Jesus and the Fish of the Sea
Jesus was up in the region of Galilee where he had grown up. His base was now set up not in Nazareth but a few miles away in Capernaum on the banks of the Sea of Galilee (or, as Luke calls it here, the Lake of Gennesaret).
Jesus had recently entered upon his public ministry of preaching and teaching and had been pursuing this ministry by preaching in a variety of different synagogues in the region of Galilee. The people liked hearing him and weren't to be limited to Sabbaths in the synagagues - they wanted to hear him whenever they could and Jesus was quite prepared to teach them whenever the opportunity presented itself.
The event that Luke describes in the passage we're looking at now was just one of those occasions but what an extraordinary occasion it turned out to be!
Jesus Preached the Word of God
What drew the crowds to listen to what Jesus had to say was not the fact that he was a wonderful story teller, which he was, or that he was a great orator, though he was that too, they came because they knew that from him they would hear the Word of God. The term can mean either the "Word that God" speaks of the "Word that speaks about God" – and there is no reason why both can't be true at the same time.
The crowds that pressed around Jesus on that day are a challenge to us: they wanted to know about God and they wanted to hear what God had to say – can the same be said of us too?
There were so many of them that those at the back were pushing those in front of them closer and closer to Jesus who was standing at the seas edge. It wasn't an ideal situation in which to teach – it wouldn't have been easy for the speaker and neither would it have been easy for the hearers to see or hear the speaker.
Jesus wanted to teach them – we're told elsewhere that he saw the crowds as sheep without a shepherd and had compassion on them. In this particular instance he quickly made arrangements so that he might continue to teach them in the best conditions possible. There were some fishing boats there and the fishermen with them busy about the task of cleaning their nets after a fruitless night on the waters. So Jesus asked if could use one of the boats as a floating pulpit!
Simon Peter, whose boat it was, was happy to agree – he didn't have a lot to do, all that was needed was for the boat to be pushed a few metres out to sea away from the shoreline.
Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowd. Separated from the shore by just a few metres Jesus would have been easily seen by the crowd and his voice would have carried clearly to them over the surface of the water. Everything was done so that the Word of God might be easily heard by the people that day and listen they did until Jesus had finished.
We should pause again and take note of the fact that just as the Word of God was made readily accessible that day so God has made it readily accessible in our own day – but will we hear it?
The Bible has long been translated into English and in an English that we can all understand. It can be bought cheaply along with all kinds of aids to help us understand it. Every Sunday, and on other days too, it is read out loud here in this church and its meaning explained. In the unlikely event that someone genuinely can't afford one there are plenty of people ready to give a free copy. Not only that we can listen to it on CD or via a digital download – we really have no excuse – if we don't listen to the Word of God it is because we don't want to or we simply can't be bothered.
Have you made knowing about God and knowing what God has said a priority yet in your life?
The Sermon Ended
When Jesus had finished teaching the crowd he didn't immediately return to the shore and go home for a spot of lunch – he had something else that he wanted to do and that involved the owner of the boat, Simon Peter.
Now Jesus had already met Simon – they knew each other and Jesus had recently been in Simon's house where he healed Simon's mother-in-law from a fever. Simon had heard Jesus speak and had a certain respect him but he was about to discover that Jesus was far more important than he had ever imagined.
I wonder if that will be true of some of you today – how I wish it would be so! You know something about Jesus and what you know has impressed you - you have a genuine esteem for this man. But perhaps that is as far as it goes. Simon was about to have his life transformed as he discovered more about Jesus and more about about himself!
When Jesus finished teaching the crowd he turned and spoke to Simon and gave him some clear instructions. To borrow the boat as a floating pulpit was one thing but now he told Simon to do something that would require much more effort on Simon's part:
v.4 "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."
It sounds so easy and straightforward doesn't it? And of course it was. It was clear instruction that couldn't be misunderstood or misconstrued. But Peter wasn't overly impressed and he had his reasons for being less than enthusiastic:
v.5a "And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!""
You can almost hear the sadness pleading in Simon's voice! He and his colleagues had laboured away all through the night trying to catch fish and all they had to show for it was tired and aching muscles – the nets had been cleaned and all he wanted to do now was to get some rest. And Jesus was telling him to fish some more.
Simon was a fisherman and had been so all his life. He knew about fishing. He knew when was the best time to go fishing – you might cast nets from the shore during the day but nets in the deep during the daytime just wasn't done.
But that was what Jesus told him to do.
I wonder whether Simon gazed into Jesus' eyes hoping to see some concession, somehint that Jesus would change his mind. If he did look this way at Jesus he was disappointed because no change came in the instructions so Simon continued:
v.5b "But at your word I will let down the nets."
Our problems and difficulties are sometimes just like those that confronted Simon that day.
It's not that we don't understand what is said to us but we don't particularly like it, it doesn't fit in with our take on things and, sadly, we can often allow our feelings and impressions become the dominant force in our response to the Lord. Simon has shown us another much more profitable and useful route to follow.
It was Simon who was the fisherman but it was Jesus the respecter teacher, the One he addresses as Master and out of respect for the Master Simon is ready to do what he was told. I don't know whether he really expected to catch any fish at all but he certainly was not prepared for what did happen!
Trust and Obey
Jesus would later answer the questionning of some of the Jews in Jerusalem with the following words:
Jn.7:16-17 "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority."
In other words doing will precede knowing. Unless you have a prior commitment to doing God's will you will never have the luxury of knowing deep down in a personal way what that will is. Simon could have waited for explanations as to the wisdom of letting down his nets as Jesus had told him to do but no explanation would be sufficient for him if he refused fundamentally to trust the Master. He trusted and obeyed even in that area where he was the expert and where he probably thought it to be a waste of time and effort – and his faith was rewarded handsomely.
Do you have faith to do what Jesus says? I'm not asking you whether you understand how everything will work out but is Jesus a trustworthy enough for you to trust him? If not then whatever else you are you are not a Christian for a Christian is a person who trusts himself to the Saviour.
Simon did as he was instructed and Jesus took care of the rest. Had he known that fish would be at that exact spot and in abundance at the exact moment when Simon would cast his nets? Or did he, who is elsewhere described as having all the powers and attributs of deity, simply command the fish to swim into Simon's nets? We don't know but then neither do we need to know – the event itself was extraordinary.
Simon recognised that as he felt the pull on the ropes and heard the cords of the net begin to snap. Something big was taking place. He quickly signally to his partners on the shore – he needed help – soon they were hauling a great catch of fish into their two small boats and those boats sunk lower and lower in the water as the fish filled them.
Simon the fisherman was overcome. He'd been fishing all his life and he'd had good days and he'd had bad days but he had never seen anything like this before and he was overwhelmed by it all – they were all absolutely astonished by what had happened, this man Jesus was astonishing!
Simon knew Jesus as Master – it was a title of honour and respect – but now confronted by such demonstrations of power and control Simon's appreciation of just who Jesus developed significantly. Amidst the pile of slippery, shiny fish Simon fell at Jesus' knees as the latter sat in his boat. If Simon respected Jesus before he is more deeply moved now and feels himself to be totally undone in Jesus' presence. Listen to how he now speaks:
v.8 "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
There are two things in what he says to which I want to draw your attention:
1. He calls Jesus no longer Master but Lord. Now although that word can sometimes simply be used to mean something akin to our word "Sir" it was also the word regularly used in the Greek Translation of the OT to refer to Jehovah, God himself. And it would seem that this understanding fits best with the current context. Jesus has been teaching God's Word with authority. He has spoken with authority to Simon commanding him to let down his nets in order to take a catch. He has filled those nets to breaking point with a catch the like of which he, Simon, has never seen before. Who is this astonishing man? In Simon's parlance he is the Lord.
2. In harmony with this is Simon's sudden awareness of his own state and condition in the presence of this amazing man – Simon is conscious of his sinfulness and can't do anything but fall down before this Lord. To the man or woman who knows his/her Bible this is quite simple what men do in the presence of God:
Gen.17:27 "Abraham answered and said, "Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.""
Is.6:5 "And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!""
Job 42:5-6 "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
How do you react to Jesus? Is your reaction anything at all like that of Simon's here? Simon and all those with him found what Jesus did to be astonishing – are you astonished by Jesus? If you are not I wonder have you ever truly met this most remarkable of men for as I read my Bible I find that he was regularly producing exactly this kind of reaction. Scattered through the gospel accounts of his life I find the words astonished, amazed and marveled being some 50 times to describe the reaction Jesus provoked.
What do you know of this man Jesus?
Up to this point Simon had been a fisherman – his life had revolved around fishing and the catches he needed to make in order to support himself and his family.
And now what has happened?
He's just taken the biggest catch of his life and… it doesn't satisfy him because he has discovered something or rather someone far far more important than those fish and hearing and heeding his call Simon will never be the same again!
Simon was overwhelmed, he knew no-one else like this One, he wanted to honour and serve this one and yet he felt entirely unworthy of doing so. In his disarray he pleads with the Lord to depart from him but in his heart of hearts that is the very last thing that he wants Jesus to do.
And in a measure every true Christian experiences something of the same. When we encounter the real Jesus our self-centred cockiness must disappear. No longer can we think that Jesus is lucky to have us on his team as it were but we realise that there is nothing at all about us that could ever deserve the immense honour of belonging to him. The more we think about him and what he has done the more amazed we become that he could ever be interested in us, in me.
Simon has come face to face with the Divine Christ – he might not yet have a very clear understanding and he may yet still make many mistakes but he can't ever be the same again. And it is an encounter that initially produces this characteristic fear of a sinful man in the presence of a Holy God.
How kind Jesus is to him! How kind Jesus is to each and every returning sinner who begins to recognise the immense moral gulf that divides all of us from him!
Jesus doesn't do what Simon requests – he doesn't depart or abandon him – instead he tells him not to be afraid, a command that is found repeatedly in the Scriptures as God comes to men in order to save and not to destroy them.
Instead of rejecting this self-confessed sinner Jesus transforms his life so that from that moment onward he would never be quite the same ever again. Simon had been a fisherman but from now on, having met and understood something of who Jesus is and something more of who he was himself, Simon will have a new trade – from now on he will fish for men. Of course Jesus is talking about him becoming one of his disciples. As a disciple he would be sent out to share the good news about Jesus and the Kingdom of God with others. And as that good news was to be proclaimed men and women would be brought into the Christian faith.
What a turning point this day proved to be for Simon. It had begun during the dark hours of the night with hours of fruitless toil and labour – had he kept a diary he was probably thinking about what to say, something like "A bad night". But as he cleaned his nets Jesus came by to teach the word of God. Then came that strange command – how glad Simon was that he had not stubbornly refused to do what had at first sight seemed to him so pointless. He'd seen miracles before but while they had brought him to respect Jesus they hadn't shown him what this remarkable day's catch had. All those emotions had surged through him and Jesus had set him on a new path in his life – life would never be the same again.
That is what happens when men and women meet the real Jesus of the Bible. Oh yes, many of us may well imagine that we are weighing up the pros and cons of what he says of what he offers but then we discover that is not him in the dock after all it is us! We know what he tells us to do – he tells us to give up on our own ways, to abandon sin and to recognise that we have fallen short – but we can't see how it will all pan out. Will I lose too much? I wonder did Simon think he might be mocked by his fellow fishermen as they saw him setting out to do something so foolish as to fish in broad daylight?
But Simon acted at the word of Jesus and the confirmation quickly followed that he had been right to do so.
And what about you today? Maybe some of you do need to hear more and to understand more but then again maybe you have already heard enough, you've already understood enough – enough, I said, not everything but enough. Will you trust and obey as Jesus summons you to repentance and faith? Will you call out to him today for mercy and for grace? Will you plead with him to forgive you your sin and give you the immense privilege of taking you to be one of his disciples?
Will today be that turning point you need in your life?
And what of those of you who have already experienced that turning point in your own life? For you who have understood enough and who have become Christians? Well, live for Jesus – don't go back to the world and its values – remember "fish" don't supply the ultimate satisfaction. Make it your aim to get to know this extraordinary man better and better and to make him known to others too.
May God be pleased to bless his word to us this morning.