Peter was a fisherman, and not just a casual, sport-fisherman mind you, he was a commercial-fisherman. Fishing was his livelihood, his life, his identity. He and his partners spent many hours every day either fishing or getting their equipment ready to fish. It was dirty, nasty, tough and tiring work, but somebody had to do it. As we will see, Jesus had another job and a new identity for Peter.
Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. 4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which 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 fear, from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. (Luke 5:1-11)
This passage presents an interesting scene. Peter and his partners had beached their boats so that they could wash their nets and get them ready for the next outing. Was this a sheltered cove which gave them some protection from the rougher water and weather out farther in the lake? If it was a cove, was it surrounded on three sides by a gently-sloping hillside which made a natural amphitheater? One thing is for sure, and that is that a crowd had found Jesus and wanted to hear Him speak and teach. They had come to hear the word of God, and they may have even thought that He would perform a few miracles.
Jesus didn’t have the crowd build a platform or erect a massive pulpit to preach from. No, He got in a boat and sat down. Jesus didn’t need the trappings of authority to validate either Himself or His message. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. Only a few yards of water separated Him from the crowd, but it was enough so that He wasn’t being forced to wade into the lake Himself.
We are not told hom long Jesus taught or the content of His message, but it did make Peter uncomfortable. It also gave Peter a glimpse into His authority, and even though Peter and his partners had not caught anything all night, they were willing to go back out and follow Jesus’ instructions.
How many fish did they catch? Two overflowing boat-loads for sure, a LOT of fish. Under ordinary circumstances, Peter would have been overjoyed, but not this time.
But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Wasn’t Peter a “good” Jew? Didn’t he act like a Pharisee in the book of Acts? Well, yes he was, sort of, but in that moment, Peter came to a deep understanding that his “best” wasn’t good-enough for God. He still fell far short of the mark, and like Peter, we do too. Peter couldn’t make himself right before God and neither can we. Peter had come face-to-face with God.
And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” Jesus did not tell Peter that He would be back when he cleaned up his act. Jesus didn’t even tell him to go home, take a bath and put on some clean clothes so that he would be more “presentable“. No, Jesus took Peter sin, dirt and all. He took him as he was.
As Jesus told Simon, He also tells us, “Do not fear”. Jesus takes us as we are and where we are, and unlike Peter, we may even look and smell good, however Jesus looks through our “disguises” and sees us as we are, sinners desperately needing a Savior. Jesus doesn’t tell us, as He didn’t tell Peter, that He will be back when we clean ourselves up. He stands ready to do all the dirty-work of cleaning us up in a way we could never clean ourselves up.
Peter also wasn’t a “prime-candidate” for ministry either, and Jesus knew it. Jesus already knew that Peter would deny Him three years later, even after pledging his “to-the-death” loyalty to Jesus and trying to “prove” his loyalty by his ill-considered swipe with his sword at one of Jesus’s captors, but Jesus took him anyway. Are YOU a “prime-candidate” for ministry? I sure wasn’t.
Notice that Jesus didn’t offer Peter a full-ride scholarship to Jerusalem Theological Seminary, rather, He offered him something far-better, an apprenticeship in ministry – Kingdom-style. Peter was going to get hands-on experience besides the teaching which Jesus was going to do.
Peter served a three-year apprenticeship before he was ready to become an Apostle. He also fell hard, VERY-HARD, and he even went back to fishing. After the resurrection, Jesus found him where He had found him the first time, fishing, and He gave Peter a new commission: Feed my sheep!
After Pentecost, Peter became the fearless-Apostle which Jesus had called him to be.
We can’t clean ourselves up enough to restore our relationship with God, but we don’t have to. Jesus is willing and able to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. We also don’t have to be “qualified” to do the ministry God calls us to either, because God is more than capable of “qualifying” us. That, my friends, is the Good News of the Gospel.