Introduction When as children we sang, "I will make you fishers of men if you follow me“, did we realise the significance of these words for Christian discipleship. Fishing for men is not incidental to being a follower of Jesus. Indeed, it is one of the principal goals of discipleship. It is not something reserved for a few experts or specialists within the church. It is the commission entrusted to every Christian and to every congregation. From the outset of his ministry Jesus called men and women to a life of discipleship, to learn from him and implement his teaching in their lives. He did not intend his people to keep his gospel to themselves. We may wish he had called us to be keepers of aquariums rather than fishers of men. But this he has not done!
Presentation 16 Obedience Luke introduces this distinctive fishing ministry by recording an incident associated with the calling of Jesus’ first disciples. Jesus public teaching was being impeded by the press of the crowd. The practical solution was to borrow a fishing boat which would act as a sort of floating pulpit. However, once the sermon was over Jesus still had an important lesson to teach! He told the owners of the boat to take it further out from the shore and to let down their nets. Put yourself in the position of these exhausted fishermen. They had been up fishing all night without success. And as Jesus preached the sun had risen higher and higher in the sky.
Presentation 16 Obedience This was the worst time of the day to try to catch fish but these exhausted men were being asked to expend time and energy on what their specialist knowledge of fishing told them would be a fruitless errand. Would they obey their fishing instincts or the word of Christ? We may be sure that faith and doubt, trust and misgiving were battling it out. Peter’s work experience may have told him this was a silly command but his mind, illuminated by faith, encouraged obedience! And so we have the remarkable declaration of Peter in v5, "Master we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because YOU say so, I will let down the nets." That is the kind of obedience that God can bless.
Presentation 16 Obedience When we face what appear to be humanly hopeless situations, and when the commands of Christ do not fit in with our understanding and preferences what do we do? When our experience whispers, "the whole business will be a useless waste of time, what will others think of you if you do that”, what do we do? Do we go forward despite appearances, despite past failure, despite what others might think? Do we say like Peter, "Because of what you say, I will let down the nets" ?
Presentation 16 Obedience Think for a moment about how we can apply this teaching to our individual and corporate lives. Our principle task as Christians and as a congregation is to advance Christ's kingdom. We may be disappointed wearied and dispirited by past efforts, we may be overwhelmed by failure at a personal level. Then comes a fresh command, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets". Give yourself to evangelism and to the various forms of outreach planned by your church fellowship! We may feel a bit like the disciples for our past efforts have not been too fruitful.
Presentation 16 Obedience We may feel that we have laboured all night and caught nothing. We may be tempted not to hold out much hope of success, though we would dare say such a thing publicly. Perhaps we are able to identify with something of the sort of struggles that may have raged in the disciples’ hearts! But what kind of response do we give? What is God waiting to hear? These words; "But because YOU say so we will let down the nets." Will conscience, illuminated by faith encourage our obedience, and as a result aid us to win the struggle?
Presentation 16 Spiritual Awareness This passage speaks not only of the disciples’ obedience but of their spiritual awareness, an awareness that grew out of their obedience. For it was as they let down their nets that they hauled in a miraculous catch of fish, more than they could handle, more than they had previously experienced. It was then that they began to understand the difference that Jesus could make to an apparently insurmountable difficulty. This incident was to have an overwhelming impact upon the disciples in general and upon Peter in particular.
Presentation 16 Spiritual Awareness First, he had a greater awareness of the uniqueness of Jesus. How could Jesus know that these fish would be there, or did he somehow or other bring them to the very spot where the net was? This Jesus was much more than a man. Here was someone who could do what seemed impossible. Are you surprised that Peter fell down in front of Jesus, overawed by his person? He knew he dare not be overly familiar for he was in the presence of deity. Something of this new awareness of Jesus comes across in the title he gives him. He calls him "Lord".
Presentation 16 Spiritual Awareness The word ‘Lord’ has an interesting history but of particular interest to us is that it was this same word is used to describe the living God in the LXX [ the Greek O.T. ]. When we begin truly to see who Jesus is we cannot approach him or speak of him without reverence and awe in our hearts. We also become aware of the sheer absolute power that he is able to exercise in and on behalf of his people. Paul communicates something of this to the Ephesians when he writes: "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power which is at work in us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus." Eph.3v20. To be persuaded of the availability of the power of God can have a transforming impact upon us.
Presentation 16 Spiritual Awareness Not only did Peter have a greater awareness of who Jesus was he had a greater self-awareness. And the two always go together. The man who has truly encountered God is the man who has an increased sense of his own sinfulness. What does Peter say? "Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man." If Jesus could see into the depths of the ocean and know where the fish lay, he could certainly see into the depths of Peter’s heart. We must not think that Peter did not know he was a sinful man before this incident, he undoubtedly did. What in fact is happening here is that Peter has a heightened awareness of his sin. The light of who Jesus was painfully exposed Peter's sinfulness.
Presentation 16 Spiritual Awareness Some years ago our family visited the cinema. When the house lights dimmed and the chocolate was being passed along I was conscious of bits of it falling on my clothes but was sure that I had managed to pick off all of the crumbs. But when we returned to the bright light of day I discovered great streaks of chocolate over my clothes. I had been comfortable enough in the darkened cinema but was profoundly embarrassed to walk down the street. Similarly, as we discover who Jesus is and are confronted with his blazing majesty we become more aware of our own sinfulness. Remember Isaiah’s response when God revealed his glory, exposing Isaiah’s sin, "“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. Isa. 6v5
Presentation 16 Spiritual Awareness Peter clearly thought his sinfulness would disqualify him from useful service and he says to Jesus, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” Christians often conclude they're not good enough to be of use to God. How can this awareness of our own sin equip us to be fishers of men? Think about it, who is better placed to share the wonder of God’s forgiveness than those who have first stared down into the depths of their own sin and then tasted the grace of God's forgiveness? A famous Puritan preacher was once asked how it was that he was able to uncover the secret sin of so many in his congregation, to which he replied that he simply asked God to uncover the evils that lay in his own heart.
Presentation 16 Wider Service It is important to see that Jesus self-disclosure and a greater self-awareness of our sinfulness is not designed to crush and overwhelm us. Jesus disregarded Peter's plea to depart because his purpose was to involve sinful men in his service and so in v10 we read, "Don't be afraid, from now on you will catch men." It is clear from the other gospels that Jesus had called these men to be his disciples on a previous occasion. We have already seen that they accompanied Jesus from time to time. But now they are confirmed in their calling. They have demonstrated their obedience and loyalty to Jesus’ word, they have grown in spiritual awareness and now they have placed before them the spiritual priority of Christ's kingdom. It is to catch men!
Presentation 16 Wider Service This remains the great kingdom priority. Every Christian is a disciple of Christ and the role of the disciple is to catch men. This is the crying need of the church. There is no greater privilege in our Christian service than this. These words of Jesus surely challenge our complacency in this field. It does no harm to sit down and honestly ask, "In the past year have I been responsible for winning anyone to Jesus.? Have I given this command the sort of importance which Jesus clearly laid upon it? Do I long to be a fisher of men?” These questions are not intended to crush you under a load of guilt but to remind you that this will either be the great passion or the great embarrassment of our lives. What do you want it to be for you?
Presentation 16 Wider Service Now lest we begin to excuse and disqualify ourselves, remember that Jesus held his recruiting drive not in the courtyards of the Jerusalem University but in the local fish harbour. The people called by Jesus to be his disciples were not super saints but ordinary men who would be equipped and directed by an extraordinary Lord! The Jesus who said to his first disciples as they stood on the threshold of mission "do not be afraid" says precisely the same thing to his people today. It is both interesting and instructive to note that the words of Jesus which gives so much comfort and encouragement to so many Christians, "Lo I am with you always“ [Matt.28v20] were spoken in the context of mission. ‘Are you frightened?’ asks Jesus, ‘then remember I am at your side, I can give you wisdom, I can deal with your temerity of spirit, I can give you the right words to speak’.
Presentation 16 Conclusion The response of Jesus’ first disciples was one of total commitment, "So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him." Now of course not everyone is called to give up their work and leave their families behind in order to help expand Christ's kingdom. God may indeed be calling someone today to do precisely that but for the rest of us the sacrifice made by these first disciples can still challenge us to make being fishers of men is the great obsession of our lives. Is it our daily occupation or an occasional pastime? We should not need to wait for special missions and campaigns that we can involve ourselves in. We can begin letting down our nets right now and look to Jesus to fill them and to stagger us by so doing. May God equip each one of us for this great calling.