Think about that for a moment. When Jesus speaks, nothing remains the same; everything changes (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1–3). His voice sustains the cosmos, cleanses the leper, and raises the dead. You do realize that He could have commanded the fish to jump from the water into the boat? He doesn’t need the help of people, but He does make use of it: “Let down your nets again.” That word cost them dearly: they had toiled all night, their muscles were sore, their nails were ragged, and they wanted to go home (in fact, they should have been home hours earlier). Now they faced the prospect of hauling well over a thousand pounds of wet nets back into the boat. Peter was understandably nonplussed: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5; emphasis added).
The key detail to note is that Jesus uses our efforts when we listen to Him and obey His Word. Fishing is not a sport for the couch potato. You have to get up, gather the right equipment, select the right bait, and head down to the water. You have to do something, or you’ll catch nothing. It’s exactly like that with evangelism. We have to go and make disciples. Jesus has told us how this is to be done: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20). The principle is clear: when it comes to advancing His kingdom on earth, sometimes God works against us, often He works despite us, regularly He works through us, but only very rarely does He work without us.
If the Lord Christ told you personally to go and fish for men (and He has), where would you go, and what would you say? If you had the man-fishing mind-set at work, at the gym, in the line at the grocery store, at the fence with your neighbor on a Saturday afternoon, talking with other parents (or grandparents) at a child’s sporting event, what would change about the way you approached these opportunities?
Jesus Exposes Our Need
We learn this lesson in Peter’s reaction to the miracle. Moments before, he had been grumbling at the thought of fishing; now He was groveling at the feet of Jesus, “Depart from me,” he said, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” In a devastating moment of clarity, Peter saw his Savior and he saw himself—a sinner (Luke 5:8, 30). This is what the Pharisees thought of tax collectors and harlots. Now, it was Peter’s assessment of himself. This is where all ministerial usefulness begins. The gospel we offer to others is the very same one we need ourselves. We must feel this need if we are to share our faith effectively. Do you still feel Paul’s amazement: “He loved me and gave Himself for me”? Or, God forbid, have you outgrown your felt need for Christ?
Jesus Commands Our Devotion
“And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11). Luke is not merely describing the disciples’ agenda for the rest of the day; He is describing their agenda for the rest of their lives. They left everything to follow Jesus. When we see who Jesus is and who we are, nothing less will do. This is the prerequisite lifestyle of an effective man-fisher. Is it yours?
What does this look like in real life? Let me introduce you to John Harper. In the spring of 1912, John, a widower, booked a ticket for himself and his daughter on the greatest ship in the world, the RMS Titanic. On that fateful, foggy April night, once it became clear the ship was sinking, John put his daughter on a lifeboat, bade her farewell, and turned and began sharing the gospel with everyone around him. When the ship foundered, he jumped into the water and swam from survivor to survivor sharing Christ with them. One man steadfastly refused to listen, even though he had no life jacket of his own. In response, John took off his life jacket and gave it to the man, saying, “Sir, then you need this more than I do.” The man was so convicted by John’s faith that he received Christ moments later. While John had strength, he swam on relentlessly, sharing Christ with everyone he met. At the last, when he could swim no more, just before he sank beneath the surface for the last time, people heard him cry out, “He that believeth in the Son of God shall be saved.”
How does one even begin to emulate such an example? Well, like almost everything else in the Christian life, it all begins with a purpose and a promise: “Follow me,” Jesus says (there’s the purpose), “and I will make you become fishers of men,” and that’s the promise.