Peter's First Boat: The Call to Fish for People
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Happy New Year everyone!
I am so excited about this series. It first started in my heart a year and a half ago!
We’re going to be talking about Peter and his three “boat moments”:) When God first sparked this series in my heart, I had been thinking about Peter stepping out of the boat and walking on the stormy water with Jesus. As I pondered this a little bit, something struck me:
Peter had three life-altering incidents in his life involving boats.
These were three catalyst moments, if you will. So that’s where we’re going with this series - Peter’s three “boat moments.”
Peter’s First Boat: The Call to Fish for People
Here’s what we know had already taken place based on the timeline constructed from all four Gospels:
Jesus had already begun His early ministry.
This was not Peter’s first encounter with Jesus, and Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:35-42).
Peter was already a disciple (someone who followed the teaching) of Jesus.
Okay, we’re going to read Luke’s account of the story because it gives us the most information:
1One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon [Peter], and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
This was the moment that changed Peter’s life forever.
Obey the Ask
When the crowd gathered around Jesus, He wanted to use Peter’s boat as a platform to be able to speak to the people. The passage says He asked Peter to “put out a little from shore.” That seems simple enough, but it still required something of Peter: time and availability. Peter was probably tired and somewhat disheartened because he had been fishing all night and hadn’t caught anything. He could have told Jesus as much, but he didn’t. He made himself available, and he did what Jesus asked.
Oh, here we go. Goodness I love God’s Word!
Our lives are a journey when it comes to obedience. In the beginning, the ask is clear, and the risk is small - maybe even nonexistent. But even if the ask is small, it still requires something of us: time and availability.
Peter’s availability and obedience, even in this smallest “yes,” set the stage for one of the most monumental moments of his life. His boat, his everyday vessel, was about to be used as a platform to reach people, as the backdrop for a miracle, and as the catalyst for his calling!
When God revealed this part of the story to me, it made me wonder how many times we miss opportunities simply because we don’t make ourselves available. It made me wonder...
how many times does our lack of availability cause Jesus to use someone else’s boat?!
If we’ll obey the ask, if we’ll simply make ourselves available to God, then we’ll watch God use whatever is in our hand, whatever vessel we have at the moment, as a platform to reach people! Peter’s boat had probably never been used as anything other than a vessel to catch fish. But God takes our ordinary and turns it into something extraordinary.
God can take whatever vessel we possess and turn it into a platform for the gospel!
Into the Deep
When Jesus had finished speaking to all the people, He turned straight to Peter and said to him, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
This is when it started to get real. Jesus’ “ask” this time probably took Peter a little off-guard because in the beginning of the story we see they had already washed out their nets from an unproductive night of fishing. So it didn’t make sense. In fact, the first part of Peter’s response to Jesus was, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.”
This wasn’t news to Jesus. Jesus knew they had fished all night. He knew they hadn’t caught anything, and He knew they had already washed out their nets. Yet, He told Peter to go back to his place of exhaustion and failure - this time with Him on board.
What we view as failure or an impossibility, God views as an opportunity.
When God called Moses to speak to Pharoah on behalf of the Israelites, Moses told God, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10).
When God called Gideon to lead Israel in battle against the Midianites, Gideon said, “But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15).
It’s natural for us to see the impossibilities first, but God calls us to the impossible because the impossible requires Him!
Impossibilities are simply the setup for miracles.
After Peter told Jesus they had already been fishing all night to no avail, he said, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
It didn’t make sense, but Peter obeyed anyway. And Jesus turned their lack of ability to provide for self into an AVAILability for a miracle.
Jesus set them up! Their failure was simply the setup for their miracle.
Jesus knew He was ready to call Peter and the others to a new level of discipleship - full-time, leave everything else behind, change-your-life-and-never-look-back kind of discipleship.
But Peter didn’t know that.
What if Peter hadn’t obeyed?
What if he had allowed his lack of understanding, his exhaustion, or his fear of looking foolish to determine his obedience? Not only would he have missed the miracle, but he might have postponed his calling! Furthermore, Peter’s obedience affected not only himself, but those who were with him. Peter’s companions who were in the boat also got to experience the miracle; and the miracle led the way for Peter, Andrew, James, AND John to be called to full-time discipleship that day.
Our obedience doesn’t only affect us. It also affects all those who are in close proximity to us!
The Compassionate Communication of Christ
Jesus could have just skipped it all and said to them, “Come on, leave everything behind, and follow me.” But He didn’t do that. Our God is so loving! Jesus wanted to show them Who He was before He asked them to leave it all behind. Jesus wanted to reach them in a way that spoke directly to them, in a way that was deeply personal.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen by trade and therefore spent much of their lives in boats. They knew fish, and they knew boats. So how did Jesus personally reach them?
With boats and fish!
Jesus spoke their language.
God knows how to reach us. He knows how to reveal Himself to us and draw us to Himself. He knows what we need to see and hear from Him even when we don’t. He speaks our language!
AND God speaks the language of those we are praying for. If you’re praying for someone today, rest assured that...
He Who created them knows how to communicate to them.
When Peter experienced this miracle, the personal revelation of Jesus’ divinity brought him to his knees and immediately caused him to feel an acute awareness of his sinfulness. His reaction reminded me of the story of Isaiah in which a revelation of God led Isaiah to an immediate awareness of his sinfulness. Just after he received a vision from God, Isaiah says this:
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then, few verses later, Isaiah says:
8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
9He said, “Go and tell this people...
When we experience a divine revelation of Jesus Christ, it changes us. It drops us to our knees, puts us face to face with our unworthiness, and ensures we will never again be able to go back to our old “normal.” It prepares us to receive the call of God. Our obedience is filled with desire and resolution when God’s power has been revealed to us - when He has spoken our language!
Peter had already met Jesus. He knew Who Jesus was and believed Who Jesus was. He was even already a follower of Jesus. But it wasn’t until this moment, until Jesus turned to him and gave him a personal revelation of Himself, that Peter was moved to his knees and ready to leave everything behind to follow Jesus.
Embrace the Mission
Even if the call to deeper discipleship for us doesn’t involve a vocation change, it will ALWAYS involve a furthering of our mission - to fish for people. God told Isaiah to “go and tell the people.” Jesus told Peter he would now “fish for people.”
The mission of discipleship is to make disciples.
Period. Always. It’s the Great Commission!
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
Sometimes, especially in our first world culture, we can get so caught up “fishing for fish” that we fail to remember our mission is to “fish for people.” Our earthly goals can quickly distract us from our spiritual mission, when they’re purposed to do just the opposite. Our jobs, the classrooms of our schools, our neighborhoods, our social networking (both digital and physical;), our homes - whatever our sphere of influence is in the season of life we’re in - is our mission field. It’s the place where our ordinary becomes God’s platform. It’s the place where we say to God, “here I am, send me!”
Our lives will continually be filled with new revelations about our God. Our whole lives Jesus will say, “ok, there’s more than what you know about Me now. I want to call you to deeper levels of discipleship because I have more for you to know and more for you to do.” Peter’s call to full-time discipleship was only the beginning for him. Jesus would later appoint him an apostle and would eventually use him to be foundational in building the early church.
But it all began with Peter’s first “yes.”
A Sovereign Provider
We’re going to wrap up this lesson with one last point. The Bible says Jesus’ immediate response to Peter’s recognition of his sinfulness was, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” Why would Jesus have told Peter not to be afraid?
We know Peter had a wife, which meant he possibly had a family. So when Jesus called Peter to leave behind his livelihood, He did so with a miracle that displayed His provision and His sovereignty all at once. He left Peter, and the other disciples he called that day, with a huge catch of fish which:
could be stored or sold in order to provide for their families for a very long time
reminded them that He Who was calling them was He Who would provide for them
Goodness gracious, sometimes I’m so overwhelmed at the love and grace of our God. Jesus didn’t just invite them to full-time discipleship, He revealed to them the power of the One they would be following. To calm their fears, He revealed to them His sovereign provision. He is Creator of the universe, the seas, and the smallest fish; and He is the God Who cares enough about our humanity to reveal to us what we need to see and hear in order to follow His call.
So this year, let’s resolve to remember that our mission is not to fish for fish, but to fish for people!
Oh Lord, thank You for the moments You have revealed Yourself to me in a way that speaks my language. Let me always be ready to respond to You by saying, “if You say so, I will do it.” Let the mission of “fishing for people” be passionate in my heart every single day. Help me not to allow the cares of the world to distract me from that to which You have called me. Amen.