One dreary January day, a discouraged young pastor sat down and wrote himself a letter. He saw scant success in his ministry: no real fruit, no changed lives and, as far as he knew, not a single convert to Christ from all his preaching, visitation and counselling.
Nor was he alone in this, for all across the country the best of men were seeing little fruit. The Christian faith seemed to be in retreat. People — even the people in the churches — were indifferent to the gospel.
Then suddenly Jesus’ words to Peter and Andrew flashed into his mind: ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19). This promise of God to his disciples suddenly arrested him.
A shaft of divine light burst on his clouded soul. He was called to be a fisher of men: that is, he would catch people for Christ. The Lord means to save people; the Lord means to build his church. The church will grow and God’s kingdom will extend.
The God who ‘is love’ (1 John 4:8) plans to reach those who are ‘dead in trespasses’ and make them ‘alive together with Christ’ through his saving grace (Ephesians 2:4). That young man was not ‘washed up’ at the age of 23 after all. In fact, he was ‘off and running’ on a life of hopeful and expectant ministry for Christ. (We will hear from him in a later article).
The disciples to whom Jesus spoke were the fishermen brothers Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John (Luke 5:1-11). People were coming in large numbers to hear Jesus, and Jesus took occasion from this to awaken his disciples to their calling to ‘catch men’ instead of fish (Luke 5:10).
Bear in mind that we are looking at how Jesus uses personal conversation to drive home his message. Notice here how the preaching of the Word of God, the performing of a divine miracle and personal conversational communication all come together to move the four disciples to leave their fishing nets, follow Jesus and fish for men. (John 1:35 appears to record the first calling of these disciples. They did not leave their calling as fishermen until Luke 5).
Word of God (Luke 5:1-3)
Jesus’ public preaching of ‘the Word of God’ sets the scene for the miracle of the great catch of fish and subsequent calling of Peter and the others.
It is no accident that Peter’s boat was on hand. It was the essential stage prop, ready to function as a pulpit and a means of catching the fish: a visible token of what was to become yesterday’s calling, and a symbol of the vision and calling of the future apostles.
The order and connection of these three events are highly significant. The first, Jesus’ preaching, declares God’s message regarding his kingdom. The second, the miraculous catch, attests the authority of the messenger, God’s Son. And the third, the calling to fish for people, is the particular application of the message and the messenger to the disciples — and, by extension, to the church yet future.
There are two points to be grasped in all of this. The first is a need common to the entire human race. This is hinted at in the words, ‘So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the Word of God’ (v.1a).
This is why Jesus preached. Whatever was in the minds of these folks who crowded to hear him, the underlying fact is that people by nature are lost and need answers. Many have not faced up to it yet, but this is the basic and universal human condition and need. Sinners need to be saved.
They need the Saviour, who tells us, ‘He who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God’ (John 3:18). They need a heart-change; and that will not happen without a work of God transforming their very nature.
The other and greater point is that God has provided a solution to the human predicament. The need ‘to hear the Word of God’ is where this starts (v.1b). It is not an accident that Luke here uses the expression ‘the Word of God’ for the first time in his Gospel, because it lays down the bedrock truth that Jesus came to do his Father’s will.
Even the Son of God must point heavenward for the source of his mission, his message and his authority. It is all from God, not from man. That is why Jesus and the apostles constantly expounded the Old Testament Scriptures.
It is also why Paul told the elders from Ephesus, ‘I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27). Without God’s Word, there is no good news for the world.
We should love to hear what Jesus loved to teach and preach; not cute stories, not heartstring-tugging psychodramas, not sociology, not politics, not abstract morality lectures, but all of holy Scripture, ‘the whole counsel of God’.
Power of God (Luke 5:4-7)
Why did Jesus go fishing after his preaching? This, by the way, would have been on a week day, as there would certainly have been no fishing on the Jewish sabbath. It certainly was not for recreation. Jesus had an agenda and a serious point to get across to his disciples, then and now.
One likely reason is that Jesus wanted to highlight that lots of people need to be reached. The presence of ‘the multitude’ is to be connected with the charge to his disciples to ‘let down your nets for a catch’ (v.4). Linking the two makes for a living parable of their new calling. Just as the fisherman aims at a target, so too does the preacher of God’s Word.
A second reason is that the disciples who had already been called by Jesus (Matthew 4:18; Mark 1:16) had not yet plunged whole-heartedly into their calling and discipleship. What were they doing presently? They were still fishing for fish!
They had not gone the whole hog and given up their old lives to follow Jesus. The Lord is giving them a wake-up call. Peter and the others were still in their old calling. Jesus was now revealing himself and his mission so as to impel them to new obedience. Perhaps you, the reader, need a wake-up call to get on with God’s calling for your life?
Jesus’ message is now sealed by a unique manifestation of the power and authority of God, which like all the miracles is a divine attestation of Jesus’ ministry as that which is truly of God.
Peter’s response was to tell Jesus that they had already ‘toiled all night and caught nothing’. He would, however, do as Jesus asked and try again (5:5). The result is a stupendous catch, so large that the ship begins to founder and they have to call on the other boat to help them (5:6-7).
What were they to take from this? Forget all naturalistic explanations; this was a miracle of God, which consisted in two things: a catch beyond all expectations and a catch in the daytime. They fished by night in those days, because of the visibility of the nets by day and the fact that many fish rise to feed at night.
What is the great point here? It is that Jesus is teaching them ‘as one having authority, and not as the scribes’ (Matthew 7:29), and therefore they should hear him with the utmost urgency and seriousness. And that is precisely how Peter and others respond to what they are hearing and witnessing.
Gordon Keddie served for 40 years in pastoral ministry with Reformed Presbyterian churches in Pittsburgh (PA); Wishaw, Scotland; State College (PA); and Southside, Indianapolis. He is a well known writer and conference speaker.