"Ready to Fish"
(Delivered Sunday, December 12, 2004 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version.)
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So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." But Simon answered and said to Him, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net." And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So 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. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men." So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him (Luke 5:1-11).
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Peter was a great fisher of men; but only because the Lord had made him into one. Just how great a fisher Jesus made him is expressed to us in the second chapter of Acts. There, we're told about his first great sermon to the people of Jerusalem after he and the other disciples had been filled with power from on high by the Holy Spirit. We read that, with many words, Peter testified to his kinsmen about Jesus Christ, and exhorted them to repent and believe the gospel, "saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:40-41). Three thousand in one day! And then, only a few days later, he preached again; and we're told that "many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand". In other words, another two-thousand "men" believed and joined the church at the preaching of Peter - just shortly after the first three thousand! We can assume that many of their wives and children believed also! These are considerable 'catches' for a fisher of men; wouldn't you agree?
Only Jesus is able to make a man like Peter into a fisher of men. And He is calling you and me today to enter into the work of Peter and win others to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. He has given us a commission: "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). We are called to His great fishing work; and as was true of Peter in this morning's passage, only He can make us into fishers of men.
There are many things this passage teaches us; but among the wonderful things it shows us is how Jesus made Peter into a fisher of men. As we look at it very carefully, we can see that it suggests several stages that the Lord brought Peter through before he was ready to enter into the Great Commission work that He had for him. I invite you to look together with me at these different stages, under the instruction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. My prayer is that, as we do, the Spirit would do a unique work in each one of us this morning; and that He will move us to a new level of service to Him in the particular place of ministry He has for us.
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The first stage that we see Peter in is one that might characterize many of us in this room this morning. I would say that it's a stage that characterizes many people in many churches. It's a stage that I call . . .
1. AN ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE TEACHER (vv. 1-3).
To help explain this stage, let me first share a little background information. If you know your Bible well, you'll probably know that, by the time of the events of this morning's story, Peter had already come to know much about Jesus.
The first occasion in which Peter met Jesus is told to us in John's Gospel. It was around the time of the preaching of John the Baptist. Because of the preaching of the fiery prophet John, a sense of expectation prevailed; and everyone was looking for the Christ. And then one day, John pointed directly at Jesus and said, "Behold the Lamb of God!"; and as a result, two of John's disciples began to follow Jesus. We're told,
Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, "What do you seek?" They said to Him, "Rabbi" (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), "where are You staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour). One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, "You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas" (which is translated, A Stone) (John 1:38-42).
That's how Peter first met the Savior. Obviously, Jesus had a profound knowledge of this man Simon; because He expressed that He had future plans for him. He spoke of how he would one day be characterized; letting him know that he would come to be known as "A Rock". But though Jesus knew this fisherman Peter quite well; Peter only knew Jesus as the Teacher that his brother Andrew had found - that Man that many were saying was the Christ.
I believe that, as Peter got to know Jesus better, Jesus kept letting Peter know that He had a calling for him. In Matthew's Gospel, we're told that, as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea - hard at work in their chosen trade. Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men"; and immediately, they left their nets and followed Him (Matthew 4:19-20). Then, together, they went to where James and John - the two sons of Zebedee - were also working and mending their nets; and He likewise called them, and they followed Him (vv. 21-22). Peter hadn't yet forsaken everything in a permanent way to follow Jesus, as he does in this morning's passage; but we're simply told that he followed this Teacher at His call. Perhaps they sat together and talked more. We really don't know. But we know that his acquaintance with Jesus was growing deeper and deeper.
As Jesus ministered in Galilee, Peter grew to know Him even better; and we see this in the verses that precede this morning's passage. While in Capernaum in Galilee, as He was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus cast a demon out of a man. The demon cried out to Jesus, "Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are - the Holy One of God!"; and then, Jesus rebuked the demon and commanded him to come out of the man - and the demon left him! (Luke 4:31-37). Everyone was amazed; and marveled at this Man who had the authority and power to command unclean spirits to come out of men! Soon, the report about Him spread everywhere in the region. And you can be sure that Peter knew about it.
Now, it may be that Peter was present to see this event in the synagogue. Or it may be that someone from Peter's family was there - perhaps Andrew. In any case, we're told that, as soon as He arose from the synagogue, Jesus entered Peter's house. Peter's mother-in-law was sick with a very high fever; and those who were in Peter's household asked Jesus if He would help her. We read that "He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. And immediately she arose and served them" (Luke 4:38-39). And thus, Peter became much more acquainted with Jesus and His divine power.
Then, by the end of that day, everyone who was sick or had any disease was coming to Jesus. He was healing everyone who came to Him; and when He cast demons out of people, they were shrieking, "You are the Christ, the Son of God!" - and He rebuked them and commanded them not to speak. Everyone was seeking Him, and trying to persuade Him to stay; and Peter was seeing all this. And the next day, Jesus announced that He needed to leave that region; saying, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent" (Luke 4:43). And Peter watched as Jesus went around preaching in the synagogues of Galilee - never forgetting that Jesus said to him and his brother, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
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All of this gives us the background for our passage this morning. Can you see that Peter was growing more and more acquainted with Jesus? It does not yet have the feel of being a deep relationship. It appears to have only been an acquaintance. Peter was beginning to understand Jesus as a teacher come from God. He had witnessed His miracles first hand. He was growing to recognize that Jesus was, indeed, the long-awaited Messiah. But he was a crusty fisherman, and was still able to hold it all off at a distance, and keep from becoming connected to it all in a personal way.
But that's when Jesus makes it wonderfully personal. He involves Peter in His ministry in such a way that he could no longer keep it all off at a distance. We read;
So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat (Luke 5:1-3).
It was the end of the workday for Peter and his partners in business. They may have had a growing appreciation for Jesus and were becoming increasingly acquainted with His teaching; but let's be practical: there was also business to do! And as it just so happened, business had been miserably bad that day. They had worked all night long, and had caught nothing. We're told that they were washing their nets - an important task, because nets were the "bread and butter" of a fisherman's business. But they were cleaning them because the only thing they had caught in them were weeds and lake-mud. Personally, I picture Peter cleaning his nets in a sour mood, as he listened to the teaching of Jesus - perhaps taking it all in, but still holding it off at a safe distance.
Then, as Jesus was pressed in by the great crowds that came to hear Him teach, He saw that two fishing boats were unused. And so, He got into Peter's boat, sat down, and asked Peter to push it out from the land; and from the boat, Jesus taught the people - and with Peter nearby, listening. Now, Peter was not only becoming acquainted with Jesus' teaching in a detached way, but he was becoming even involved in His ministry. He was serving Jesus through something that meant a lot to him; that is, by lending his boat to Him as a floating pulpit from which to preach.
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Now, when I consider all this, I can't help but wonder how many people who call themselves 'Christians' are in that same stage of relationship to Jesus. They know a lot of doctrinal truth about Jesus. They have heard His teaching. They believe in His miracles. They highly respect Him. They may even, in some way, be involved in His work, and actively give of their substance to His cause. If they had a boat, they'd gladly let Jesus use it. If they were asked to pick sides, they'd definitely side with Jesus.
But in spite of all this, the truths about Jesus are still held off at arm's distance. It hasn't really been allowed to become personal yet. They have not yet truly come to terms with Him down to the core of their being, and have not yet allowed Him to fundamentally transform their lives from the inside out. They respect Jesus and love His teaching, but they themselves have retained control of their own lives. And no one who remains in that first stage is ready to be used by Jesus in a significant way. They have not yet fully entered into and received His calling on their lives.
Does that first stage describe you? Have you merely aligned yourself with Jesus up to this point? Have you merely become acquainted with Him; and yet still retain "ownership rights" to your own life? Do you look upon Jesus as merely an 'addition' to your life - an important addition, to be sure; but merely an addition? If so, you may be content with that; but you need to know that Jesus is not. He wants the relationship to be deep and personal. He wants you to be at the place in your relationship with Him in which you relinquish all to Him and become available for His use. He invites you to allow Him to do great things through you - to make you a fisher of men.
Peter needed to move to a different stage in his relationship with Jesus. He needed to make progress; and we can see something of this progress in the next stage . . .
2. AN OBEDIENCE TO THE MASTER (vv. 4-5).
Jesus turns to Peter and invites him to do something that would require Peter to exercise faith in Him. Luke tells us, "When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, 'Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.'"
Now remember; Peter is an experienced fisherman. He's a professional. We don't know this for sure; but my suspicion is that Peter had grown up in the fishing industry. He'd been fishing since he was a little boy. He knew his work; and he knew that (1) you don't try fishing in the deep water, but in the shallower water; and that (2) you don't bother fishing in the middle of the day, but in the early morning hours. Frankly, if Peter did what Jesus was telling him to do - with all the other fishermen watching along the shore - he'd look like a fool.
I believe there was a temptation in Peter to say, "Now listen; let's make a deal. You don't tell me how to bring in fish; and I won't tell you how to cast out demons." You can almost hear it in his voice; but he stops himself. He says, "Master . . ."; and here, he does not use the Greek word we might expect for "Master" (that is, "kurios"). Instead, he uses the word "epistatÍs"; a word that describes someone who is a superintendent or commander - someone who stands in authority over another. I suggest that Peter even means it in an informal, familial sort of way; as if he were calling Jesus "Boss" - but still with a great deal of respect. "Say, Boss," he says - with maybe just a bit of exasperation; "we have toiled all night and caught nothing . . ." But then, he changes his tone; ". . . nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net."
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Now this is truly progress. It's always a step forward when we consider Jesus to be authoritative; and when we do what He says - even when it doesn't make sense to do so, or when it might make us look foolish before others. That's when it becomes much more personal. That's when it moves out of the realm of just being a matter of 'acquaintance-relationship' and into being a truly obedient and submissive one. And it's absolutely essential in having a deep relationship with Jesus that we do what He says. He said, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10). A great spiritual lesson you can draw from this passage is that one sure way to discover the truth about Jesus is by starting to obey Him.
Many people are in this stage. They not only believe in Jesus and respect Him, but they also seek to obey Him. I would say that many people in our church are in this stage of development in their relationship with Jesus. They call Him "Master" and do what He says; and believe that this is enough. But it's still not enough. There is still some progress that needs to be made if you want to enter into Jesus' call on your life and become a fisher of men that only He can make you to be.
This leads us to a third stage - one of the hardest of all; but without question, the most necessary of all. I call this stage . . .
3. A BROKENNESS BEFORE THE SON OF GOD (vv. 6-10a).
Look at how this third stage is revealed in the experience of Peter. Peter had obeyed Jesus. Against all reason, he went out into the deeper waters and cast his net into the lake. And then, a miracle happened! Luke tells us, "And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So 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."
What a remarkable thing! After a night of having caught nothing - and out in the place where fish were the least likely to be found, and at the least likely time of day - they hauled in a catch that was absolutely as great as it could possibly be! They could not have gotten another fish in if they had held it under their arms!
There's no other way to explain this but that Jesus was the Son of God; and that, as the Son of God, He can control fish. And just think of how that was tailor-made to impact Peter. Jesus had already proven His authority over demons to Peter; but that didn't seem to impress him. He had proven that He had authority over illness, and healed Peter's mother-in-law; but that didn't seem to impress him either. But when Jesus demonstrated that He had authority over the most unpredictable thing that Peter could imagine - fish - THAT got his attention!! And Peter wasn't the only one: "For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon" (vv. 9-10a).
And please notice very, very carefully Peter's response. Peter didn't run up to Jesus and offer Him a job. Instead, we're told that, "When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" Suddenly, Peter had come to a realization of who Jesus truly was. He was not merely "Teacher". He was not even just merely "Master". Peter now saw Him as no one less than the Son of God. Peter had heard it testified many times; but now, it finally sunk in. And at the same time, Peter had come to a realization of who he himself was in the presence of the Son of God - that is, a sinful man who was unworthy of being in His holy presence. The fish no longer mattered.
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I don't think I can stress enough the importance of this stage in the development of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to come to a crisis point in which our recognition of the truth about Jesus transfers from the head to the heart. There needs to be, as an act of God's grace, a personal revelation to us of the truth about Jesus - one that hits us with such intensity that it shakes us down to the core of our being - a revelation of the holy majesty of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in human flesh, that leaves us completely broken of all our self-sufficiency and self-righteousness.
Someone has called it an "Isaiah Experience". A similar thing had happened to the prophet Isaiah. It was the turning point of his usefulness to God. He wrote about it in Isaiah 6; and said,
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said; "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6:1-4).
The Bible teaches us elsewhere that the Person Isaiah was beholding was none other than the Son of God in His pre-incarnate glory (John 12:41). Isaiah was seeing the Son of God as He truly was!! What a sight to behold!! And what sort of impact did it have on Isaiah himself? He goes on to tell us;
So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (v. 5).
Can you see it? Isaiah was given a glimpse of the Son of God as He truly is. And as a result, he gained a sense of who he himself truly was - a sinner; undone, and unworthy to stand in the presence of such a holy God.
And have you come to that same realization? Have you truly come to terms with who Jesus really is - and who you really are? If you're still thinking that you can simply "add" Jesus on to your life and leave yourself in control, then you haven't yet come to the truth. And if you're thinking that you are so wonderful that you have something significant and valuable to offer to the cause of Christ in and of yourself, then you still haven't come to the truth.
You cannot be of any use to Jesus - and you have not yet truly entered into His calling on your life - until you have so come to terms with the truth of His majesty holiness, and of your deplorable sinfulness and bankruptcy of soul, that you cry out in an attitude like Peter's - "Depart from me, O Lord; for I am a sinner!" Then, you're broken from all your self-sufficiency. Then, you're absolutely weak and needy. Then, you're falling before Him and pleading for His mercy. Then, you pray to Him and say, "Lord, I am a helpless sinner. I have sinned against You and am unworthy of being in Your presence. But I believe that You died on the cross for sinners such as I am. I place my faith in Your cross - and in nothing else. I present myself to You as helpless and needy. Please, accept me by Your grace; wash me clean of all my sins by Your precious blood; and then make me Your servant in whatever way you wish. I trust in all that You have done for me; and I now give my all to You."
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Then - at last - you are ready to be of use to Him. That's what happened to Isaiah. After his brokenness came his usefulness. After he cried out, "Woe is me . . .", and confessed the sinfulness of his lips, then he writes;
. . . One of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged."
Once Isaiah had become broken before the Son of God, he was ready to be called into His service. And the same happened to Peter. This leads us to a final stage . . .
4. A DEVOTION TO THE LORD (vv. 10b-11).
Jesus is a good Savior. He never turns away any sinner that comes to Him. And He takes that broken, humbled, repentant sinner unto Himself and puts him or her to work in ways that could never have been imagined. Luke tells us, "And Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.'" Do you see it? After the brokenness, Jesus was able to say, "From now on . . ."
And I can't help but notice something particularly wonderful about Jesus' call. Peter was a fisherman. Fishing was all he ever knew. And when Jesus called him, He didn't commission Peter to now do something that was unfamiliar to him. Instead, He took a sinful, broken, repentant professional fisherman and sent him off to - of all things - go fishing! The work was the same; but the catch was different. The word that Jesus uses is one that means "catching alive". Whereas Peter used to catch fish, he'd now catch men - that is, to win them to Jesus Christ through the bold, Spirit-empowered preaching of the gospel. And whereas what he used to catch would die as soon as it was caught, he'd now catch something that would not only be alive when he caught it - but become even more alive for having been caught! When you come to Jesus in brokenness, and present yourself to Him as Lord and Savior, you'll discover that He had His calling on you all along. You'll find that, in His service, you will be doing what you were meant to be doing!
And we're told that, in the end of it all, "So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him." Could you imagine Peter going back again to the old style of "fishing" after that? Who'd want to just catch fish anymore?
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Well; I do have to tell you, though, that Peter did go back to his old way of fishing - just once. You see; he blew it badly. When Jesus was arrested and taken away by the authorities, Peter denied that he even knew Him. He had let Jesus down. He felt very unworthy again. How could God ever use him now?
But that's when we read of what happened at the end of the Gospel of John - after Jesus had risen from the dead; and while they were at the very same lake (here referred to as the Sea of Tiberias). We read;
After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself; Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon said to them, "I am going fishing." (John 21:1-3a).
Now, isn't that just like Peter? I think I love him so much because I can identify with him so easily. When you've blown it, just go back to the way things were. He wasn't alone in this, of course;
Think of that: they fished all night and caught nothing. (By the way; is any of this beginning to sound familiar to you?)
But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any food?" They answered Him, "No." And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some" (vv. 5-6a).
"Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." Can you just imagine what Peter was thinking at this point?
So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish (vv. 6b-8).
I guess Peter couldn't wait. And it sure seems that he forgot all about fishing.
Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have just caught." Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty- three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, "Come and eat breakfast." Yet none of the disciples dared to ask Him, "Who are You?" - knowing that it was the Lord (vv. 9-12).
I'm sure that Jesus did all that to the encouragement of all the disciples. But I suspect that He did it especially for Peter. Peter had failed, and had reverted back to his old work; but that didn't change the fact that Jesus had called Him to be a fisher of men. And, of course - as we noted at the beginning of our time together - Jesus did indeed make him a great fisher of men. He will do the same for you and me - even if we've blown it badly - if we will just give ourselves to Him again.
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So, how about it? Where are you in terms of your relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you only know Him as "Teacher"? Or have you only grown to obey Him as "Master"? Or have you finally become broken before Him as "the Son of God" and are now devoted to Him as "Lord"? You cannot really be of use to Him until you have come to know Him as you should. Are you willing to ask Him to make you 'ready to fish' in His service?
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