JESUS CALLS SIMON TO FISH FOR PEOPLE
Key Verse: 5:10b
“…Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish catch men.’”
Last week Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law and confronted a demon in Capernaum. The people there eagerly sought Jesus' help with all kinds of sickness and trouble. Jesus could have started a miracle clinic to heal everyone in the nation, but he prayed very early to learn God's will. Finally, he decided to go and preach the good news to the surrounding towns. After praying earnestly, Jesus realized his mission was not to make a paradise on earth, but to tell everyone about the kingdom of God and open the way for us to enter by giving his life as a ransom sacrifice. Now it was time for Jesus to begin training some witnesses who would be able to share his message with the whole world when he is gone. Let's see how some of the very first disciples were inspired to follow Jesus in today's passage.
1. Put out into deep water
Look at verse one and two. "One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets." If the historian and archeological guesses are correct, Genessaret was around a mile or two west of Capernaum. Its possible Jesus headed there first as he started preaching to the surrounding villages. According to Simon's testimony later on, he and his partners had been working all night to catch some fish out on the lake but failed. It may be a coincidence that they landed in Genessaret, but they may have seen people gathering there in the morning and went to see if it was Jesus.
Jesus was there on the shore having a group Bible study with the people. He shared parables and passages with them like he did in the synagogue in his home town and Capernaum. Luke chapter 4:37 says the news about him was spreading throughout the surrounding area. People all around the Galilee were aware of Jesus' ministry and message sharing. They were eagerly waiting for any news they could hear about him. When they heard Jesus was at the shore, a large crowd gathered to hear Jesus talk about the kingdom of God. We can also imagine there were many coming for help with sickness and other problems.
What about Peter and his partners? They were nearby, preparing their nets for the next day’s work. Maybe they were close enough to listen while Jesus talked about his mission. According to John's gospel, Peter's brother, Andrew and maybe his partner John were among the first people to fellowship with Jesus, soon after he returned from the wilderness. Andrew even introduced Peter to Jesus. Peter liked to hear Jesus’ message, and he was curious about the kingdom of God. He was very thankful when Jesus helped his mother in law, but he had no idea about doing anything more with Jesus. Peter has to feed his family and run his business. Even the villagers need Peter because his company provides a lot of food for the economy. Hearing Jesus’ message again was nice, but at this moment, he was wrapping up for the day and probably hungry, looking forward to getting something to eat and take a rest.
Meanwhile the crowd too large and Jesus needed a platform. He was glad to talk about God’s kingdom, but he when noticed Simon, Jesus decided to invite him to work together. In verse three, Jesus jumped into Simon's boat and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. Practically speaking, Simon had no time for this. But he owed Jesus a favor, since he helped his mother in law back home. Peter figured Jesus would speak for a little while then go on his way to the next town. He could lend him the boat while he finished mending the nets.
This went fine until Simon and the others finished their work. Just as they were all done, Jesus finished his lesson and Simon expected Jesus to head back to shore to start helping the sick people. Look at verse 4. "When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." That was the last thing Simon expected to hear. He knew it was too hot and bright for fishing in the deep water. Jesus knew that too, but he had a miracle up his sleeve and wanted to teach Simon something. Simon's reply is very interesting. Let’s read verse 5 together. “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."” Going back into the deep water will take an hour or more and the chance to doing anything productive is slim to none. We can't tell if Simon is wants to teach Jesus a lesson about fishing or if he is secretly hoping Jesus will do something miraculous. What is really amazing is that Simon obeyed, even when his common sense told him it was a silly idea. He called Jesus Master and said “… because you say so…” It means he respected Jesus as a teacher and leader for Israel. It means Simon had a little faith in Jesus. If John or Andrew told Peter let’s go out again, Peter would say forget it. Let’s go home. It’s remarkable that the senior fisherman is willing to take fishing advice from the former carpenter from Nazareth. His trust in Jesus’ instructions is amazing, especially when he could not see any reason to do so.
Did you ever realize Jesus asked you to do something opposite to your common sense? Some people shared their testimony about the day a missionary or shepherd asked them to try Bible study. They said it was the last thing they ever expected to do and could not explain why they decided to go. Yet after some Bible studies, they met Jesus and put their faith in him. Other servants get some inspiration from Jesus to try something new, without knowing what will happen. We are very often surprised by the results of their obedience and many are blessed by their faith and example.
I met a fellow who was very angry and near suicidal when he girlfriend dumped him and he was walking along the road furious at the world when a stranger stood in front of him with a Bible saying, "You need to read this." The man protested because he was a death metal musician who had nothing to do with the Bible in his life. He said the stranger would not leave him alone, but kept asking him to read one page of the Bible. It was first Corinthians 13, the description of love. As the angry man read it, his heart was melted and he cried on the street to think there was love in the world like that. Then the stranger went on his way and the angry man began reading the Bible fervently for many months after that until he decided to become a Christian.
One missionary is very good at accepting Jesus' directions, even though they are against all common sense. Long ago there was the small apartment building near the campus for sale around 250,000 dollars. To buy it was silly. It was way too expensive. One grandpa said whoever paid that much for the property was totally ripped off. It was a rundown building and noisy place to live. But the missionary ignored common sense and purchased the building because it was time to get into deep water, by taking a deep debt for the mortgage that looked impossible to pay for thirty years. It was a decision of faith to setup a fishing base camp near the campus. Ultimately, it turned out well for many disciples and bible studies happened in the Bible house. Several other times I heard that missionary defied all common sense by faith which led many into deep waters to experience God’s grace and be a blessing to others. It seems like that is still happening for another generation of post student life coworkers. Following such directions is never easy, but now and then, Jesus leads us into such situations to help us learn something about him and ourselves.
Why did Peter obey Jesus at this moment? It's a mystery, but God wanted him to spend time with Jesus and learn something about himself through the deep water Bible study. What happened when Peter let down his nets in the deep water, simply because Jesus said he should do it? Let's read verse 6-7. "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." What happened is 100% miraculous event. There were more fish in the net than they ever caught before. Peter and his friends could sell them all and take a month off after they bring them to shore. It was a “dream come true” for the fishermen. What could it mean to them about Jesus though? Maybe they thought it was a glimpse of the kingdom of God to come when Jesus rules the world. John thought it will be awesome when we can work just one day a month and feed the world! All our troubles and hard times will vanish when this fellow takes over Israel. We will all be rich and well fed forever! I am sure many such ideas ran through the mind of Peter and his partners, but Simon felt something odd in himself. He should be very excited and cheering for Jesus, "Yo! Jesus, High Five man! This is awesome." On the contrary, Simon was afraid of something.
Let's read verse 8 together. "When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"" Why do you think he was now afraid in the presence of Jesus, after seeing all the fish? It is what happens when you realize you are a sinner in the sight of God. Simon understood now more than before that Jesus is the ruler God anointed to lead the people. 30 minutes ago, while Jesus was talking too long to the crowd, Simon wanted to push Jesus off the boat and go home to rest. 30 seconds ago, Simon wanted to cash in the miracle catch of fish and retire. Now reality set in and Simon was ashamed of himself. Jesus was doing good things for him and everyone else, but Simon knew he was a terrible sinner. He did not deserve all those fish, and he did not deserve to help King Jesus at all either. Simon realized he was not worthy to be on the boat with Jesus. Simon's greedy love of money made his stomach feel sick as he realized Jesus was teaching him a lesson. It was more important than any lesson the people heard on the shore. Because Jesus is the Son of God, Simon’s intuition felt the presence of God in Jesus, like the moment when Adam heard God's voice in the Garden of Eden exposing his sin of disobedience. How could all those fish land in the net by accident? There is no way. Surely God must be working in his life at this moment.
Simon’s fear in this instant was a profound and life changing revelation of who he was before the Almighty God. In the previous reply, Simon said, Master…, meaning he respected Jesus as a teacher or rabbi. Now he called Jesus Lord. Nothing he did in his life could make him feel worthy of Jesus' grace to him at this moment. Like Isaiah felt when he saw the Lord of hosts in the temple, Simon was painfully aware of his sinfulness and regretted all the rotten words his unclean lips ever spoke. Recognizing God in Jesus, all Simon’s sinful thoughts and desires crushed his heart of pride and he confessed his sinfulness and asked Jesus to go away from him. Thankfully, Jesus did not listen to Simon's advice.
2. From now on, you will catch men
Jesus had big plans for Simon and his friends. He did not want to leave them. He wanted to co-work with them for the sake of his kingdom. Look at verse 10 again. "Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." Jesus' directions for Simon in this passage escalate from one level to the next very rapidly. And Simon’s co-working with Jesus grows exponentially in a short time. In verse 3, Jesus: "Hey may I borrow your boat for a message?" Simon: "Ok, I can help you, for a little while." In verse 4&5 Jesus: "Now go out again to catch some fish." Simon: "Well, if you insist, but you'll see it’s a waste of time." In verse 10: Jesus: "Now, come help me round up the children of God from Israel and many nations you never imagined you would visit." Simon: "I don't have any idea how to do that, but after seeing this miracle, I guess anything is possible." It’s very precious to see how Jesus crept into Simon’s life so practically and personally. He did not let Simon remain on the sidelines, but invited him through unusual circumstances that opened Simon’s eyes to see himself as he is and recognize Jesus as the Lord.
Though Jesus did not explicitly say, “Hey quit your job now,” Simon got the point. So did his partners. Let’s read what happened in verse 11: “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” It is really strange when we think about it, that Jesus wants to establish the kingdom of God with these blue collar workers, from the outskirts of Jewish society. Shouldn’t he be looking for some influential young men from the most respected families in the nation? Yes, but he decided to start something totally different. The late Dr. Samuel Lee wrote in his message that Jesus was not looking for sophisticated people with brains and social status, but he was looking for the ones with heart, to raise them as sacrificial servants of God. Jesus recognized the qualities he needed in the fishermen, a tax-collector and many other everyday people right here. They are the ones who could accept his directions and live by faith in any situation. Hearing Jesus say, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men" might even mean taking a new job, totally different from the one you were doing before you met Jesus. But Simon’s example shows us there is a new life for God’s glory if we accept his offer.
All Peter's partners had the same inspiration. They followed Jesus from that day and experienced many other miraculous things and a lot of strange situations they never experienced. Peter became a leader in the church and a missionary to many countries. The legend says he died in Rome under harsh persecution against Jesus' followers. His life tells us there is no guarantee of worldly success for following Jesus. In many ways, catching people might be more difficult that catching fish. However, the many fish in this story show us that anyone we catch for the kingdom of God is the result of God's will being done through us as we follow Jesus by faith.
Today’s passage is a very short story with a few facts about Peter’s life and a miracle Jesus used to inspire him. But there are several principles we can remember which Jesus can use to call and direct his people. One principle is the “put out into deep water” idea. It represents doing things by faith in Jesus’ word, even when his directions contradict your common sense. Learning to trust Jesus through such events leads to the life-long co-working relationship between Jesus and his disciple.
Another principle is “you will catch men.” It reminds us that Jesus calls his people for his purpose. His disciples cannot take all his blessing for granted, like couch potatoes. Jesus wants his disciples to help him catch others, bringing all God’s people into the everlasting kingdom of God through working together. Learning this principle is what it means to understand the heart of God which seeks his lost sheep all over the world. When the principle is planted, serving together with Jesus begins right where you are once you decide to follow Jesus.
The “left everything and followed him” principle is another experience Jesus calls his disciples to go through. It happens in extreme cases like leaving the boats full of fish behind, but also happens in small ways, which maybe only God can see. For example, leaving the lost world behind requires paying careful attention to our life and turning away from goals and pursuits that lead us away from God and Jesus’ world salvation purpose. When the lust of our flesh or the lust in our eyes, or the pride of life becomes more important to us than Jesus’ work, then we should leave them behind and follow Jesus.
To “let down the nets for a catch” is another hidden but very important principle to understand. We have many things to do in this world, but the most important job must be the one Jesus wants us to help him with. Letting down the net represents inviting others to meet Jesus, sharing the word of God with our family and community and even praying for god’s work in your life and others. The hardest part of letting down the net might be the fact that, in order to see any results, we have to DO IT. We can talk about fishing all day, but unless we let down the net into the water, no fish will get caught. It is the same with witnessing, testifying, teaching and inviting, serving and praying for others. We have to do it. There are many ways to let down our net for Jesus today. In our fellowship, we mainly go fishing like the guy with a fishing pole, hoping to catch one disciple at time. It means our bucket of fish might have less than some other ministries at the end of the day. But we have many fishing tools at our disposal. Almost all young people have the most amazing net ever made to catch men. It is the Internet. Students today can’t exist without it, and God has given it to them to use in ways their parents never imagined to catch men. We have a web page that can spread the word of God to anyone one in the world. Many coworkers have facebooks and twitters and snapchats that God provided to use for catching men from all over the world. Thankfully, there are a few old fashioned ways still working among us too. Some students and shepherd are still using music ministry like a net to catch disciples and bless people in faraway lands. And we are here today in our little boat, sailing across town with Jesus toward the kingdom of God, which is a miracle in itself.
By the way, I think that is the last and most important principle to learn from the story about God’s kingdom coming among us. Without Jesus in the boat, nothing happens. Simon worked hard all night and caught nothing, but when Jesus got in the boat and Simon simply obeyed Jesus’ instructions, there was a great catch. Following Jesus faithfully may require self-denial and inconvenience now and then, but when we follow him by faith, we can be sure he will accomplish his will and souls will be saved by our effort. I pray we may all be able to hear Jesus’ instruction and obey them, even if our common sense disagrees. I believe we will experience Jesus’ grace and God’s presence in our lives when we do so.
Let’s read the key verse one more time and pray. “… Then Jesus said to Simon, Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”
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