Luke enables us to discover the driving force behind the Saviour’s divine mission. What we read in the calling of the disciples is an account of an enacted parable reinforcing the spoken word. Jesus delivers a “living lesson”, a case of the word in action.
He discloses the purpose and power of the gospel in a vivid way at the recruitment of his co-workers. Everything is providentially arranged for their induction into ministry. The chosen men on the edge of apostolic proclamation receive multiform instruction from their divine Master on the edge of the lake. Always the word conveys the action of God in some way – mercy or judgment. Always the word elicits human response – negative or positive. The word is dynamic and determines human destiny – interim and ultimate. “So is my word that goes out of my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” Isaiah 55:11).
Dissemination of the word is the principal task of the servants of God. To honour the priority of the word of God is to afford the occasion and opportunity of listening to the only message that can retrieve the lost. “The entire Biblical Scripture is solely concerned that man understand that God is kind and gracious to him and that He has publicly exhibited and demonstrated His kindness to the whole human race through his Son. However, it comes to us and is received by faith alone, and is manifested and demonstrated by love for our neighbour” (The First Helvetic Confession of faith of 1536 - Swiss).
At the summoning of his fellow servants Jesus dramatises their imminent transition from professional fishing to man fishing. The sermon from the boat is a novel event celebrated in the architecture of old church buildings which were designed to represent a ship of safety for those rescued from the perils of the sea. Jesus savingly addresses the vast crowd drawn to him because of his fame as a healer, but he is correcting the public emphasis on his ministry. It is one of proclamation, netting the converts through his preaching, a task to which the fishermen are now assigned (cf Mark 1:32-38: Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come. v38)”
At the conclusion of his exercise in declaring the evangel Jesus directs his concern to the prospective disciples – disappointed men. No catch last night! (v5). He demonstrates his divine sovereignty and wisdom in advising them as to their professional efforts and expertise. They would wonder at a carpenter instructing them in their specialist area of long experience. But the Son participates in the government of every area of life and action. He is setting out to win their confidence and he gains their compliance from the respect they owe.
The result is the marvel of the miraculous catch graphically described by Luke (vv6-7). The Lord’s superior effectiveness in guiding the vessel to a stunningly successful venture humbles the men of proven performance over many years of earning their livelihood. Peter’s admission of underestimation of Jesus is rapidly forthcoming (v8). The disciples had to be astonished into recognition of Jesus’ lofty status. He is seen to be in command. All things are in subjection to him. The incident expands Peter’s recognition of the Lord’s authority. His original response to Jesus’ directive was somewhat nonchalant: “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” We can imagine that his words were accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders.
Humiliation immediately follows and Peter is sharply convicted of his doubt and limited comprehension of the supremacy of the Son of God. He instantly concedes that he has so much to learn of Jesus and that his obedience must be unquestioning in the future.
The sense of amazement is shared by Peter’s associates, still to remain so in another vocation – the enterprise of catching men for the kingdom. But Peter’s reaction is more than surprise at the wonder of a mighty catch. It is fear at his new perception of Jesus – the shock of his encounter with something of the divine majesty of the God-man.
Peter’s blunders will continue throughout his life of discipleship, but he is abashed at his sinful lowliness before the Lord whom he is making tentative steps to understand. To some degree all attempts at the service of Christ begin with fear. The chosen stand with awe before the greatness of the One who calls. And, added to this, there is the immensity of the task. The weakness and lack of ability in those who are called is apparent. They bring only inadequacy.
This godly fear is always an element in genuine faith.
How unsuited we all are to know God and make God known. The disparity between himself and ourselves is horrifying. The Incarnation is our incentive. We are selected to become Christlike and represent him in our renewed humanity with his divinely donated strength. We are endued with the ability to imitate and commend the Incarnate One in the guise that he revealed historically among us. We are not bereft of a pattern and we are supplied with a power. Winsome humanity is exhibited in Jesus and that, replicated in our selves, is to be our bait in the battle for souls.
Jesus’ action, both from the boat, and in the depth of the sea, shows God’s co-ordination of events in the obedience of his people to his commands. He inspires, and he controls what transpires. The men cast the nets and the Lord calls forth the fish. We operate on the surface of human nature and he submerges himself in the soul.
He initiates the work and brings it to fulfilment. He issues the fiat and governs all the factors. Circumstances lie within his decree. We are unwise to rush into any course of action without consulting him. He is the only infallible navigator, as the impulsive Peter discovered.
We poor things are his dependent agents and instruments, recruited and resourced as his church and as individual members, to bring Jesus to the waiting crowds and perplexed people milling around on earth in need of a pilot and Saviour.
We have nothing to offer except the knowledge of Jesus’ Name to call upon. We commend him to others. It is as simple as that – pointing to him in self-effacement as did the ordinary first Christians who seemingly needed no evangelism courses to encourage their witness – just the reality of the crucified and risen One at their side and within them. The experience of the divine mercy is the method of making Jesus known through common humanity and divinely given humaneness. Peter himself sums it up: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15, evangelism by attraction [hope] and detection of authenticity [difference] which excites enquiry). For this is the driving motive of the Lord Jesus in his birth, life, death, and resurrection: “For Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”.