On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.Luke 5:1-11, ESV
Chosen by grace.
Looking at the scene as Luke describes it, you will notice a crowd, multiple boats, and a plurality of men who had fished the night before. This is relevant because Luke relays this story to us as if Jesus had nearly forgotten that anyone else was there. Luke focuses our attention on an intimate encounter between a single individual and Jesus. That truth is sweet, like honey to the soul (Prov 16:24). God’s love is not merely a general feeling of goodwill toward a sea of individuals. God’s love is specific to individuals. His love is intimately acquainted with the details of their personalities, needs, wants, hopes, and fears. God’s unyielding love is poured out on His individual people, with plans for them by name (Jer 29:11).
Peter is clearly not the only fisherman on the seashore, but he is the figure Luke draws our attention to. Luke isn’t writing to give us facts merely, but to teach us who Jesus is. Luke seems to be highlighting the truth that Jesus loved us before we loved Him (1 Joh 4:19), and He chose us out of all the world (John 15:19).
Pay attention to Jesus’ methodology in this scene. First, what he did not do was propose the idea of becoming His follower to all men in attendance. Luke is not portraying Peter as if he was the wisest of the bunch, and upon hearing Jesus’ offer, he was simply the only man to accept. No, that is not Luke’s story. Far from it. I think Jesus looked at each fisherman and desired them all to hear and obey His teaching, but it was Peter alone that He called to become an Apostle.
Why Peter? Certainly not because Peter was worthy or possessed some quality that impressed Jesus and made him the clear and obvious choice. Jesus wasn’t giving job interviews for Apostleship, and after reviewing all appropriate candidates, Peter found himself at the top of the list because he had the right stuff. Jesus chose Apostles, and that choice was all grace. Jesus’ choice was not based upon potential or past experience. God doesn’t need a prepared vessel because grace is God preparing a vessel. Another way to articulate that thought is to say God’s grace enables people to become whatever He chooses for them to become. Jesus wants twelve apostles, and He will make twelve apostles by grace. Jesus Christ would not choose those twelve men in the hopes that they would live up to their potential. No. When Jesus chooses a person by grace, that same grace enables the one chosen to become the person that Christ has chosen him/her to be.
Responding to Grace.
How should we respond to this grace? Being chosen by the grace of God is not an invitation to self-righteous pride. To become prideful through the knowledge of being chosen by God without any personal merits of my own is a strange irony. Why would pride be the sinner’s reaction to God’s choosing an unqualified wretch? Pride is clearly the wrong response.
Peter is clearly our example of how Christians ought to respond to God’s grace. First, notice Peter’s recognition of his own unholiness. Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” He was contrite, humble, and repentant. Why did Peter react this way? He just pulled more fish into his boat than he had ever seen at one time in his life. Why wasn’t he joyfully celebrating? Peter could not cheer at that moment because he knew who he was in contrast to who Jesus is. Jesus is holy, and we are unholy. Jesus is good, and we are selfish. Jesus is divine, and we are unworthy. Friend, that is the correct initial response to grace, but it’s not the final response. Peter would not stay on his knees forever, begging Jesus to depart because grace changes everything. Peter was humbled by the grace he already received, but he did not yet comprehend the meaning of grace.
Second, Peter was a businessman. His trade was fishing. Many fishers love to fish for the simple pleasure of being on the water with a pole in hand, enjoying the great outdoors. Was that Peter? Not in this scene. Fishing wasn’t merely a hobby for Peter, but it was his livelihood. Therefore, when Jesus performed the miracle and filled two boats to the brim with fish, Peter had in a single day became the most successful fisherman in all of Galilee. How did he respond to his newfound wealth? Using Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8, whatever gain (Peter) had, (he) counted as a loss compared to knowing and experiencing the transcendent value of Christ. Peter valued Jesus more than wealth, and that is our example of how we ought to respond to God’s grace.
The Promise of Grace.
Jesus told Peter that he would become a fisher of men, an evangelist for the kingdom of God. Peter knew the nature of the fishing business. Some nights are good, and others are bad. The results of a good catch can satisfy your needs, but there is no payday for a fisherman with empty nets. The business of fishing doesn’t always pay. Sometimes, all you get in return for your night of fishing is a lack of sleep. In contrast, Jesus’ promise to Peter was that he would be a fisher of men. The nature of this new work would always pay off. That is the nature of grace.
Peter might preach a sermon without a single conversion, like a night on the lake with no fish in the morning to show for his labor. A wonderful assuring truth is that no matter how many convert at the end of any single sermon, God’s grace is always satisfying. Being employed by the King of Kings is unquestionably satisfying. All of God’s provision for help, comfort, love, grace, and forgiveness is not based on merit. His goodness is given freely on the ground of His relationship to us. His relationship to us, remember, was established by His own gracious choice. Isn’t this grace of God we have been obsessing over in this devotion truly amazing? God is gracious, and therefore we receive grace. He is kind, and therefore we receive kindness. He is forgiving, and therefore we receive forgiveness. Do we deserve these good things from God? No, we deserve good things from God about as much as Peter deserved two boat-fulls of fish. May we respond to Jesus as Peter did with humility, repentance, and surrender.