Jesus repurposed Simon Peter’s career and made him a fisher of men. What can we learn from his story? Andy Hawthorne explores
I recently met with a church leader and he said something that really encouraged me. ‘The thing about The Message is that you won’t ever let the church forget that we are all about fishing for men.’
That is really what it’s all about. The primary Christian call is to be fishers of men. It’s precisely what Jesus called Simon Peter and the early disciples to. In Luke 5 Jesus first commissions Simon Peter:
‘…He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets to catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down my nets.”’
My guess is that Simon Peter could really have done without this that morning. He’s a fisherman with no social security safety net. He fishes to feed his family. He’s been out all night and caught nothing – perhaps his family won’t be able to eat that day. And along comes a travelling preacher, telling the professional fisherman how to fish.
Little did Peter know that he was about to be swept off his feet by Jesus and his life would change forever.
‘When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break… When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! …Then Jesus said to Simon Peter, “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.’
Jesus’ miracle is remarkable – and I believe he wants to release similar miracles through us. But I think we can learn from what it looks like to fish Galilee-style when we think about sharing our faith and fishing for men.
You couldn’t have just gone fishing on the Sea of Galilee at night with no preparation. You had to wash and repair nets, make sure the boat was sea-worthy and plan your route. How fixed up is your part of the net? Are people going to slip through a hole with your name on it?
Fishing Galilee-style wasn’t easy – it wasn’t sitting on an idyllic lake with a Sunday paper and a flask. It was fighting along with a team of fishermen, grafting and working hard to bring in their catch. It was for tough guys who would give it all they’d got to bring in their catch. This is a beautiful picture of Christian mission.
You didn’t go fishing on your own. Instead you went with a large net and a team working together with a single focus. There’s no such thing as a single fisherman. In this business I need you and you need me. There’s no room for little, petty arguments. We’ll lose fish.
Being skilled and experienced and having the best equipment and buildings is all well and good, but we aren’t going to catch anything unless we cast our nets. How important is it that we keep putting our nets out there?
Back to the story. It’s three years later, and the disciples have been through the whole journey with Jesus. They performed miracles, healings and cast out demons. Jesus had invested in them massively. And then comes the incredible trial of the cross. Jesus dies a brutal death and it all goes pear-shaped. Simon Peter runs away weeping having denied Christ, and he goes back to what he knew – being the loud, foul-mouthed, angry fisherman that he used to be. Jesus had told Simon Peter to leave the fishing behind, and now he’s gone straight back.
In John 21 we find the story of another terrible night of fishing. Simon Peter and the others are tired and they hear a voice from the shore.
‘Friends, throw your nets on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’
Sound familiar? 153 fish jump into the nets at the word of Jesus. Peter doesn’t hang about. He takes off his robes, jumps in to the sea and swims as fast as he can toward Jesus. Together they have breakfast and Jesus recommissions him to be a fisher of men. And the good news is that Simon Peter really got it this time – and became one of the best fishers of men the world has ever seen.
We are meant to be people who go after others, and sometimes we all need reminding of who we are meant to be. It’s easy to get distracted by life and sidevlined by sin – just as Peter did – but the Lord is always working on his people to get us back to what it’s all about. We are called to be fishers of men.