A large section of the Gospel according to Luke tells how Jesus gathered His inner circle of disciples—men whom He gave special instruction and training, so that they might take up the work of spreading the Gospel message.
The disciples chosen came from various vocations in life—fishermen, tax collectors, political zealots, and other ordinary people. Jesus takes weak, sinful human beings and transforms them into useful vessels for God’s service.
The lesson in Luke 5 centers on the call of four fishermen to become disciples of Jesus. Jesus had contact with Peter and Andrew, and James and John, early in His ministry (down in Judea), but it seems that they had returned to their business of fishing.
Now, about a year later, as Jesus was ministering by the Lake of Gennesaret, it was time for Him to officially call them—and begin training them to carry on the work He had for them to do.
“As the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two [boats] standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the [boats], which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the [boat]” (Luke 5:1-3).
The group of fishermen had worked all through the night without catching any fish. At dawn, they brought their boats to the shore, ate breakfast—and under the warming sun they began the tedious task of washing and mending their nets. They cleaned out the weeds and other debris that had tangled in the nets. When the nets were dry, they would be folded and put back into the boat, ready for the coming night, and for another night of fishing.
On this particular day, the monotony was broken by the presence of a multitude of people who had gathered to hear Jesus proclaim the Word of God (verse 1). The crowds were pushing in farther—and so to avoid the crush, Jesus decided to get into Peter’s boat.
He asked Peter, and perhaps Andrew (Mark 1:16 says that Andrew was also present)—to push out from the shore a little way so that He could address the crowd from the boat.
The Lake of Gennesaret was another name for the “Sea of Galilee.” Gennesaret is named after the fertile plain that lies on the northwest.
The Sea of Galilee was named after the province of Galilee, the region where it was located. It was also sometimes called the “Sea of Tiberias”—named for the city of Tiberias (which was built by Herod) along the shore of the Lake.
The Sea of Galilee is shaped like a pear. It is thirteen miles long, seven miles wide, and 150 feet deep. The surface of the water is more than 600 feet below sea level. The Sea is surrounded by mountains on several sides, and thus (the high hills and the deep depression of the lake) make it subject to sudden storms.
When Jesus had finished speaking to the multitude of people, He said to Peter, “Launch out into the deep [water], and let down your nets for a draught” (verse 4)—that is, for a draft [a catch] of fish. The Old English word draught [or draft] means “something pulled or drawn”—and therefore refers to fish when they are drawn into a net.
Jesus was asking Peter, a man who had not slept all night—and now was working hard to clean the nets early in the morning—to row the boat out into the deep water, in the middle of the day, and take up the task of fishing with the nets.
There were several problems with the suggestion:
1) Peter’s professional experience with fishing told him that there was no chance for a successful catch during the middle of the day—out in deep water. It was a well-known fact that in the Sea of Galilee, you caught fish at night, in shallow water, not in the daytime in deep water! (Fishing was usually the best during the night while the fish were active and feeding closer to the surface.)
2) Another problem had to do with Jesus, a carpenter by trade—telling an expert Galilean fisherman (a man who had spent his life fishing in the Sea of Galilee)—to try and catch fish in the middle of the day!
The key words in this entire lesson are found in verse 5. Peter responded, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”
Peter obeyed the instruction which Jesus gave, even though he couldn’t see any rhyme or reason to what Jesus was saying. The theme of the lesson in this article is “Obedience.” That’s what Peter did. He obeyed the Word of the Lord—and every believer should set out to do likewise!
1. The Importance of Obedience (Luke 5:1-9)
The word “obey” means “to carry out, or to comply with the will of another.” Obedience is prompted within us by acknowledging the other person’s rightful authority.
God’s commands for the Christian are never intended to become a burden for us (1 John 5:3).
Salvation comes by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
There is no other name by which we can be saved. But faith “becomes saving faith only when it is validated by obedience.” Our Anabaptist forefathers said, “It is a tragic mistake to think about being right with God—without being obedient to His Word.” Obedience is commanded throughout the Scriptures:
In the Old Testament:
Deuteronomy 11:26-28 “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God . . . and a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God . . . .”
1 Samuel 15:22 “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”
In the New Testament:
John 14:21 “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.”
Matthew 7:21 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
Matthew 7:24 “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock . . . and it fell not.”
Acts 5:32 “We are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.”
2 Thessalonians 1:7b-8 “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”
Hebrews 5:9 “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”
1 John 2:3-4 “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
Revelation 22:14 “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”
Obedience to the Lord means absolute surrender to doing God’s will. “Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing; nevertheless, at thy word, I will let down the net” (verse 5).
I will obey. I’ll do what You say.
A. W. Tozer says, “To escape the error of salvation by works, [many professing Christians] have fallen into the opposite error of teaching salvation without obedience.”
There are a number of preachers whom some hold in high esteem, who emphasize the grace of God at the expense of teaching obedience to the “all things” of the Word of God (Matthew 28:20). They may not be teaching a false gospel, but they are presenting an incomplete gospel. They say, “You Wesleyans, and Mennonites, and Brethren—you believe in salvation by works!”
But there is a difference between good works and obedience. Good works are warm deeds of love springing from a right attitude toward God (they speak of service). Obedience is the act of earnestly carrying out the instructions of another (it refers to compliance).
The tendency to down-play obedience springs from an eagerness to magnify the grace of God, and God’s grace is vast and glorious in its magnitude—but it’s always dangerous to isolate one Bible truth, and press it to the limit—without regard to other Bible truths that are related to the issue.
In the Christmas story—when Joseph learned that Mary was expecting a child, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took Mary as his wife, and had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son, “and he called his name Jesus.”
Joseph did precisely as the angel had instructed—but he did not understand the how and the why of this whole thing. Joseph was puzzled about the matter—nevertheless he acted in simple faith on the word of God’s messenger. He believed that the word from God was true, and he complied with what God had said. Joseph was an obedient servant of God.
Like Joseph, we should seek to obey the teachings of the New Testament—even though we may not always know the reasons why God issues certain commands.
I don’t know why women are to be submissive to their husbands.
I don’t know why God chose the blood of Christ to save us.
I’m not sure why God has ordered men to pray with their heads uncovered.
Is there any command in Scripture that you are not willing to obey? For example, in these days of rampant immorality—on television and on the Internet, and DVDs—are you willing to obey God’s command in Romans 13:14,“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh”? Don’t make it easy for the flesh [evil desires] to gain control in your life.
Some say, “But what’s going to happen to those who believe in Christ, but decide to disobey clear mandates of the Bible?” If God, in His mercy, sees fit to accept those who have not obeyed His will—that is His business. But we must remember that no one can have the absolute assurance of salvation if he is not willing to obey the commands of Scripture (see 1 John 2:4)!
Verse 6 of our lesson in Luke 5—says that when Peter and Andrew obeyed the Lord, and went out on the lake—in daytime, and into the deep waters, they caught “a great multitude of fish”—so many in fact, that the net broke, and verse 7 says they had to call their partners in another boat to come and help them. And both boats were so full that they were beginning to sink!
We are to obey the Lord’s commands—whether we understand them or not, whether we like them or not, and whether we agree with them or not. And that’s what Peter did. He went out into the deep waters and let down the net—and the boat overflowed with fish. They were spilling out everywhere!
Verse 8 says that when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” In the rush to salvage all the fish—something profound began to dawn on Peter’s mind.
Peter was aware that what was happening was not an accident. Obviously, only God could arrange to produce such a catch of fish in the middle of the day—and with words of deep respect, Peter asked Jesus to depart. Peter was so overwhelmed by the miracle, that “he fell down at Jesus’ knees” (verse 8), and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
Peter was convinced that One greater than man was in his boat! He sensed that he was in the presence of deity, and so he knelt to worship Jesus—and in humility confessed his sinful state, and his unworthiness to stand in the presence of the Lord.
Peter did not feel worthy of such a blessing. In the presence of Jesus, his soul flooded with a sense of his own tendencies toward evil, and the shallowness of his heart. He knew he was a sinful man—and therefore Peter was amazed that God worked through him!
The thing that is most natural to the heart of man—yet the most hateful to God—is pride. When we once have a true vision of who God is—like Peter, we will sense that we are pretty small pebbles on a pretty big beach! Humble persons are the kinds of people that God can use.
2. The Call to Fish for Men (Luke 5:10-11)
Jesus responded to Peter’s humility, by saying, “Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men” (verse 10b).
So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him (verse 11). Immediately, Peter and Andrew, and James and John (named in verse 10), left everything, and followed Jesus. These four disciples devoted their lives to fishing for men.
This was a permanent commitment on their part, and whenever the twelve disciples are listed in the New Testament, Peter and Andrew, and James and John, are named first.
There is no greater call than to cast nets for Jesus and to minister the truth of Scripture to people who need to find the way to eternal salvation. One of Peter’s first experiences in catching men, came on the Day of Pentecost when“they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
A short time later, about the time he was reprimanded before the Sanhedrin, his catch grew to five thousand souls (Acts 4:3-4).
Jesus does not require all His followers to let everything behind and go out as traveling evangelists—but He does expect us to be witnesses for Him as we live our lives from day to day.
What are some pointers for fishing for men?
1. Sometimes just being a friend is the point of contact. When meeting a stranger, we can just smile; often that is as far as it goes; other times it leads to a conversation.
2. Sometimes the title of a book becomes the springboard for a conversation. I was reading a book entitled World Aflame (by Billy Graham), which led to a question from a man on an airplane while flying in a major storm—and he listened to what I had to say with much eagerness.
3. Sometimes a wisely chosen tract is a useful point of contact. Say to an acquaintance, “Here’s something that helped me; I’m sure it will help you; I hope you will read it sometime.”
4. Sometimes ordinary conversation gives opportunities to witness. When people discuss world conditions, ask them, “What do you think is wrong with the world?” Then quote Mark 7:21-23.
5. Ask questions like: “By the way, do you have any interest in spiritual things?” or “Have you ever thought of becoming a Christian?” or “Suppose someone would ask you, ‘What is a Christian?’ what would you say?”
A witness is one who knows by experience and simply tells what he has felt in his heart and has seen with his eyes. We need a sense of compassion, a simple knowledge of the Bible, and the use of some tactfulness when speaking with others.
Help us, Lord, to be a life-line
To a dying world today,
Bringing hope to hopeless people—
Telling them—that Christ is the only way.
We are to proclaim the Gospel in season and out of season—by any means that are legitimate, including by tongue or by pen, by speaking or by writing—in large crowds, or on an individual and person-to-person basis.
The major lesson in Luke 5 is this: There is a blessing in simple, unquestioning obedience to every plain command of Christ. And then winning people to faith in Christ is an additional duty assigned to God’s people. We start with our families—our children, our cousins, our close friends. The command in Acts 1:8 is clear: “You shall be witnesses unto me.”
Howard Hendricks was traveling by train, sitting on his seat in the coach—reading the Bible. An attendant came by, and said, “What are you reading?” Hendricks said, “I’m reading a book written by my Father.” The attendant said, “Your father wrote a book?”
By now she caught on—and said, “That’s a Bible!”
She said, “Are you a Christian?” He said, “Certainly!—Are you?” That encounter began a healthy conversation about the Lord, and His plan of salvation.
If you have never bowed humbly before the Creator of the universe and given your heart to Christ—today is the time to do it. Jesus died for you; He wants to forgive you; He wants to deliver you from the grip of evil habits that are haunting you, and deliver you from the guilt that has troubled you for a long time.