Updated: Feb 24, 2019
Can you imagine the scene on that day depicted in the passage from Luke 5.1-11 when Jesus was proclaiming his message beside the Sea of Galilee (Luke calls it the lake of Gennesaret)? It is probably early in the morning on a pleasant sunny day. Jesus is quite passionate about his topic; Luke records him as saying "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God … for I was sent for this purpose." (Luke 4:43)
His preaching, teaching ministry is clearly having an impact, and his name has become a household word. People have recognised that there is something special about this prophet and teacher. They will have either personally witnessed, or heard about, his miracles. And Luke records in Chapter 5 several occasions when Jesus spoke with such power and authority.
Perhaps Luke sees these incidents as illustrations of the fulfilling of the prophecy of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah who wrote, ‘… my word that goes out from my mouth; shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’ (Isa 55:11)
And so, on this day, as so often occurred, crowds of people began to flock to Jesus to hear his message.
The fishermen have come in from taking their morning catch – a very unproductive and disappointing catch. They are now engaged in cleaning their nets ready to go out again later in the day.
The crowds have gathered and are pressing in upon Jesus from all sides, eager to hear his words. To escape the crush, and to be more easily seen and heard, Jesus steps into a boat and asks its owner to row him just far enough out so that the crowds can’t swamp him. And then, as was the custom, the teacher sat down and taught them.
Now, we do not know the detail of his teaching that day, but we do know that after he had finished teaching, he did something very unusual. Jesus, the carpenter, turned to the fisherman who owned the boat and told him to row the boat out into deeper water and to let the nets down to catch some fish.
We might wonder at the reaction of Simon, the fisherman, to having a carpenter telling him how to do his business. What would a carpenter know about commercial fishing? Not only that but, as Simon pointed out, they had fished all night without catching any fish at all! Obviously, there were no fish around that morning!
We might also sense the fishermen’s feelings of failure, disillusionment and disappointment. They had toiled all night and caught nothing. It is easy to become despondent when your efforts yield nothing in return.
Yet, regardless of how he might have been feeling, Simon obeyed Jesus: “If you tell me to, I will let the nets down.” Simon sensed Jesus’ authority, as indicated by his calling Jesus ’Master’.
Well, we know the result – after having fished all night and caught absolutely nothing, they now brought up more fish then the nets could contain. There were so many fish that he had to call assistance from the fishermen in the other boats to help him bring in the net. It was nothing less than a miracle.
Certainly, Simon recognised it as a miracle - and more importantly, recognised that he was in the presence of the Divine. His response was to fall to his knees and say, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v.8)
It is interesting to reflect upon the observation that whenever people come into the presence of God, they begin to get an acute sense of their own sinfulness and unworthiness. In the Isaiah reading, Isaiah’s reaction was to cry out, “I’m doomed! Everything I say is sinful …” (Isaiah 6:5) Abraham’s reaction when in God’s presence was to say, “I am nothing but dust and ashes.” (Gen 18:27)
Simon recognised that he was in the presence of God and this knowledge gave him a great sense of unworthiness. “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v.8) But, notice Jesus’ response: "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." (Luke 5:10)
Jesus first reassured Simon, and then Jesus gave Simon a commission. Despite what Simon thought of himself, Jesus called Simon (and his two fellow fishermen, James and John) to serve him by taking Jesus’ message of ‘the good news of the kingdom of God’ i.e. the way of salvation, to other men and women.
There are three lessons that we can draw from this passage:
The first is in recognising Jesus’ authority. Simon recognised that Jesus has all the authority of God. Throughout his ministry on this earth Jesus demonstrated that he has authority over all things animate and inanimate, ie all things living and not living.
He demonstrated authority over sickness (The Bible has over 30 accounts of him healing the sick, the blind, the lame and lepers), over death (on three occasions he raised up dead people – even Lazarus who had been dead four days), over nature and over evil spirits.
Most significantly he has authority to forgive sins. The Jewish leaders quite rightly saw this as a claim to be equal with God, because only God can forgive the sin against him. On that day in the boat, Peter recognised that he was in the presence of the Divine and fell at his feet and obeyed Jesus’ command to follow him.
And most importantly, Jesus has God given authority over people – over you and me.
But, people, Australian’s in particular, are generally reluctant to submit to authority.
The reluctance to submit to authority is like the little boy who kept standing up on the pew seat when attending a church service with his mother. His mother insisted and finally the little boy sat down. But wishing to not fully submit to his mother’s authority, he said, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!”
A lot of us are like that with God. We may say that we believe in God - we may even attend church each Sunday; but we are not prepared to fully submit to Jesus’ authority by allowing him to take control of our lives.
The second lesson is, perhaps, part of the reason why people will not accept Jesus’ authority over their life – particularly in not accepting Jesus as both Saviour who died for our sins, and as Lord who has that total right of authority over every aspect of our life. It is a lesson arising from Simon’s response of falling down at Jesus’ knees saying, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!”
The point is that when we are far from God, we do not seem to be able to grasp that we are sinful at all – how often have you heard people who do not know Jesus say things like, “God ought to let me into heaven because I have been a good citizen. I haven’t sinned – I haven’t committed murder, or rape - I have helped my neighbour.”
Only when we truly and fully recognise and acknowledge our utter sinfulness can we have that assurance of salvation and really know the power of God in our lives. Because it is only when we acknowledge our sinfulness that we will be prepared to humble ourselves, let go of our pride, and fully give our lives to Jesus as Lord.
If we don’t have this full assurance, or don’t know the power of God in our life, then perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Do I really know and feel the depth of my sinfulness?”
The third lesson is found in Jesus’ telling the fishermen to again let down their nets, despite their total lack of success in their first attempt. Perhaps today you are feeling a little like the fishermen after their unsuccessful morning fishing. “We have toiled all night but have caught nothing.” It is easy to become despondent when your efforts yield nothing in return.
So, maybe you are feeling a bit despondent as you look back at the negligible result from outreach activities in which you have been involved. Maybe you feel like giving up! But Jesus says, “let down your nets again”, because as his church, we have been called, like Simon, James and John, to be ‘fishers of men’.
And note particularly that a team of fishermen was required to pull in the net – not just Simon on his own. Jesus calls us to be part of a team called the body of Christ in which each part is indispensable. We all have a role, and we all need each other. No Christian is called to minister on his or her own.
In my letter to you two weeks ago, I invited you to become part of our Parish Ministry Team, people who accept the power and authority in Jesus word, people who will come together in prayer to seek God’s direction for our Parish endeavours, people who trust in God and are willing to respond to his call to be fishers of men by telling others about Jesus’s love for them and the way of salvation that he offers.
Just as Jesus needed to have his team of disciples back then to carry forward his message of ‘the good news of the kingdom of God’, so today he still calls us to serve him.
Simon, James and John immediately left everything to follow the man who had made them miraculously successful at what they had done their entire lives. They had no hesitation; they enthusiastically embraced their new adventure. So today, Jesus needs a team of enthusiastic people who are ready and willing to try again and again. If the nets don’t yield any fish the first time, then we should be willing to trust in Jesus and try something else.
If we are willing, God will use us! And working as a team we can achieve much. Jesus recognised the disciples’ need for community – the need to work together.
And Jesus also revealed his amazing power to overcome all difficulties.
Let me tell you about the impact that an enthusiastic team of disciples can have when they come together in prayerful submission to Jesus’s call. It was the time when I had been posted to serve with the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, UK.
We heard about Billy Graham’s Global Satellite Mission by which the evangelist’s message would be beamed right around the world via satellites. Our Chaplain felt a calling to bring this message to the sailors and the people in the local city of Portsmouth – the vision was that thousands of people would hear the gospel. All that we needed was a venue large enough to accommodate the thousand or so people and a screen large enough for them to be able to see and the necessary electronic equipment to pull down the satellite signal and re-transmit it onto the screen. The problem was that we had no money with which to do any of this.
But a small team came together and prayed. Next thing we knew, someone offered to provide, at no cost, the multi screens required to link together to make one huge screen. Then someone else offered to provide the electronic equipment needed to capture the satellite signal and re-transmit it.
The only possible venue large enough was the Base Gymnasium - all we had to do was to convince the Sports Officer to dismantle the boxing ring that had sat in the middle of the gymnasium for decades – something that he initially categorically refused to do! But with concerted prayer, God moved the ring.
Then we had to convince the MOD Security Service to find a way to ensure security of the base for the hundreds of people that would come in from the community without the appropriate security clearances at a time of heightened IRA activity.
The team kept praying and the obstacles were, one-by-one, overcome. Offers of support continued to flow in. And we in the small team were continually amazed at how God answered our prayers.
The end result was that this mammoth event was successfully held, and many people gave their lives to Christ that night. But the thing that impressed us most, was the answers to prayer – to see the amazing power of Jesus to overcome all difficulties.
So, my friends, I want to encourage you to recognise that God calls ordinary, sinful people to do his work on earth. And he calls us not because of our worthiness; but base upon our willingness to humble ourselves, to accept Jesus’ power and authority in our life, and to trust him.