A Great Catch
Bible Text: Luke 5:1 – 11 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Luke – A Careful History | Luke 5:1 – 11
A Great Catch
Anything you can do I can do better,
I know that not everyone here works in paid employment,
Some are studying,
Some are looking for work,
Some work in homes, or care for children or others,
But those of you who go off to work in the morning, imagine one day, just as you’re leaving, I come round to your place, and I travel into work with you, to the office, or the shop, or wherever you work, and just as you’re about to start your tasks for the day, I say, “Hang on, Let me show you, how to do it. Don’t do that task, do , this instead.
Don’t spend your day doing what you normally do, do your job how I tell you instead!”
Now, that could be a little bit amusing for the first , 30 seconds or so, couldn’t it?!
But after that, what are you likely to do?
Probably you’d turn around and tell me where to get off! What do I know about your job?! After all, I’m a pastor, I only work one day a week, right?
What do I know about teaching, or building, or accounting, or nursing, or HR, or whatever you do?
But, and here’s the greatest understatement of the morning, I am not Jesus.
I probably know very little about your work, but Jesus is Lord of the universe, and he demonstrates here that he is a better fisherman than Peter, who’s probably been a fisherman all his life!
But I don’t think that Luke has included this episode in his account of Jesus’ life purely to tell us that Jesus is pretty good at catching fish.
Jesus teaches the word of God
Luke told us at the very beginning that he’s written a carefully ordered account, so that his readers can be assured of the Christian message they’ve heard.
So this episode must fit within the broader picture of how Luke wants us to understand Jesus.
At the end of chapter 4, Jesus left the town of Capernaum, even though everyone there was really thrilled at his miracles and his teaching and wanted him to hang around, but Jesus knew he needed to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also.
And here as chapter 5 opens, Jesus is doing just that, he’s proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns, or in other words, as Luke puts it here, he’s teaching the people the Word of God.
There was no chapter break or paragraph heading in the original. This just flows on; Jesus said he was going to preach,
Jesus is preaching.
Today, as Christians we believe that the word of God is what we have here, in our Bibles, but of course in Jesus’ day, it hadn’t all been written yet. In fact, what we find here in Luke 5 is exactly how much of the New Testament came into existence;, through Jesus’ own teaching.
Now if we’ve been around churches for a while, or we’re familiar with Christian things, it might sound natural enough to say that when Jesus teaches, he speaks the word of God.
But it’s really quite a significant statement.
To say that Jesus was teaching the people the word of God, speaks of the source of Jesus’ message; Jesus’ words, come from God.
If we use a slightly technical word, this is revelation. God is revealing, his message, to people, as Jesus speaks.
But because of the source of this message, this also makes a statement about the authority of the message. If Jesus speaks the word of God, then his message carries God’s own authority.
We’re about to see something of how Jesus exercises God’s authority in a moment with the miraculous catch of fish, but already, in setting the scene for this episode, Luke wants us to consider the authority with which Jesus operates.
His teaching, is the word of God.
At Simply Christianity last week, we were talking about the Bible, and how it came into existence, and we saw that despite what people like to say, it wasn’t like there was some great church meeting one day centuries after Jesus, where the church decided, which books of the Bible were the word of God, and which ones weren’t.
See if church decided, what was the Word of God, then the church has authority over the Word of God, and the church is able to elevate other things, maybe tradition, or cultural practices, or people’s individual preferences, to the same position as the Word of God.
No, the word of God, what for us today is found in the Bible, has its source, its origin in God himself, and so it has an authority apart from the church, in fact over the church.
When these ones of God’s people by the Sea of Galilee, Gennesaret is just a another name for it, when they listen to the word of God from Jesus, they are sitting under the message that God himself wants them to hear.
Someone was telling me just before Christmas, that their church, one of the churches in our region, has decided that they don’t need the word of God, they don’t need the Bible, they’ve moved on to other things.
And I was , terribly saddened for them, and I’ve been struck again as I’ve been looking at Luke, and Acts, Luke’s volume 2, because the word of God to Luke, is vitally important.
It’s a phrase that he uses over and over, and if you’ve been with us in the last couple of weeks, it won’t surprise you to hear that Luke rolls out this phrase to describe both the message that Jesus brings, and the message that the Apostles, the leaders of the early church bring, as God’s Spirit fills them and they teach the people.
The word of God, is what God thinks people need to hear!
The word of God is what God thinks people who are far from him need to hear.
The word of God is what God thinks his own people, who trust and obey him, need to hear.
The word of God is the message that Jesus speaks to people.
The word of God is the message on which Jesus builds his church.
The word of God is the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation with God,
The hope of life in the kingdom of God,
The assurance of acceptance,
The motivation for our conduct,
The reassurance that though we fall short, God picks us up, and calls us onwards.
The word of God is what God wants us to hear. We do not move on from it, or past it.
And in fact we see right here, just how keen Jesus is that people, more people, hear the word of God, Jesus gets into a boat, the one belonging to Simon, verse 3, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat
Jesus is a better fisherman than Simon!
We met Simon last week. Notice down in verse 8 that we get a heads up that this is Simon who’s also called Peter. And he’s already starting to emerge as the leader among Jesus followers.
At many points Peter’s response to things;,
Things that Jesus says,
Things that God does,
Peter’s response becomes a kind of representative response.
It’s Peter who tends to say what everyone else is just thinking.
It’s Peter who responds how , well, probably how we would respond, in lots of cases, but also in some cases, how we ought to respond to Jesus, and to what God is doing.
Preachers love to talk about Jesus sitting in the boat, and the beach providing a natural amphitheatre, so the sound could travel across the water, I think because preachers love to imagine that they were preaching to a crowd so large that they’d need to hop into a boat!
But the actual teaching is then passed over fairly quickly, as Luke wants to draw our attention to what happens next.
“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
And you can almost hear the resignation in the first bit of Simon’s response, can’t you?
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.,
I don’t know whether you watch any of those TV programs about the blokes that work on ocean-going trawlers, in the Atlantic and the North Sea. They say that deep ocean fisherman is the most dangerous occupation in the United Kingdom!
Now, fishing on the Sea of Galilee was maybe not quite that bad! But it was hard word. Physical work.
And the professional fisherman knew how to do it. This kind of drag net fishing from a boat was generally done over night.
Put the net out,
Drag it in.
Put the net out,
Drag it in.
The professionals here have done it all night, and got nothing. All they’ve managed to do is get their nets dirty, because remember they were washing them, when Jesus came along.
And now it’s day time. Nobody catches fish this way in the middle of the day. Any self-respecting Galilean carp was well and truly hidden away by this time.
But now the preacher turns up, and tells the professionals what to do.
It’s like me coming into your workplace, and telling you how to do your job!
But notice Simon response. And I just love it!
We’ve done it the right way, and got nothing, But because you say so, I will let down the nets.
Simon is in his element. He knows what works and what doesn’t. And what Jesus is suggesting ordinarily doesn’t work.
But Simon has seen something about Jesus. He knows that Jesus healed his mother-in-law.
He perhaps witnessed the other healings that Jesus performed around Simon’s home town of Capernaum.
There’s something that Simon has seen about Jesus, that leads him to believe that Jesus’ word can be trusted.
It’s a great picture of faith, isn’t it? It’s why I love Simon’s response so much. because you say so, I will let down the nets
This is faith, being so convinced about Jesus, that you live in the light of it.
So let me ask you, What have you seen of Jesus, that draws this kind of response from you?
Does that even happen? Have you, seen who Jesus is, such that your life is different?
If that answer to that is “no” please come along to Simply Christianity, Wednesday evenings this month!
And so we see that Simon is right to put his faith in Jesus. Verse 6, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 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.
Jesus exercises power and authority over creation!
I used to go fishing a bit. I used to head out sometimes with Karl Forsyth who’s on the staff team at Trinity Inner South, we used to go and stand out by the Murray Mouth, and fish.
But I can’t really tell you what the experience of these men is like, because I’ve hardly ever caught anything!
In fact the most memorable thing I’ve ever caught was a box jellyfish, described as “the most lethal jellyfish in the world”, each one has enough venom to kill 60 adults!
I’ve never seen anything like this.
But of course, we don’t have to have had this experience, to understand something of the magnitude of what these fishermen have just experienced.
There were some ancient fishing stories where men felt enormous catches in their nets, only to draw them in, and discover that their tremendous catch was actually just a dead camel!
I guess that was the ancient equivalent of hooking an old boot!
But the repeated statements about the number of fish, the nets, the boats, all serves to underscore for us, the difference between doing it the natural way, and obeying Jesus’ command.
But think for a moment, back to Simon’s obedient response to Jesus; because you say so, I will let down the nets
I wonder what it might look like for us to finish that sentence.
That is, I wonder how our faith in Jesus might cause us to put aside what we think we know, what we’re convinced of, because Jesus tells us something different.
Now, there’s no doubt that this miraculous catch, is deliberately linked to the call to ministry and obedience that Jesus makes in the last couple of verses. Jesus calls these men to be fishermen , for people.
And he demonstrates in a physical sense here, what he wants them to understand about the spiritual fishing that they’re about to undertake.
That is, Jesus is in charge of it all,
He controls it all.
He knows where the fish are,
If you listen to Jesus, you’ll get the fish, that he wants you to catch!
Fish for people without Jesus, and you get nothing,
Fish for people according to Jesus’ pattern, and every single person who Jesus calls, will be brought in.
That’s the parallel that Jesus wants them to grasp.
It’s like an enacted parable. We can’t separate the miracle, from the call to ministry and discipleship that Jesus makes in verse 11.
And yet, Simon’s response is a great example of faith. And as I mentioned, here he is held up as the leader, and example for us to follow.
And so I wonder, when might our faith in Jesus, lead us to say, “Jesus knows best.”
What is the area in your life, where Jesus calls on you, to trust in him, and not in, your own understanding,
The wisdom of the world,
The advice and expectations of your peers.
See the point here is not that Jesus is an expert in fishing!
The point is that Jesus is an expert in life!
That though Peter had probably never heard Jesus teach about fishing before, as soon as he heard Jesus speak about it, he knew he needed to obey,
And Jesus’ power, and authority, and knowledge of the world, are clearly demonstrated in this miracle of abundance, over abundance.
When Jesus speaks to us of our life, even an area that we might think we have a pretty fair idea about, Jesus knows best.
Our relationships, Jesus speaks about them in a way that sometimes cuts across our preferences and desires.
Our sexual purity, Jesus speaks about that, completely counter-culturally,
Jesus says a thing or two about money, and security, and trust.
Is there some part of your life, in which you are clinging to what you “know”, and refusing to acknowledge that Jesus knows best?
Why does Simon react the way he does?
But actually, Simon’s response after the miracle, is probably not the normal response to seeing a great bunch of fish, is it?!
We might expect Simon to say something like “wow, that’s amazing! Thanks Jesus! How on earth did you do that?
Now we don’t have to work for a week!” Something like that!
But, verse 8, When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Why does he react like this?
Clearly this reveals something about Jesus to him.
He knew something about Jesus before;, he’s worth listening to, but now there’s been another piece added to his puzzle.
And it’s not just that “Oh, Jesus knows more about fishing than I thought he did.”
But he sees this as God’s power at work.
And he knows that he is unworthy to be in the presence of this one who exercises God’s power.
We’ve heard already in Luke’s account, the description of Jesus as the holy one of God.
And Jesus demonstrates that, with this control over the created order.
And so Peter’s response, while maybe surprising to us, is actually typical. Typical of people in the Old Testament who found themselves in the very presence of God. “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Think of Abraham,
Manoah, the father of Samson,
The prophet Ezekiel.
I’ll read just one for us, Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush in Exodus chapter 3. Moses realises that he’s in the presence of the living God, and At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God
Simon fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
The title Lord, you might know, was a form of address, something akin to “sir” that we might use today. Just that word on its own doesn’t really communicate much about Simon’s understanding of who Jesus is. But for Simon to understand that his sin means he can’t be in Jesus’ presence, points us towards the fact that Jesus is the holy one of God.
And the combination of calling Jesus Lord, and falling at Jesus’ knees says this is so much more than just “Sir.”
Australian culture, I think, perhaps even more so than most other cultures in the world, leads us into a highly familiar relationship with Jesus.
And there’s a degree to which that is right and proper. The writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament speaks about Jesus as our brother. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans that God sends his Spirit into our hearts and enables us to call God “Abba”, which is an Aramaic word which is, not “daddy”, but still the very close and affectionate language of family.
And yet even having been brought in to God’s family, through Jesus, through his life,
Through his death in our place, the death that we should have died, Even so, we need to make sure we don’t over-presume, on this familiarity.
For most Australians, it would never occur to them, to say to Jesus Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful person.
Or even for Christian people, to have such an awareness of the seriousness of sin, of rebellion against God, that we stop and consider, actually, on our own, we have no part with Jesus.
The only reason we can come to him is because of what he offers us freely by dying in our plaxe.
This is a warning for us, not to presume upon our familiarity with Jesus,
A warning for us not to think too little of sin,
Not to think that there’s any confidence we can have on our own, to stand before Jesus.
So far Simon has performed pretty well, hasn’t he? He did exactly what Jesus told him to do. Full marks for obedience.
But still when he comes face to face with the power of the God of the universe, the appropriate response is to fall at Jesus’ knees.
As the story goes on in the following chapters, we see that Peter’s still learning who Jesus is, but here he sees the vast difference between Jesus and himself, and he knows that an acknowledgement of his sinfulness is in order.
The thing that intrigues me in Simon’s response, is that Luke presents it right at the moment that, the catch is over-flowing,
The nets are breaking,
The boats are on the verge of sinking,
There’s just chaos everywhere, some risk apparently, to life and limb.
There’s probably people going all directions, in and out of the water. These kinds of boats were large enough to hold Jesus and all his disciples on other occasions, and there were quite possibly hired crew in this one now, struggling with the nets, and 2 boats full of flapping fish,
And for Simon, amidst all of that, the most important thing is to get right with Jesus!
Everything else can wait!
The most amazing catch of fish you’ve ever had, comes a distant second to sorting out where you stand before Jesus.
Simon’s got his priorities sorted!
There’s a line in one of the Harry Potter books, that I quote frequently to my daughter. One of the young boys says in his broad Estuary English accent, “She really needs to sort out her priorities”
Well Simon’s got his priorities sorted already doesn’t he?
Before anything else, you’ve got to respond rightly to Jesus.
It seems to me, that responding rightly to Jesus, either for the very first time, or, a bit like what we see here, seeing something new of Jesus, and working out “well, what has to happen now?”, that can very easily slip down the priorities list.
We get caught up in the sinking boats, and the full nets.
Our attention is distracted by the flapping fish everywhere, and we think, “Yep, at some point, I’ll get to that.
I don’t have time now for the things of God that I know are important, but later, when the kids are older,
When work is quieter,
When I’ve got other things in my life sorted out, then I’ll be an obedient disciple of Jesus,
Then I’ll read my Bible,
Then I’ll be regular at church,
Then I’ll join a Bible Study Group, .
Eventually I’ll figure out what it means for me to live knowing that Jesus is the holy one of God.
I know I need to take my sin seriously. I get that it stands as a blockage between me and God, and the perfect, pure and holy God wants so much better for me,
One day I’ll deal with the stuff I’m looking at on the Internet,
One day I’ll stop reading those books that are really unhelpful to me,
One day I’ll break of that relationship that is actually quite destructive,
One day I’ll exercise control over my money, instead of it exercising control over me. I’ll get round to that one day.
No, there’s no getting round to it. Simon knows, face to face with Jesus, now is the time, to acknowledge his sin and failure before God.
Now, in the midst of the chaos,
Now, when there’s plenty of reasons not to,
Now, when everyone else around me is telling me not to, asking for my help, calling on me to do something else, anything else.
Now, Simon know he needs to be right with God.
Don’t put it off.
Simon doesn’t get what he wants; he goes where Jesus calls
And so, as the episode draws to a close, it turns out, that Simon doesn’t get what he wants. What did he say? “Go away from me, Lord;
And yet instead of Jesus going away from Simon, Jesus calls Simon, and Simon follows Jesus!
“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Notice again that Simon Peter is front and centre, but the they language lets us know that James and John are included in this also, and possible Simon’s brother Andrew, who doesn’t even get a mention here.
So they’ve got a new job. They’re still fishermen, but now they’ll fish for people. Like I said, it’s just an opportunistic picture, to connect what Jesus has just done with the mission that he’s involving these men in.
If they’d been shepherds, I’m sure Jesus would have said “you’ll be shepherds of people”,
If they’d been alpaca herders, I’m sure Jesus would have said , , well, something equivalent!
The point is their focus is now, not fish, but people.
They’re going to catch people.
And while catching fish generally concludes with the fish ending up dead, this language here is actually reminiscent of some language in the Old Testament about saving people alive, from death. We might say something like “saved from the jaws of death”, that’s the idea behind the fishing for people imagery. Not that the people end up dead, but that they’re saved from death.
Jesus gathers people,
Jesus gathers people for God,
Jesus gathers people for God through the preaching of the Word of God,
And now that task, is the vocation of these men.
A genuine encounter with Jesus, necessarily leaves a person changed.
Everything is now different for these men, who are now partners with Jesus in his work, of announcing, proclaiming, ushering in the Kingdom of God.
These are now followers of Jesus.
The things that Jesus does, they now do.
His concerns, are now their concerns.
And the picture of following is a favourite of Luke’s for portraying Christian discipleship. Not just for the 12, Jesus’ first and closest disciples, but for anyone who would be a disciple of Jesus.
And so there’s something in this that’s unique;, Jesus calling his first disciples. But for Luke, this is also just typical.
Being a disciple of Jesus in any age, including in our age, means to follow Jesus,
To make his concerns our concerns,
To make his life, our life.
You can’t follow someone, and go a different way, can you?
You can’t follow someone, and keep going on with your life as if you never met them!
You can’t follow someone, all the while ignoring them, and yet still expect to arrive at the same destination that they’re headed to.
You can’t follow someone, and just stay back doing what you’ve always done.
There is a cost to discipleship.
Luke mentions it here, Verse 11, they left , everything and followed him.
Jesus says just a couple of chapters on, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
Somebody once said this should be on a big sign above the door to every church. You become a follower of Jesus, and you deny yourself.
There is a very real cost to following Jesus, as we see here.
And the grammar tells us that fishing for people is going to be an ongoing ministry for those who follow Jesus. The tense of the verb is continuous. Fishing for people, is going to be an every day, habitual practice.
Brushing your teeth,
Fishing for people,
That’s how we ought to think about it!
And because we know that Luke’s been so careful in constructing his account, we perhaps are supposed to notice the parallel between the large number of fish, back in verse 6, what the older English translations used to call “a great multitude of fishes”, we’re probably supposed to see the parallel between that, and the same language used right throughout Luke’s gospel and Acts, to picture the “great multitudes”, the “large number” of people, who flocked to hear Jesus’ teach, and who responded to these men, as they preached the Word of God.
Great multitudes, large numbers, came to saving faith in Jesus.
It’s like Jesus gives a little foretaste now, of the kind of fishing you can expect, when you fish for people. Not that every time you go fishing for people, every time you call people to turn to Jesus, you can expect a response like in this episode;, enough new Christians to sink 2 boats!
No, Jesus will gather, all whom he calls.
Jesus calls sinful people to share in his task
Let me point out one more thing, and then we’ll finish. And this isn’t very profound, you probably noticed it!
But who is Jesus’ new fishing crew?
Who’s in his ministry team?
It’s the sinful guy, and his equally sinful mates!
The first person, in all of Luke’s gospel, to lay their sin and rebellion against God on the table and make a public declaration “I can’t be near you, Jesus. I’m a rebel against God.”
That’s who Jesus chooses!
That’s his number one draft pick!
His captain’s pick!
To be someone who fishes for people, is first and foremost to be a fish yourself! The whole metaphor gets confused!
But someone who fishes for people is simply someone, who by God’s grace, has been rescued from sin and rebellion against God, and so they can tell other people, what it is to be rescued by God’s kindness.
And so to be someone who fishes for people, well there’s no room for any pride or arrogance, is there? As if the task at hand implied some greatness or achievement on our part.
Jesus puts his finger on the first bloke publicly identified as a sinner in Luke’s gospel, and he says, “you’re now involved in this work with me.”
It’s not the great whom Jesus calls here,
Not those with impeccable religious heritage.
Jesus calls sinful people, to learn what is to be saved from sin, and for that encounter to have such an impact on them, that they , daily put their hand to the task of seeing others saved from sin.
Brush your teeth,
Fish for people.