, but rather at who Jesus is, have bowed to the ground, confessing Jesus as Kurios, Supreme Lord.
What a privilege it is to follow Christ and become fishers of men for Him.
Jesus has appeared. He is God, and He has come into the world. He is the source of truth, knowledge, power, holiness and mercy. Only God gives mercy to sinners. Only God calls sinners to reconciliation to Himself and commissions them to the great task of evangelism.
Peter and his companions saw their sin, but they also saw their Saviour, the Saviour who embraces them and us in mercy. They embraced the truth, and together they took the good news of the Gospel into the world.
How about you? Have you been cut to the heart by the enormity of your sin? Have you reached the point where you wanted to run away from God only to be embraced by Him through faith in Jesus Christ?
And will you, in obedience, set out for deeper waters and cast your net as God calls you? You don’t have to leave your career or reject your family. Wherever it is in your life that you live and move and have your being, that’s the place where you are to live your life for the advancement of the Gospel. That’s the Saviour’s work to which all of us have been called.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Luke 5:1-11
Peter already knew Jesus quite well, and had seen some of the miracles for himself, so although he was certainly tired after a long night of fishing, he still obeyed Jesus’ unusual command in verse 4.
How have you reacted when you felt that God was calling you to do something unusual, or maybe even impossible?
How are we to respond when God’s instructions make no sense to us?
Discuss Peter’s reaction to the miracle.
One would expect him to be delighted at such a huge catch of fish, so why did he fall at Jesus’ feet instead?
Read Acts 2:36-41
This event happened years later, after Peter and the remaining disciples were empowered by the Spirit to preach the Gospel. They had indeed become fishers of men.
Discuss the crowd’s reaction to the Word in verse 37.
Why is it important to be “cut to the heart” (as Peter was in Luke 5) when we come face to face with God?
Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, God does not reject us as He should, but instead He embraces us by His grace.
How can you take this wonderful message of hope into the world?