Have you ever had something happen in your life that changed your life forever? As I look back on my life I can pinpoint a number of those moments. Some were tragedies that changed me either through firsthand heartaches or those I shared with you. Some were wonderful blessings such as the birth of our children and the birth of our Grand-daughter. I think also of the first time I met a certain dark eyed, brown haired beauty with the big smile (who later became my wife). These times changed my life.
I suspect you have had those moments also. Births, deaths, times of transition, medical close calls, and for some, there have even been devastating times that have caused you to find something deep within you that you would have never known was there. As we look back we may not be thankful for the events themselves but the lessons we learned were life-changing.
By far the greatest moment of my life happened in the quiet of my bed room a long time ago. It was the moment I finally stopped running from Jesus and turned to Him. I had grown up in the church so it wasn’t like Jesus was a stranger to me but this night I saw Him with new eyes. I saw Him not as the man whose picture hung in the church but as the Savior who desired to change, lead, and rule my life. It was that night I began an incredible adventure of following Him.
I hope you have had an experience like that in you life. This morning we are going to look at the experience that changed the lives of Peter, his brother Andrew and their partners James and John. When I first looked at the text I saw a job that needed to be done. Now I see something much more important: a Savior that needs to be followed.
Jesus was standing near the Lake of Gennesaret (you may know it by its other name, the Sea of Galilee). The Lake was thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. Jesus was teaching the word of God and the people were crowding in…pushing Him back toward the water. Jesus saw Simon (or Peter’s) empty fishing boat and he got into the boat and asked Simon to push off just a little from the shore. From here Jesus continued to teach for an unspecified period of time.
We learn some significant facts that are important for the story. First, the boat belonged to fishermen who were washing their nets. So, we know this was a professional fishing boat. We also know that the night of fishing had ended and the men were cleaning up their nets. These nets were big and heavy and they would be cast into the Lake over and over again during the night usually in a 100 foot circle, and then it would be drawn back into the boat. This went on all night. It was a good job but an exhausting job.
We also learn that this particular boat belonged to Simon (or Peter). So, we know that Simon Peter was a fisherman and he was probably very tired. We’ll see shortly that he was also probably in a cranky mood. If Luke is writing chronologically, Simon and Jesus already knew each other. Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law, so it is only natural that Simon would be happy to help Jesus.
The Prerequisite to a Life-Changing Encounter
Things get interesting when Jesus finished teaching the people. In verses 4 and 5 we read,
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Notice several things. First, Jesus asked Simon to take the boat back out fishing after they had just returned from working all night. Second, he asked him to go back out and fish even though they had already, or had almost, cleaned their nets (which meant they would have to start all over again). Third, notice that Jesus asks them to go back out and fish after they had fished all night and caught nothing.
From what I have read this week it appears that everyone who fished in that lake knew that you did not catch fish during the daytime in deep water. You do that at nighttime. If this is the case, then Jesus is asking Peter to do something which seems absolutely absurd and quite frankly a waste of time. Peter was fine with Jesus using his boat for a pulpit but now he was crossing over into his territory.
Imagine the absurdity of my giving carpentry advice to a carpenter or electrical advice to an electrician or even fishing advice to a fisherman. Imagine if someone who knew little to nothing about your job gave you advice about what you do. How would you respond? Probably like I would – with an attitude.
However, don’t miss what Peter says. Peter starts out by protesting but then he concludes, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
This is the moment of crisis n Peter’s life. Here is the pivotal decision: would he trust Jesus
- Even though his friends would not be pleased to clean the net again?
- Even though it didn’t make any sense to Him?
- Even though it went against everything he had ever been taught?
- Even though it was going to mean more work for him?
- Even though it would make him look foolish in front of his friends?
Peter passed the test.
Don’t miss an important principle: The life-changing moments come when we show genuine love for Christ by trusting Him even though we don’t see any possibility for a payoff. Think about how we frequently function. Much of what is called Christian life is motivated by what we hope to get out of things. We walk an aisle because we want to go to Heaven; we are good because we hope to receive a reward; we give because we believe God will give back to us. We pray because we have things we want God to fix. These things are normal (and not necessarily bad) but understand that in all these things we are not serving the Lord . . . are still seeking to serve ourselves!
Americans are notorious for wanting a discipleship that really is not about us following Jesus . . . it is about Jesus accompanying us in our lives and blessing all the things we want to do! That is not love for Christ; it is USING Him! If we want to have that life-changing encounter with the Lord we must start serving Him because He is worthy to be served. We obey Him because He is the King and He is filled with wisdom. Peter went out into the deep not out a desire for a great catch of fish . . . He went out into the deep for one purpose: to honor the Lord.
Peter may not have been enthusiastic about doing what Jesus told Him to do, but He did it anyway. I don’t know about you, but I am encouraged by his lack of enthusiasm. I’m glad that even half-hearted obedience is still better than disobedience.
The Clarity of a Life-Changing Encounter with God
What happens next is totally unexpected on two different fronts: in the nets and in the boat. When the nets are thrown into the water
they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
Imagine that you were out all day fishing. You are tired and grumpy because the fish just aren’t biting. All your gear is put away, your boat is pulled out of the water and you are ready to head home and Jesus comes up and asks if He can stand in your boat. You answer, “Sure!” When Jesus is done talking to people he asks you to go back out and fish some more. You don’t want to do it. It means putting the boat back in the water and loading all your stuff. You are tired and you’ve had a bad day. You are a good fisherman and you are sure this is going to be a waste of time. However, because you can see that this Jesus fellow is someone special you decide to humor him. It would probably be good for him to learn that He really doesn’t know anything about fishing so he should stick to preaching.
So you go out to the deeper part of the Lake and you cast your lines out and you see that Jesus is smiling, like someone who is eager for you to open the present they bought you. You shake you head and then all of a sudden you get a bite and you reel the fish in and it is a trophy fish. Before the line hits the water there is another, and another, in fact….fish can’t seem to wait for you to throw the line back into the water so fish start actually jumping into your boat!
How do you respond? Do you smile, laugh, call out to others for help? If you are like me you would want someone to get out their cell phone and start filming because you know that no one is going to believe this fish story. You can already imagine becoming famous on YouTube. You might even try to sign Jesus to a contract to be your fishing partner for life. That’s what we would do.
Notice what Peter does.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,
Peter recognized that Jesus was no ordinary man. It is like the person who is all dirty from working outside but doesn’t notice because it has grown dark outside. As soon as he walks into a lighted room everyone says, “O my gosh! You are filthy!” What made the difference? It was the light. Here’s the principle: A life-changing encounter with Jesus leads us to see Jesus for who He is and consequently, see ourselves as those who clearly need Him.
We are living in a spiritually dark world. We are unaware of the deep stain of sin on our lives. However, as soon as we truly see Jesus we encounter the light. That light exposes our stain. All of a sudden those who thought they were “pretty good” see that their “goodness” was really garbage in wrapping paper. When we see Jesus we notice two things: First, we see that we are sinful. Second, we see that Jesus is in a league all His own. The person who has had a life-changing encounter with Jesus sees his arrogance replaced by humility.
The Result of Life-Changing Encounter with God
Peter asked Jesus to leave because of his sinfulness. He was like so many who turn away because they feel that they are unworthy. Instead of running to Jesus, they turn away from Him. But Jesus will not let this happen. Jesus responded to Peter,
“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
When I first read this passage I wanted to know what I needed to do to be someone who was better at doing the job of “catching men”. But notice something, Jesus isn’t giving an assignment, he is making a statement. Peter was going to catch men. I believe the principle is this: A life-changing encounter with Christ is so great that you will spend your life telling others.
Anything wonderful that happens in our lives leaves us eager to share with others. We love showing off the new baby (or pictures), the award that was received, the engagement ring that was given, the purchase that was made, the sight that was seen, and sometimes even the scar that shows how close we came to dying. It only makes sense that those who see Jesus as He is and then trust Him because of who He is will want to introduce Him to others.
Look at the last sentence of our text, “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” These men saw Jesus for who He was and they gave up everything to follow Him. If you look at the parallel accounts you see these men walked away from the family business. They would now spend months away from home. They would seldom sleep in a comfortable bed. They would face hostile environments. But at the same time they would see things that were beyond description, they would learn things that would change their lives, they would be trained for an adventure that would change the world. Their lives changed forever when they followed Jesus. And so can yours.
We may feel bad for their fathers and the family fishing business. We are pretty sure that their Fathers had seen the tremendous catch of fish. When Jesus called their sons I suspect the Fathers were wise enough to say, “Go…by all means Go!” These men had the good sense to realize that when you discover the Lord of Life you don’t hope your paths will cross again in the future; you follow Him, you listen to Him, and you do what He instructs you to do. Fortunately for us, his followers wrote down his words so we could follow Him to. If we follow Him we too can become fishers of men.
Putting it All Together
This morning we have been reminded that any time you encounter the real Jesus, it is going to be a life-changing encounter. The Gospels are full of such accounts.
So here is the obvious question: Have you ever had a life changing experience with Jesus? Don’t answer quickly. We have observed
- Prerequisite to a life-changing encounter with God: we must stop using Him and begin truly following Him….even though we don’t see any possibility for a payoff
- The Clarity of the Encounter will lead us to see Jesus for who He is and consequently, see ourselves as those who clearly need Him.
- The Result will be that you will spend your life telling others.
So please look carefully at your own heart. Many who call themselves Christians today are not really Christ-followers, they are Christ-fans. They like Jesus, they admire Him, but they are not following Him. They live their lives just like everyone else and they hope Jesus will follow THEM and bless their lives so they can be successful in the things of the world. That is NOT discipleship. I’m not even sure it is true conversion.
Look hard at your life. Are you following Christ because of what you think you can gain from Him or are you following him because He is the Lord of life? When the disciples left everything to follow Jesus they had to decide that what Jesus wanted them to do rated ahead of what they wanted to do with their home, families, and businesses.[i]
There’s a second question: Why do we spend so much time in shallow water? This question has haunted me all week. I like shallow water because it is safe. However, if we are going to know those life-changing encounters with God’s greatness we have to be willing to cast our nets into the deep. We need to be willing to go beyond what is comfortable.
When learning to swim you have to eventually get out into the water that is over your head. Until then you will rely on your ability to simply stand up. When you get into water over your head you will have to do what you have been taught. In the same way, it is only when we venture into situations that are “over our head” that we learn to trust.
Let me give some examples of what deep water may look like
- It may be a ministry or opportunity that you feel demands more than you can do in your own strength
- It may be doing what God says even though it may be unpopular with family or friends
- It may be giving more than you think you can afford to help someone who is in need
- It may be heading out on a mission trip where you don’t know what to expect
- It may be bringing up the subject of eternity with a friend or family member
- It may be hanging on in a relationship that seems like it has nothing more to offer
- It may be daring to make a bold change in your life even though you don’t know where the change will lead.
The bottom line is this: If we are going to become fishers of men we must be willing to go where Jesus sends us…even when we don’t understand (or maybe even like) why He is sending us there.
If we will follow Him into the deep water; if we will cast our nets even when it seems silly or uncomfortable; then we will open the door to life-changing experiences like the one that Peter, Andrew, James and John had. And when we dare to trust the Lord beyond that which is comfortable, we will discover that God will use us. He will make us into fishers of men; He will use us as His tools to change the lives of others. He will show us a much more satisfying way to fish.