Fishing for People (Luke 5:1-11)

By Andrew E. Courtis

Career changes are not that uncommon these days and there are all sorts of reasons why people may change their career. In addition to common career changes, it is very interesting to hear about those that have a radical career change. 

In Luke 5:1-11 we learn about a radical career change. In this passage we will learn how Jesus turned men who caught fish into men who will catch people. The context to this incredible story is found in the opening verses of this passage,

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 (5:1-3)

In this message I will consider the command (5:4-5), the catch (5:6-7), the confession (5:8-10a), and the commission (5:10b-11) that leads to the radical change.

1.        THE COMMAND (5:4-5)

After Jesus finished His sermon, He issued the following command to Peter “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (5:5). This was a simple command. But after hearing this Peter responds with reluctance. He is hesitant because he and the others with him had been fishing all night, and there was no success. From where Peter stands, he knows what he is talking about. He is an experienced fisherman after all. Jesus, who is a carpenter is telling Peter, who is a fisherman, how to fish. This explains his hesitancy.  

Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you know what you should do, so as to be obedient to God, but you hesitate? Perhaps you hesitate because it is not what others are doing. Maybe you hesitate because it doesn’t match what you think should happen. Most often, we struggle to be obedient to God when God’s command clashes with our plans or priorities. We often carry with us a bad attitude when it comes obedience to God’s Word. 

Though Peter was reluctant, he relented and said, “But at your word I will let down the nets”. There are some situations where the command of Christ makes us feel uncomfortable and hesitant. Regardless of how we feel, or what you think is right, we need to learn to submit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ. No matter what the situation is, when the Word of God speaks into how we should live or respond, that is our duty. God knows what He is doing. We are finite – He is infinite. We are weak – He is strong. When Peter said “But at your word I will let down the nets”,  he will later on write that it was by the same word Jesus spoke this universe into existence, He brought a flood upon this world, and He will issue a final fiery judgment (2 Pet. 3:5-7). The word of Jesus Christ is powerful. Nothing in this universe can prevent the power of His Word. This is why we must take seriously what the Word of God says, even when it seems strange to us. 

A lesson to learn here is that even when obedience to Jesus Christ seems strange and against what we think is right or comfortable, we ought to embrace His Word and walk in it.  

2.        THE CATCH (5:6-7)

So they gathered all their fishing equipment, got ready, and then went out into the deep. To their surprise the nets were filled with “a large number of fish”, so much so that “their nets were breaking” (5:6). You can just hear the sound of the ropes beginning to break! The load was far too big for them so “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” (5:7). Now this would make a good fishing story. In this case it didn’t matter how big the fish was, they hade a record number in their net! 

Now something far bigger than a great story of a huge haul of fish is going on here. Jesus is illustrating a few important things to these men. He is showing them who He is and what He is going to do through them. Jesus is the all-knowing and all-powerful Lord. He not only had both the power and the knowledge to make this miracle happen, He will also do something even bigger that will extend far beyond a great catch of fish. Jesus is going to build a Church and the gates of Hell with not prevail against it. The Church that Jesus will build will consist of all sorts of people. This miracle is a picture of what Jesus is going to do through these disciples. Little did they know that the future of a global Church, made up of men and woman from every tribe, language, and nation, will come by means of their future ministry.

We at times may feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of what God is doing, but we are to trust Him. God has a sovereign plan and He will carry it out in a way that is often different to what we think should happen. But He will glorify His great and worthy name. Just as the load was too much for Peter and those with him, when we feel like the nets are breaking, we will do well to trust in the Lord and seek support from His people.

3.        THE CONFESSION (5:8-10a)

What has just happened is amazing. When Peter comes to grips with what has just happened, it has a profound effect on him. Falling down on his knees Peter said to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (5:8). He does two things; he humbles himself and he honours Christ. It is interesting that when he was confronted with Christ’s greatness nothing else mattered. The fish filled the boat, but they didn’t distract him.

His humility is seen in that he says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man”. Here Peter recognizes his sin and unworthiness. When we have our eyes on our priorities and our passions, we don’t see our sin. In-fact, we often boast of how great and wonderful we are. When Peter was confronted by the majesty of Jesus Christ it impacted him. This is what happened to Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 6:1-8), and this is what will happen to John before he writes the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:9-20). When we see Jesus for who He truly is, we see ourselves for who we truly are, and it is not a pretty picture. His holiness exposes all our hidden blemishes.

After being humbled by what he saw, Peter also honours Christ by calling Him “O Lord”. This was not just mere lip service. These words came as the result of a heart-felt conviction that Jesus is Lord over all things. Notice when Jesus asked him to put their nets out into the deep, Peter called Him “Master” (5:5). That title has now been replaced with “Lord” because of the elevated view he has of Jesus. Jesus is Lord, and here Peter affirms the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. 

If we are going to grow as God’s people, we must be humbling ourselves and honouring Christ. In practical terms, how can we humble ourselves and honour Christ? It comes by knowing Christ. Knowing Him involves a close relationship with Him where we learn about Him, love Him, live for Him, and long for Him. As we come face-to-face with His greatness as revealed in the pages of Scripture and walk with Him, we learn that outside of Him we can do nothing (cf. John 15:5). This humbling reality strips away our pride and leaves us only seeing His glory and greatness. 

That day on the boat Peter’s thinking changed. He saw his depravity and horridness and he saw Christ’s deity and holiness. He was on his knees a broken man with no hope in himself.

Luke tells us that Peter “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” (5:9-10a). This miracle was witnessed by a small group of men that will be chosen to be leaders in the future church.

4.        THE COMMISSION (5:10b-11) 

Peter was left exposed and undone, but Jesus doesn’t leave him like this. We must never be afraid of the holiness of Christ exposing our sin, because Jesus Christ is also a tender and loving Saviour. Jesus commands Simon Peter “Do not be afraid”. They are very gracious words from Jesus.  In-fact, this is the most repeated command that comes from Jesus in the gospel accounts. 

After giving Him courage based on His comfort, Jesus continues by saying, “from now on you will be catching men”. I love the words “from now on”. It doesn’t matter what has happened before, now that Peter has humbled himself and honoured Christ, he now has a new opportunity to serve and be useful in the kingdom of God. You may have lived a life that does not please the Lord. Humble yourself under the mighty and gracious hand of Jesus, honour Him and then embrace the words “from now on”. 

From this moment, Peter has now been commissioned to become a fisherman of people. This is a special call on his life to be a gospel preacher and minister. Later, he will be set apart as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. In a few years time, Peter will stand before a very large crowd, and with clarity and conviction he will preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then he will see a huge response where 3,000 people will turn from their sin and come find salvation in Jesus Christ. This huge haul will no doubt remind him of the time in the boat with Jesus.  

After being given this commission from Jesus and “when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (5:11). This was an immediate and life changing action. They have demonstrated their wholehearted commitment to follow Jesus.  Now we are not all called to the exact ministry of Peter and the other disciples. But regardless of whether we are called to pack up everything and serve the Lord in a far away place or if you are to stay in your job and community, we must humble ourselves and honour Christ. Jesus Christ is to be first in everything. He must be first in our private life. He must be first in our marriage. He must be first in our jobs. In all things He must have the first place.  


This gripping passage teaches us that Jesus is Lord, and that He is going to do a work in which He will draw people into His Kingdom. There are some final lessons worthy of consideration.

Our Lord is in control of all things, so we can trust Him, even when we don’t understand the situationEven though Peter was hesitant to go fishing, he learnt that Jesus was in complete control of the situation. We will be required to do things that don’t match our agenda, but we must learn to submit our agenda to Christ.  

Our Lord is building His Church, so we should be willing and ready to receive and welcome in people from all sorts of backgroundsThe fish were caught because of the sovereign power of Jesus. People are saved because of the sovereign power of Jesus. But when the Lord saves different, He saves people of all kinds. We need to have gospel shaped hearts and receive people with warmth and love. 

Our Lord is Holy, so we should humble ourselves and we willing and ready to serve Him no matter what the costAfter Peter was confronted with the holiness and majesty of Christ, he was humbled and then ready for Christian service. This service had a cost, but because he was gripped by Christ’s greatness he was ready.