There are children's books which depict a child going on a trip. It is not a lengthy trip by adult standards. The child goes to the grocery store, to the doctor's office, to grandma's house. But in the eyes of the child it is full-fledged journey. There is a lesson in such books; it is the lesson found in our text. Some of the longest and most significant journeys people take happen without the person really going anywhere.
Simon is on a journey in our text. He is traveling the tremendous distance between having Jesus as Master and having Jesus as Lord. Please don't confuse what I am going to say with the popular notion in some churches of having Jesus as Savior but not having Him as Lord; that's a false distinction. I'm basing Simon's Journey on the fact that Simon first addressed Jesus as "Master," but then addressed Him as "Lord."
Simon starts out with Jesus as His Master. See the situation. He and his partners had been up all night fishing. Now they weren't fishing for fun; it was their job. Having worked all night and caught nothing, they are back at shore washing their nets so they could put them up and go home to bed. But Jesus has picked where they were finishing up to teach. The crowd is backing Jesus up into the lake as they were listening to the Word of God. So Jesus asks Simon to put out a little from shore. Then Jesus sits down in the traditional synagogue teaching position and continues to teach the people.
So far Simon hasn't called Jesus "Master;" nevertheless he is acting like a servant. He has been up all night; he just wants to home and sleep, but Jesus wants to use his boat as a pulpit. That will take him away from washing his nets and get him home all the later, but he allows it. Furthermore, I don't think Simon is paying much attention. Have you ever come to church after working all night? Besides the text makes a point of telling us that the people were crowding around Jesus listening to God's Word while Simon washed his nets, and from Simon's boat it says Jesus "taught the people."
Jesus is Simon's Master right now above all else. So after Jesus got done teaching the people - you know it could have been hours. He says to tired Simon, "Put out into the deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." A couple things are going on here. Simon just wants to sleep. Simon has worked all night, the usual time for catching fish, and caught nothing; nets aren't for fishing in deep water; it's now the wrong time of day for fishing, and finally, Jesus trained as a carpenter is telling a trained fisherman before all of his peers the how, when and where of fishing. Go to the coast and try telling a commercial fisherman such things. However, Jesus is Simon's Master, and though Simon can't refrain from explaining to Jesus why he doesn't believe they will catch a thing, Simon does what his Master has commanded.
Regarding Jesus as your Master is not evil. This is where many of us are. God says this and we do it. God says that and we do it too. He is the Master we are the servant. His is to command; ours is to do. O sure we probably don't agree with everything our Master says, but hey, He's the Master. We have mental reservations about what He says to us in His Word, just like Simon did, but hey, we're the servant. So what if we don't agree with everything He says; we do it, don't we?
That's not good enough for Jesus. He wants Simon and us to make the journey from having Him as our Master to having Him as our Lord. Jesus was intent on teaching Simon although Simon wasn't in the mood for learning. You can see that Jesus is teaching Simon by the fact that the text tells us "Jesus finished speaking to the people," but He started taking to Simon. Furthermore, notice Jesus remains in the teaching position, that is seated, through all the excitement. The text tells us Simon fell at Jesus' knees, not feet, because Jesus is still siting cross-legged in the teaching position. Through all the excitement, through all the commotion, through the frantic pulling in of nets bulging with fish - which was money and life to Simon and his partners, Jesus sat calmly teaching by what was happening.
Simon knew that fish were not suppose to be there. Nor where they to be so easily caught. The Greek doesn't say they "caught" the fish, an active word, but the nets enclosed the fish. The point being it was effortless on the part of the fishermen. Simon also knew that he had not believed the Word of his Master. Simon had acted in servile, slave-like obedience, not in faith. Although Simon had acted faithlessly, Jesus still gave him this fortune in fish.
Suddenly a wonderful, miraculous change comes over Simon; the same change God would work in us. The Holy Spirit singles this change by calling Simon, Simon Peter. Three times before this the text calls him Simon. Then all of sudden it says, "When Simon Peter saw this.." This is the first time the Gospel of Luke calls Simon, Peter, the name Jesus gave him the first day He had met him. Now when Simon is falling down at Jesus's knees confessing his sin of unbelief and his unworthiness, calling Jesus not Master but Lord, he is Peter, the rock who will lead the disciples.
What changed Simon to Peter? What but the grace of Christ? Though He had treated Jesus as a Master to be servilely obeyed, Christ had dealt with Him in grace not withholding the good He would do for Simon even though he was unbelieving. Is not this what our Jesus does for us? We make Jesus in our image. He can do what we think He can do. He knows what we think He knows. We do what He says not because we really believe that is the right or best thing but because He's the Master. Yet, He deals with us as Lord. He won't be kept in the box we put Him in. He does for us, as St. Paul says, far more than we ask or even think. He confounds our wisdom a hundred different ways. Even though we don't think or believe He can do this or that, He does it.
Like Simon, the goodness of God leads us to repentance as Paul says it should in Romans. How many times have you seen the Lord bless you in spite of yourself? How many times has the Lord not dealt with you after your sins? How many times has the Lord not rewarded you according to your iniquities? How many times has the feeling rushed over you that you don't deserve such a Lord as this? You deserve for Him to depart from you, to leave you in your sins. But our Lord is the One who came to bear our sins, so He is not surprised to find that we are indeed sinners. Our Lord died for our sins even before we realized we had them, so He absolves us even as He did Simon Peter. He doesn't deal with us a Master who beats disobedient, unbelieving servants, but as a merciful Lord. Far from leaving us, He stays with us, and miracles of miracles, He uses sinners just like us.
That is the second journey Simon goes on. He not only goes from having Jesus as Master to having Him as Lord, he goes from fish to fisherman. Peter is caught by Christ in unbelief, and like fish you catch, he should be killed, but that is not how our Lord catches "fish." He catches them to save them for His purposes. And the Lord has a purpose for Simon, and do note His purpose is for Simon the sinner. The text says, "Jesus said to Simon," not to Peter, not to Simon Peter. What a comfort! Jesus has a purpose for sinners like us, and our sins don't prevent our Lord from making use of us.
What is the purpose the Lord has for Simon, this "fish" He has just caught alive? He says from now on Simon will catch men even as he has just caught this tremendous amount of fish. Well, there is a difference. The word for "catch" here is a particular one that means "to take alive." In the Greek translation of the Old Testament the word is used for saving persons alive from danger.
You might remember that this is not the first time Jesus had called Simon to be a fisher of men. Once before He had come upon Simon casting his net into the sea and promised to make him a fisher of men. Simon had followed, but as our text shows, he had went back to catching fish. By the way, Simon will do the same thing after denying Jesus, but the risen Jesus will track him down by the Sea of Galilee and call him back even as He does here. You can see why Simon might of have gone back to catching fish instead of men. It is very discouraging to fish for men. All you have for bait is the worm Jesus. Please note the Scripture speaks of Jesus on the cross as "a worm and no man." Many people turn up their nose at such a bait. In any event, Jesus promises Simon that just as I could make you catch fish when you thought it humanly impossible, so I can make you catch men.
Now friends what about us? Is this text a call for us to become fishers of men? Well, it does show us that the Lord Jesus raises up men to catch men alive for salvation. And it does show that Christ, having saved you from your sins, will make you what He wants you to be. We tend to think that Jesus' job is to save us, to justify us. Our job, having been saved, is to serve Jesus, to be sanctified. Not so. Both justification and sanctification, both bringing us to salvation and making us His servants as saved sinners are Jesus' job.
Think of Simon. He follows Jesus this time, but it's not like he never sinned again. In the future you will find Simon correcting Jesus. You will hear Simon speaking for Satan and saying Jesus will never go to the cross. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus will tell Simon, "You will deny me three times," and Simon will say, "O no I won't." Then of course Simon does deny Jesus, and then he leaves the ministry to go back to fishing. Again Jesus comes for him. But Simon still falls. In the Book of Acts, he can't get it through his head that Christ has fulfilled all the Law even the Old Testament food laws. Then in Galatians we find Simon denying the Gospel and acting like a hypocrite.
And you think you are too sinful for the Lord to use? You think you are too weak, too unbelieving, too doubting, to be of use to the Jesus who saved you? Think again. How are you to serve the Jesus who saved a smelly "fish" like you? Perhaps as a fisherman, but that is not the only way. Jesus uses sinners like us as mothers, fathers, grandparents, students, and workers. He uses us as butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. No matter where we find ourselves, just like Simon, we will feel it is impossible to serve Jesus because we are not worthy. But we are not to have our eyes on ourselves but on Jesus our Lord. It is not a question of our worthiness and weakness but of Jesus' forgiveness and strength.
Simon did not set out to have a journey that day. The Lord Jesus decided he needed one. Jesus does the same with us. He regularly brings us to the point of seeing that we can only be saved by grace and that the only way we can serve the Lord at anytime in anyway is by that same grace. If you have any doubts about that see what Simon says. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany 5 (2-4-01) Luke 5:1-11