[Luke 5:1-11] 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, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 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. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 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.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Being Fishers of Men
On the boat, out in the deep waters, Simon Peter, having seen the miraculous catch of fish – so abundant as to nearly sink two boats – Peter kneels before His Lord Jesus who is in the boat with him and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Jesus, speaking to Peter who is at His feet, responds to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” We often call this, “Being fishers of men” – “from now on, you will be catching men” – “you will be catching men alive”, in the Greek.
You sinful men and women – and sinful me – you and I are called to be catching men. You know it well – but are in need of a reminder – that you are each called by Christ, from your Baptism forward, to be catching men into the kingdom of God.
Simon Peter was a fisherman by vocation – and is still fishing at the end of the Gospel. Your call to be a fisher of men permeates all of your other vocations in life – your vocation as father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister, friend, grandfather and grandmother, worker or employee or employer – and your vocation of being a member of Christ’s congregation gathered here.
In every role God has granted you in life, God has put you in that role as one who, in that role, is there for the purpose of catching others into the Lord’s boat.
What does a fisher, a catcher of men look like? A fisher of men is one who is willing to cast the net into the deep because of the Lord’s command alone - not because of the success or lack of success that has been seen so far.
Peter and the others had worked all night without catching a thing – “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” “But”, Peter says, “at your word I will let down the nets.” Peter acts by faith, not by sight. All the empty nets he had seen all night would suggest the Lord’s command was futile. But Peter acts, not according to what he has seen, but according to what His Lord has commanded – “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” – Peter lets down the nets on the Lord’s Word alone.
Brothers and sisters, we do not live in encouraging times. It’s been a long night for the church in our whole nation. Loss and decline is the norm – has been for years. Disinterest in the Word of God is the expected reaction. For most of you, it’s your own children or grandchildren who have been missed by the net.
Now, after such a long night of seemingly empty toil, our energy is zapped, our tension is high – and our services are harmed – by this game of closing down, opening up, “when can I worship?”, “do I have to wear a mask?”, and so on. In addition, we were, and are, cut off from many people, and it’s not easy to reclose that gap.
Fruitless toil is winning the night. Nevertheless, what is the Lord’s command? “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.” [Matthew 28:19-20]
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” [Luke 24:46-47]
And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” [Mark 16:15]
You and I are not called to be discouraged by the night around us but to be men and women who act only by faith in the Lord’s Word and command to us: “Proclaim the Gospel.”
Faith believes that Christ’s Word is never ineffective nor is it futile. Instead, we are catchers of men who fish for others in the sure and certain belief that God’s Word is always fruitful: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” [Isaiah 55:10-11]
No farmer would despair over the few weeks that his fields appear empty. If the seed has been planted, and the sun shines, and rain comes down, then those seeds will sprout and the harvest will grow. And, at the Lord’s blessing, any fisherman can bring in a catch. It’s up to the Lord.
We live in a time when the Word of God written in our Epistle lesson today is especially true: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18]
The word of Christ’s cross – the good news that the Son of God has become man and has died for sinners – is foolishness to man’s sinful nature which believes itself to be righteous and wise. And we live in a time of being exceedingly wise and righteous in one’s own eyes. So, the night goes on.
Instead of being discouraged that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing”, we should be encouraged that the word of the cross “is the power of God to those who are being saved.”
Elsewhere, Christ has promised us that His sheep do hear His voice as He calls them by name [John 10:3-4,14-16]. And Scripture promises us “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples” [Revelation 7:9]. The net will be filled.
When and where the Lord willed, out the deep, Peter and the disciples caught a large catch. Peter responded, as we heard, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Another sinful man, Paul, formerly called Saul, who had been a violent man against the church, would later also be made a fisher of men. How can such sinners be made fishers of men for Christ’s holy kingdom?
How? Because the very net we cast, the very Word we preach and teach, is the Word of the forgiveness of sins – and a Word of new life for sinners.
The Word we proclaim is that Christ, God’s Son, who is holy and righteous, took upon Himself the sins of all the unrighteous and died on the cross in their place. He suffered on that cross hell and all punishment in every sinner’s place to set each of us free from it.
Then Christ rose from the dead in order to raise us from the dead – now, and forever – daily, hourly made new and newly alive, newly made holy, in Him.
Christ’s death and resurrection to save the ungodly and sinners – you and me – and to give a holy life is the net that is cast in the Word of God we speak. This net is the power of God for salvation for all who believe [Romans 1:16], and we have Christ’s Word that it will not return to Him empty. So, with confidence and fortitude, we cast for others this very same net that has caught us alive into Christ’s boat. Amen.