Fishing with the Words of Jesus - Luke 5:1-11
Jesus is standing by the Sea of Galilee, otherwise known as the Lake of Gennesaret, and he’s teaching the crowd the word of God. But the people are so eager to hear the word of God that they are crowding around him, pressing in upon him and pushing him into the water!
So Jesus comes up with a wonderfully creative solution, which is going to help him in more ways than one. There are two fishing boats moored at the water’s edge, one owned by Peter and Andrew, and the other by James and John. They’ve been fishing all night. And now they’re cleaning their nets, which are laid out neatly on the beach – cleaning them of all the bothersome bits of reed and shell that’s got caught up in them. Depressingly, they haven’t caught a thing.
Jesus gets into Peter’s boat and asks him to put out a little from the shore. Then Jesus arranges himself in the boat and teaches the crowd from the boat! And now he’s protected from the eager crowd by the lake’s moat of water between them!
And so the first thing I’d like us to notice from the passage is how this crowd was hungry for the word of God. They were pressing in on Jesus, eager to hear his every word. And I want to ask us this, “Has our attitude to the word of God become ho-hum, has it been blunted?”
I’m so grateful that when I first became a Christian I was taught to get into the habit of reading the Bible every day. And I’m so glad to say that God has helped me to do that. And it nourishes me. If I miss a few days, I find I’m missing something, just like not eating the right food. It doesn’t matter how you do it – whether you listen to it on your phone, or read it together with your spouse or a friend, or whether you read The Big Picture Story Bible with the kids in your life or, like me, just read a chapter a day in a Study Bible. Just make sure you’re being nourished regularly by the word of God.
After Jesus has finished teaching the crowd, he turns to Peter and says, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” “You’ve got to be joking!” thinks Peter, “We’ve been up all night and haven’t caught a thing! We’ve just cleaned the nets and tidied up the boat! (Those of you who’ve been boating know how long that all takes!) We’re tired and smelly and hungry…OK! Because you say so, and only because you say so, we’ll do it.”
And we all know what happens! They catch such a large number of fish that their nets begin to break and they have to signal to James and John to come out in the other boat to help them. And they fill both boats so full of fish that both boats begin to sink! There are fish everywhere!
And when Peter sees all this he realises that Jesus is like no other man. Only the Messiah could have known all this. Only the Messiah could have prepared, timed and organised all this. And Peter realises that Jesus has done this as a lesson for him. And when Peter remembers his hesitation and grumpiness he falls at Jesus’ knees, amongst all those fish, and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Just like Moses in the desert with the burning bush he realises he’s in the presence of God! And he’s not worthy to be. Indeed, he’s so unworthy that he fears for his very life. Jesus’ holiness is about to consume him. And so he begs Jesus to get away from him!
What a turnaround! Just a few moments before he’s been keeping the boat steady as Jesus taught the crowds. My hunch is that he was feeling rather pleased with himself, rather smug, in that up-front pole position. This wasn’t the first time he’d met Jesus. We learn from John 1:35-42 that Andrew had introduced Peter, his brother, to Jesus a short time ago. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, and one day John the Baptist had pointed out Jesus as he was passing by and said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” And the first thing Andrew had done after discovering Jesus was to find his brother Peter, telling him, “You won’t believe who I’ve found! We’ve found the Messiah!” (that is, the Christ). And now this massive catch of fish after an empty night has lifted the veil on Peter’s eyes and he’s believed. He’s realised he’s in the presence of the long-looked-forward-to Messiah, the very Lamb of God.
And I can’t help asking you, “Has your life been turned around by Jesus?” Sure, he’s a great teacher, a great healer, which is what the crowds saw. But he’s so much more than that! And are we game to pray that God would open our eyes to who Jesus really is?
You may have a sudden realisation, like Peter, or you may be more like Andrew, who was obviously a seeker. But in Jesus’ presence we too should fall at his feet. Indeed, all the time, every day, we too should fall at Jesus’ feet.
But then Jesus says to Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on, you will catch people.” And Luke tells us that those first disciples of Jesus pulled up their boats high upon the shore, just like at the end of the season, left everything, and followed him.
Wow! Luke wastes not a word. He is crisp and straightforward. And he is obviously challenging his listeners and readers to do exactly the same thing. If it is good enough for Peter, Andrew, James and John, those first disciples and apostles, it’s good enough for us.
When Jesus finished teaching the crowd, he hadn’t really finished his sermon, had he? He may have dismissed the crowd, and they probably went off to get something to eat, thinking that that was the end of their day, but he wasn’t finished with those four men. For them, the most powerful, the most memorable, the most important part of the sermon was yet to come. You see, when Jesus said to Peter, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch,” he was giving them one massive illustration of what the rest of their lives were going to be. This was to be the end of their fishing career – fishing for fish, that is. And this was to be the beginning of a whole new life when they’d be fishing for people.
And they were going to catch plenty! You only have to think of that crowd at Pentecost, with people gathered from nations right across the world, when about 3,000 people became Christians after hearing Peter’s first sermon. Peter the fisherman!
But first they had to be trained. And that training was going to be hard work and dangerous. And it was going to be focused, because they had left everything – their families, their businesses, to learn how to be fishers for people. Indeed, they spent the next three years with Jesus learning how to fish for people, as he taught them with his word.
I don’t know if you’ve thought about this or not, but when you catch fish, they die. And these first disciples also died, when they themselves were caught by Jesus. They died to their old life, their old values. But then they went into training for a whole new way of living, instructed by Jesus’ words. And when Jesus gave them his Spirit, they were given a whole new eternal life, so much more wonderful than their old life.
What are you fishing for? A nice home and family? Financial security? A quiet life? These are often gifts of God, but are they our Number 1 priority? If we give our lives to Jesus, like those first disciples, he will catch us up as well in his great rescue plan and make us, like them, fishers for people.
Now the great thing about a fishing boat is that there are all sorts of jobs! And there’s a job for everyone! You need people to maintain the hull, and the sails or the engine. You need people who can navigate, steer and keep watch. You need people who can cook. You need people who can sort, clean and store fish. And, of course, you need people who can actually catch fish! All those jobs, every job, works towards catching fish. Indeed, there’s no space on a fishing boat for anything else. It’s not like a cruise ship, where you can just relax and let others do the work!
And it’s exactly the same with God’s church. Even our church buildings remind us of this. They are upturned boats – we’re all sitting here in the nave, the Latin word for boat, and the planking on the ceiling reminds us that we’re all in the same boat. And we’re in the business of fishing, whether it be in Banyule or Regional Australia, with Bush Church Aid. We’re in the business of fishing for people, of making followers of Jesus, through the words of Jesus.
Now, being a disciple is costly. It’s expensive and it’s dangerous – we will get persecuted. Those first disciples left everything to follow Jesus. They saw their Lord crucified and they were persecuted themselves as they took the news of eternal salvation through Christ to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. But Jesus tells us that those who lose their life for his sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Are you, like the crowds listening to Jesus by the Sea of Galilee hungry for God’s word? Has your life, like those first disciples, been turned around by God’s word? Have you become, like those first disciples, a fisher for people? Let’s pray that God would work in us, as individuals, as congregations, as a parish, to make us hungry for his word, to turn us around by his word, and to train us to be fishers for people through sharing God’s word.
Adrian Lane serves as the Victorian Regional Officer for the Bush Church Aid Society and has previously served as the Warden for the Mathew Hale Public Library in Brisbane.