“1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. 3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. 4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. 5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. 6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. 7 And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: 10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. 11 And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.” Luke 5:1-11
I remember when I was a young man and contemplating studying for the ministry, an uncle of mine jokingly told me that being a pastor was a great job because “you only have to work a half-day a week and you can go fishing the rest of the time.” And, to be honest with you, it’s even better than that. A pastor’s job allows him to go fishing every day of the week. Of course, the same is true for every Christian.
All of us, like Peter, are unworthy to serve the almighty Son of God or even be in His presence (v. 8), yet Jesus called Peter and He called His apostles and He calls His Church — every true believer — to be fishers of men, to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (cf. Luke 5:10; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 8:4). Even though we may have tried our best and “toiled all the night,” Jesus commands us to let down our nets again and again, trusting that He will accomplish His purposes.
And so we do. We continue to preach and share God’s Word, knowing and trusting God’s promise that His Word will not return to Him void, without accomplishing His purpose.
The Bible tells us in Isaiah 55:10-11: “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
Perhaps we can take the analogy of this Scripture text even further. Jesus commanded His disciples to launch out into the deep and let down their nets for a catch. He didn’t tell them to stand on the safety of the shore and try to bait the fish in. He sent them out to where the fish were — in the deep — and it is there where they were to let down their nets.
So also, Jesus would have us go out into the world where the people are — maybe even into places we would rather not go — and there let down our nets.
It doesn’t usually work to call the fish to come onto the shore or to jump into our boats. Nor is it sufficient to simply invite people to come within the walls of our church building that they might hear the Word of God and believe. We need to go to them and find ways to reach them with the Word of God where they are. It’s only when they are caught in the net out there that they can be brought into the boat and in here!
The Bible tells us that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). But it also says: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:13-16).
Though I have read these articles of faith to you before, I again remind you of Articles IV and V of the Augsburg Confession, to which we all subscribe:
Article IV. Of Justification.
Also they teach, that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, hath made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
Article V. Of the Ministry of the Church.
That we may obtain this faith, the Office of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who worketh faith where and when it pleaseth God in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justified those who believe that they are received into favor for Christ’s sake.
So, how do we launch out into the deep that we might catch men for Jesus? First of all, we need to go out where the people are and not expect them to come to us where we are.
Secondly, we need to let down our nets, and they may need to be let down deep to where the fish are. That means finding ways to touch people’s lives with God’s Word where they are and in ways they will hear.
Thirdly, we need to remember who it is that fills the nets and follow His fishing instructions. We won’t catch souls for Jesus unless the nets we let down are His words of Law and Gospel — His words warning people concerning their sin and its eternal consequences and His words telling them of God’s mercy and forgiveness and of life eternal in Christ Jesus, who fulfilled all righteousness for us and then suffered and died on the cross for our sins and the sins of all, and rose again in victory!
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” And to the Romans, Paul wrote (Rom. 4:23-25: “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
Jesus was delivered up to die and pay the price for our sins and the sins of the world, and Jesus was raised up again on the third day in victory, proving that atonement has been made. Why? That we might believe on Him and trust that in Him we have a Savior, that through faith in Him and His cross, we have pardon and forgiveness and are justified and counted righteous in God’s eyes.
And, what a great job God has given to us as believers! We get to go fishing every day by taking the message of His Word out into the deep, where the lost are, and catching them with the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus, who is God’s Son and our Savior, who died for the sins of the world and rose again in victory!
God grant that we hear His Word and trust in Christ Jesus, our Savior! And God grant that we hear His call and let down our nets in the deep and become fishers of men! Amen.
Dear Lord Jesus, You have called us to be fishers of men, to launch out into the deep and let down the net of Your Word for a catch. Grant us the faith to heed Your call and to go out into the world and proclaim Your Word to people where they are that You might fill the nets and bring people from the depths of their sin to faith in You as their Savior. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]