Catching Men, Preserving Life
Last Sunday and this Sunday we’re looking at Luke 5:1-11, Jesus’ calling of Simon Peter. Last Sunday we saw what Jesus did, next Sunday we’ll look at Simon’s actions. I recognize there are no easy-made disciples. Cookie-cutter evangelism is a hoax. This sermon is not meant to say, “Here’s what Jesus did when He called Peter, so here’s what we must do.” My hope is that it spurs us on to be passionate about evangelism.
Text: Luke 5:1-11
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. 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.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 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.” 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.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 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 catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Luke 9:51 says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Luke’s gospel records at least six times of Jesus going toward Jerusalem. While Matthew and Mark only mention Jerusalem once each, and John doesn’t mention it at all, Luke mentions Jerusalem 27 times. Jerusalem is an important place to Luke because this is where Jesus is killed. Statements like those of Luke 9:51 give us a look into the mind of Christ. He resolutely set out for Jerusalem, knowing He would die there.
Jesus knew He would die. But He didn’t come to die as a martyr for a cause. He wasn’t fixated on death. This wasn’t a suicide mission. His was a mission to transform the world with the kingdom of God. But He knew that the kingdom of God would die just as quickly as He did if there was no one that believed in Him.
So He begins to call disciples. But He doesn’t call just anyone. He calls a fisherman named Simon. And He makes it look so easy, doesn’t He? Just put out into deep water and voilà, oodles of fish in the nets. Come with me!
If only evangelism and discipleship were that easy. One of our Wesleyan missionaries, John Connor, works with the Jesus Film. He and teams of people go to locations around the world and show the Jesus Film in the language of the people. I heard him testify of the overwhelming amount of people who asked Christ to be Savior or who were interested in knowing more about Jesus after seeing the film. And I thought to myself, “I sure wish that’s all it took for Parkway to grow.”
But it’s not that easy. Now those places with numerous converts must disciple them, get them involved in a local body of believers, and show them how to worship Christ with their lives. It’s not that easy. And while it looks like what Jesus did was “so easy” with Peter, this isn’t the only way to call disciples.
Lots of books talk about five easy steps to winning people for Christ. They claim to be fool-proof how-tos on growing the church. I’m going to make ten observations—six this Sunday and four next Sunday—about what happens in this passage, but I’m not going to claim that this is the only way to make disciples. If we look at Jesus’ calling of Matthew the tax collector, we see him go to his house. Peter in Acts preaches a sermon and a couple thousand people follow Christ. There is no one set way to make disciples. If there were we’d know it by now, have it down and be practicing it every day. As it is, we know God calls us to make disciples. And we know that’s easier said than done, especially for those of us who are shy and who feel like we won’t know what to say.
So here’s what I’m asking. Listen to the ten observations and try to put a few into practice this week.
1. Jesus goes to a place where people will listen. In Luke 4, Jesus is in the Nazareth synagogue. He makes a claim to be the Messiah and the people drive him out of town, take him to the edge of a hill and try to throw him down the cliff. They don’t sound too receptive to him. Contrast that scene with the one in verse one: Jesus stands by the Sea of Galilee with people crowding around him listening to the word of God. They are literally pressing on him like he’s a celebrity.
And all the crowd does is listen. They press in and listen. No obedience, no following.
Luke tells us Jesus is teaching the word of God. In Luke 8 Jesus tells the parable of the sower, and the seed is the word of God. In Luke 8:21 Jesus says, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” In Luke 11:28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Acts 6:7: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Every time the word of God is mentioned the emphasis is on obedience to it. Obedience to the word of God for Luke implies becoming a disciple and vice versa; becoming a disciple implies obedience to the word of God.
So since the crowd only wants to hear the word, Jesus moves on to Simon.
2. Jesus calls a man he met before. First, Jesus had met Simon before. Simon knew firsthand the power of God in Jesus. Luke 4:38-39 tells how Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. “Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.” You get the sense that Jesus has “earned” Simon’s respect. He’s not just approaching a man off the street. It’s not a random meeting; it’s not a surprise that Jesus chooses to call a man he’s met before.
You may have heard the term “friendship evangelism.” It refers to building a relationship with a lost person, and slowly showing them what it means to be a Christ-follower. I believe this method is effective because people tend to respect the gospel coming from a friend who genuinely cares rather than from a preacher they don’t know from Adam. But the danger in this is befriending people for the sole purpose of telling them about Jesus. Then it’s not really friendship but selfishness. Should we have friends who aren’t Christians? Yes. Should we tell them about Jesus? Yes. But what if they never accept Christ as Savior? Are we still to be their friends? You bet.
3. Jesus calls a man who can lead. Peter is a fisherman who Luke says has partners, coworkers. He uses two different words for this. In verse 7, the word is μετόχος, which means someone who shares in. These were men who shared in the work and probably shared in the pay. They worked alongside Peter and his boat to catch the fish, to steer the boat, to prepare the nets, to clean the boats, etc. The second word is κοινωνοὶ, which means to take part in, to share a common experience. James and John are the κοινωνοὶ. They are even closer to Peter than the others are. And notice the change of verb tenses in the passage. In verse 4, Jesus tells Peter to go into deep water, and in verse 6 “they had done so.” In verse 10, Jesus tells Peter he’ll be catching men and in verse 11 “they” pull the boats ashore and leave. These men really follow Peter.
Peter is the central figure, the one whose boat Jesus jumps into. Peter is a man of leadership. He’s a man who’s willing to give it another shot. Fishing isn’t a guaranteed thing. You don’t always catch what you’re after. Same thing with fishing for men. They don’t always listen to the word of God and follow. Jesus needed a man who could lead, and a man who wouldn’t give up with the first failure. Simon was his man.
This says a lot to me about how we should think of making disciples. Instead of calling random men and women to be those who lead, we need to call those who can lead. I’m not saying we restrict the gospel to the elite and the talented. Jesus certainly didn’t do that. But from the crowds he selected and mentored the ones he knew could lead. Though we call many to follow Jesus, we only call few to lead.
4. Jesus does something relevant. Just think, “What if Jesus would have only said, ‘I’m starting the kingdom of God. Do you want to be a part of it?’” How would that have gone over? We don’t know, but I’m guessing Simon wouldn’t have got out of his boat and followed. The very fact that Jesus is with Simon on his “home turf” makes this relevant. He’s not in the marketplace meeting Simon there. He doesn’t ask Simon to go with him to the fields with a bunch of shepherds. He goes to where Simon is at.
My question is this: How often are we willing to meet people in an uncomfortable place? How often are we willing to talk about our faith in a public place? New Church Specialties gives an example of pigs and cows. A storm hits a farm, so the farmer tells his cows, which are safe in the barn, to get the pigs into the barn before they die. So the cows offer the pigs some of their hay, but the pigs turn their noses and stay in the rain. The cows then offer the pigs to stick their heads in their yokes, but the pigs declined. Finally the cows offered to put their milking suction cups on the pigs…well, you know what the pigs said to that. Needless to say, the storm killed the pigs.
We all hear that and think, “Why didn’t those silly cows just go out into the rain to rescue the pigs?” And yet that’s what we do when we assume the lost will come to us on our terms. It doesn’t work that way. We must go to them.
5. Jesus does something miraculous. Simon and his partners have been out all night fishing. They worked third shift, which is prime fishing time. They’re tired. They’re ready to be done cleaning the nets so they can go home and sleep for a bit. And Jesus asks them to put out for a catch. They do it and all of a sudden there are more fish than you can shake a stick at. Luke tells us the boats were “so full that they began to sink” in verse 7. The word for “full” means they were filled to the brim. I don’t know how big these boats were. I do know they were fairly small, probably only large enough for the crew and their equipment. Nonetheless, this catch of fish is astounding. Jesus does something these men have been doing all their lives…and he’s a carpenter. In fact, He doesn’t really do anything but sit and watch.
It’s in the miraculous catch that Simon and his partners catch on that there’s something extraordinary about this teacher. And they follow him.
Most of you are thinking, “He’s given four points and talked about how they apply today. Now he’s talking about miracles. The buck stops here.” Why? Why does the buck stop here? Why do we get scared of miracles? Why do we doubt?
Maybe it’s because we’ve seen too many televangelists fake it. Maybe it’s because we’ve prayed and nothing happens. Or maybe it’s because we misunderstand the meaning of a miracle. I would say a miracle is anything that God does that we cannot do on our own. Could Peter and his crew have caught that many fish? Yes. But could they have caught them that day while their nets were on the shore being cleaned? No. This was a God-thing.
Last week we were on vacation and we traveled to Michigan with Jamie’s parents to see her grandfather. Before leaving they put Janet’s car in the shop for brake problems. And on the way up their van broke down. We had it towed and rented a truck. All in all, their costs for the day totaled $1100. That week, her dad went to work at the church and found an envelope in his mailbox with 11 one hundred dollar bills in it. If you think God doesn’t still do miracles…He just did one last week.
Here’s another miracle. Salvation. The gift God gave us in His Son to save us—something we cannot do on our own—is a miracle. You and I can testify to what God has done for us. We can tell others about how we were sinking deep in sin, far from God, only caring about ourselves, when God reached down and rescued us from our sin. That’s a miracle. You can bet Peter, James and John remembered that catch of fish. They never forgot what Jesus did that day. We too can tell our story to the world.
6. Jesus called Peter to do something—to catch men. I once heard of a preacher who said, “Too many Christians have moss growing on their butts. They don’t do anything.” Could this be because they aren’t expected to do anything? Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “Come watch me do this again.” He said, “I caught you. Now you will catch others.”
The Greek word for catch used here is different than the ones used earlier in the passage. Those words mean to hunt, to lock up or to take as prisoner. They’re the normal words for catching fish. But Jesus’ word in verse 10 is different. It’s the word ζωγρέω. It means “to capture and keep alive.” You can see where this is heading. Before, Peter caught fish to kill them and sell them as food. Now he is called to capture men in order to keep them alive. This implies that these men could die. Jesus is saying, “There are dying men and women out there. And if you and I don’t get out to where they’re at, meet them on their home turf, preach the gospel in a relevant way, they’re gonna keep on dying.” And he says this will happen from now on. This is your occupation. You’re not a fisherman but a fisher of men. And there’s no Social Security or pension plan for this job. It’s a lifetime.
I have a question. What if hell is real? What if hell is a reality? What if there literally are men and women who die each day and go there? Now I have a second question. Do you care? Do you care?
Jesus has called us just like He called Peter. You may not know it, but the moment you said, “Jesus, be my Savior,” you said, “I’m fishing for men.”
My last question is this: Will you do it?