After using Peter’s boat as a floating pulpit, Jesus took advantage of the intimate setting to hook his first disciples. Knowing the task he would set before Simon Peter and the others as they followed him and entered into his ministry, the Lord needed to demonstrate his knowledge, power, and provision in catching fish before he could ask them to catch men. Jesus often shows us that he can provide for our physical needs to demonstrate that he can also provide for our spiritual needs.
As is often the case with the miracles of Jesus, the circumstances surrounding the event paint a bleak, if not impossible, picture. For starters, Jesus, a carpenter, attempted to tell Peter, a seasoned fisherman, how to fish. Then we learn the night before had proved unfruitful in fishing, though they worked themselves to the bone. As if that were not enough, Jesus asked them to lower their nets during the day, a time when fishing usually yielded much smaller catches. Peter, though probably skeptical, responded kindly to Jesus by calling him master and following his orders. Peter dropped the larger nets used for night fishing and waited to see what would happen next. The deck was stacked against them: inexperienced teacher, bad luck, wrong time of day. If only we had a snapshot of Peter’s face as the nets filled and filled! Through Jesus’s presence and instruction, provision overflowed.
Once the two boats teemed and sank with the miraculous catch, Peter realized Jesus exercised power beyond that of a normal man. Though he started by calling Him Master (επιστατα—epistata) a term meant to signify a high social standing, Peter now rightly called Jesus Lord κυριε—kurie), a term that recognized Jesus’ authority and God working through Him. Peter, in the presence of the Lord, felt the weight of his own sinfulness and out of fear asked Jesus to depart so that he might not face judgment or other dangers. At this point Peter learned his second lesson from Jesus: he had not come to condemn but to invite. Although Jesus’s power and provision could lead to immediate judgment for sinners, he came to call Peter and the others to leave the life of fishermen and enter into the life of fishers of men.
Using the miraculous catch of fish as part of His résumé, Jesus communicated through word and deed that in the same way He taught them in this catch, he would most certainly teach them in spiritual matters as his disciples. After all, catching people is like catching fish: it requires Christ’s provision and presence. The miracle ended with Jesus’s calming words to Peter and his invitation to follow him in a life of discipleship and evangelism. Jesus extends that same invitation from the Sea of Galilee two thousand years ago to us today. Will you, like Peter, recognize that Jesus is so much more than a master? Rather, he is the risen Lord and worthy to be followed.