PassageA shorter passage in this post than in the last few, since I couldn’t decide how to break up Luke 5 into pieces; I’m just defaulting to going by the ESV section headings.
In Luke 4 (ESV), some emphasis was placed on Jesus preaching the word, mostly in the synagogues. In this passage he’s preaching outdoors, beside the lake of Gennesaret (which, according to the ESV Study Bible, is the Sea of Galilee), and decides to take advantage of one of the boats by the shore, which happens to belong to a man named Simon. (Simon’s name is also Peter, and he tends to go by Peter more often than Simon in the Gospels—it’s the same man. I’m continuing to use “Simon” for this post, since that’s what Luke is using in this passage.) Jesus has Simon put the boat out, a little way from the shore, and then he teaches the crowd from the boat.
When he’s done teaching he tells Simon to put the boat out further, to the deep waters, and let down his nets to catch some fish. Simon gives the kind of answer that—unfortunately—I myself might have given:
And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” (verse 5 (ESV))So Simon is more surprised than anyone when they catch so many fish that the nets are breaking, and he has to call in another boat to help them haul in all of the fish they suddenly have—and even then the boats are so full that they start to sink. Simon’s reaction is to ask Jesus to leave, because Simon is a sinful man. Jesus, however, tells Simon not to be afraid, and that, from now on, Simon and his colleagues (verse 10 (ESV) indicates that James and John were also there) will be catching men instead of catching fish.
So, once they bring the boats back to land, they leave it all behind to follow Jesus.
ThoughtsI don’t remember where I heard this—probably in a sermon, though it could have been a study bible of some kind—but I seem to recall that the reason for Jesus preaching to the crowd from the boat is it would have had good acoustics, for the crowd to better hear him. But who knows, it could also be as simple as not wanting to be trampled by the crowd; verse 1 (ESV) says that the crowd was “pressing in on him,” so this could have been a simple act of self defense.
I’m reading Simon’s initial attitude around letting down the nets as being, “Look, I know better than you on this one—we already tried that!—but I’ll humour you.” There is a certain amount of faith in his actions, he follows through and does what Jesus asks, but I think he’s just humouring Jesus. However, that being said, it’s wholly to Simon’s credit that when they do catch the fish, Simon’s immediate reaction is to recognize that he’s in the presence of someone great—someone godly—and, therefore, to be afraid to be in his presence.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (verse 8 (ESV))It’s the same as Isaiah’s reaction when he sees the Lord in His throne room:
(I didn’t need to quote that much, but I wanted to give the full picture—and it’s a passage worth remembering.)
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I 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!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
(Isaiah 6:1–7 (ESV), emphasis added)
Both Isaiah and Simon have the same reaction: “The Lord is Holy, I am not; if I enter into the Lord’s presence, it will destroy me!” This is a very biblical understanding of the Holiness of God—and of the lack of Holiness in humans—and Isaiah and Simon are right to think this way. (I think this indicates that Simon knows at least some of his Scriptures; I don’t know how learned the fishermen of Simon’s day were, but he’s Jewish, and he at least knows that much.) Does Simon believe that Jesus is actually God? Based on the rest of what we know of the Gospels, no, I don’t think so. But he knows that, at the very least, Jesus is a direct emissary of God’s—that he’s close enough to God that Simon is afraid that some of God’s Holiness will have rubbed off on Jesus, to the point that it might consume Simon. Modern day Christians tend to skip over parts of the Bible that talk about “fearing the Lord,” thinking that God is our friend, and therefore we don’t need to fear Him anymore. And there’s a sense in which that is correct, but there’s also a sense in which we’re making God too small in our minds, and forgetting how Holy He is, and how Holy we’re not. The “fear of the Lord” is as much a New Testament concept as it is an Old Testament concept; see, for example, Acts 9:31 (ESV), 2 Corinthians 5:11 (ESV), and Colossians 3:22 (ESV). Much as it’s good to revel in the ability to be close to God, thanks to Jesus’ work, let’s not forget how big the gap was, before Jesus’ sacrifice. Otherwise, we’re making that sacrifice out to be less than it actually was.