Recently, a fellow pastor, who I was getting to know, asked me how I came to know Jesus. So I shared a bit of my story and asked him to share his story with me.
How would you answer that question? How did you come to know Jesus? Some might say it began at their baptism as a child. Their parents brought them to the baptismal font, raised them in the faith, and they have always known Jesus. Others might say it was through a Bible camp experience as a kid or a retreat as an adult like Cursillo. I know of others who were awakened spiritually at an evangelistic crusade. My clergy friend told me it all began for him when he received a personal witness from someone who told him of what the Savior had done for him.
Someone might describe these awakening experiences as a personal epiphany. An epiphany is a sudden awakening. The light goes on to who Jesus is and who I am in my need for Him. It’s an “aha” moment of revelation about Jesus, and it changes the outlook and direction of one’s life.
Today’s passage tells us of Simon Peter’s epiphany and how he came to know and follow and serve Jesus Christ. We must keep in mind that this was not Simon Peter’s first encounter with Jesus. Earlier in the book of Luke, Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law in the town of Capernaum. Peter had heard Jesus teaching with authority in the synagogue about the kingdom of God and the Good News of God’s salvation being fulfilled.
According to the other Gospels, Peter had already received an invitation from Jesus to follow. However, it all came together for him at a particular moment on the Sea of Galilee in his fishing boat, of all places. Peter saw the light. Jesus was at the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the crowds were gathering around Him to listen to this exciting preacher and miracle worker. They were pressing in on Him, wanting to hear the Word of God. Jesus had developed quite a following early on, and so it seems there wasn’t enough room for Him to effectively speak to a crowd like this. He needed more space and some amplification in order to be heard by the large crowd gathered around Him.
Jesus saw fishermen – Simon Peter, James, and John – taking weeds out of their nets after fishing all night. He recruited the use of Peter’s boat. One could even say He commandeered it. He invited Himself into it, stepped into it, and then asked Peter to take Him out a little way so He could teach from the boat. Peter was agreeable and motioned a couple hired hands to join them. As they pushed the little 16 footer out from the shore into shallow water, it provided room for Jesus to sit, and it gave Him natural amplification as He spoke to His audience. Peter and his mates actually got front-row seats to hear Jesus preach.
One has to wonder if something stirred in Simon Peter as he listened. Perhaps. We do know that, when Jesus was done teaching, instead of asking Peter to take Him to shore, He told him – He didn’t ask, but told Peter – to go out a little deeper in the sea and let down his nets for a catch of fish. I am sure those experienced and tired fishermen, who had been up all night, weren’t very excited to go to all the trouble. We hear Peter respond, “Master, we toiled all night and did not catch a thing. Still, he obeyed. “At your word, I will let down the nets.”
Perhaps this deference on the part of Peter came from having witnessed Jesus’ authority earlier when Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Maybe it was a message from the day or days before. Who knows? In any case, they followed orders, went farther out, and let down the nets to see if this Amateur knew something they didn’t know. (Everyone knows it’s best to fish at nighttime when the fish are near the surface. The fish would be too deep during the heat of the day to net.)
Suddenly a huge school of fish swam into those nets – so many fish that the nets began to break. Peter signaled the other boat to help them, and they filled up both boats to the point of almost sinking. Water was coming over the edge of the boats. Can you just picture the scene? It must have been just wild out there! Simon was now up to his knees in flopping fish. But instead of dancing around and celebrating the greatest catch of his life, Simon sank to his knees and cried out, “Depart from me. I am a sinful man, Lord.” Why did Simon say that?
When we turn to the Old Testament and examine stories such as Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple, we find that, as he became aware of God’s presence in holiness, he also became aware of his own sinfulness. Isaiah was afraid of being destroyed by God’s holiness. The same sort of thing happened in the calling of Moses, Gideon, and Ezekiel. When confronted by the holiness of God, they were afraid.
It is also true for Peter. He was totally astonished at how this Amateur could have known where the fish were. It was almost like He had control over those fish, over nature. Only God has that ability. Peter was suddenly awakened to the fact that he, an unclean, imperfect, sinful, ordinary man, was standing on holy ground, in the very presence of God the Almighty.
Notice, Jesus didn’t go away. Instead, He said to Peter, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be catching people.” That, my friend, is forgiveness. An unspoken, wordless absolution on the part of Jesus. Instead of condemnation, Peter received an unexpected, undeserved invitation to have a relationship with Jesus, the Son of God, and participate in His kingdom enterprise. Peter brought absolutely nothing to the table as he humbly admits his sinfulness before Jesus. But Jesus says, You are in. The past is behind you. From now on, you’re mine. I am going to use you to catch people. It is what we call amazing grace.
When they came ashore, Peter and the others were so overcome by what they experienced that they dropped their nets, left their boats – their very livelihood – and followed Jesus. One commentator writes, “The miracle of faith (the astonishing catch of fish) was so overwhelming that the practical matters of boats, business, family, and fish were left behind by Peter and his friends.”
So begins the adventure for Simon Peter. Just think of all that lay ahead for him. He witnessed great healings and a deeper knowledge of God. Christ’s power was displayed in miracles over nature, death, and the devil himself. Peter walked on water with Jesus, witnessed Him on the cross, and after the resurrection. He experienced forgiveness after failing Jesus, and a renewed call to feed Christ’s people by the Sea of Galilee.
“Feed my sheep,” Jesus said that first day in the boat. Peter saw Jesus’ vision fulfilled on Pentecost with a catch of 3,000 converts and thousands of others in the days following, which we read the book of Acts. His missionary duties went way beyond that in the months and years to follow as he wrote letters, which have brought others closer to Jesus.
This story is classified by biblical scholars as a combination epiphany/call story, like the calling of Moses and Gideon, prophets of the Old Testament. It is not just an amazing fishing story, for it holds an important truth for us. It answers the question, Who is Jesus? This story identifies Him as the presence of God. He is God in the flesh, Immanuel – God with us.
Attached to this epiphany is a gracious, promising call to an ordinary, sinful fisherman.
Hey Pete, how did you get to know Jesus?
Well, it all began when we went fishing together, and we never stopped. We moved from fishing for fish to something more important – fishing for people to save them. What a great life it has been with Jesus!
This story was saved, passed on, recorded by Luke, and inspired by the Holy Spirit for a deep purpose. It is more than a fishing story, which causes us to marvel and scratch our heads. It is actually meant to move us toward Jesus.
First of all, it is an announcement from heaven above. It reveals to us that Jesus is the Son of God and has power and authority over this world. He calls sinful persons like you and me to place our lives in His hands and fall in behind Him in faith. He can do amazing things in our lives. Millions – even billions – of people testify that knowing and trusting Christ means living life to the full.
Yesterday, I was listening to a story about a man whose life had fallen apart. He had become involved with crime and drugs. He was busted and went to prison. During his time in prison, someone introduced him to Jesus Christ. His life has never been the same since! He smiles and often reflects on the new direction Jesus has given him.
This is Jesus, the holy One of God, the One we see in the story, given for the unholy. He was the perfect sacrifice for humanity’s sin, for He went on to give His life as a payment to cover your sin. And He rose from the grave, triumphant over the power of sin, death, and the devil to rescue you forever. He is the first fruits of the resurrection. Those who trust in Him will follow. As Paul says, “He who knew no sin became sin (at the cross), that we might become the righteousness of God” II Cor. 5:21. He promises to always be present with those who call upon His name and go fishing for others with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We in the Church of Jesus need to be constantly reminded of this calling upon our lives. We live in a broken world filled with broken people who need what Christ came to give – new life, healing for the sinful soul. The Church has the mandate to fish. It is our number one mandate.
A few years ago, James Kennedy said, “One of the saddest statistics of our day is 95% of all church members have never led anyone to Christ.” This was years ago. I have to believe the statistic is probably even higher today. And the sad thing is, it doesn’t have to be complicated and as scary as some people have made it.
I read a little story awhile back that touched my heart. Greg tells of a stop at a McDonald’s drive-through for lunch. He said, “After placing my order, I came to the drive-up window to pay. I noticed an attractive, hand-carved cross hanging from the woman’s neck. So I commented, “I like your cross.” Her reply was a lesson to me in how simple it is to share one’s testimony. “Thank you. I like the Person who died on it for my sins, and I love the Person who rose from the grave after having died on the cross.” She could’ve easily left it at thank you, but her faithful witness touched another life and drew him even closer to the Lord that day.
Sharing your faith doesn’t have to be complicated. Remember, you are powered by the Holy Spirit Himself. We are not meant to be aquarium keepers, but fishermen and women for Jesus Christ who are committed to bringing others to Him so they might receive the same grace that enriches our lives.
One last story.
The Mercedes-Benz company had a television commercial, which showed one of their automobiles colliding with a cement wall. The commercial demonstrated the energy-absorbing car body all Mercedes-Benz automobiles have. In the commercial, a company spokesman was asked why they didn’t patent the car body design to prevent it from being copied by other automobile companies. The company spokesman said, “Because some things in life are too important not to share.”
Some things in life are too important not to share – like the Good News of Jesus Christ. Church, it’s time to fish. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer