The Call of the Disciples–Luke 5:1-11

Preached at United Reformed Church on January 24, 2021

In our scripture lesson, Jesus calls Simon Peter and his business partners—Andrew, Peter’s brother, along with James, John and, to become his first disciples.  The first three books of the New Testament are often called the Synoptic Gospels, because Matthew, Mark and Luke share a lot of material in common.  However, Luke’s account of Simon’s call has some significant differences from the other two books. 

For one thing, Luke focuses primarily on Peter. He is the only one mentioned by name.  James, John and Andrew are there, but only in the background.  In the other Synoptics, all four disciples are named and all of them are front and center.

For another thing, Luke records some significant conversations between Simon and Jesus, that are not mentioned in Matthew and Luke.

Finally, Luke provides an intriguing back story that is missing from the other accounts.  In Matthew and Mark, it seems Jesus is walking by the lake shore, finds four random fishermen, who have never met Jesus before, and when Jesus calls them to be his disciples, they drop everything to become his disciples.  I’ve always had a hard time understanding this version of the story, because what person in the right mind leaves everything to follow a complete stranger?  That sounds more like a cult than an act of faith.  If I’m going to commit myself to a leader, I want to know more about his character and what he stands before I sign on the bottom line.  And so I’ve always felt that the disciples had to know Jesus before they signed up and that there is more to the story than Matthew and Mark tell.

That’s why Luke is so important because he fills in the back story and shows us that Simon knew Jesus before Jesus stepped onto his boat.  To understand this, we need to turn back to chapter 4

In chapter 4 verses 31-41, Just prior to our story this morning, Luke tells us that Jesus was preaching and healing in the town of Capernaum at the synagogue.   His message was the same one that he had given in Nazareth

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,

And Jesus not only preached this good news but he backed it up by releasing a man from bondage to a demon. 

Now Simon Peter had to be there while Jesus was preaching and healing because afterwards Simon, invited Jesus to his home for supper.  And while he was there, according to verse 38, Simon asked Jesus to heal his mother-in-law who was suffering from a high fever.

Now I want you notice something very important. This fever was probably life-threatening.  In our day with the advent of antibiotics and aspirin, fevers are not such a big deal, but there were no such medicines in Jesus’ day.  One of my seminary professors was a missionary to India during the 50s and the 60s and he told us that even then it was not uncommon for people in India to get a fever and to die within a couple of days.  So this was a big deal for Simon and his family.  And Jesus healed her so completely that she was able to get up and to help serve supper and welcome Jesus to their home. 

After supper, Luke tells us in chapter 4 verse 40 “As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and Jesus laid his hands on each of them and cured them.” 

All of this means that Simon was not a complete stranger when Jesus stepped onto his boat.  Simon had listened to Jesus preaching in the synagogue, he had watched as Jesus healed his mother-in-law and he had seen Jesus heal many other people right in Simon’s own house.  Simon had experienced enough of Jesus to make a good assessment of Jesus’ message, his character, his authority and his power. And Simon must have been favorably predisposed to Jesus

After spending the night at Simon’s house, chapter 4:42-44, tells us that Jesus left Capernaum and travelled around “proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.”  This means that when Jesus and Simon again meet in chapter 5 they haven’t seen each other for a few days or maybe even a few weeks. During that time Peter must have been mulling over what he had seen and heard from Jesus.

And that brings us to this morning’s story.  When we next meet Jesus he is standing on the lake shore surrounded by a crowd of people.  This is not in the town of Capernaum, rather the people have followed Jesus out into the countryside and in their excitement have surrounded him, pressing in to listen to him and to have him heal their sick.

Simon, meanwhile, has landed his boats on the shore not far from where Jesus and the crowd are and he is busy rinsing out the flotsam and jetsam that got entangled in the nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing.  Robert Williamson and Amy Robertson have a podcast called, “Bible Worm,” and I like how they describe what happens next. Robert Williamson says: 

Jesus sees the boat of this guy he knows and Simon sees Jesus who has done this thing for him (healed his mother-in-law), so now they are trusting each other a little bit based on a prior relationship.

And Amy Robertson continues:

And this brings out the human vulnerability of Jesus.  There’s an overwhelming number of people and although they’re not trying to hurt him, Jesus needs some space. So as I picture it, Jesus’ casts his eyes about and sees one familiar face. It’s as though Jesus says, “At least I’ve met you before.  I gotta throw my lot in somewhere, because I need backup, so I choose you.” https://www.biblewormpodcast.com/e/episode-221-leaving-it-all-behind-luke-51-11/

And Simon graciously helps Jesus out by bringing him on board.

Now when Jesus has finished his sermon, he says to Simon, “Let’s go fishing.” 

I think Jesus had two reasons for saying this:  a practical reason and a deeper reason.  The practical reason is that Jesus needed to get away from the crowd a little while.  Any preacher will tell you that preaching is hard work and it can leave you very drained.  Jesus realizes that if he goes into the middle of the lake with Simon, he will have a couple hours of peace and that by the time they get back the crowd might be gone.

The deeper reason is that Jesus sees something in Simon.  Jesus has a dream for Simon that will change his life. Jesus realizes that if he goes fishing with Simon, he can catch Simon in that dream.  Simon thinks they are fishing for fish, but Jesus knows he is fishing for Simon.

Simon’s immediate reaction is one of objection.  Simon says, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”

There are actually two parts to this objection. First, this a “professional” objection. “Jesus, you are a carpenter, we are fishermen.  If we the professionals couldn’t catch fish, what makes you think that you will be more successful?”

Second, this is a “technical” objection.  There is a good reason that fishing is done at night and not during the day.  The reason is that in Jesus’ day the fishermen something called a “trammel net.”  “Trammel nets were fished in five or more sections, each about 100 feet long, and tied together to form a straight line or curved to enclose a school of fish.” (source: Trammel Nets (memphisnet.net).  They were made not of interwoven twine but of linen cloth and would have been visible to fish during the day. (Joel B. Green. The Gospel of Luke (p. 232). Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1977)

But in spite of his hesitations, Simon responds to Jesus by saying, “Master… if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  David Guzik, points out “

The particular ancient Greek word Luke used for Master (epistata) is unique to Luke’s Gospel. The word has the ideas “commander,” “leader,” or perhaps even “boss.” With this title, Simon showed he was willing to take orders from Jesus. (David Guzik, Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/luke-4/)

Simon has seen enough of Jesus in action that he is willing to take a risk and obey him.  And so they put out once again into the deep parts of the lake with miraculous results.  They catch so many fish that their boats are about to sink.

Now what’s interesting to me is Simon’s reaction.  For all practical purposes he has just won the lottery.  He just made the biggest catch of fish of his life that will guarantee him some financial security for months to come.  If I had been Simon, I would have jumping and down and whooping for joy.

But Simon, doesn’t jump, doesn’t whoop, but instead he falls at Jesus feet and says, “Go away, Lord, for am a sinful man.”  Notice that his reaction is very different than those of the people of Nazareth.  The people of Nazareth thought the Jesus owed them because they were good people and that therefore Jesus had an obligation to take care of them. They were excited about their good fortune and couldn’t wait to see what would do for them. 

Simon however is not overwhelmed by his good fortune; rather, he is overwhelmed by his holy master.  Whenever someone meets God in the Bible they always experience a sense of inadequacy.  They recognize that God is so much bigger than the petty concerns of their own lives.  Simon’s experience mirrors that of Isaiah whom we studied a couple of months ago.  When Isaiah saw the Lord, he said, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  When Simon encounters the Lord Jesus, he says, “Go away, Lord, for am a sinful man.”

Now you may be saying, that’s kind of bummer.  I thought knowing God was supposed to bring joy and happiness, not make you feel inadequate.  And yes God wants to bring joy and happiness to our lives, but the first step to that joy is to realize that life isn’t all about you. God is God, and you’re not.  It’s only when you recognize the holiness and transcendence of God that you can find my true place in this world.  That’s what’s happening with Simon.  Instead of focusing on his own good fortune he recognizes that he has come face to face with God.

Simon is now caught up into something much bigger than himself.  Jesus doesn’t leave him in his inadequacy, but instead calms his fear and gives him a mission. “Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Earlier I said, that while Simon was fishing for fish, Jesus was fishing for Simon.  Well this is the moment that Jesus sets the hook.  From now on, Simon will belong totally and unconditionally to Jesus and he will have a bigger mission for his life than he could have ever dreamed. From now on Simon will be fishing for people even as Jesus has fished for him.

Elisabeth Johnson, professor at the Luther Institute of Theology in Meiganga, Cameroon, sheds some light on what this idea of fishing is all about.  She says,

The Greek word for “catching” used here (zogron) is rare in the New Testament, but means “to catch alive.” Of course, fishing with nets was a matter of catching fish alive, but those live fish would soon be dead. Here Jesus calls Simon and his partners to a new vocation of catching people so that they might live, a life-giving vocation of being caught up in God’s mission of salvation for all. (Commentary on Luke 5:1-11 – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary)

Simon lived up to Jesus expectations.  On the day of Pentecost, he cast a wide net, proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.  The number of people who believed the gospel was even greater than that first miraculous catch of fish.

Simon’s mission is also ours.  We also are called to catch people alive and help them to know the life and love of Jesus our Savior.   

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