The following is a slightly edited version of the devotional I gave the morning of our November door-to-door evangelism outreach in East San Jose, just before we began.
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. 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 5:1–11, ESV)
Verses 1-9 go into detail describing the experience of some fishermen on a particular occasion. And it’s all building toward the climax in verses 10 and 11 where Jesus changes them (“from now on”) from men who catch fish into men who catch other men.
And one thing that’s so helpful to see is that while the object of their pursuit changes (they pursue men rather than fish), the nature of their pursuit doesn’t change.
Whether you’re catching fish or catching men, the nature of fishing is the same. We see this in at least two ways looking at just verses 5 and 6.
- Fishing isn’t easy.
- It’s sometimes going to feel like a waste of time. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” (Luke 5:5a). After a whole night of fishing and having caught nothing, Peter must feel like he wasted an entire night because he ended up with the same number of fish in the morning as he began with the previous night. Zero. It will feel like a waste of time when you’re knocking on doors and so very few people even open the door. It will feel like a waste of time when you preach the gospel and are met with complete apathy. It will feel like a waste of time when the door gets closed in your face or when the person who answers the door tells you he’s not interested the moment he hears the name Jesus. A few months ago, Justin Madison called me up one evening on his way home from dinner with a non-Christian friend he’s spent much time preaching the gospel to and sharing his life with. Their time together that night had ended with this friend seemingly completely indifferent to the precious truths of the gospel. I could hear the frustration in Justin’s voice that evening as he poured his heart out to me expressing his discouragement, all of which was punctuated with the exasperated question: “Why is it so hard to get someone into the kingdom of God!?” In the same way that Peter felt the frustration of trying to get fish into his net, Justin was feeling the frustration of trying to get men into God’s kingdom.
- Because of this, you’re not always going to feel like doing it. When Peter says to Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” (Luke 5:5a), it’s in response to Jesus telling him to go fishing again (Luke 5:4) after he’s just spent the entire night fishing with nothing to show for it. Translation: You’ve gotta be kidding me! I don’t want to! I don’t feel like it! Last Saturday morning, I woke up with no desire to go fish for men. I was tired from a short night and long work week, my daughter was sick, our family is still at times overwhelmed by the needs of our infant son, and our marriage has had its challenges. I felt like I already had alot on my plate and I had no desire to add anything else. But Peter did end up casting his nets into the water again and I did end up going fishing for men that morning because (and that leads to the second thing that we see from these verses about nature of fishing)…
- Fishing is worth it.
- Because Jesus told you to.“But at your word…” (Luke 5:5b) Fishing is ultimately worth it because Jesus is worth it. These fishermen recognized the unrivaled authority of Jesus before He had even gone to the cross. If anyone else were telling us to go fishing again this morning after having caught nothing all night, there’d be absolutely no way. But because you said so… And here we stand on the other side of the broken body and spilled blood of the risen Christ as we hear His voice telling us: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and earth. Go therefore and make disciples… (Matthew 28:18-20)” How much more reason do we have to submit to the authority of Jesus than these fisherman had? Our feelings may tell us not to go fishing, but we dare not render to our feelings the obedience that the Lord Jesus alone is worthy of (Romans 6:16).
- Because Jesus rewards our obedience. “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking” (Luke 5:6). When we act in faith, God always rewards our obedience. Always, always, always. Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). And what’s so amazing is that He’s rewarding sinful and inconsistent men (Luke 5:8)! He might reward that obedience in the hour of our evangelism by converting the one listening. Or He might reward that obedience in the age to come. But, no matter what, our labor will never be without a reward (1 Corinthians 15:58), which is ultimately more of Christ (Genesis 15:1) in the ways that we draw near to Him (Hebrews 13:13), grow to know Him more (Philippians 3:10), and become more like Him.
Because fishing for men isn’t easy, we don’t set our expectations too high. But because fishing for men is worth it, we don’t set our expectations too low.
Fishing for men isn’t easy. But it’s totally worth it. Jesus is worth it.
So may we never grow weary of fishing for men. Because, after all, if we belong to Jesus, fishers of men is what He has made us to be as those who follow Him.
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 5:10–11, ESV)