Today’s gospel reading is probably very familiar to you. If you attended Sunday school as a child, it is a Bible story that is popular to tell children. But familiarity can create blindness. In our familiarity with something, we can fail to see what is there. I enjoyed studying to prepare this message, and perhaps we can gain some fresh insight this morning.
First let’s set the scene. Jesus is by the Lake of Gennesaret, another name for the Sea of Galilee. When we think of a lake setting, an idyllic image may come to our mind. Or rest and relaxation. We go to the lake to cool off on a summer day, or to enjoy a water sport. But erase that from your mind, as it is not the image we should have of the ancient Sea of Galilee.
It was more about everyday life. It was a busy scene. The Sea of Galilee is 8 miles wide and 13 miles long. In Jesus’ day, 9 cities were scattered around its shoreline. Each had a population of at least 15,000 — so a minimum of 135,000 people lived around the lake.
Fishing was essential to the life and economy of this area. The names of some of the towns even reflect it. For example, Bethsaida means fish town. Galileans ate little meat besides fish; it was a staple of their diet. Hundreds of fishing boats would have trolled the lake. Fishing was a business. Besides feeding locals, fish was packed and preserved and sent to Jerusalem and exported to Rome.
My intent was not to bore you with facts, but to help provide an accurate perception of life by the Sea of Galilee.
It was while Peter (and James and John too) were engaged in their ordinary employment that they were called by Christ. More than that, this encounter occurred after a particularly lousy night at work. Have you ever had a lousy day or night at work? I’m sure you have.
Is that when you expect to have a special spiritual experience – and to have your life completely re-oriented? Probably not.
I think we expect a special encounter with God to occur on…a spiritual retreat with our church group, or when we are out in nature and able to quietly reflect. It is something we plan for or at least hope will happen. But I think God often works in the ordinary and catches us by surprise in the midst of our daily grind – If we have eyes to see and a spiritual sensitivity to it.
In this case with Peter, God worked in an overt way performing a miracle. But God can also work in quiet and subtle ways. We should not always be expecting the miraculous. I think we can miss God in the ordinary, and we can miss opportunities to influence people for Christ because we are pre-occupied. Pray for spiritual vision and sensitivity to the work of God.
But let’s move back to these verses. We have set the scene. People are crowding around Jesus to hear the word of God. Jesus decided to get into a boat, and teach from the boat. This was a wise thing to do. It was an ancient method of crowd control. Hills rolled gently down to the lake, and the beach was narrow. As people sat on the rising shoreline, it would have provided good acoustics.
Note that it said the people crowded around to hear the Word of God. Remember that Jesus was God incarnate. Jesus was the unique God-man, fully God and fully human at the same time. It is a bit of a mystery that should leave us awestruck – God came to earth and lived a human life. And these Galileans, while they likely at this point did not realize the divine nature of Jesus, nonetheless sensed something unique about him and his teaching.
At the end of Sermon on the Mount, it says that…the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority and not as their usual teachers of the law.
The people were eager and hungry for this spiritual food. The apostle Peter over in 1 Peter, written about 30 years after the events of today’s passage, says: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”
Like fish sustained the Galileans physically, the Word of God is essential spiritual food. Jesus isn’t walking among us as he did 2,000 years ago, but we have the Bible. Are you reading and studying your Bible? We encounter Jesus there. In fact, it is the whole purpose of the Scripture – to show us Jesus.
How often do you crack open your Bible and feed on it? If you are not immersed in the Scripture like you should be, why not? I do not mean “why not” in a point-the-finger judgmental way. But just in a practical way. If there is anything in your life that you should be doing but you are not doing it, “why not” is a logical question. What’s hindering you? Jot down a list. Maybe there is a fairly simple solution.
But back to the passage. After Jesus finished speaking, he turned to Peter and told him to cast his net into the deep water for a catch. Peter responded: “we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
In my study, I found different perspectives on Peter’s response in verse 5. Some said Peter’s faith was weak, while others said his faith was strong. Well, which is it?
Peter did remind Jesus that they’d already fished all night without success, so perhaps this indicates weak faith. But nonetheless, Peter did as Jesus said. “Because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
More than the strength or weakness of our faith, the object of our faith is critical. We could have strong faith in something or someone false, wrong, incorrect. That’s no good. It could even prove dangerous or deadly. But weak faith in TRUTH has potency.
There is no virtue in faith, in and of itself. The virtue is in Christ. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We can get so focused on our faith – is it strong enough? – that we neglect the object of our faith: the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes we need to stop looking to our faith, and start looking to Christ.
Maybe that’s what Peter did in verse 5. Initially he was focused on his faith: “we already fished all night.” But then he looked to Christ: “Because you say so, I will let down the nets.” — And the object of his faith, Jesus himself, performs a miracle.
In verse 6, they caught so many fish that their nets began to break and it filled 2 boats. No one but the Creator of the fish could have commanded the fish to go into the nets in this miraculous way. Do you realize Jesus is the Creator?
We worship the eternal triune God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the eternal 3 in 1. John chapter 1 and Colossians chapter 1 make it clear that Jesus was the special agent of creation. John 1:3 says, referring to Jesus: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” – In Genesis 1, that was Jesus at work.
A miracle is a work of divine power for a divine purpose. The many miracles in the gospels point to the authority of Jesus. Here we see his authority over nature with these fish. But we also see Christ’s authority over disease, death, and demons – As Jesus healed people, raised the dead to life, and cast out demons.
But I think another reason for this miracle of the fish was for Jesus to catch some fisherman in his net and bring them into his kingdom work. And in verse 8, we see Peter’s response to this miracle: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”
Peter heard Jesus teach, and then witnessed this miracle, and I think he saw Jesus as he’d never seen him before. It gave Peter a new revelation of the character of Jesus, and Peter saw his own character in a more accurate light. Peter was humbled. He was overpowered with a sense of the disparity between him and Jesus. “I am a sinful man.”
We can observe a similar situation in Isaiah 6, which was read for us this morning. In this chapter Isaiah encounters God in the temple. The scene is one of glorious majesty. God is high and exalted and the seraphim cry out “holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” And Isaiah is humbled. He responds: “Woe to me! 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.”
This is similar to Peter, who said: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”
Perhaps this sounds discouraging to you, or hopeless. We live in a culture of positive thinking and self-affirmation. “Woe is me! I am ruined!” – That is not very self-affirming or positive, is it?
But it is a spiritually healthy sign when, in the presence of God, we realize our exceeding sinfulness. Humility makes room for a transforming encounter with God. If we are full of ourselves, there is no room for God.
To be humbled in this way is not a place of despair and despondency, but a place of hope and revival. A multitude of Bible verses emphasize that pride keeps God at a distance, but humility brings God close to us. – And that is exactly what we see in Isaiah 6 and Luke 5.
After Isaiah said “woe is me” the seraphim touched his lips with coal from the altar and proclaimed his sin forgiven. Then, for the first time in the vision, God spoke to Isaiah. And Isaiah was commissioned for service. God gave him a job to do.
In Luke 5, it is the same. After Peter said “Go away from me, I am sinful” – Jesus replied in verse 10: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
God’s response to the humility of Isaiah and Peter was: comfort and commission.
Peter thought his condition as a sinner disqualified him from being in the presence of Jesus or being useful to Jesus. But Jesus’ view is that because Peter understands he is a sinner, and respects the presence of holiness, he can be made a fisher of people.
It is the same for each of us. We need a right view of ourselves. Every human being is made in the image of God and reflects God and his goodness. We have value and worth. Perhaps someone has made you feel worthless. You are not worthless.
However, each of us is also deeply fallen. The goodness of God in us has been corrupted by sin. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – That’s why we need Jesus.
This commission to Peter to become a fisher of people applies to us also. God doesn’t call everyone to full-time Christian service, but he does call every Christian to follow Jesus and to influence others by their life.
If we have really had an encounter with Jesus, recognized our sinfulness, and received his mercy and grace by faith – it should re-orient our life. It should change our priorities.
Each of us is a unique person. God has given us different gifts, abilities, resources, advantages, and spheres of influence.
Did you notice that the Lord used Peter’s boat as a pulpit to teach? God can use your property and possessions for his glory. – My husband and I have an extra room in our house, and we have hosted over 20 international students in our home. We’ve had opportunities to share Christianity with them.
Each of us comes in contact with different people. We live in different neighborhoods, have different jobs, different hobbies.
How are you influencing people for Christ in your sphere of influence? How are you using the gifts and abilities that God has given you? How are you representing Christ by your actions and words?
I want to close with an excerpt from a H.A. Ironside sermon. The sermon is from the early 20th century, so certain language is a little dated but I thought it skillfully summarized today’s Luke 5 passage:
It is true you are a sinner in yourself, but if your trust is in Christ and you are resting in him who died to save you, in him who shed his blood to put away your guilt – you can go forth in confidence to serve. “From henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
God could have sent angels into this world to carry the gospel of his grace to lost men, and I am sure there is not an angel in heaven who would not come down into this world and go up and down among the nations to tell the wondrous story of Christ, who died and rose again.
But Christ did not commit to them this precious ministry. He has entrusted it to saved sinners – to you and to me, who, through his grace, know him as our redeemer. God give us to be faithful in making known his message to those round us.
We may have to do it in a quiet way. It may be just a little word here and there. It may be just a short gospel message; it may be a brief testimony that will tell of the saving work of Christ. All of these may be used as the hooks wherewith we catch men and bring them to know the Lord Jesus Christ for themselves.