LESSONS FROM THE BEGINNING AND ENDING OF JESUS’ EARTHLY MINISTRY
LUKE 5:1-11 (CSB)
As the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear God’s word, he was standing by Lake Gennesaret. He saw two boats at the edge of the lake; the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats which belonged to Simon and asked him to put out a little from the land. Then he sat down and was teaching the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
“Master,” Simon replied, “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing. But if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.”
When they did this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets began to tear. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me because I’m a sinful man, Lord!” for he and all those with him were amazed at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s partners.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told Simon. “From now on you will be catching people.”
Then they brought the boats to land, left everything and followed him.
AT GALILEE: This account take place early in Jesus’ Galilean ministry on the northern shore of the Lake of Gennesaret near Capernaum, the traditional site of Simon Peter’s home.
At an earlier time, Capernaum was likely called Kephar Nahum, or, the village of Nahum, perhaps indicating the home of the prophet of the same name. Isaiah referred to this region as the Galilee of the nations, where the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Under Roman rule, the provinces of Galilee, Judah, and Samaria all fell under Herod’s reign.
Capernaum was the center of a densely populated region of the bicultural populations of Hellenism and Judaism. Hellenism exerted a pervasive influence upon dress, manners, politics and architecture; Judaism significantly influenced culture and religion. Following Herod’s effort to rid the region of robbers and repopulate it with Jews, the people of Judea despised the forced intrusion of the Galilean Jews.
After Jesus was scorned and rejected in Nazareth, he made Capernaum the center of his ministry. There, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and a paralytic, delivered a demoniac, raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and on the Sabbath days, taught in their synagogue.
THE EVENT: Following Jesus’ first meeting and call of Simon Peter, John, James and Andrew, the four men continued in their vocation as fishermen.
By then, Jesus had achieved enough notoriety to draw a crowd. On this occasion, he stands in Peter’s boat a short distance from the shore and speaks to the crowd. Once his teaching is done, Jesus tells Peter to move to deeper water and fish there.
Peter objects: “We have been fishing all night without success. Fishing is poor, Jesus, and the men are tired.” Nevertheless, the men honor Jesus’ instructions. Certainly, there are fish in the sea – tilapia, barbel, catfish, myrmyrus, perch, loach, and bream – perhaps they’ll catch some.
Amazingly, the nets bring in so many fish that the boats begin to sink. The men are astonished, but Peter alone seems to realize this is a supernatural occurrence – it is God who has caused this abundance of fish.
Peter’s response is natural for one finding himself in the presence of a holy God: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.
Jesus allays Peter’s fear: Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be catching people. Peter, Andrew, John and James leave their families, their boats and their livelihood to follow Jesus.
OBSERVATIONS: As their boat fills with fish, Jesus not only blesses them with a bountiful catch but ends their vocation: their nets and boats are rendered useless.
As they stand with him on the beach, no doubt they are anxious and doubtful; their means of livelihood has been taken away. Jesus assures his new disciples that their skills as fishermen are not to be lost but will be put to use in a different way.
This is not unlike how Jesus meets us today. It would not be unusual that as you first met Jesus, you were also led to a new and different lifestyles and perhaps even a new vocation, for as the Holy Spirit works within you, he gives you a new heart. As this change begins and as you set aside your old ways, you predictably experienced confusion and doubt, and perhaps even fear: What does this change mean to me? How am I to live it out? What must I give up?
… Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called ‘twin’), Nathaniel from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons and two others of his disciples were together.
“I’m going fishing,” Simon Peter said to them.
“We’re coming with you,” they told him.
They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When daybreak came, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not know it was Jesus.
“Friends,” Jesus called to them, “you don’t have any fish, do you?”
“No,” they answered.
“Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” he told them, “and you’ll find some.”
So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish.
The disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer clothing around him (for he had taken it off) and plunged into the sea.
Since they were not far from land (about a hundred yards away), the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there with fish lying on it, and bread.
“Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus told them.
So Simon Peter climbed up and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish – 153 of them. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
“Come and have some breakfast,” Jesus told them. None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you” because they knew it was the Lord.
THE EVENT. According to John’s account, Jesus has already appeared to Mary Magdalene and his disciples in the upper room. As does the first encounter with the fishing boats, this event likewise occurs on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee) at the end of Jesus’ ministry, following his crucifixion and resurrection.
Jesus is no longer with his disciples every day as they had been accustomed. Moreover, when he does appear, his countenance has changed, presumably into a glorified form; they are not always sure it is him.
After three years of following him, learning from him, being empowered by him for ministry, their first response is to return to what they know best, what they are most comfortable and familiar with: fishing for fish. Here is also the sense that Peter’s suggestion to go fishing was quite spontaneous and that it evoked a unanimous response; there appears to be no plan, no settled aim; the fishermen have been left without a definitive purpose. Too, there may also be economic reasons behind the decisions. From the Greek, this is understood as a temporary action which will give them a break from their confusion and allow them time to consider what they should do next.
As in the first account, the men again catch nothing. At dawn, Jesus appears, and, unrecognized by them, calls out from the shore, “How’s fishing? Do you have anything to eat?” The Greek prosphagion translates literally as a delectable tidbit, meaning cooked fish to be eaten with bread. In other words, a snack.
Once again, Jesus instructs them on how and where to fish. They obey, and they catch 153 (presumably large) fish – too many to easily haul all on board.
The disciples follow in the boat, towing the net full of fish. Unlike the account in Luke 5, this time, the net does not break. The disciples recognize Jesus. Impulsive Peter jumps in the water, eager to meet him. Jesus asks them for some fish, he cooks them and invites them to come and share in a light breakfast.
Although they recognize him, they’re still trying to put what’s happening into context: he was crucified, wasn’t he? Didn’t he die? And didn’t we see him in the room? Even though they want confirmation, no one dares to ask him, “Who are you, Lord?”
OBSERVATIONS: Again, Jesus meets the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This time, however, even though he provides them with a bountiful catch, their boats and nets are not destroyed. Although they are presumably equipped for ministry (even though they appear to be experiencing considerable confusion, doubt amid vestiges of grief), they’re now at a critical crossroad: shall we continue with the ministry Jesus has begun and passed on to us … or shall we continue with our earlier vocation of fishing?
According to John’s account in chapter 21, what Jesus does next is crucial to the continuance of the ministry: by his presence and provision for their immediate needs, he continues to support, encourage and empower the disciples; the relationship and ministry is not broken. For Peter in particular, he reinstates him to his grace with a charge for leadership … Peter is now to see to the nurture and equipping of the infant church.
All is centered on Jesus’ love being expressed in and through his disciples. Jesus makes it clear – you are not to depend upon one another but on the Holy Spirit … and don’t allow envy of one another to cloud your mission. Rather, focus on Jesus himself; the Holy Spirit take care of the details.
For Christians today, after the Holy Spirit has replaced your old heart with the new, after he has done much of his initial equipping of your heart, he releases you to engage the ministry he has prepared for you in advance. Your choice to voluntarily enter into the ministry he has prepared for you … or to revert to the patterns and behaviors of your former self.
Just as with Jesus and the disciples, the concern of the new believer is not to become a judge of someone else’s spiritual fruit, but how you bear your own spiritual fruit.
For all, the question is the same: shall I live this new life, abiding with Jesus as his obedient and loving servant … or shall I follow the way of the word?
The lake was known by several names: the Sea of Galilee was the common name; the official Roman name was the Sea of Tiberias, after the emperor of that time. The Hebrew name for the lake was yam kinneret, the Sea of Chinnereth (Num 34:11). Josephus and 1 Maccabees 11:67 referred to the lake as the Sea of Gennesaret, after its geographic position at the foot of the plain of Genessaret. The lake was fed by three separate streams, Bethsaida, Gennesaret, and Sennabris.
 Isaiah 9:1
 Luke 4:29-31
 Matthew 8:14-15; 9:1; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-40
 Ezekiel 36:26
 John 20
 Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:16; 24:36-37; John 20:14-15
 Luke 10:1
 Ephesians 2:10