‘And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.’ (Luke 5:11)
In Luke chapter five, we find several important principles for the Christian. I want to highlight two of them: unquestioning obedience and counting all things as lost for the sake of Christ. We see both of these clearly in the beginning of Luke 5, in a story I find I often read through too quickly.
Jesus’ Strange Command
The chapter continues with Jesus withdrawing from the crowd after trying to find some seclusion (probably wanting to pray after working at Capernaum) and being followed by the crowd,. He boarded Simon’s fishing boat, and began to preach from just offshore where, at the least, the crowds were no longer “pressing around him” (v.1). When he finished teaching, he turns to Simon and tells him to “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” (v.4)
Simon is seemingly a little perplexed at Jesus’ request, as he provides a reasonable (from a human perspective) objection: they (as professional fishermen, remember) just been out all night and caught nothing. He’s probably tired from the long night, landing and cleaning. Then this Jesus fellow comes, appropriates his vessel to use as a soapbox, then commands him to go fishing again. However, Simon submits Himself to Jesus’ authority (perhaps only as a teacher and miracle-worker at this point) and obeys, seeming to demonstrate some commendable humility. He does as he is commanded.
We remember well what happens next.
“And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.” (Luke 5:6-7)
Why Luke Details The Scene For Us
I think there is one primary reason for both the miracle and the colorful language describing it, and that is to clarify Jesus’ call to trusting obedience at the end of the section in verse 11.
We have in this story a vivid internal balance of principles in two different but related areas: security versus insecurity, and the worldly perspective versus Godly obedience. This is at the heart of not only the calling of these three men, but a few years down the road, it will undeniably mark their ministry, though surely they were wholly ignorant of this at this time.
First, let us look at Simon, John, and James for a short time. It seems Simon’s boat was a small vessel, assuming from John chapter twenty-one that it only took a few people maximum to run it, and also that they were “lying” at the edge of the lake (verse 2); we may deduce that they had pulled up out of the water onto the shore. The boat was either his own, or he held direct responsibility for it, as Luke mentions that it is he to whom Jesus speaks His command, and Simon who obeys the command. Simon, as a fisherman, had his life invested in this boat, it was his source of income, his responsibility.
James and John, were partners with Simon (verse 10). We know from Matthew chapter four that they were there with their father, Zebedee, on the shore; fishing was a family business, and the boat might be part of their inheritance. It was their past, their future (as far as they had known up until this day), their identity.
This proposition in regards to their identity as fishermen is supported by the backstory for the manifestation of the resurrected Jesus in John chapter twenty-one. After three years following Jesus (their new identity) Jesus is crucified, crushing the hopes of the disciples who evidently still did not grasp that Jesus would be resurrected after three days. Simon (still a leader among them, apparently) states “I’m going fishing.” Six others join him, and they go back out on the boat, and went fishing. So, when it appeared their new identity as apostles panned out, they defaulted, going back to the old security of their old identity. Fishing was in their blood, so to speak.
Next, we will look at miracle with the fish. Little needs to be said, for as mentioned earlier Luke uses clear imagery to portray what was happening; the nets were almost bursting from being so full, and they pulled in so many fish that two boats were beginning to sink from being over-laden! The fisherman had pulled in the catch of their lives, without a doubt, the spring from which they derived their income had turned into a geyser in only a few short minutes.
At least three of the fishermen (Simon, James & John) were amazed and fell down before Jesus feet, in fear (Jesus commands “Do not fear” in verse 10) because of the power displayed. Simon confesses his sinfulness—it is worth noting that he recognizes his sinfulness despite his recent obedience; dong something right (like obeying Jesus) doesn’t release one from the debt of sin.
Jesus’ Object Lesson
Jesus assuages their fears in a rather strange manner: “from now on you will be catching men.” (John 5:10). Why such an answer?
The command from verse four (“put out… let down your nets”) gave these three disciples a small-scale lesson to learn, which laid the foundation for what was to come. In verse four, Jesus commands them in opposition to conventional wisdom, calling them to follow His command even when the consequences of obedience would seem to be more work and nothing to show for gain. Yet, Simon trusts Jesus as a Teacher, and obeys, despite his ignorance.
When Jesus makes His implicit command in verse ten, the three men are now ready to obey; having formerly followed a nonsense command and having acquired abundance as a result, they are much more ready to obey another, though it be a much bigger one. One cannot help but call to mind the parable of the talents and it’s lesson: to those who use what they are given wisely, more will be given.
Leaving Everything To Follow Jesus
Finally, we come to what the fishermen did upon returning to land. Normally, they would have taken the boats to a place they could offload their catch, selling the fish to merchants and collecting their coins. Apparently, this no longer important to them; when they come to shore, they “left everything and followed Him.” (v.11)
Left everything. Followed Him.
Left their boat, with it’s freshly cleaned (if not frayed from recent exertion) nets, their miraculous load of income-giving fish, their sweat and blood and investment. They left the bounty for someone else to collect (remember Zebedee is still around, and we may assume some others, as well). The boat—well they left it nudged into the stones on the beach, water lapping tirelessly at it’s hull.
They followed Him; He who claimed to be Isaiah’s Messiah. The same One whom the people of His hometown tried to throw off a cliff for blasphemy. It is likely they thought they were going towards a revolution, an uprising of the Jews to overthrow earthy government, seeing Messiah established as eternal King over Israel and the nations. We find out later they expected wealth, fame, authority, and power (Luke 9).
They had no idea what they were in for, and they likely followed Jesus for the wrong reasons, just as they would later flee from Him when he was arrested and crucified, seeming to fail miserably to fulfill His role as a Conquering King. As we have already seen from the Gospel of John, we know that Simon Peter went back to fishing after Jesus’ death, and took James, John, Nathaniel, and two others with him.
Counting The Cost Of Obedience In Frontier Missions
Obedience does not require full revelation of of the consequence of obedience. Simon confusedly obeyed Jesus’ command to cast his net back into the deep water after a fruitless night of fishing, unaware of what would follow. The disciples did not know where Jesus would lead them when He called them a few verses later, but they perhaps had picked up on their recent object lesson and, without understanding why, left everything to follow such a man. Such a cost is too great in the eyes if the world.
To follow Jesus, there is always cost to ourselves, and it is far more than the old self wants to pay. We must admit that everything we have built for ourselves is rubbish, incomparable to the worth of Jesus. The disciples left their lives behind, risking everything they had to follow the Man who spoke like no other. They did count the cost, in their own way; being associated with a worker of miracles is far better than spending your life around fish. Later, though, they would learn the cost was far higher and deeper—when their very lives would be required of them. We must not overlook this! God will call us to leave many, many things behind.
For frontier missionaries, the cost can be intimidating from an earthly perspective; we must put aside our cultural identity, donning a new culture as our own. Replace our heart language with another which feels as though it will tie our tongues in knots. Set aside the supposed security of a steady income to rely wholly on our Heavenly Father for provision. Risk our safety and that of our families as we strive to release the Gospel where admission of faith in Christ is shameful, illegal, or deadly.
And there will be times where, like the disciples, we are tempted to look back on our old life, to go back to fishing when we see no other option. This, though, is borne from an inadequate view of Jesus, seeing Him and our identity in Him not through the eyes of Holy Spirit revelation, but through the eyes of a world that desperately tries to find meaning in itself.
Jesus is calling believers to obey His call— this is the general call to every Christian in Matthew 28:18-20—to bring the Gospel to every tribe, tongue, nation, and people, regardless of the cost to ourselves. We are not to rely on ourselves when the Spirit leads us to a situation that appears insecure, unwise, or dangerous; rather, we are to walk in obedience, knowing that God directs our steps and that His sovereignty is infinitely more perfect than any plan or consequence we might conjure.
So we must take courage, friends, from the simple acts in the story surrounding the fishing miracle Luke provided for us. When God calls to move, move in faith, when He calls to leave things behind, “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” and “count them but rubbish” so you “may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8). No one said it would be easy, but our identity is not in what we see, experience, or understand; no, we must, like the fishermen who follow Christ, trust in His sovereign plan which He is working in and through us.