We have in these verses the account of what is commonly called
the miraculous catch of fish. It is a remarkable miracle for two
reasons. For one thing it shows us our Lord’s complete dominion over
the animal creation. The fish of the sea are as obedient to his will
as the frogs and flies and locusts in the plagues of Egypt. All are
his servants, and all obey his commands. For another thing, there
is a striking similarity between this miracle, performed at the beginning
of our Lord’s ministry, and another which we find him performing after
his resurrection, at the end of his ministry (John 21: 1ff.). In
both we read of a miraculous catch of fishes. In both the apostle
Peter has a prominent place in the story. And in both there is probably
a deep spiritual lesson, below the surface.
1. Our Lord’s tireless readiness for every good deed
We should observe in this passage our Lord Jesus Christ’s unwearied
readiness for every good work. Once more we find him preaching to
a people who were crowding around him and listening to the word of God
(verse 1). And where does he preach? Not in any consecrated
building or place set apart for public worship, but in the open air; not
in a pulpit built for a preacher’s use, but in a fisherman’s boat.
Souls were waiting to be fed. Personal inconvenience was allowed
no place in his thoughts. God’s work must not stand still.
Christ’s servants should not wait until every little difficulty is removed
before they go and sow the seed of the Word. It is the slothful heart
that is always looking at the thorny hedge and the lion on the path (Proverbs
15:19; 22:13). Where we are and as we are, in season and out of season,
by one means or by another, by tongue or by pen, let us strive to be always
working for God.
2. Our Lord encourages unquestioning obedience
We should observe, second, in this passage what encouragement our Lord
gives to unquestioning obedience. We are told that after preaching
he told Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a
catch” (verse 4). Peter’s reply is that of a good servant: “Master,
we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because
you say so, I will let down the nets” (verse 5). And what was
the reward of the willing compliance with the Lord’s commands? At
once, we are told, they caught such a large number of fish that their
nets began to break (verse 6).
The practical lesson for all Christians is that we should be willing
to obey without hesitation all of Christ’s commands. We are to go
straight forward when Jesus says, “Go.”
3. God’s presence makes man aware of his sinfulness
We should observe, third, in this passage how much a sense of God’s
presence abases man and makes him aware of his sinfulness. We see
this strikingly illustrated by Peter’s words when the miraculous catch
of fish convinced him that One greater than man was in his boat.
We read that Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
In weighing these words of Peter, we must, of course, remember when
they were spoken. Peter was at best but a babe in grace, weak in
faith, short of experience, and poor in knowledge. At a later time
in his life he would doubtless have said, “Stay with me and do not leave
me.” Peter’s words exactly express the first feelings a person has
when he is brought into close contact with God. The sight of divine
greatness and holiness makes him feel his own littleness and sinfulness.
Like Israel beneath Mount Sinai, the words of his heart are, “Do not have
God speak with us or we will die” (Exodus 20:19).
4. Jesus’ promise to Peter
We should observe, lastly, in this passage the mighty promise which
Jesus gives to Peter: “Don’t be afraid from now on you will catch men”
That promise, we may well believe, was not intended for Peter only,
but for all the apostles, and not for them only, but for all faithful ministers
of the Gospel who walk in the apostles’ steps. It was spoken for
their encouragement and consolation. They certainly have “treasure
in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). They find their own hearts
weak and frail, like the hearts of any of their hearers. But here
is a promise on which the Head of the church would have them lean every
day: “You will catch men.”
Notes on 5:1-11
10. “You will catch men.” It has often been remarked,
and with much justice, that the Greek word translated catch means literally
“take alive.” It is only used here and in one other place, 2 Timothy
2:26, a passage which is often misinterpreted but which, rightly understood,
is a remarkable parallel to our Lord’s words in this place.
Let us not forget, in reading this miracle, that holy and good men in
every age have seen in it a remarkable type and emblem of the history of
Christ’s church in the world. They have seen the ships as emblems
of the churches, the fishermen as ministers, the net as the Gospel, the
sea as the world, the shore as eternity, and the miraculous catch of fish
as the success attending work done in strict compliance with Christ’s word.
There may be truth in all this. But it needs to be cautiously and
delicately used. The habit of allegorizing and seeing hidden meanings
in the plain language of Scripture has often done great harm.