Fishing for People
Passage: Luke 5:1–5:11
You become a follower of Jesus by saying “yes” to Jesus.
There’s a three letter word that can completely change your mood. It can completely change your circumstances. This three letter word can completely change your future. If you say this three letter word to someone else, it can completely change their mood or their circumstances or their future. What do you think it is? “God” would be a good choice but that isn’t the three letter word I’m talking about. The three letter word is “yes”.
How can this word do all of these things? How can it be so powerful? Well, when Katie and I were on a mission trip in France, we were on top of the Eiffel Tower and I got down on one knee and began proposing to her. And a three letter word changed both our lives. I said, “Katie, will you marry me?” and she said “yes.”
As we parent Hudson and he is asking for something that he really wants. Maybe he wants to go outside and swing. Maybe he wants another cookie. Maybe he wants to keep playing with Jonathan and Sharon’s dog. The difference in his mood depends on whether we say “yes” to those requests or not.
Think about it for yourself. What’s the biggest question you’ve answered “yes” to? What’s the smallest question you’ve answered “yes” to?
Why did you say “yes” to those things? Usually we give our biggest “yes’s” to people we trust. And what we are willing to say “yes” to grows in proportion to how much we trust the person. But sometimes we say “yes” out of desperation - that person is our only option. If you get wheeled into the hospital after a car crash, you don’t have much time to research which doctor is best to keep you alive. If your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, you may not have much choice about which car mechanic you see.
Today we are continuing our sermon series in The Gospel According to Luke called “To Seek and To Save”. This series is giving us an up close picture of who Jesus is, what he came to do, and what it means to follow him. Today’s passage, Luke 5:1-11, hits all of these and especially what it means to follow him.
So far we have seen Jesus beginning his mission of preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? What does it look like? Why is it good news? Well, in Jesus’ inaugural sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, he said he was fulfilling Isaiah 61. In Isaiah 61, the prophet described God’s kingdom like the Old Testament year of jubilee. It was like a giant reset in the land of Israel. People who had messed up or fallen on hard times would have their debts erased and their land given back to them. If they had to sell themselves into slavery to survive, they were release from it. That’s what God’s kingdom is like. If you have messed up your life because of sin, if you have wandered off and gone astray from God, if you have mistreated people or been mistreated, if you are held captive by sin and Satan or sickness, if you are broken and tired of this broken world, God’s kingdom is good news for you. It’s when God is going to undo all the brokenness of sin by forgiving us and healing us. It’s when God releases us from the shackles of sin and Satan and restores us to who he made us to be.
In last week’s passage, we saw Jesus put his sermon into action. He came to the city of Capernaum and began teaching, casting out demons, and healing the sick. This is what it looks like when God’s kingdom comes to town - those held captive and oppressed by demons and disease are set free.
This week’s passage will focus on Simon, or Peter, and his response to Jesus. We met him briefly last week in Capernaum. In this week’s passage, Peter has a decision to make: will he say “yes” to Jesus?
That’s the question for all of us: will we say “yes” to Jesus? Will we say “yes” to his Lordship over our lives? Will we say “yes” to his direction and guidance? Will we say “yes” to living and acting how he tells us to? Will we say “yes” to what he asks of us? Will we say “yes” to following him today and tomorrow and the next day and every day after?
Peter has a unique story, just like each of us do, but Peter’s story is also a picture or parable of what becoming a follower of Jesus looks like. There are elements that are only true for Peter but also elements that are true for everyone who wants to follow Jesus. Let’s start by walking through this story.
This story happens on the lake of Gennesaret, which is also called the sea of Galilee, even though it’s fresh water. Capernaum, where we saw Jesus last week, is on the sea of Galilee and so this story probably happens near Capernaum.
Jesus conducted a teaching session that lots of people attended. The crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear “the word of God” that Jesus is preaching. In 4:43, Jesus said he must preach the good news of the kingdom, but Jesus isn’t just giving his opinions or reflective thoughts on the kingdom of God. He is speaking from God and with God’s authority, like an Old Testament prophet.
What is the kingdom of God? Israel’s hope was that God would send his Messiah to bring God’s kingdom from heaven to earth. The Messiah, or Christ, would bring God’s reign and rule to earth so that peace, justice, mercy, and righteousness were the norm. God’s kingdom means what sin has caused is undone.
Because of the crowd pressing in on him, Jesus gets into one of two boats by the lake. Then he asked one of the owners, Simon, who was washing his nets on the shore, to put out a little from the land. This creates some distance and also a natural amphitheater by which the crowd can hear the word of God better. Jesus sat down and taught from the boat with Simon in the boat with him. This is Simon’s first “yes” to Jesus.
After finishing teaching, Jesus told Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon explains the situation to Jesus: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Now, we need to understand a little about fishing in the 1st century on the sea of Galilee for this exchange to come alive for us. Fishermen had a certain type of net that was used for night fishing in the deep water. It was made of linen and was used at night because then the fish couldn’t see it. During the day, the fish would be able to see it and could avoid it. After a night of fishing, fishermen would clean their nets out which is what Simon and the others were doing while Jesus was teaching.
So Jesus is asking Simon to let down his nighttime fishing nets in the daytime when the fish will clearly see it. Simon emphasizes that they worked all night and took nothing. Why would they try again after working so long without catching anything? In addition, Jesus isn’t a fisherman. He’s the son of a carpenter and a teacher who is now telling a fisherman how to fish.
The lesson for the crowd has ended, but the lesson for Simon is just beginning. Simon first responds from his profession as a fisherman then with a profession of faith in Jesus. He says, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” This is Simon’s second “yes” to Jesus. From a human fisherman’s perspective, Simon doesn’t see how what Jesus is saying will work, but he still responded with faith (like Mary in 1:34, 38).
What might Jesus be asking you to do that doesn’t quite make sense from a human perspective? Rationally, you know it doesn’t make sense. If you reason through it, it just doesn’t compute. “Pray for this person.” “Tell this person Jesus loves you.” “Give money to this person.” “Bring some food to your neighbor.” “Ask that person how they’re doing.” Jesus asks us to do what doesn’t make sense except through the eyes of faith.
Simon does as Jesus instructed and to his surprise, they bring in a catch of fish so big that the nets were breaking and Simon had to call his business partners in the other boat, James and John, to come help him. Both boats were so full of fish that they began to sink.
Verse 8 shows us Simon’s response:
8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
Why does he react this way? Verse 9 says:
9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. (Luke 5:9-10)
Simon was astonished at the catch of fish they had taken. Perhaps we’d expect him to fall at Jesus’ feet and say, “This is amazing! Thank you so much!” Or “Wow, you have great power and authority!” Or maybe, “How did you know where the fish would be? I can’t believe it.”
Peter does not respond this way. Instead he says, “Depart from me.” Why does he say that? He says, “For I am a sinful man.” This response is typical for someone who finds themselves in the presence of God. When the prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of God in his glory in Ezekiel 1, he fell on his face (Ezek 1:28b). When the prophet Isaiah saw a vision of God in his glory in Isaiah 6, he said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for 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” (Is 6:5). When John saw a vision of Jesus in his glory in Revelation 1, he fell at his feet as though dead (Rev 1:17). When God reveals himself to someone, they often fall down on their faces and think they are going to die. Why? They have a clear awareness of what Romans 3:23 says: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
There is a gap between God’s standard and our faithfulness, trust, and obedience. We do not measure up. Often we can sense this, but sometimes we try to make that gap feel smaller or even think we can close the gap through our performance or by pretending we aren’t as bad as we are. But in these moments in God’s presence, these people become fully aware of how big the gap is.
What can fill in that gap? There’s only one thing. Look at what Jesus says to Peter in the second half of verse 10:
And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (Luke 4:10b)
Peter is the first person to be labeled as a “sinner” so far in The Gospel According to Luke. Many others will be given this label. What will he do with this terrified “sinner”? “Do not be afraid” is the first thing Jesus says. Jesus calms his fears. Jesus comforts and assures him. This is often what God does when people bow down before him after seeing the great contrast between his glory and their sinfulness. He tells them “do not be afraid.”
Simon doesn’t yet fully see who Jesus really is. But he’s starting to. In verse 5, Simon addressed Jesus as “master”: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” This is a term of respect often used in place of “rabbi”. Simon saw Jesus as a teacher worthy of respect. But now he’s caught a glimpse of something more. In verse 8 he says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” “Lord” can simply mean “sir” to address someone above you, but it’s also the word used in the Greek Old Testament for God’s name. Simon doesn’t yet see Jesus as the God of Israel who has come in the flesh to his people. He and other disciples will continue asking, “Who then is this?” throughout these chapters. But “Lord” is more than a term of respect here. He falls down at Jesus’ knees in the boat full of fish and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” That’s more than respect. Simon has caught a glimpse of who Jesus really is. He doesn’t yet have the full picture yet, but he’s starting to see. He’s caught a glimpse of Jesus as “the holy One of God.” He can see that God is working through Jesus and is present with Jesus. He’s seeing him as more than a teacher.
How often have you done what Simon does here? How often have you confessed your unworthiness before God? Do you think you are unworthy? Do you believe you have fallen short of the glory of God? We all measure ourselves by some standard. We might measure ourselves by whether we are improving: am I better than I was last year or last decade? We might measure ourselves by comparing ourselves to others: am I better than that person? We might measure ourselves by minimizing the bad and emphasizing the good. We might measure ourselves by whether the good outweighs the bad: am I doing more good than bad? But in the end, none of these measurements will matter. The only measurement that matters is in comparison to God.
Jesus sums up all God’s commandments like this: love God above all else and love other people as yourself. If we judge ourselves just by those two commands, we will find that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. We may try to be better, work harder, keep more rules, avoid more bad things, do more good things, hide our bad parts, show off our good parts, blame others, but none of it can fill the gap between God’s glory and our sinfulness. We can’t perform or pretend our way out of it.
There’s only one thing that can fill in the gap between God’s holiness and glory and our sinfulness and that is God himself telling us “do not be afraid.” God cleanses us of our guilt and sin. God relieves us of our condemnation and shame. Only God’s grace and mercy can fill that gap. There are two themes in Scripture that sit side by side and that are purposely held in tension: God’s abounding love and desire to be with his people is held in tension with God’s just wrath toward sin. How will it get resolved? In love, God takes care of our sinfulness himself so that he can be with us. In the end, the cross is what fills that gap. This is how the debt of our sin is forgiven. This is how we don’t get what we deserve for our rebellion against God’s rightful kingship over our lives: he pays the penalty.
Jesus doesn’t stop at “do not be afraid.” He also gives Simon a new purpose. He says, “from now on you will be catching men.” When Isaiah had his vision of God in Isaiah 6, God cleanses him of his sin then sends him with a message to his people. Simon is a fisherman and Jesus wants to make him into a fisher of men.
Verse 11 says:
11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:11)
Simon Peter, along with his business partners, leave their boats filled with perhaps the biggest catch they’ve ever gotten in order to follow Jesus. They left everything to follow. This is Simon’s third “yes” to Jesus in this passage.
Often I have read this passage and have thought, “Wow, these guys just met Jesus and were willing to leave their life and all their stuff behind to follow him.” But I want to zoom out a bit to get a bigger picture of Jesus’ relationship with Simon. In chapter 1 of The Gospel According to John, John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan River. John has a few disciples, one of whom is Andrew, Simon’s brother. One day while Jesus was walking by, John said to his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” At this moment, two of John’s disciples, Andrew being one of them, got up, followed Jesus, and stayed where he was staying. Then Andrew ran and told his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah” and he brought Simon to Jesus at which point Jesus renamed him Peter.
Later, Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, where Simon lives, then stayed at Simon’s house where he healed not only Simon’s mother-in-law but also many others and cast out demons. And we have this story. So how long did it take for Simon to leave everything to follow Jesus? Our church planting director for our district says discipleship is helping someone take their next step of obedience. I’ll change two words to match our mission statement: discipleship is inviting someone to take their next step of surrender.
What was Simon’s next step all along this journey to becoming a follower of Jesus? Simon is introduced to Jesus by his brother, Andrew. Simon possibly hears Jesus’ good news about the kingdom of God in the synagogue in Capernaum. Simon sees Jesus heal his mother-in-law in his house and sees him heal a bunch of other sick people and cast out demons. He hears him teach on the beach while he’s washing his nets. Jesus gets him involved in the kingdom mission by asking to use his boat. Jesus tells him to put his nets out one more time, which tested Simon’s trust. Jesus calls him to be a fisher of people. Simon leaves everything to follow him.
What we also need to realize is that leaving everything to follow Jesus isn’t even the end of Simon’s journey. Simon doesn’t call Jesus “the Christ until chapter 9. There Simon finally sees Jesus as the King fulfilling God’s promises. But he still doesn’t see Jesus clearly. Jesus tells his disciples about his future suffering, death, and resurrection. But none of the disciples understand. In fact, Peter rebukes Jesus and tells him he’s wrong! When Jesus is arrested and put on trial, Peter first abandons Jesus then he denies even knowing Jesus. Finally, after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter becomes a primary leader in the church.
Jesus met Simon at the beginning of his three year earthly ministry. So how many months were between these steps of surrender? Three years were between the first and him becoming a leader in the church. But then even after this, Peter has to learn in Acts 10 that the gospel is for Gentiles too. And in Galatians 2, Paul confronts Peter about how he isn’t living in step with the gospel. More steps!
Simon does not follow Jesus perfectly. And there were stages before he even began following. But what did he do? He said “yes” to Jesus. Our big idea for today is this: You become a follower of Jesus by saying “yes” to Jesus. You become a follower of Jesus by saying “yes” to Jesus.
This is how you get into a relationship with Jesus - you say “yes” to him. As a church, we summarize it as “surrender”. Jesus is the king of God’s kingdom and the way we become citizens of that kingdom is by saying “yes” to him - by surrendering to him. Relationship with Jesus is the only way to enter the kingdom.
We may wonder: when was Simon saved? One common way to help people respond to the gospel today is to lead people in a prayer, confessing that they are a sinner and professing their trust in Jesus to save them from their sins by his death on the cross. But Simon followed Jesus for three years and thought the idea of Jesus going to the cross was ridiculous!
So at what point on this journey was Simon saved ? That’s not really the question that Luke is answering for us here. He’s showing us what it looks like to become a follower of Jesus. And you become a follower of Jesus by saying “yes” to Jesus. That’s where salvation is found. Salvation is found in surrendering to Jesus as our Lord and King. The key to salvation and entering God’s kingdom is a relationship with Jesus, even if we don’t yet fully understand that relationship. When he’s our king, we are in his kingdom and that means we receive the benefits of it.
Peter’s story is his own unique story, but he gives us a picture of what it looks like to follow Jesus. And seeing the stages are important too both as we surrender our lives to Jesus and as we invite others to do the same.
So as you look at the stages on Peter’s journey, where do you see yourself? Are you in the introduction stage, where you are learning about Jesus and trying to figure out who he is and what he’s about? Or are you at the “aha” stage where you have got a clear picture of who Jesus is and you are convinced that he is way more than a teacher but he is the Lord of all and the Savior of all who trust in him? Or are you at the “leaving everything to follow” stage, where you have reoriented your life around him? Where do you see yourself? Have you gotten stuck somewhere?
We need to remember this: You become a follower of Jesus by saying “yes” to Jesus. What’s the “yes” you need to say to Jesus at this point in your life? Peter had various “yes’s” along the way. He said “yes” to letting Jesus stay at his house. He said “yes” to letting Jesus use his boat. He said “yes” to letting down his net even though it didn’t make sense. He said “yes” to leaving everything to follow Jesus. Each “yes” built in faith.
We know we are maturing in faith when our “yes” moves from letting Jesus help us to reorienting our life and lifestyle for him. We may like the benefits of Jesus’ kingdom without actually having him be king over us. Saying, “yes, save me, Yes forgive me, Yes help me with my problems. Yes, heal me” is different from saying: “Yes, I will leave anything and everything to follow where you lead.” Our “yes” needs to be one of total life surrender. “Yes, take me life and do with it what you want and direct me.”
But often we don’t see Jesus as King of our life but instead we see ourselves as king over our lives. Maybe we let Jesus use some of our time and some of our stuff and we change some of our behaviors, but we keep a lot for ourselves to do with them what we’d like. We need to move from letting Jesus use some of our stuff some of the time to saying, “Yes, it’s all yours, it’s not mine. Use it how you want. Tell me what you want me to do with it.” We need to move from letting Jesus have some of our time to saying, “Yes, all my time is yours. My life is not my own. It belongs to you.”
Peter got there by seeing who Jesus really is which created an awareness of the massive gap between himself and God’s glory. When we see this, it shows us our unworthiness - that we have fallen short, that we are unworthy of God’s love, mercy, and kindness. When we finally get there, to that place of humility, we are ready to put our life in Jesus’ hands.
As a church, we answer the question, “How do I surrender all of life to Jesus” using our Community Practices. These sum up the life Jesus calls us to. These are the things Jesus called Simon into. In which of these areas are you needing to say “yes” to Jesus?
Believing the Gospel. This is about learning to say “yes” to what God says is true about himself and about you. What truths about God and yourself in the gospel do you need to say “yes” to? Are you believing what God says is true about himself and about you? If not, what are you believing instead? Think about the Cross Chart we drew. Do you see yourself unworthy of God’s love and yet you have all of it anyway? Are you saying “yes” I am sinful and “yes” you are holy, but you have filled in that gap? I don’t have to perform or pretend? Or are you trying to fill in this gap on your own? What does Jesus say to sinners who feel their unworthiness due to sin? “Do not be afraid.” Believing the Gospel leads us to say “my life is not my own.”
Living as Family. This is about learning to say “yes” to not living life alongside others. Are you opening your life, your time, your struggles to others? Or are you living life on your own? We often say “no” to living as family with others because we want to use our time to do what we want. We don’t want to spend it with other people. We cut ourselves off from community because we don’t think we need it. Or we say “no” to opening our needs up to others because we don’t want to bother others with our problems.
Loving as Servants. This is about learning to say “yes” to serving others instead of only thinking of ourselves. Are you looking out for the needs of others? Do you give up your time, energy, and other resources for the good of others?
Going as Messengers. This is about learning to say “yes” to living intentionally to tell others about Jesus instead of being unengaged in Jesus’ mission. Are you praying for people far from God? Are you sharing openly about your relationship with Jesus?
Relying on the Spirit. This is about learning to say “yes” to the Spirit’s leading and power instead of your own. Are you taking time to listen to God? Or do you fill it all with other noise?
Which of these do you need to say “yes” to? Which one is lacking in your life? Or which one has faded in importance or in practice? What do you need to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to surrendering to Jesus? What do you say “yes” to more than Jesus? What do you say “yes” to instead of these community practices? This is what faith looks like in action. This is what it looks like to have Jesus as Lord of your life - to be in his kingdom.
Jesus calls us to surrender all of life to him and he also sends us out to be fishers of people, inviting them to surrender their lives to him as well. This moment in Simon’s life started a chain of people following Jesus that has led all the way down to us. Because Peter said “yes” to following Jesus, he invited others to say “yes” to Jesus, and they told others and they told others and they told others until the good news finally made it to you so you could say “yes” to Jesus. And the chain continues on with us inviting others to say “yes” to Jesus. Jesus’ Great Commission to his disciples to make disciples of all people is not the great suggestion or the great idea or the great theory. It’s a commission from our King.
Jesus has called every one of us to be fishers of people. Think about the people in your life: What’s their next “yes”? Maybe their next “yes” is letting you pray for them. Maybe their next “yes” is coming to an event your Gospel Community is doing. Invite them. Maybe their next “yes” is coming to a worship gathering where they can hear about Jesus. You become a follower of Jesus by saying “yes” to him. And your role in their life is to invite them to take their next step of surrender. Pray for whatever that is. Maybe their next step is to celebrate Easter with us or just for you to take a step to invite them so they know you care about them and that God is important to you.
I want to make this picture of fishing clear because when we hear fishing, the image we have is of one person with a fishing pole. But that’s not how Peter fished. He fished with a net, he also had someone else in the boat with him, probably his brother Andrew, and he had James and John as partners too. Jesus had twelve disciples, not one. Jesus sends the disciples out in pairs to tell people about the kingdom, not alone. Fishing for people is done in community with other people partnering with you.
And who makes Simon and his partners successful in their fishing? Jesus does. They worked all night and caught nothing. But through Jesus they bring in enough fish to sink two boats. What if we were a community of Jesus followers learning to fish for people together while trusting Jesus for the results?