(6-7) And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
The boiling of the waters, the sudden dip of the boat, the straining of muscles and the creaking of the nets. And in that moment the seasoned fisherman knows it is all too good to be true. He has never heard of such a thing, much less seen it. This many fish, this time of day, this far out … well it just shouldn’t be … but as he calls over the other boat to help, he knows that his senses aren’t lying. This is enough fish to sink both their boats!
The miraculous catch of fish, is indeed almost too good to be true, but it is not the most astounding miracle in our text. Not by a long shot! The greatest miracle on the water that day, happened before the net ever hit the water. It happened when life-long fishermen take Jesus at His word. The miracle that’s too good to be true is a matter of trust even in the most discouraging of circumstances, even when trusting would seem to deny all human logic. Yet this is precisely what Peter and the others did. And why? Because Jesus’ Word had worked its effect. As it always does. As it must.
(4-5) And when [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. And Simon answered, Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.
Peter doesn’t register an objection, but simply states that they have worked hard all night and have caught nothing. They had plied their trade at the time and under the conditions which experience had shown them to be the most favorable yet had come up empty. But all his personal experience and fisherman’s theory Peter is willing to bring as a sacrifice to his faith in the words of Jesus. For Jesus’ Word had worked its effect. As it always does. As it must.
It is an undeniable human truth that one must often have worked long and much for nothing, until God finally gives the increase. We can work our hands to the bone, but without God’s will behind our toil, not one small return will we see. But this doesn’t mean that our work should be omitted, nor that any Christian should be found without work. What it does mean is simply that we must expect the increase and blessing from God, when (and how) He wants to give it. We accomplish mission work only when Jesus directs and empowers our efforts. And that is why, after a night of fruitless effort, Peter and the others suddenly find themselves inundated with fish! A miraculous catch of fish, after a miraculous act of faith! We have nothing to fear when Jesus is at the center.
Yet fear, Peter does! (8-9) But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken
This was the first time Peter had seen so closely the almighty power of Christ. It’s greatness and majesty had broken in upon his calling, took place on his boat, was done with his own fishnet, after his own fruitless endeavors. And so Peter utters his cry of confession and faith: Depart from me! This was all too good to be true! Or at least too good for Peter. This divine Christ is a holy, sinless Christ. Peter felt too utterly unworthy to remain any longer in the presence of the Master, before whom his sin weighed him down more surely than those nets bursting with fish.
And yet if the fish seemed too good to be true, imagine Peter’s shock at Jesus’ next words. Words for a sinner that really are too good to be true! (10-11) And Jesus said to Simon, Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Jesus speaks a special word of comfort to Peter, bidding him not to fear. His forgiveness is implicit in the commission to be henceforth a fisher of men. Unworthy though they are, the disciples’ lives will now be spent in casting forth the net of the Gospel and drawing redeemed hearts into the kingdom of Christ. From this day forward they will catch men alive. Unlike the fishermen they were, now they will haul in their catch to life … not to death. Capture men so that they might be freely given the life that comes through the Word of the Gospel, not so that they might be used to fulfill a budget, or strengthen numbers. This new fishing will be done for the sake of the fish, not the fishermen.
And that is why this new fishing must not be done through bait and deception. We do not lure people in with the promise of what they want (for this is very rarely good for them!) only to hook them with something different. Rather we cast out into the world with the Net of the Gospel. Our success lies not in the attraction of the bait, but the integrity of the net! Sound doctrine … Law and Gospel … properly stitched together in the sweet Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Does it sound too good to be true? “Let down the nets, doing the work that belongs to a fisherman, and let me take care of the rest.” Jesus says. The preaching of the Gospel, and this alone, does the work of gathering the people in. No bait, no lures, no matter how bright or flashy or fun, can do it. What the church has done from the beginning is still the only thing that works. When done at His Word and command, great and rich fruits are the result.
Forget the programs, proclaim the Gospel. Don’t give them what they want, give them what they need! It’s not about relevance, it’s about righteousness. It’s not about what speaks to people today, but He who has spoken His Word of Law and Gospel from the very beginning. It is a matter of trust even in the most discouraging of circumstances, even when trusting would seem to deny all human logic. Yet this is precisely what we are called to do. Why? Because Jesus’ Word will work its effect. As it always does. As it must. Jesus preached the Word of God and the crowds pressed in. God’s Word fits in all places and at all times. Nothing is more necessary for men, nothing more urgent than, the preaching of the Word.
It was so back then. It is even more so now. In fact Luther saw in these fishing boats the church the Old Testament Israelites hauling together with the church of the New Testament Gentiles each with one and the same sort of preaching, and with a corresponding faith and confession. For nothing works better than this net called the Gospel. And that’s the truth, no matter how good it sounds!