The Lord Jesus called most of his apostles from the districts around Galilee. Of these, at least four were fishermen, and would have been very familiar with the Sea of Galilee and it’s changing weather patterns. The homes of some of them were in the villages along the shores of the lake, and they would have been well experienced in the simple life style of Galileans. Peter and Andrew were partners in a fishing business and so too were James and John. Against that background, the Gospel records have some good lessons to teach us. Those lessons are all the more impressive because the Lord Jesus had specially chosen those men to teach them how to attain to higher spiritual values in life. But to start with, the basic issues would need to be worked through, and that would call for honest cooperation from these fishermen. Time and again we read of the amazing skills of the Lord Jesus in reshaping the existing characteristics of those he called. But it was largely dependent on their willingness to listen, to learn and to follow. Is it any different with us? It is no different for us today when we come to hear the Gospel Truth and face its life changing challenges, whatever our vocation in daily life may be. The question can be asked, “are we teachable?”

It is very interesting to see how Jesus took the fishermen he had called and began to work with them. To succeed, all fisherman must have patience, be adaptable to any changing situation and be persistent to the point of not easily giving up. Fishing for a living often requires team work and it is important for all members of the team to work well together. And although they do all things possible to thoroughly prepare for their work each day, they can never be sure that fish will be caught. The fisherman must be able to cope with both success and failure. He needs to be able to know if the weather is likely to be good or bad and where fish might be caught on a particular day. There is a skill and art in fishing!

These were the kind of men Jesus called to his service. To them he said,“Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). And they responded!

A New Vocation

Jesus knew that these men had skills for finding and catching fish. But his purpose was to train them to develop even greater skills which would prepare them, and those who listened to them, for eternity. Over the next three and a half years he would teach them important lessons about committed discipleship and demonstrate the eternal values of godly living. Eventually the whole focus of their lives would be on “catching” men and women out of the sea of humanity. It would be a life that would bring them face to face with many situations, sometimes associated with pure joy, sometimes with deep sorrow; moments of great attainment, and moments of utter helplessness.

In a parable recorded in Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus compared the kingdom to a net that was cast into the sea and was filled with every kind of fish. When it was full, the fishermen drew it to shore, and sat down and gathered the good into vessels, and cast the bad away. In this parable the net represented the end results of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom when the Lord will judge between the righteous and the wicked. The lesson for us to understand is that accepting the truth and being baptised is just the beginning; this calling needs to be followed up with a life that becomes totally converted by the power of the Gospel. This is confirmed in verse 49: “ The angels will come and separate the wicked from among the just”. Surely there is a warning here as we wait for Jesus Christ’s return. He will on that day be looking for the reflection of his own virtues in each one of us.

The First Step for Disciples: Listen Carefully to the Lord

There are two miraculous catches of fish that we want to consider. The record of the first is near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and the other right near the end. The first is in Luke chapter 5. The opening verses tell us that Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, and the people crowded around to hear him teach from the Word of God. There were two ships anchored nearby with the fishermen on the shore washing their nets. One of the ships belonged to Simon Peter. In v3 we read that Jesus entered this ship and asked Simon to move it out a little way from the land and then sat down and taught the people out of the ship.

Now at this point let’s remember that the name ‘Simon’ means ‘hearing’. Up until this time, Simon, and most likely Andrew, had been busy cleaning their nets, and may not have been particularly listening to the teaching of Jesus. But this was about to change, because the Lord sought their full attention to his work and to their future calling. As Jesus finished speaking to the multitude on the shore he said to Simon, who represented the group of disciples, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch” (v4). Peter responded with an objection: “Master, we have worked all the night, and have caught nothing”. What Simon really meant was that Jesus was only a teacher, and they were the experienced fishermen. If there were fish to be caught, there was no doubt that they would have caught them. When it comes to fishing, ‘we know best!’ But to his credit, he then added, “nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net”. When they listened and did what Jesus asked, their mission succeeded. They caught a great number of fish and their net began to tear. Imagine their shock and amazement!

The first step for all disciples is to listen carefully to their Lord’s word and then to proceed in faith to obey and do his work. As Jesus later said, “without me you can do nothing” ( John 15:5). These are important first steps for all disciples.

Simon was a fisherman, and used his skills to catch fish for a livelihood but it is doubtful whether they had caught a haul like this before. They were about to learn another invaluable lesson. Fishing for men is as much a team effort as an individual one. So they called out to their partners in the other boat–James and John–and sought their help in the great work of bringing men and women into the hope of the kingdom (v7). We should never forget that preaching and teaching is as much a collective responsibility for an ecclesia as it is an individual one.

But there was also a rebuke in this action as well. The seldom used Greek word from which “sink” has been translated is only found again in 1 Timothy 6:9 and there it is translated “drown.” The context is about having a love for money. The disciples had been called earlier by Jesus and now they were back to cleaning their nets when they should have been listening to the Word. They were paying more attention to the livelihood of their work than to the work Jesus had called them to. They were in danger of loving money and sinking beneath that load instead of immersing themselves in the teachings of their Lord.

Believers in Christ need a similar conscientiousness as we bear the responsibility of teaching and manifesting a life in Christ. Those disciples learnt the lesson of their unworthiness and understood that life with the Lord must embrace their whole life: “When they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him” (v11). To forsake all and follow Christ is a great challenge to all of us, as it was to them, but in the end they were now ready and prepared to learn from Jesus their new Master and to become faithful and dedicated “ fishers of men.”

This miraculous catch of fish represents the whole ecclesia in Jesus’ parable of the Kingdom. An untold multitude of both good and bad were taken, from the “sea of nations.” Sometimes a net begins to break or a boat begins to sink, and sadly, some are lost back into the world. The faithful and dedicated servants of Jesus Christ will do their very best in the service they give their Lord, like the efficient fishermen. And after that it is in the hands of the Lord.

The Second Miraculous Haul of Fish – John 21

Prior to his death, Jesus had given these disciples instructions to meet him later in Galilee. Seven of the disciples are mentioned as being gathered at this place (v2). How long they waited for Jesus to come we are not told and we have to ask where were the rest of the group? Perhaps with this in mind Simon Peter became impatient and could wait no longer. He said, “I am going fishing”, and the other disciples went with him. We read in verse 3, “ at night they caught nothing” – a phrase which sounds like a repeat of what we have read in Luke chapter 5!

The very next morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not recognise him (v4). Jesus had chosen this time to encourage and strengthen them for their future work for him. In answer to Jesus question to them in verse 5 about the result of their night’s fishing, the disciples reported a complete failure. While the Lord’s identity was still not known to the disciples, he called to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some!” (v6). They had fished all night and caught nothing. It is interesting to note that Jesus directed that the net be cast “on the right side” of the boat. In Matt 25:32-34 when Jesus was drawing analogies of those who will be found acceptable to enter the Kingdom, the sheep representing the faithful people, will be set on the right hand of the King.

On the previous occasion which we considered in Luke 5, Simon Peter had questioned Jesus’ word. But now they were willing to respond without question, as they supposed the command came from a complete stranger. They had learned not to trust in their own strength and ability but had indeed become humble as children. This is the attitude all disciples of Jesus Christ need to develop if they will be effective fishers of men. Jesus had said, “Truly I say to you, except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3).

And so they cast in the net, and to their great surprise they were not able to draw it back into the boat, “because of the multitude of fish!”

“It is the Lord!”

The fish were certainly real, but they figuratively represent the great multitude of people from all nations and languages who shall be brought before the Lord Jesus Christ at the time of his judgment. They will be the result of the labours of all the disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the centuries who have been called to be fishers of men.

It was John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who quickly associated the haul of fish with the person on the shore. He said to Simon Peter, “It is the Lord!” three and a half years earlier Peter’s greater love was for catching fish. But this time Peter wanted to prove that he loved the Lord Jesus more than catching fish. When he heard that it was the Lord Jesus, all thought of this valuable catch of fish was instantly put out of his mind.

He quickly put on his fisher’s coat and jumped into the sea. And here we have an insight into the mind of Peter. From the previous miraculous catch of fish he had learned that nothing is hidden from the eyes of his Lord. And now, putting on his fisher’s coat, he was demonstrating to his Lord that he was ready to serve him and be a fisher of men. Without hesitation he cast himself, as if he were the net, into the sea.

Then the other disciples came in the little ship, not far from land, dragging the net with the fish. We read that as soon as they reached the shore, they saw a fire of coals there, and the fish laid on it, and the bread. Jesus called to them again, “Bring of the fish which you have now caught” (21:9-11). In a great show of strength, Peter dragged the net onto the shore and, after counting the fish, discovered that there were 153 in an unbroken net. Changing the figure slightly, these great fish foreshadowed Jesus’ “sheep”, that is, a great number of his disciples from all generations. The disciples were called by Jesus, not just to be hearers, but also doers and teachers of the Word which he had taught them. Like those great fish, not one of them who received his Word and faithfully lived by it would be lost.

There on the shore of the Sea, Jesus had prepared a special meal of fellowship for the disciples. Verse 13 says that he took bread and fish and gave it to them. This was not the fish that had just been caught, but that which the Lord had prepared for his disciples. A meal prepared for them! Think of that, brethren and sisters! A meal prepared by the Lord as there will be waiting for all Jesus’ “sheep”in His Kingdom. What an honour then to hear the invitation, “come and dine!”

Searching Questions to Simon Peter (v15-17)

The Lord asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Peter who had loved fishing was now being asked by Jesus, “Do you really love me more than these fish?” In type, these fish represent Christ’s followers. Do you, Peter, want to be a fisher of fish, or a fisher of men? Peter, if you do love me more than the things of this world, the men and women you catch will be my people, and will need your help. They will need spiritual guidance and care from you, so they can be brought to the shore of the Kingdom. This was the great work the Lord Jesus set before Peter, and all the disciples, after he went to his Father in heaven. And that responsible work has passed down to Christ’s followers in every generation since that day. Indeed it challenges every generation, including our own.

We come together at the request of our Lord who has provided this meal whereby we remember him. Although we have not seen him yet, these emblems of the bread and the wine speak to us of the love of our Heavenly Father in providing the selfless life and sacrifice of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. We deeply appreciate that it is the Lord who has asked us to join him in this meal of fellowship and remembrance, calling each of us to “come and dine.”

The day is coming, and we pray it will be soon, when our Lord Jesus returns and we shall meet him. In that day, the important thing will be the value we have placed on the things of Jesus Christ, in comparison to the value we have placed on the things of this world. In its finality, that will answer the Lord’s question, “Do you love Me more than these?”