(A) Introduction. (Read the passage.)

During the early part of Jesus' ministry the Galilean fishermen whom he called to discipleship followed on a part-time basis. While Jesus was based at Capernaum they were able to fish at night and be with Jesus during the day. This arrangement came to an end after Jesus called Peter and his associates to become fishers of men.

(B) Jesus attracted a following.

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding round him and listening to the word of God, ... . v1.

Jesus pulled a crowd. He was a very compelling speaker. However, he did not speak in the manner of latter day English protestants. He was no Charles Haddon Spurgeon or Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones! A preacher like Spurgeon took a text like, "From now on you will catch men." and dealt with it exhaustively and eloquently under a series of headings: A fisher of men must be: (a) Dependent and trustful. (b) Diligent and persevering. (c) Intelligent and watchful. (d) Laborious and self-denying. (e) Daring - not afraid to venture upon a dangerous sea. (f) Successful - he is no fisher who never catches anything. This was not Jesus method.

Jesus teaching appealed because it was:

(1) Concise. Jesus aimed to convey the greatest amount of truth in the smallest number of words. This requires much greater skill than the carefully structured, closely reasoned, elaborate and exhaustive discourse of a Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. (I am a great admirer of Lloyd-Jones!) A fine example of Jesus art is found in Luke6v38: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." For 2000 years everyone has understood exactly what Jesus means by this. Jesus is teaching in a few words the importance and benefit of giving good value. I imagine that after passing on such a rare gem of wisdom Jesus would pause for his hearers to repeat, digest and discuss it.

(2) Graphic. Jesus taught profound truths by creating vivid pictures in the mind. In the example above his hearers would see in their mind's eye a pint pot of dried peas - with the peas piled up and cascading down the sides. Take another example from Mt7v26and27: "But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." It isn't difficult to visualise that house built on the sands and gravels of a wadi bottom succumbing in dramatic fashion to the storm. Such is the disaster facing those who know what Jesus taught but fail to implement it.

(3) Penetrating. Jesus taught with startling force. His teaching shakes us and undermines our complacency. It brings us up short and forces us to examine ourselves. Consider, for example, what Jesus had to say about a critical spirit: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye.'" Mt7v3. We know that we have some planks in our eye: self-love, bias, prejudice and ignorance. How foolish of us to worry about the irritating but trivial faults of our brother! Jesus puts across the absurdity of our fussy, prissy, judgmental attitude brilliantly.

(4) Stimulating. Jesus' intense, concentrated nuggets of truth can be expanded - a bit like juice concentrates can be diluted - made to go further. The Beatitudes, for instance, are intensely thought provoking and cry out for further development. See series of expositions on the Beatitudes.

(5) Memorable. There are very few of Jesus' sayings that Christians do not know off by heart. They lodge fast in the mind. They stick like burrs. I have just finished studying in depth Paul's wonderful first epistle to the Corinthians. I can remember nothing in that challenging letter as well as I can the parables of Jesus.

It is little wonder Jesus drew a crowd!

(C) Jesus asked a favour.

He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon and asked him to put out a little from shore. v3.

Jesus was hemmed in on the lake shore. People in the crowd were pushing forward and right on top of him. Those further back from the lake could not see him. It is significant that Jesus is described as standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He couldn't sit down to teach because then he would be hidden from the majority of the congregation. The Master needed to put some space between himself and his audience and so he commandeers Peter's boat and asks him to put out a little from the shore. v3. Everyone could see Jesus in his floating pulpit and the sound would travel clearly over the still waters of the lake.


(1) Jesus never minded asking a favour. He needed a donkey and colt on which to ride into Jerusalem. Jesus didn't possess a donkey - but he knew a man who did! His disciples were told to collect the donkey and colt; if asked what they were up to Jesus told them to reply: "The Lord needs them." Mt21v3. Jesus accepted gifts from well-to-do women, requested a drink on the cross and was buried in a borrowed tomb. It is a mark of his humility that he, the Lord of Glory, asked and accepted favours.

We should never mind asking a favour for Christ's sake. My old friend, Pastor John Skull, during his years as Skipper of Pioneer Camp never minded asking local Christian farmers for a favour - a digger to excavate the waste pit - a tractor and trailer to cart wood for the camp bonfire - free run of the local woods. This evening Roger Cawston is going to travel 30 miles out of his way to take me to and from church - as my faithful old Peugeot has finally given up the ghost. I am not embarrassed about this - it is a favour offered in Jesus' name.

(2) Jesus didn't expect to be denied. He hardly expected Peter to refuse him the use of his boat! Jesus does not expect us to deny him the use of our possessions, time and talents.

(3) Peter must have counted it a privilege to share his boat with Jesus. As Jesus taught, Peter doubtless remained in the boat with him. Perhaps he even continued washing and mending his nets as the Master spoke to the crowd. It is a scene of some intimacy.

I am sure that we are pleased to share a meal, our home, a holiday, a treat with a special friend. My two friends John and Marion invited me to spend a walking holiday with them in the Lake District last year. I think that they were pleased to share with me the free accommodation that their time share company had made available to them.

Whenever Christians share with one of Christ's servants they also share with their friend Jesus. In the parable of the sheep and the goats the King said: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Mt25v40.

We can bring so much blessing to others through sharing what we have. I can remember as a 15-year-old going on holiday to Mundlesey in North Norfolk with my parents and three brothers. My parents were poor and we had very few family holidays. Our week's holiday in Mundlesey was free of charge courtesy of a Christian couple who owned a guest house. It brought much happiness to my mother! Several years ago now I received an invitation from a former pupil, the Rev John Aves, to give the sermon at Attleborough Church of England where he was the vicar. It gave me great pleasure to share the pulpit with my old student and fellow Christian. (I have not found many of my friends in the ministry willing to let me share their pulpit!!)

(4) Conditions need to be right in order to teach effectively. A preacher needs to be clearly seen and heard. I attended a thanksgiving service for a fine Christian worker recently. I can understand why it was held in his home church but sadly the building was too small for the number who attended. People were packed into side rooms or left to stand outside. More thought should have been given to those who wanted to see and hear the speakers.

A teacher, or preacher, also needs to feel comfortable to give of his best. He requires space to move about in, good lighting and a decent sized, gently sloping surface - at the right height - on which to put his notes. It is also a help if the preacher can see his congregation. There is a tendency in some of the churches in which I speak for the handful of worshippers to lurk in the dimly lit corners of the building. Finally, distractions should be kept to a minimum. When I taught in school it would not have been thought appropriate for babies to be howling at the back of the classroom or toddlers to be running between the desks! I certainly would not tolerate any talking while I was speaking. Youth leaders should insist on good behaviour when they address their group. No-one can teach effectively in bedlam!

(D) Jesus advised a fisherman.

(1) A request that could easily have been refused.

Jesus told Peter: "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." v4.

Peter could have refused because:

    (a) He was tired. Peter said: "Master we've worked hard all night ... ." v5.

    Peter and his associates have been on the go for many hours. They were physically tired and looking forward to catching up on their sleep. It is difficult to make that extra effort when weary.

    It is certainly true that many Christians feel too tired to put their backs into church work. Believers in well paid but demanding jobs are so exhausted by Friday evening that all they want to do is chill out. It is as much as they can do to get to church on Sunday morning. Many blessings are missed because of this attitude.

    I knew a shopkeeper and his wife who worked all hours God gave to build up their business. Sunday was their one day off. For years they were too tired to attend chapel more than fitfully. On retirement they threw themselves into church work - but God gave them only a few years before calling them home. What a difference the couple could have made if fully committed to Christ's service earlier.

    There are those who keep on keeping on notwithstanding their weariness and discover that God supplies the energy they need. John Day, one of the Grace Baptist itinerant preachers, was getting near to the end of his battle with bone cancer. The week he died John conducted two Sunday Services at Dunmow. Although he was very, very tired God supplied him the strength he needed - and got him home to Ipswich safely - just!

    (b) They had failed. Although Peter and his associates had worked industriously all night they had caught nothing - not one tiny fish. They were not amateurs - Peter, Andrew and the sons of Zebedee were highly proficient fishermen. There were no fish about, the force was not with them - enough was enough.

    It is hard to persevere in the face of failure. Many, many fellowships in Britain have for the last 50 years experienced much failure. The fish are elusive - they do not gather in great shoals to be netted in quantity! The fish are also cunning and increasingly unwilling to take the bait. Tract and church newsletter distributors, open air preachers, youth workers and Sunday school teachers have little or no success. If you have spent many years fishing and caught nothing you don't need someone like Charles Haddon Spurgeon to convince you that you are not much of a fisherman. You know that - and are in danger of giving up in disgust!

    The lesson from the bulging nets of the Galilean fishermen is to keep trying. Their success followed a long night of catching absolutely nothing at all.

    (c) It was inconvenient. Peter and his brother had just finished washing their nets preparatory to stretching them out to dry on the shore. This was a necessity to prevent the nets from rotting. If they resumed fishing the nets would need to be washed all over again.

    How easy to put off Christian service because it is not convenient to make a regular commitment. There is a job that you could easily do but it is just too much trouble. We are inclined to react like this to mundane practical jobs like cleaning, care taking, grass cutting, hedge clipping, counting and banking money, washing up and so on. Jesus expects our first priority - our very first priority - to be the kingdom of God. He even expects us to put the interests of the kingdom before the necessities of life - like food and clothing. So he certainly expects us to put the kingdom before our pleasures, recreation, leisure and hobbies.

    (d) Jesus had a cheek! Jesus, the carpenter, was telling Peter the professional fisherman how to fish! What did Jesus know about fishing! It is very easy for us to believe that when it comes to our secular work we know better than Jesus.

    I like the anecdote that I have used elsewhere in these expositions. A well-known rogue made something of a stir in his backwoods American community by converting to Christianity. An acquaintance phoned to corroborate the rather surprising news. The conversation went a little like this:

    "Well Jed - I hear you've become a Christian."

    "That's right!"

    "So you don't swear no more?"

    "Sure don't Archie!"

    "Have you given up boozing too?"

    "Sure have Archie!"

    "And gambling?"

    "Sure enough Archie!"

    "You're a changed man?"

    "You never spoke a truer word my friend."

    "Well what about paying that thousand dollars you owe me."

    "That ain't Christianity Archie - that's business!"

    Jesus does know about business and his advice will help us to succeed in it. It is sound business practice to give good measure - good value for money. Public houses that provide quality food at a reasonable price are never short of customers. A proficient, reliable plumber whose rates are fair does not have to advertise for work.

    (d) Success seemed highly unlikely. Jesus told Peter to fish in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most fish were caught at night in the shallows. Peter knew it was unlikely that any fish would be caught in deep water during daylight hours.

    Jesus teaching might not seem conducive to success. It is doubtful whether politicians, the masters of spin, pay much heed to these words of the Master: "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No'; 'No.'" Mt5v37.

    Many teachers, including Christian ones, find something like this hard to implement: "Do good to those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven." Mt5v44. I have tended to advocate whacking rude, disruptive pupils! What does Jesus know about it!

    Publicity conscious businessmen are hardly likely to follow this guideline: "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets - to be honoured by men." Mt6v2. A sponsor likes as much publicity as he can get - he demands his money's worth! But, even in business it is more important to be honoured by God than recognised by men.

(2) Peter agreed to Jesus' request.

Peter does protest - he lets Jesus know that he isn't really keen on resuming fishing but then says, "But because you say so, I will let down the nets." v5. I think Peter was being rather patronising. He was humouring Jesus. He would let down the nets again as a special favour to Jesus!

Whatever Peter's motive he did obey Jesus! He may have been reluctant to accept, and even amused to receive, advice from a carpenter on how to fish but nonetheless he did what Jesus asked. He took a risk, launched out into the deep and cast his nets one more time. Are we prepared to follow the advice of Jesus - whatever the risk - whatever the cost?

(3) The result.

(a) Peter experienced success beyond his wildest dreams. He and his fellow fishermen were astonished at the catch of fish. v9. Luke gives us a wonderful description of the spectacular haul: They caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full they began to sink. v7.

I experienced unexpected success as a teacher when I implemented Christ's teaching. I did find that my relationship with difficult pupils improved when I prayed for them and treated them with respect. I can remember once accusing a rather truculent girl called, Ann, of writing on her desk, 'Anne'. She denied the charge and marched out of the room shouting a torrent of abuse. I had made a mistake! Later, I went into her form room and admitted my mistake and asked her publicly to forgive me. I never had the least bit of trouble from Ann ever again.

(b) It was a shared success. There was no way that Peter could have landed a net full of fish by himself. I believe it is very rare to net large quantities of sinners working alone.

(c) Peter's reaction to the catch is interesting. He certainly attributes it to Jesus. Peter is humbled by the sheer quantity of fish caught. He falls at the feet of the Master and gives him all the credit. It is a pity that we sometimes fail to do this when the Holy Spirit blesses our Christian service.

I think Peter's cry: "Go away from me, Lord; I am sinful man!" shows that he was aware that his attitude to Jesus had been condescending and patronising. Peter hadn't expected to catch any fish. He had thrown down his nets into deep water to keep Jesus happy!

We should neither patronise Jesus nor those who serve him. I am afraid the world does patronise us. It tolerates the church because it provides some benefits to society - keeps a few young people off the streets, provides facilities for mothers and toddlers, cares for the elderly, makes people feel better about themselves, maintains buildings of historic interest and so on. The world does not give the church any credit for preaching Christ crucified - the only hope for lost sinners.

(E) Jesus anticipated the future.

Jesus said to Simon: "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." So they pulled their boats on the shore, left everything and followed him." v10and11.

(1) Catching large numbers in the gospel net.

Jesus' words to Peter have encouraged many preachers to spiritualise the large haul of fish the disciples caught by launching out into deep. I am much more cautious about doing this because I have never witnessed sinners being saved in huge numbers.

Nevertheless it must be admitted that Peter did catch large numbers in the gospel net. On the day of Pentecost his preaching resulted in the salvation of 3000 souls. He launched out into the deep when he went to the home of Cornelius and as a result many Gentiles were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit.

I think in order to net large numbers of sinners - like Paul, John Wesley, William Booth, D.L. Moody and Billy Graham - certain conditions have to be met.

The highly successful fisherman needs to be:

    (a) Called to the work. It was Peter who preached on the Day of Pentecost - not James son of Alphaeus or Simon the Zealot. None of the apostles founded churches among the Gentiles like Paul - he was appointed to preach the gospel to the Greeks. It is foolish to pretend that every Christian can land a net full of converts. This sort of triumphalist claptrap flies in the face of experience.

    (b) Free from distractions. Peter left everything to become a fisher of men.

    (c) Totally dedicated. Peter followed him (Jesus). The great evangelists have, everyone of them, been single-minded in their quest for sinners. John Wesley challenged all and sundry on his journeys the length and breadth of England about the state of their souls - coachmen, ostlers, grooms, innkeepers, serving maids and travelling companions. He went fishing wherever he was.

    This is how F.W. Boreham concluded his essay on D.L. Moody in, 'Cliffs of Opal': In 1874, Mr Moody being then 37 wrote from Scotland to Major Whittle: 'I am doing just one thing. That is my motto: one thing. This one thing I do.' There lies the secret - a secret that appeared so obvious and unmistakable to all who heard him. He felt - every day, every hour, every moment - the unutterable preciousness of the meanest human soul. He felt - every day, every hour, every moment - the all-availing efficacy of the crucified Redeemer to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him. And therefore it became the most natural thing in the world for him to dedicate every day, every hour, every moment to the sublime task of bringing sinner and Saviour together.

    I was talking recently to the leader of a village church that has grown substantially over recent years by the conversion of local young people. Mark said, "The secret of our success is that we preach the gospel." I disagreed with him! There are many Grace Baptist churches where the gospel is regularly preached. I preach the gospel without seeing lots saved. The church, of which Mark is leader, has grown because he is very, very focused on getting young people converted - it is overwhelmingly his top priority. I cannot honestly say it has ever been mine. I am more dedicated to expounding a passage of Scripture and declaring whatever truth in contains.

    (d) Willing to take risks. Paul went with the gospel where no other apostle would go. William Booth took it into the slums of the East End of London. Pioneering missionaries have preached Christ crucified to the far flung corners of the earth. Today, the gospel net is being cast with great success in the prisons of many countries.

    (e) Supported by others. It is no use expecting one man working by himself in a small, declining fellowship to haul in a net full of fish. He is not going to be able to do it any more than Peter was able to land his catch single-handedly. Trawlers manned by a decent sized crew are always going to catch more than a man fishing off the end of the pier!

    I was very thankful to be involved for 20 years with Pioneer Camp. For a fortnight every summer a group of Christians dedicated themselves to present Christ to young people. We felt called to serve God in this way. Risks were taken - especially by the Sports Organiser. Above all we worked as a team. As a result many young people came to know and love Jesus.

(2) Other kinds of fishing.

Not every Christian is going to fish with nets. Most Christians are never going to see men and women converted in large numbers. I imagine that more fish are actually caught by rod and line than in nets. There are something like 2 million anglers in Britain alone! I expect rod and line fishermen caught most of the millions of Christians in the church today.

There are many techniques for catching fishing. A lot depends upon the sort of fish you are trying to catch. So it is with sinners. No one method is suitable for all. Therein lies the beauty of the rod and line - it is highly flexible. Many different sorts of bait can be used. Various casting methods can be tried. Most Christians have a different tale to tell on how they got caught! I have just finished reading six different testimonies in the Dec 2007 edition of Evangelical Times. I congratulate Evangelical Times on publishing testimonies because they are so encouraging to other Christians. Each of the believers who gave their testimony was caught by rod and line: the prayer of a Christian friend trapped and dying in a well; the conduct of young Christian men in the Stockwell Y.M.C.A.; the witness of two ladies whose purpose was to befriend foreign students; the preaching of a Church of England minister in Manchester; a Gideon Bible on a bedside table; a leaflet read by a devoted grandson.

When I was a boy I used to fish in Clock Pond on Brockley village green with a rod cut out of the hedge, a line of sewing thread, a cork for a float and a bent pin for a hook. On the hook was placed a small pellet of dough. Notwithstanding the primitive equipment I, along with the other boys in the village, caught many roach and a few carp. Anyone can catch a fish. Anyone can bring a sinner to Jesus. We are never too old nor too young to go fishing for Christ. When I gave this little talk to the ladies' fellowship at Wetherden Audrey told me of a woman recently baptised at the Stowmarket Grace Baptist Church. This woman worked as a carer and one of those she was employed to look after was David Woodford - a long time elder at the Stowmarket Church. David, notwithstanding his frailty and incapacity, was able with God's help to introduce his carer to the Lord.

I have often seen men fishing from the pebble beaches of East Suffolk in the grey waters of the North Sea. There is not a fish in sight! There is just wind and waves and shingle and sky! The fishermen cast and cast and cast - over and over and over again. I have never seen a single fish caught. Those fishermen experience much failure! But they are on Aldeburgh beach because there are fish in the sea. As a Christian I very much identify with those fishermen! Their efforts are an example of hope triumphing over experience! But then, unexpectedly, suddenly and gloriously a beautiful sea bass is realed in. What joy for the fisherman! What joy, too, for the Christian when a soul is saved. What joy in heaven - for there is rejoicing in heaven over ONE sinner who repents. Lk15v7.