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The Frustrated Fisherman: Christ Speaks

to the Problem of Limited Vision


Luke 5:1-11
Occasionally I am asked how I ended up in the ministry. My close friends know
that I come from a family with a background in medicine. My father was a
surgeon and my three brothers are all medical doctors. There are no pastors or
missionaries in my family tree so far as I know. So how did I end up as a pastor?
The story goes back about 31 years. Although I had been raised in an
evangelical church, I had never trusted Christ as my Savior. I had been baptized,
joined the church, and was active in our youth group but I was not born again.
After my junior year in high school, through a series of events that now seem to
me to be divinely ordained, I came to true saving faith in Christ. Or to say it
another way, Christ found me and he changed my life from the inside out. I spent
my senior year in high school trying to decide what to do next. As a teenager, my
dream had been to either be a journalist or a television newsmanlike Walter
Cronkite. But I also sensed that the Lord might have other plans for my life.

One Thing Ive Never Doubted


The turning point came in June 1970, one month after my high school graduation.
I vividly recall staying up late at night, pacing my bedroom, pondering my future.
What did God want me to do? What could I do? What should I do? One night I
had an encounter with the Lord. After pacing the floor, I eventually went to bed.
Later I woke up with a strong sense that God was speaking to me and calling me
into the ministry. I recall saying something like this: Lord, if you want me, Ill be a
preacher for you. It was a profound moment of personal surrender. I didnt hear
an angelic choir or see strange lights, but I was aware that God had spoken to
me as a 17-year-old high school graduate. Nearly a third of a century has passed
since that night, and I have sometimes wandered and often wondered, but I have
never doubted Gods call on my life.

Over the years I have come to two conclusions on the basis of the Word of God
and my own experience: 1) Christ still calls men and women to follow him today,
and 2) Christ still calls men and women to serve him full-time.
Our text is the story of how Christ called Peter to be his disciple. In the beginning
of the story he is fishing for fish; by the end of the story he is fishing for men. I
find it fascinating to consider the men Jesus chose as his first disciples. Its clear
that he didnt go to an executive search firm or visit the placement office at the
local college. He started by calling men with dirt under their fingernails, blue-
collar types, men without much education, men who knew about hard work and
the value of perseverance. Fishermen. Jesus chose fishermen as his first
followers. Not very likely. Not how we would do it.

I wonder why he started with fishermen? I think I know the answer. Fishermen
understand this story very well. To be a fisherman you need patience above
everything else. Sometimes wives will ask their husbands, How can you stand
there by the bank or in the boat or in the water for hours on end, waiting for a fish
to bite? The answer is, Its easy. Thats what fishing is all about. And if you
cant handle getting skunked occasionally, then you probably would be better off
not fishing at all.

The progress of this story is very simple. First Peter caught fish, then Jesus
caught Peter, then Peter caught men. It all begins with a frustrated fisherman
cleaning his nets after a long, hard night.

I. A Sense of Need 1-3, 5a


One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret (another name for the
Sea of Galilee), with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of
God, he saw at the waters 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. Master, weve worked hard all night and havent caught
anything (Luke 5:1-3, 5a).

Fishing is hard work. Its one thing to fish on the weekends. Its something else to
fish every day for a living. Peter, Andrew, James and John fished on the Sea of
Galilee year round. They either sold their fish locally or the fish were salt-cured
and sold as far away as Spain. You wouldnt get rich that way, but a hardworking
man could take care of his family.

Now it is morning and Peter and the others are tired, exhausted, dejected, and
probably in a foul mood. Fisherman like to say that your worst day fishing is
better than your best day in the office, but Im not sure Peter would have agreed
at that moment. Now they are busy mending the netstime-consuming work
made more difficult by the frustration of knowing they caught nothing the night
before.

When Jesus asks Peter if he can use his boat, Peter immediately agrees. He
knows Jesus and admires him greatly. I believe he already has become a
follower of sorts, but until now has never made a wholehearted commitment. So
when Jesus wants to use his boat for a pulpit, Peter is honored to grant the
request.

How fitting it is. Jesus comes to the scene of Peters failure and uses it to preach
the Word. He takes the ordinary and makes it sacred. He uses a simple fishing
boat as the setting for a mighty miracle.

Nothing in this story happens by chance. All is meant to teach us an important


truth: God still prepares us for his call by allowing us to endure personal failure.
Until we sense our need of him, we will not be ready to follow him. After all, if you
think you are self-sufficient, why would you need Christ? We must be stripped of
our self-confidence before we can be greatly used of God. Peter must be broken
before he is ready to respond to the call of Christ.

II. A Challenge to Obedience 4-5


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, weve worked hard all
night and havent caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the
nets (Luke 5:4-5).

The words of Jesus contain both a command and a promise. Its not as if Jesus is
saying, Lets go out into the deep water, put down the nets, and well see what
happens. Jesus is promising that if Peter will obey, he will catch fish. Im sure
that after a long night of fruitless fishing, this must have been hard to believe.

We can learn some useful lessons from this: 1) God never gives foolish
commandsthough they may look foolish at the time; 2) God intends to bless
those who obey him without hesitation; 3) Gods greatest miracles usually require
our cooperation.

There were certainly reasons for Peter to be skeptical. After all, the experience of
the previous night seemed conclusive. As a professional fisherman, Peter knew
the lake. And he knew that sometimes even the best fishermen get skunked. He
could have said, Sorry, Lord, but its not worth the trouble. Or Im the expert
here. Now comes the time to fish or cut bait. What will Peter do?

He decided to go fishing in the middle of the day. Why? All fishermen know the
answer. He went because he was a fisherman and every fisherman lives by the
credo: You never know what may happen next time. True fishermen are always
ready to give it another go. Why not? When you get skunked, you cant wait to
get back out on the water again. And there is always a reason you failed the last
time. Too much light, too little light, the water was too clear or too muddy, the fish
were too deep or too shallow, there was too much wind or not enough wind. It
doesnt matter, does it? Fishermen love to fish. And thats why Peter was ready
to go even after a futile night of frustration.

I love the way Peter puts it, Because you say so. In the King James Version, the
phrase is Nevertheless, at Thy Word. This is the watchword of the saints.
Across the centuries believers have found them to be their divine marching
orders. Conditions may be dark and the world may fight against us,
circumstances may overwhelm us, and our fears nearly submerge us. But God
speaks and his children say, Nevertheless, at Thy Word. And off we go in
obedience to Almighty God. Middle-aged Abraham set off across the desert with
no more than this: Nevertheless, at Thy Word. Noah built an ark in the face of
an unbelieving world with no more than this: Nevertheless, at Thy Word. Moses
defied Pharaoh, looking to heaven and saying, Nevertheless, at Thy Word.
Joshua marched around Jericho day after day with this in his heart:
Nevertheless, at Thy Word. And young David confounded all the doubting men
of Israel by marching into the valley armed with this confidence: Nevertheless, at
Thy Word.

Then Peter added, I will let down the nets. We still have a part to do. The fish
arent going to jump in the boat by themselves. We still have to do what we have
to do. Weve got to go to work, weve got to stay on the diet, weve got to go to
the meetings, weve got to go to the counselor, weve got to share the gospel,
weve got to do our homework, weve got to write the term paper. There is still
work for us to do. I believe there are many answers to prayers that await only one
thing: Let down your nets. Put your net down into the deep water, do your part,
and then God will do his. Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie says it this way: Without
God we cant; without us he wont.

The OPCA Miracle


Last Friday night I attended the annual fundraising event for Oak Park Christian
Academy, the K-8 Christian school that meets here at Calvary. The school is very
close to my heart for many reasons, not the least of which is that my wife is the
administrator. When Marlene gave her speech at the beginning, she recalled a
story that I had forgotten. Before the school opened six years ago, we took a
survey to see how many potential students we might have. The results astounded
us. If the numbers were to be believed, we might have as many as 150 students
in our first year, and the number could conceivably hit 200. Thus buoyed with
proof of Gods intended blessing, we opened enrollment in February. Immediately
two or three applications came in. We waited for the flood of other applications to
come. March came. Then April. Then May. Then June. Then July. Where was the
flood? What happened to all those potential students? Oh, how the mighty were
fallen. Our grand dreams of a few months earlier had vanished, dashed on the
rocks of hard reality. On August 1 we had a grand total of five students with
opening day less than three weeks away. Common sense suggests that you
need more than five students to start a school. The board met, took a deep
breath, decided to hire two teachers and open the school anyway. Three weeks
later we had 19 students. The next year 41, the next year 59. And this year we
have 123 students and it looks like we may have 140 next year.

Looking back, I am convinced that the turning point came when the board said,
God called us to launch this Christian school. And even if we only have five
students, were going to let down our nets for a catch. That took faith and
courage. The school stands today as a testimony to Gods faithfulness to a few
people with a dream who let down the nets and were not swayed by the
circumstances.

III. A Demonstration of Divine Power 6-7


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
(Luke 5:6-7).

This is what fishermen dream about. They spend a lifetime fishing in hopes that
maybe one day something like this will happen to them. What a sight! So many
fish came into the nets that they begin to break. The men end up filling both boats
with so many fish that they began to sink. Think about that. Two overloaded
boats with fish flopping everywhere slowly coming to shore. This is the biggest
catch everand it happened in the middle of the day.

Please note that the fish were there all along. Its not as if Jesus created the fish
on the spur of the moment. Those fish were in the water the night before; Peter
just couldnt find them. But when Jesus is in the boat, everything changes.
Everything is happening according to Gods plan. He allowed Peter to fail so he
would learn what he could do with Jesus help.

There is a nice moral to this part of the story: Empty Nets without him; full nets
with him. Lets go fishing with Jesus every day!

IV. Confession of Inadequacy 8-10a


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,
Simons partners (Luke 5:8-10a).

This is the kind of confession we dont often hear today. One might expect Peter
to start bragging to his friends, Hey, look at all these fish! Were the greatest
fishermen in the world. But instead Peter is overwhelmed (the word translated
astonished actually means to be terrified) by the enormous catch of fish. I think
Jesus has completely blown his categories. To Peter, a good catch might be 30
fish or 50 or perhaps 100 fish. But he never dreamed of catching 5000 fish at one
time. Instead of elating him, the sight of such a huge catch evaporated his
confidence and left him dazed and frightened.

Like most of us, Peter thought in man-sized categories, not God-sized


miracles. He had room in his mind for anything he himself could handle. But
when Jesus got involved, the results blew his circuits and (in the providence of
God) drove him to his knees in desperate prayer.

The scene is reminiscent of Isaiahs reaction upon seeing the Lord high and lifted
up: Woe to me! I cried. I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live
among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD
Almighty (Isaiah 6:5). Once Peter realized who Jesus really wasthe true Son
of God from heavenhe saw himself in a new light. To see God is to see
ourselves as we really are. And sometimes the vision is too much for us to
handle. Peter could not stand the contrast between the purity and power of Christ
and his own sinfulness.

Here is a man who has been deeply changed on the inside. His pride has been
burned away by a transforming vision of Christ.

V. A Call to Personal Commitment 10b-11


Then Jesus said to Simon, Dont be afraid; from now on you will catch men. So
they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him (Luke 5:10b-
11).

I find it significant that Jesus seems in a sense to ignore Peters desperate


confession of unworthiness. Jesus knows the truth about Peter and he knew it all
along. What matters is that Peter now knows the truth about himself. With his
pride stripped away, he is now ready to serve the Lord.

There is an important lesson for us to ponder in all this: When we encounter


Jesus, we will never be the same again. No one can meet Jesus and walk away
unchanged. We may end up closer to God or we may harden our hearts, but no
one ever meets Jesus and stays the way they were before. In Peters case, his
confession became part of his testimony. He knew he was a sinner and wasnt
ashamed to admit it. God can use a man who knows his weakness and doesnt
try to hide it.

By trade Peter was a fishermanand evidently a good one. Now Jesus is going
to give Peter a new occupation. Before this day he had fished for fish.
Henceforth, he will fish for men. Even better, he will catch men! The Greek has
the idea of catching men alive. Peter will cast the gospel net and catch men for
the Savior. And not just in small groups. On the day of Pentecost 3000 men will
respond to his powerful gospel sermon (Acts 2).

The same thing happens to all of us sooner or later. When we respond to Christs
call, he changes us and then he changes our personal agenda. If we decide to
take Christ seriously, we may end up doing something we never thought
possible. What if Jesus asks me to do something I cant do? He will! He always
does. If he only asked you to do stuff you could already do, you wouldnt need
him. But when he asks us to do something we cant do, he gives us the power to
do what we thought we could never do. And we end up doing it and he gets the
credit.
What Happened to Rich and Carol Bonham?

Next Sunday we begin World Focus Week at Calvary. For seven days we will
consider Gods call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. A number of
missionaries will join us. For many years Rich and Carol Bonham helped plan this
conference. But they wont be with us this year because in January they moved
to Germany to serve as missionaries with Greater Europe Mission. Rich left a
good career with the Wrigley Company to use his computer skills for the cause of
Christ in Europe. I can remember when Rich and Carol traveled to St.
Petersburg, Russia to help in the construction of the Temple of the Gospel ten
years ago. And they have made other short-term trips since then. Now they have
joined our missionary family.

Right now Im thinking about Greg and Carolyn Kirschner. A few years ago they
both gave up promising medical practices to go as medical missionaries to
Nigeria. With my own eyes I have seen the ministry God gave them at the
hospital in Jos, Nigeria. Over a year ago they returned for an extended furlough;
this summer they and their four children are returning to Nigeria. In my mind they
are an All-American family. No, its not easy to go to Nigeria and its not easy to
go back a second time. There are many good reasons to stay in America, but
God has called and they must obey. There is no other explanation.

I do not mean to suggest that everyone must give up their career and move
overseas. Perhaps more of us should seriously consider that option. But for most
of us, the call of Christ means going back to work tomorrow morning with a new
determination to serve Jesus Christ on the job. Or it means going back to the
classroom determined to be a disciple for Christ no matter what anyone else may
say or do. Or it means staying right where you areeven in the midst of personal
difficultyas part of your faithfulness to Christ.

Walking the Jesus Road

For Peter and the others following Christ meant leaving behind the old life
(including the incredible catch of fish), giving up the boats and the nets and their
livelihood, and following Christ into an unknown future. Letting go must always
come first. Anything that hinders our walk with Christ must go. Even some good
things must go in order that better things may come from the Lord. We cant have
it both ways.
The word for followed means to walk the same road. Thats what a disciple
doeshe walks the same road as Jesus. He gets on the Jesus road and
follows it wherever it may lead. No guarantees, no deals, no special promises. He
simply walks that road every day, following in his Masters steps.

Dont be afraid to follow Jesus. Youll never regret starting down the Jesus road.
Youll only regret that you waited so long to do it.

Are you ready to follow Jesus wherever he leads? Thats all he wants.

They gave up everything and followed him! And my heart cries out, Me too, Lord.
Me too!