Luke 5:1-11 is a tremendously powerful little story. Jesus sees two boats, and the fishermen washing their nets—after a long night of catching nothing. The fishermen are Peter, James, and John, partners in a fishing enterprise (v. 10).
Jesus gets in the boat, and He tells Peter to go out deep and put out the nets. The nets they just finished washing after a fruitless night. Peter tells Jesus they just caught nothing, but unhesitatingly adds, “But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.”
Right away, we see Peter is one of the believing people. He’s not quite sure about the idea but he’s willing to go along in faith. Jesus is already catching Peter.
Of course, they go out, and they catch so many fish that their nets tear from the weight, so they signal to James and John in the other boat to come, and they fill both boats so full that they start to sink! This is an obvious supernatural event, not just good timing—Jesus didn’t just see some fish swimming around in the water and decide to take advantage of the situation to make a point. No, this is a ridiculous amount of fish.
And Peter seems to know right away that Jesus isn’t just Master (v 5), he’s Lord (v 8). And his reaction reminds me of Samson’s parents (Judges 13):
And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground. The angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife.Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”
Peter sees Jesus as Messiah and he’s—amazed? ashamed? afraid? Maybe all three. I love that what comes to his mouth is I’m a sinner! Everybody else is amazed at all the fish, and Peter’s not even thinking about the fish, he’s thinking, wow, this is God, and I’m a wretch! Just like Manoah, who realizes the angel was in fact God and—we’re going to die!
And what does Jesus say? Don’t be afraid! Crazy incredible words. Face to face with God in flesh and He says—don’t be afraid? He sees right at Peter’s heart and… is kind. This is a gloriously kind response! He could have left Peter hanging in his terror, but He reassures him instead! And then this tremendous sentence—from now on, you will be catching people! What a small sentence, a small illustration, of a huge thing that was going to change Peter’s life forever, to the very very end. Peter, who is going to go around with Jesus now, and preach His message, who is going to be His follower through His death, who is going to wait for the resurrection, who is going to play a huge role in establishing the church, who is going to write epistles that Christians through all the millennia thereafter are going to read and be drawn by—Peter is in the people-catching business for good.
And, again, what do they do? They take their boats to the shore and walk away from their lives and livelihood—to follow Him.