They left all and followed him. 5:1-11


On this occasion Jesus has chosen to preach in the open air beside lake Galilee. The crowd presses in and so Jesus has to requisition a fishing boat as an improvised pulpit. Following the sermon Jesus tells Peter, the boat's owner, to push out from the shore and cast out his nets. The heat of the day is no time to fish, and in any case, they have worked all night and caught nothing, so, what's the point! Still, Peter obviously has some respect for this wondering rabbi and so does as directed. The resulting catch is overwhelming, and in response, Peter falls to his knees and cries out "Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man." His reverential fear, prompted by an awareness of his unworthiness, is met with kindly grace. Jesus invites Peter and his partners, James and John, to join him in catching people for the Kingdom of God. To this end they leave their boats and follow Jesus.

The passage

v1. Jesus is standing beside lake Gennesaret, or as it is more commonly known, lake Galilee, while a large crowd pushes in to hear him proclaim the message of the kingdom. The excitement of the crowd contrasts beautifully with the tranquility of the lake and of the fishermen cleaning up after their night of fishing.

v2-3. Beside the lake Jesus sees two boats where the fishermen are mending their nets. Due to the push of the crowd he decides to put one of the boats into service as a rostrum for his sermon. The boat, belonging to Simon Peter, is pushed out a little from the shore, and as is the custom, Jesus sits to teach while the crowd stands to listen.

v4-5. The sermon finished, Jesus asks Peter to undertake some more fishing. Peter is less than enthusiastic, but is willing to submit to Jesus. Note the address "master", rather than rabbi/teacher.

v6-7. The sign of the fish is now described in the terms of an amazing haul of fish, so large that the two boats begin to sink with the weight of the catch.

v8-10a. Peter (a shortened form of Simeon), along with his partners James and John, is "astonished" at the catch. He sees the catch as evidence of a messianic sign, a sign which demonstrates the authority of Jesus. If Jesus commands the fish, then he clearly has authority over mankind. Peter's recognition of Jesus serves only to expose his own inadequacies in the face of God. In the presence of the "Lord" Jesus, Peter's sinful nature is exposed. He prostrates himself and asks Jesus to step back from this unworthy servant.

v10b. Although divine power resides with Jesus, Peter and the others need not be afraid, cf. Lk.1:13, 20. A person's recognition of their unworthiness before God is the very basis of their acceptance by God. Yet there is more, the divine authority that gathered the fish, will gather people ("men") into the kingdom and Peter and his friends will share in this gathering of humanity. Under God's sovereign grace, Christ will do the gathering and if the disciples are willing to place themselves in the centre of his will, then they will become "fishers of men."



v11. Clearly, this small group of disciples accept Christ's assurance; they have nothing to fear and everything to gain. So, they set out with Jesus. Although this verse is often taken to mean that they abandoned everything they owned to follow Jesus, we know that the disciples continued to own property, including their fishing boats. The phrase simply indicates where their priorities in life now lie.

A confession and a commission

The substance of this story lies in the confession of Peter and his commissioning by Jesus.

Peter's confession is a powerful one. Long before Peter actually calls Jesus the "Christ" (messiah) at Caesarea Philippi, he recognizes his messianic credentials. In the presence of Jesus, Peter cannot stand upright, and so he declares "depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man." Peter senses his unworthiness in the face of Jesus. Even more so, he gives Jesus the messianic title "Lord" - The Lord of the fish is the Lord of mankind.

Peter's commission is one which is repeated often in the New Testament, Lk.9:20, 22:32, Jn.21:1ff, Matt.16:16ff. He, and the other disciples, are given the privilege of sharing in Christ's work of gathering a people to the living God. As they shared in gathering the fish, so now they will share in gathering "lost" humanity.

As Peter's confession is the "rock" upon which Christ builds his church, so his commission is the foundation task of the church. We are called to worship, and we are called to witness:

i] The lost are called to gather in adoration. We are called to bow before our Lord in recognition of our sin, but then to lift our heads in the comforting words "be not afraid." Let us gather with Jesus in the sure knowledge of our eternal acceptance in his sight, by grace through faith. In this privilege we share.

ii] The lost are called to proclaim their faith. We are called to witness for Jesus, to proclaim his gospel of grace to a lost and broken world. We are called to witness, in the sure knowledge that the lost are gathered by the sovereign grace of God operative through his proclaimed word. Let us share together in this wonderful privilege. Yes of course, not many of us are equipped to handle front-line missionary work; Jesus is not asking you to grab a box and start preaching on a street corner. What is asked of us is that we support gospel ministry: the ministry of the local church, of missionary societies, the Bible Society, and the like. By this means we participate in catching people for Jesus.


1. To what end does the sign of the fish serve?

2. Why is Peter so disturbed?

3. In what sense does Peter's commission apply to us?

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