Catching Men

In Dr. Luke’s history of the life of Jesus, he is indefinite as to time. As we look at how He called His disciples, for the second time incidentally, the first incident, the calling of Simon Peter, is unique to Luke; it has no parallel in the other Gospels.

1. Peter, 5:1—11

Gennesaret is another name for the Sea of Galilee. Jesus met His future “rock,” Simon Peter, right where Simon Peter lived and worked, and the first three verses illustrate, among other things, Jesus’ practical wisdom. Here was a very popular rabbi who had great crowds of people following Him, hanging on His every word. These crowds were so large that they were starting to cause Jesus problems. So Jesus did the most practical thing He could do:

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. (verse 3)

Our Lord ran out of land to stand on, so He grabbed a boat, launched out into the Sea of Galilee a few feet, and preached from the boat. It was a genius idea; He was free from the pressing crowd and the water and surrounding cliffs would act like a natural amphitheater, amplifying His voice so the crowd on the shore could hear Him. But not only that, of the two boats Jesus had to choose from, He chose the one that belonged to the very man He was wanting to become His disciple.

Peter was a professional fisherman, but not all that successful. Apparently he and his helpers had been out all night fishing and not caught a single fish. They must have heard Jesus teaching the crowd on the shore, and Peter must have been surprised when Jesus turned His attention to his fishing problem:

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” (verse 4)

It was another genius idea! Perhaps somewhat reluctantly, Peter followed Jesus’ practical idea and he caught a bunch of fish. In fact, they caught so much fish, the net started to fail and his boat started to sink. That says a lot about Peter’s nets and his boats, but it also says something about Jesus: when He tells you to do something, just do it! You’ll miss out on a lot if you don’t. Don’t ever doubt the Word of God, but if you do, do what it tells you to do anyway because you will always come out ahead of where you would have been otherwise.

In verses 6—11, Dr. Luke, the historian, stresses three main points in his narrative. First, we read about this great catch of fish. This isn’t the last time in His life that Jesus shows His knowledge of the fishing industry; a similar thing will happen a few years later, in John 21. Jesus, in fact, seemed to have an uncanny knowledge about all things pertaining to fish. One time He actually directed Peter to catch the one fish in the whole Sea of Galilee that had a gold coin in its mouth (Matthew 17:24—27)! It always pays to do what He tells you, literally.

Second, this miracle touched Peter and moved him greatly. It actually caused him to see his life as it truly was:

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (verse 8)

For the first time, Peter referred to Jesus as “Lord.” So with this one miracle, three things were accomplished: Peter’s business prospered, Peter saw himself in an accurate light, and He saw Jesus in an accurate light. In the presence of a holy God, a sinful man always trembles. This reminds us of what happened to the prophet Isaiah when God called Him to his prophetic ministry:

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)

We may wonder why this encounter moved Peter so much. Peter had, just in the previous chapter, witnessed a great miracle at the hands of Jesus; He healed Peter’s mother-in-law right in Peter’s own home (Luke 4:38, 39)! It’s because the miracle of the fish met Peter right where he lived; in the sphere of his life that was his very own and that he considered himself an expert in.

Third, is what Jesus said to Peter after the miracle catch:

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (verses 10, 11)

Here was the most important moment in Peter’s life; the turning point that would change everything for “the rock man.” From this point onward, Peter’s main vocation would change. He would always be a fisherman, but now his main duty would be “catching people.” Peter had been catching fish in order to kill. Now, he will be catching people in order to impart life. And this Peter did. It took a while, but on the Day of Pentecost Peter preached a sermon and caught 3,000 people in the net of the Gospel. And that was only the beginning.

2. Levi (Matthew), verses 27, 28

The calling of the tax collector is mentioned in all three Synoptics and comes after Jesus had encountered a variety of interesting people: demon-possessed people, a leper, and a paralyzed person. All these people had been set free from their suffering. Now Jesus comes to a tax collector, arguably the most evil person on earth. When Jesus first met Levi, Levi is seen engaging in his nefarious occupation: confiscating money from people on behalf of the government.

Of all people, the Jews hated tax collects or publicans the most of all. These people symbolized everything that was wrong with Israel during the time of Jesus. Every time they had to pay their taxes, the people were reminded that they were not truly free; they were living under the heavy thumb of Rome.

Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. (verses 27b, 28)

This was a major risk for Jesus, given the visceral hatred the people must have had for Levi, or Matthew. But Levi had to make a choice. As a tax collector he may have been hated by everybody, but he cried all the way to the bank. In choosing to follow Jesus, he would have to give up his lucrative business. Peter, James and John, when they followed Jesus, didn’t give up their careers. But for Levi, it was a must. And he did.

3. The team, 6:12—17

Verse 12 is vague, which is the way the good doctor liked to write history. This is actually the “third stage” of Jesus’ disciple-calling. We met some of these disciples earlier when Jesus went to Jerusalem, and later on while He was strolling along the Sea of Galilee, He called them to follow Him. They actually went back to fishing, at which time He called them again:

So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:11)

Now we come to the “third stage.” Out of an unknown number of disciples, Jesus will handpick a dozen to become His apostles.

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. (verse 12)

Why would the Son of God pray all night? Jesus was about to make a very important choice, and He needed to spend time praying before making that choice. If the God’s Son found it necessary to spend considerable time in prayer before making an important decision, how much more important is it for us to do the same thing? Much heartache and backtracking could be avoided if we followed our Lord’s example here.

Out of all the people following Him, Jesus ended up choosing 12.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Of the 12, one turned out to be a traitor, another denied Jesus but later repented, and they were always arguing among themselves. The Lord believed it was essential to pray an entire night before choosing these men. God does not always choose the people we would choose, but the people God chooses are always the ones perfectly suited to do His work:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

4. Requirements for discipleship, 9:23—27; 57—62

Following Jesus isn’t all gravy, and Jesus never presented it that way. These are among the most significant sayings of Jesus. Following Jesus involves the following:

  • A follower of Jesus must always be second to Jesus. Jesus must always be first. The will of Jesus must always come first.
  • A follower of Jesus must deny himself. This means that a follower of Jesus will depend on Jesus for everything. It doesn’t necessarily mean giving up food or music or something you really enjoy doing; it’s much deeper than that. Denying yourself means recognizing that the demands of Christ must always take priority over anything else in life.
  • A follower of Jesus must “take up his cross.” This means simply a full, total surrender to Jesus Christ. It means dying to self; being crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20). Bonhoeffer once said:

Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the Cross.

  • A follower of Jesus must be determined to follow Jesus no matter what. “Let him deny” and “take up” are both in the aorist tense, meaning a full conversion and full consecration. “Follow” is the present tense of continuous action, emphasizing a lifelong duty of ever single believer.

There is clearly a price to pay when you follow Jesus.

No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (verse 62)

In this group of verses, three characters with three responses to following Jesus are introduced.

  • The first character (verses 57, 58) professes the utmost willingness of follow Jesus. But a quick commitment is usually a shallow commitment. Jesus saw into the man’s heart and saw a selfish motive. Anyone who wants to follow Him must not do so for earthly gain (Matthew 8:18—22).
  • The second character (verses 59, 60) manifested a great deal of unwillingness. This man received a personal call from Jesus, planned on responding to that call, but had other things to do first. Jesus stressed to this man that his present call was more important than anything else.
  • The last character (verses 59, 60) said he wanted to follow Jesus, but wanted permission to do something else first. This man actually volunteered his services to the Kingdom of God, but wanted to postpone his work for Christ until his social obligations had been performed. Jesus is teaching here, as He had previously, that serving God must always come first; there are no exceptions.

The cost of following Jesus is steep. If we don’t put the needs of Jesus above everything else, no matter how important those “other things” may in fact be, we are not fit to follow Him. Once we put our hands to the plow in the Kingdom’s field, we are not to keep looking back.

The “Christian life” is really a life of discipleship. It is an all-or-nothing proposition; there are not “part-time” followers of Christ. Just as there is only One Way to heaven, there is only one path to get there: the path of discipleship.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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