Friends: This is the third chapter of a short book I wrote a couple of years ago. Comments welcome! Subsequent chapters to follow!
Saved! Chapter Three: LURED!
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “The Christian will have to look a lot more redeemed before I believe in his Redeemer.”
How did Jesus reach you? What were the means, the people, the circumstances that attracted you to Him? Did you find His people particularly winsome, engaging, contagious?
In our text for this chapter we want to notice how Jesus lured His first disciples to Himself. We read,
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 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.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 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.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 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.
8 When 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,
10 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.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Lk. 5)
The scene seems innocent enough. Jesus is standing by a lake and the people crowd around Him to hear Him teach. But there is a logistical problem. Too many people in too small a space equals an ineffective learning environment.
A Favor for Jesus
Jesus needs to gain a bit of pedagogical distance between Himself and the people, so He spots two boats at the water’s edge belonging to local fishermen. The fishermen were washing their nets, we will learn later, after a completely unproductive night of fishing.
Apparently without asking, Jesus boarded one of the boats — it happened to be the one owned by Simon — and asked him to put out a bit from the shore. The logistical problem was solved. Jesus taught from the boat to the crowds who were content to stay on the shore and listen. It is hard to tread water and listen at the same time.
We are not told how Simon reacted, but I can well imagine that he was glad he could help out the wandering Rabbi Jesus. Perhaps he expected a word of thanks when they put back in to shore.
An Audacious Command
But he got what he did not expect. He receives not a word of thanks but a command of challenge. “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” Jesus says to him. Commandeering another man’s boat for a preaching predicament is one thing; commanding the owner of that boat to do something foolish and obviously wasteful is quite another.
The command of Jesus is two-fold: (1) “put out into deep water” and (2) “let down the nets for a catch.” Apparently they had not yet made it back to shore from the teaching lesson, so putting out into the deep water would indicate to all watching that Simon was going to try his luck at fishing one more time. It is possible that the fishing nets were still on shore, so they were unprepared for another fishing expedition. But who is his right mind would guarantee a catch of fish?
Simon’s objection seemed to involve both saving face as well as not making more work for himself and his partners. One wonders if in his heart Simon was thinking, “Jesus, you’re a great Teacher. But I know fishing. And this seems to be an exercise in futility. You’re letting Your popularity go to Your head.”
We read Simon’s response as, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” The futility of an all-night fishing expedition was raw and exhausting. Simon seems to be saying, “We have not lacked effort. We’ve worked hard. But we have nothing to show for our labor but nets needing mending and cleaning, and exhausted bodies needing rest.” Giving reasons why a particular command makes no sense assumes that one knows better than the One giving the command.
Perhaps Simon’s response could be worded: “Rabbi Jesus, we are hard-working fishermen. You’re an
excellent teacher. You’re good at what You do. We know what we’re doing. Sometimes the fish are there — and sometimes they aren’t. Do you really want us to go out there again and repeat our fruitless efforts and then come back into shore with nothing to show for our time and labor? Really?”
“But Because You Say So”
What Simon says next might well serve as a motto for every serious Christ-follower. Simon continues, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (v. 5). Jesus lets Simon give his reasons why going back out fishing makes absolutely no sense. The second part of Simon’s statement, however, — “But because you say so” — summarizes the Christian’s walking by faith. To Simon’s mind, Christ’s command made no sense. But Christ’s Person was worth trusting, and Simon’s trust was greatly rewarded!
We read that, “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.” (vv. 6-7).
For those disinclined to believe in miracles, this story sounds like a fable, an embellished, humorous legend suitable for telling one’s children at bedtime. For those who affirm God’s existence and power to break into His creation and do whatever He desires to do, this story rings true and reminds us that the Creator of the fish knows fishing!
The Reward of Obedience
I know very little about fishing. When I was a teen, I recall my father and uncles taking me and my brother to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to “gig for flounder.” Gigging for flounder involves going out very early in the morning and walking around the four- foot deep, warm waters of the Outer Banks to find flounder to gig. “Gig” means stab. So we would pull a styrofoam float behind us and with a light on a pole, we would scan the sandy bottom to find flounder calmly sleeping in the sand. Great fun — for all but the flounder who would be stabbed in the back while they were sleeping. That’s about the extent of my knowledge of fishing.
Simon’s “because-you-say-so” kind of faith is not only rewarded, but embarrassingly overwhelmed by the Rabbi’s power. Short of pulling up buried treasure, I would imagine that there is no greater joy for a fisherman than hauling in so many fish that one’s boat is in danger of sinking! Jesus’ gracious action not only filled the borrowed boat belonging to Simon, but his partners’ boat that had to be summoned to help with the catch. Talk about overflowing mercy!
We notice that Simon Peter is not inclined to count his profits at this point. He is so overwhelmed at this miracle catch that he drops to knees before Jesus (perhaps in the midst of his boatload of fish), and says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v. 8). His response is not: “Let’s count these fish and get them to market!” or “Rabbi, I’m so sorry that I underestimated You!” or “Jesus, will You go fishing with me tomorrow?” He is struck by his own sinfulness. How was Simon’s sinfulness shown? By defining Jesus as merely a great teacher, by squeezing the Lord into one category: wandering Rabbi. As the great theologian Bill Cosby says, “Only a pigeon belongs in a pigeon
hole.” Simon had pigeon-holed Jesus, and Simon’s container had gotten smashed.
This effort to “contain” Jesus, to categorize Him, assumes that one’s container or category is large enough to not limit or hinder Him. If Jesus is indeed Lord of heaven and earth, if He is the creator of the birds and the fish and humans, then having a minimalist view of Jesus is just about the worse thing that a person can do!
Astonishment is a powerful thing. In our cynical world, one might argue that it is hard to become astonished any more. Not for Simon Peter. He and his companions saw a cause-and-effect relationship between Jesus’ commanding Simon to put out into the deep water for a catch of fish and the fish which virtually jumped into their two boats! And they were astonished. The two partners are actually named (James and John), perhaps for the purpose of indicating, “Look. If you don’t believe this story, go and ask them!”
A minimalist Jesus can only do minimal things. But a Jesus who is the Creator can do things that completely and undeniably astonish us! How we lost the ability to let Jesus astonish us? Have we confined Him to the role of our spiritual guru who dispenses non- threatening advice about how to live a nice life, but keep Him out of our businesses, our plans, our lives?
A Fruitless Fear
Fear can be a positive motivator sometimes in life. It can cause us to flee a burning building, not trust someone with our finances when they haven’t proven their financial wisdom, or engage in activities which make promises our bodies can’t keep! Fear can be a blessing. The culture that thinks of fear as always
inhibiting and restrictive misses some of the benefits of a proper perspective on danger.
But fear can also be a curse. Fear can prevent us from living lives of calculated risk for the sake of something or Someone more important than ourselves. Fear can debilitate us, hamper us from stepping out in faith, hamstring us, causing us to limp cautiously through this thing called life. Some fears should be embraced; some should be rejected. Simon — and perhaps his partners as well — responded in fear to this miraculous catch of fish. Why? It appears that for Simon his sin of greatly underestimating Jesus disqualified him to even be in Jesus’ presence. And he became afraid.
But Jesus’ first words to him were, “Don’t be afraid.” How often those words are spoken to people that God wants to use in mighty endeavors. Angels often say to those they visit, “Don’t be afraid” or “Fear not!” Easy for them to say, right?
But some kinds of fear can keep us from fulfilling the mission Jesus has for us. So Jesus quickly says to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (v. 10).
If I had been Jesus, I might have responded differently to Simon. When he said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man,” I might have said, “You know, Simon, you’re right! You are a sinful man! How dare you underestimate me? Thanks for the use of your boat. See ya’.”
But Jesus is not into condemnation and abandonment. He is into transformation and deployment. He says to Simon, “From now on you will fish for people.” (v. 10). Fishing for people. Jesus doesn’t change Simon’s vocation — He changes his catch.
Jesus does not simply use people — He redeems them and puts them to work! This call to become fishers of men is heeded not just by Simon, but by his partners. We read, “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (v. 11). We are not told that they took the time to sort and count the catch of fish. They simply left that eye-popping haul for the benefit of others.
What is involved in fishing for people? In the mind of Simon and his brothers, this involved going with Jesus, being with Him. And being with Him means going after others, seeking to lure them to the Savior.