Before Simon Peter became an apostle of Jesus, he had a career as a fisherman. He had heard the teaching of Jesus and respected him, but hadn’t fully recognized his power and grace until one remarkable day recorded for us in Luke 5:1-11.
Peter, the professional fisherman, and his coworkers had just spent the whole night fishing and had come up empty. They gave up and were washing their nets. Imagine their doubt when Jesus — a carpenter! — insisted they go out and try again. But when they did, enough fish rushed into the nets to start to break them and to threaten to sink the boats.
The import of this event was not lost on Peter. Jesus hadn’t made a lucky guess; he exercised control over nature! What was Peter’s reaction before this One with divine power? Perhaps not the one we’d expect. He prostrated himself before Jesus and shouted, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8).
Thus the prevailing feeling inspired in Peter was a sense of his own unworthiness and sinfulness before the presence of the Lord. Whether we think so or not, if we were to be transported at once into the presence of God, this would also be our main sensation: not feeling weak before his power, nor stupid before his understanding, nor fleeting before his immortality, but sinful before his holiness. It is the one disparity or failure that threatens our right to be before him; we are by definition beneath him in the other categories, but he had a right to expect obedience, and we have not followed through in our duty. This recognition caused “fear” (Luke 5:10) for Simon – fear of punishment, alienation, uselessness.
The deepest fear of Peter’s heart lay exposed, revealed to all, especially to himself. Nor was he wrong to feel this way! How moving it must have been for him, then, to hear the voice of Jesus command, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). To paraphrase, “That which you feared, you needn’t anymore. I will not punish nor banish you in your sin, but much to the contrary, forgive you and make something useful of you.”
Jesus saw in Peter a humble, sensitive heart. To such a one his mercy is more than abundant.
Now this recipient of grace will become a preacher of grace. The responsibility Jesus gave him — to be a “fisher of men” — was a difficult duty, but the salvation of souls is a line of work so sublime that none less than the Son of God incarnate dedicated himself to it.
What kind of person does the Lord seek to labor alongside him? In Peter’s boat was neither gold nor sword; he commanded no people or army; he was neither wise nor noble according to worldly standards. He was an admitted sinner who would require constant patience, destined to display weakness often and at the most inopportune moments. The requirements for discipleship, so dissimilar to worldly qualifications, eliminate any opportunity for boasting and shows that God’s choice of who will be his servants is a function of his grace, not our worthiness.
In the next verse, Peter and the other chosen men with him showed the rare character that is considered so precious in God’s sight. “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11). Theirs was a response of faith and obedience. They didn’t ask, “How long will we be gone? Where are we going? What’s the pay rate?” Their feet hit dry ground and they obeyed. Not even one last big sale of fish at the market! They left their business and a sure source of income. They followed Jesus, accompanying him and imitating him.
This story is rich with good news. Jesus knows better than you your guilt and unworthiness. Even so, he loves you and wants you to live by his side and make you a participant in his eternal purpose. Yes, he calls you to trust and obey him in full surrender, even not knowing all that will entail. But our lives and futures could be in no worthier hands.