Morning Sermon: I Will Make You Fishers Of Men, Luke 5:1-11

Old Testament Reading: Joshua 1:1–9

“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.’” (Joshua 1:1–9, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Luke 5:1-11

“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he 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.’ 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. 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, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. 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.” (Luke 5:1–11, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


I do love the story of Luke 5:1-11. Clearly, it is about the calling of the first disciples of Jesus. Jesus called three common men – fishermen – to follow him as his special disciples. Simon, who is also called Peter, is highlighted in this story, but James and John, the sons of Zebedee, are also mentioned. And as you can see, Jesus called in them in a miraculous way. They had toiled all night and had caught nothing. Jesus commanded that they put out their nets once more. This, by the way, would have been a hassle. They had packed everything away and were ready to go home. But they obeyed Jesus’ command, and they pulled in an amazingly large number of fish. Clearly, Peter and his business partners considered the haul of fish to be miraculous, for it provoked Peter to fall down at Jesus’ feet and to say, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” In fact, the text says, “all who were with [Peter] were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken”, and this included James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Jesus called Peter and his associates, saying “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And this call, coupled with the miracle performed, compelled these three men to leave everything and to follow after him. So then, most basically, this story is about the calling of Jesus’ first disciples  – three men who would soon become the core of Jesus’ band of Apostles – Peter, James, and John.

But there is a lot more to this story, brothers and sisters. I would like to suggest to you that this miraculous event involving a great catch of fish, coupled with the calling of Jesus’ first disciples (who would soon serve as Apostles) is meant to be interpreted in a metaphorical way. And by that I mean, this historical event involving the miraculous catch of fish at Jesus’ command, was intended by Jesus to symbolize things. 

The text itself points us in this direction when, after the miracle is performed, Jesus speaks to Simon Peter, saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” So then, the miracle of the great harvest of fish was meant to function as a sign or symbol of the great harvest of men that would be accomplished through Peter, James, John, and the other Apostle – indeed, the whole church – through the preaching of the word of Christ. You should know that many of the older commentators – ancient and Reformed – do not miss the symbolism of this passage, but faithfully draw it out. I hope to do the same with you this morning. So let us take some time to draw out the riches contained within this passage. 


By This Miracle, Jesus Demonstrated That He Was The Lord’s Messiah Who Had Come To Establish God’s Eternal Kingdom. 

One, please see that by performing this miracle, Jesus demonstrated that he was the Lord’s Messiah who had come to establish God’s eternal kingdom. 

Remember that Jesus had been healing the sick and casting out demons throughout the region of Galilee. This he did while preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, as Luke 4:43 says. The miracles he performed functioned as a sign, therefore, that the message he preached was true, that the kingdom of God was, in fact, present with power, and that he was indeed the Lord’s promised Messiah, the King of this eternal kingdom. Here Jesus performs a different kind of miracle. He demonstrates that he has authority even over the fish of the sea. Brothers and sisters, I think it is right for us to see this miracle – like all of the others – as being connected with the theme of Christ’s preaching, namely, the good news of the kingdom of God.


By This Miricle, Jesus Showed That His Kingdom Would Expand Through His Apostles

Two, by this miracle – the miracle of the great catch of fish at the hands of Peter – Jesus showed that his kingdom – the kingdom that the proclaimed and came to establish – would expand through his Apostles. 

Think of it. Up to this point, Jesus had ministered alone. He alone (with the exception of his forerunner, John the Baptist) preached the good news of the kingdom of God. But here he begins to call disciples to himself. And not only does he call disciples to himself, he works through them, and promises to work through them in greater ways in the future. 

Notice that Jesus did not haul in the great catch of fish with his own hands but by the hands of Peter and his associates. It was Peter, James, and John who were commissioned by Christ to go out into the sea and cast their nets. And it was the hands of Peter, James, and John who cast the nets into the sea and gathered them in again after the word of Christ filled their nets with a superabundance of fish. 

If you and I were reading this Gospel for the first time, and if we were unfamiliar with the story of the New Testament, we would probably ask, what is the significance of this? Who is this character, Simon? Who are his associates, James and John? And why did Jesus decide to work this miracle through their hands? These are the questions we should ask. And the answer is that this miracle worked through Peter, James, and John, signifying what was to come. The kingdom of God that Christ preached – the kingdom he came to build – the kingdom of which he is King – would be built, not by him only, but by his word and through his Apostles. It would be through his Apostles that Christ would expand his kingdom.


By This Miracle, Jesus Showed That His Kingdom Would Expand Through The Preaching Of The Gospel And The Ingathering Of His Elect Into The Chruch

Three, by this miracle Jesus showed that his kingdom would expand through the preaching of the Gospel and the ingathering of his elect into his church. 

Jesus preached. He preached the good news of the kingdom. And his preaching was primary. The miracles he performed were a support to his preaching. They were a demonstration that his words were true, that he was the Lord’s promised Messiah, and of what he came to do. 

In this instance, Jesus preached, not in a synagogue, but from a boat. The boat of Simon Peter became his pulpit. Some have noticed that up to this point, Jesus’ custom was to preach in the synagogues of the Jews, but here he preaches out in the open – in the world, as it were –  and in the boat of Simon Peter, who would become the leader of the Apostles and one of the foundation stones in Christ’s church. Perhaps this transition from preaching in the Jewish synagogue to preaching in Peter’s boat is meant to signify the great change that was about to take place. The Old Mosaic Covenant was about to give way to the New Covenant. The kingdom of God was about to spread to the ends of the earth. And it would spread, not by the Jews only, but through the church, consisting of all who have faith in Jesus, Jew and Gentile alike. Some have wondered if Peter’s boat symbolizes the church. I think it does, given how the story of the expansion of the kingdom of God will develop from here. 

Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom to the people from Peter’s boat. And then to signify how things would go from here, he commanded Peter to “Put out into the deep and let down [his] nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4, ESV). The command to “put out into the deep” has to remind us of the Great Commission, brothers and sisters, and the command to go to all nations. 

“And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” (Luke 5:5, ESV). Some have suggested that the words, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” are meant to signify the fruitlessness of the Old Covenant era as it pertains to the salvation of the nations. The Hebrews were set apart from the nations, and through them, the nations of the earth were to be blessed (see Genesis 12). But from the days of Abraham to the days of Jesus, the nations were largely left in darkness as it pertains to the light of the gospel and the kingdom of God. The thought is that Peter speaks for Old Covenant Israel when he says, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” 

But then Peter says, “But at your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5, ESV). This symbolizes how Simon Peter, and the other Apostles with him, would answer the call to “Go… and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19, ESV). And so Simon Peter and his associates obeyed the command of Christ. They cast out their nets, “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking” (Luke 5:6, ESV). 

So what does the letting down of nets signify in this miraculous metaphor? It signifies the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ to all nations. And what does the large haul of fish signify? It signifies the success of the gospel of the kingdom. In due time, the gospel of the kingdom would be preached by Peter and others. God’s word will not return empty  (Isaiah 55:11). Christ’s church will be built, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Christ’s kingdom will certainly advance, prosper, and be established for all eternity. God’s elect, from every tongue tribe and nation, will certainly be brought into Christ’s kingdom and kept in it. Christ will catch his fish. And this he will do through his Apostles, by the preaching of the word of God. 

So then, the sea is the world. The casting of nets is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fish are those who respond to the gospel in faith. And who is commissioned to preach this gospel? The Apostles of Jesus were commissioned to preach it. And through them, we, the church, are commissioned to preach it. But who will fill the nets? It is Christ who will fill the nets by his word and through the miracle of regeneration as the Spirit works. And where will these fish be gathered? Not into Moses’ synagogue, but into Peter’s boat, that is to say, into the church of Jesus Christ.



Peter got the message. So too did James and John. 

The text tells us that Peter “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8, ESV). He knew what this meant. He knew that Jesus was the Lord incarnate, the Holy One of Israel come in the flesh. And he also knew that he was a sinful man – “depart from me, for I am a sinful man”, he said. This reaction from Peter should remind us of the reaction of Isaiah the prophet when the Lord called and commissioned him under the Old Covenant. Isaiah said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5, ESV). Indeed, if a man is going to serve the Lord as a minister of the gospel, this must be his disposition. He must be humbled. Peter was humbled by this experience. And he would be humbled even more in the years to come. 

Peter, James, and John also understood the symbolic force of the miracle. “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” (Luke 5:10–11, ESV). So, these men knew that this miracle wasn’t about boats, nets, fish, and the sea. It was about preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to lost souls, urging them to turn from their sins and to trust in Jesus the Messiah. “When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”

Peter, James, and John had a lot to learn. This marked the beginning of their walk with Jesus. They became disciples of Jesus on this day. And Jesus would teach them a great deal so that they would be effective fishers of men. He would humble them too, which, as I said, is an essential characteristic of a minister of the word. 

There is one more observation that I would like to make before concluding with some suggestions for application. Jesus called Peter to follow him in the beginning of his earthly ministry by sending him out into the sea to cast his nets and to fill them with fish so that he might bring them into his boat. And do not forget that Jesus re-commissioned Peter in the very same way at the end of his earthly ministry, after his death, burial, and resurrection, and before his ascension. 

Peter was severely humbled by his threefold denial of Christ on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. And Jesus took special care to restore Peter and to send him out with boldness before he ascended to the Father. 

This story is found in John 21, where we read, “After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” Had Peter and the others given up on the way of Christ? Did they intend to go back to their old way of life? It seems so. The text goes on to say, “Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved [John] therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn” (John 21:1–11, ESV).

Now, this story found in John’s gospel deserves to be considered on its own terms, but it is also worth comparing with the story found in Luke’s gospel. Both stories are about commissioning. In Luke 5 Peter is called and commissioned by Jesus to be a disciple so that he might become a fisher of men. In John 21 Peter is re-commissioned (after stumbling) so that he might be the fisher of men that Christ had called him to be. Rember, it is in John 21 that Jesus restores Peter by asking him three times, “Do you love me?”, and then commanding him to “feed my lambs”, “tend my sheep”, and “feed my sheep.”  The threefold questioning and the threefold commissioning were certainly meant to counteract Peter’s threefold denial of Christ. 

Peter and the other Apostles were to be fishers of men. They were commissioned by Christ to go out into the deep, to cast the net of the gospel into the waters, and, in full reliance upon the blessing of Christ, to bring into the church all who believe the gospel and profess that Jesus is Lord. The events at the beginning and end of Jesus’ earth ministry make this very clear. Notice one difference between the stories, though. In the first event, the nets broke as Peter and his partners hauled them in. But in the second occurrence – the one recorded in John 21 – we are told that the nets did not break. Why? Because only after the resurrection of Christ were the disciples fully prepared to “go and to make disciples of all nations.”


Suggestions For Application

I’ll conclude now by making a few suggestions for the application. And we should be careful here, for none of us have been called to do what Peter, James, and John were called to do, exactly. These men were set apart as  Apostles. Peter, in particular, was to function as a leader of that Apostolic band. Nevertheless, there is application to be made. 

Firstly, if any here wish to be a part of Christ’s kingdom, and if any wish to be used to further his kingdom, then we must come to Christ as Peter did. He humbly fell at Christ’s knees and honored him as the great King that he is. To have Jesus as Savior, we must have him as Lord and honor him as King. 

Secondly, we should give thanks to God for the way in which he has brought the good news of the kingdom of Christ even to us who live nearly 2,000 years after the kingdom was inaugurated, and on the other side of the world. Truly, the boat of Peter has sailed a long way off into the deep, and the nets of the gospel have been cast very far, in order to gather us in. God had been merciful to us Gentiles to bring us the good news about Jesus the Messiah. More than this, God has been merciful to us to catch us in his net and to gather us into himself by the preaching of his word and the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit. 

Thirdly, though it is true that Christ Peter to cast out his net, and though it is true that he commissioned his Apostles to “Go and make disciples of all nations…”, it is also true that this commission belongs to us too. The command to “Go and make disciples of all nations” has been handed down to the church from generation to generation so that it might be said of all of us that Christ desires to make us fishers of men. Some have been particularly called to minister the Word of God. But collectively, we are all called to be concerned to see the nets of the gospel spread abroad so that more and more of God’s fish might be gathered in until Christ returns. 

Though it is true that only some have been called to preach and to teach, all are to pray for the success of the gospel. All are to give of their treasures and talents to support the preaching of the gospel. And all of God’s people are to “hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in [them]… with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).

You see, brothers and sisters, it is not you or I alone who have been commissioned by Christ to “Go… and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV), but the church collectively has been entrusted with this mission. It has been passed down to us from Christ and the Apostles. And so we are to labor together, using the various gifts and resources that God has given to each one of us, to see this mission succeed. 

Together, we must continue to cast the nets of the gospel out into the deep. We must cast them, not according to our own wisdom or strength, but in obedience to the word of Christ and with the strength that he supplies. We must trust that he will fill the nets of the gospel according to his will, by his word, and by the working of the Spirit. And when he fills our nets, we must be faithful to bring these disciples which Christ has caught into the church through the waters of baptism, teaching these to observe all that Christ has commanded, knowing that our Lord is with us even to the end of the age.  Christ will further his kingdom. Christ will build his church. But he has determined to do it through his disciples – first, Peter, James, John, and the other Apostles, and now us. May the Lord make us faithful and fruitful servants of his. Amen.

Comments are closed.

"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church