The Character of Peter
Luke 5:1-11 NASB
Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to
the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; (2) and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the
lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. (3) And He got into one of the boats, which was
Simon's, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down
and began teaching the people from the
boat. (4) When He had finished speaking, He
said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and
let down your nets for a catch." (5)
Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught
nothing, but I will do as You say and
let down the nets." (6) When they had
done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; (7)
so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help
them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. (8) But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying,
"Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (9) For amazement had seized him and all his
companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; (10) and so also were
James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said
to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be
catching men." (11) When they had
brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.
The story given here in Luke's account clearly indicates
that there is some prior history that Luke assumes you know. In fact, this is
the second time that Christ has called Peter. Peter and his brother Andrew were
disciples of John the Baptist. John did not particularly attractive the wealthy
and influential of Palestine; in fact, the phrase "tax collectors and
prostitutes" is used to describe his followers. Peter and Andrew would be
what we might call today "blue-collar workers."
These men worked with their hands every day. Being a fisherman
requires some experience and probably an apprenticeship, but unless you're
flyfishing in the high Rocky Mountains it's not really an intellectual
We also know that these men moved in the commercial circles of
their day. The apostle John, who was called at about the same time, was
well-known to the intellectual hierarchy of Jewish society — he was the guy who
sold them the fish. That's why, on the night of Christ's trials, John was
admitted into the house. Peter was not.
Virtue of Obedience
Christ's actions here are rather pragmatic. He had the
problem that all public speakers did until the 20th century — how to be heard
in a large crowd. He took advantage of the fact that a small they on this Lake
would serve as a natural amphitheater. To put himself in the correct position
to speak, however, he needed to be out on the water. Speakers in those days sat
down to deliver their message; it was a way of assuming authority in your teaching.
Remember, chairs were not common. The most ordinary use of a chair was as a
throne, literally a seat of authority.
Be that as it may, this technique has one interesting side
effect: Peter has to listen to the whole sermon. To be polite about it, he's going
to have to listen intently. We can see the relationship in the matter of
Christ's instructions to the fishermen. Think about: what does Jesus, the
carpenter, know about fishing? Perhaps more to the point, what does Peter think
of taking instructions from a carpenter? You can see the delicacy of the
situation in Peter's comment. It's not like he's giving back talk to the boss,
but he does point out that the fish seem to be in some other part of the lake.
Christ, however, created fish.
The core of the argument is this: Peter calls him
"Master." By the best of Peter's knowledge there are no fish in that
part of the lake. But he is obedient to his Master's command. This might just
be why Christ likes the man so much; even when he "knows better" he
still does what he is told, when he is told, how he is told. It's a good
I Am a Sinful Man
Peter is Jewish; no doubt he had read of Isaiah's meeting
Isaiah 6:1-7 NASB
In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty
and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. (2) Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings:
with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he
flew. (3) And one called out to another and
said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of
His glory." (4) And the foundations of
the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple
was filling with smoke. (5) Then I said,
"Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I
live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD
of hosts." (6) Then one of the seraphim
flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar
with tongs. (7) He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched
your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven."
Both of these instances have a lesson for us: you don't have
to be perfect to be God's chosen implement. God will deal with your sins and
imperfections if you are obedient to his commands. Notice here that Jesus pays
no attention to Peter objection. He doesn't even pause to dismiss it. Instead
he does two things:
"Do not fear." The normal reaction to meeting God in
all his might is absolute terror. Angels begin their discourses with the words,
"fear not." God must deal with our fear before he can command our
service; we are but human.
Christ then tells Peter the service he will perform. He gives
them no information on the difficulties, the sufferings, the nights of sleeping
in the open in the cold or other minor difficulties.
It seems that our focus when we meet God is on our sins. His
focus is on our service.
So now you have it. Peter has been called to service, to
become a "fisher of men." We may now examine the nature of the call;
not just Peter's, but the call for each of us.
It seems to be a consistent quality of the call of Christ
that it is personal. But what's it all about?
It's about trust. The call is personal because Christ wants a
personal relationship with each of us. You cannot have an effective, continuing
personal relationship without trust. If you've ever seen a marriage where there
was no trust, you know the problem.
It's about example. Modern educators (note that I did not use the
word teachers) see themselves as shaping the children into a mold of political
correctness, and filling their little heads with facts. This is a relatively
recent development; most of human history would proclaim the idea that the
teacher was to disciple the student so that the student would be, like the
teacher. We are to become like Christ; we are Christians — the word means little
The way the call is usually phrased is simply this: "follow
me." It is not about following a system of belief; it is not about
following a collection of rules; it's about following the son of God.
Bearing the Cross
One of my favorite authors, Thomas a Kempis, put it this
TO MANY the saying, “Deny thyself, take up
thy cross and follow Me,” (Matt. 16:24.) seems hard, but it will be much harder
to hear that final word: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.”
(Matt. 25:41.) Those who hear the word of the cross and follow it willingly
now, need not fear that they will hear of eternal damnation on the day of
judgment. This sign of the cross will be in the heavens when the Lord comes to
judge. Then all the servants of the cross, who during life made themselves one
with the Crucified, will draw near with great trust to Christ, the judge.
Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross
when through it you can win a kingdom? In the cross is salvation, in the cross
is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of
heavenly sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of
spirit, in the cross is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There
is no salvation of soul nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross.
Take up your cross, therefore, and follow
Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life. He Himself opened the way before you
in carrying His cross, and upon it He died for you, that you, too, might take
up your cross and long to die upon it. If you die with Him, you shall also live
with Him, and if you share His suffering, you shall also share His glory.
There is a vast difference between being number one and
number two. All loyalty centers on number one. This is a principle of leadership
in any organization, including your family. If you take up the cross, you put
Christ at the center of your life and make him and his commands the most
important things for you. If you do this, your family and friends will be
impacted; sometimes, they may even suffer for it. While would like to think
that Christ's coming into our lives makes us such a better person that all
would see it as good, the truth is to the contrary. Sometimes your Christianity
becomes their burden. This is perfectly normal, for to the Christian Christ
comes first. All else must be arranged around that. For example, your family
may have to put up with you trying to evangelize them.
So how do we deal with this? The answer, as it is to so many
questions, is this: "in love." We need to remember that perfect love
casts out fear, including the fear of being rejected by our families. James and
John left their boats at about this time too; one wonders if their father
Zebedee had anything to say about it.
We are all different; God knows it, and therefore the call
to each of us is different. I am called to teach. That involves standing in
front of a group of people every Sunday morning to deliver what you have
searched out during the week. To some of you reading this, such a life would
seem a terror; public speaking is worse than death. It certainly not something
I'm rather glib about. But that is the call that I have. The question is not
which caught you yet, but whether or not you answer it.
Good work habits apply no matter what call you get. If you are
called to sweep and mop the floors, timeliness and diligence still apply. If
you are called to preach the gospel to millions, you have the same timeliness
Sometimes we think that the call is a sort of magic. Once you get
the call you are to be transformed into someone very different from who you
were with cosmic capabilities. I suppose that happens; it's just that I haven't
seen it. Most of us grow slowly and gradually. So whatever your call is, expect
to change. God will determine the rate, and he knows what you can do.
What God Will Do
It is said that a paratrooper is someone who is stupid
enough to leave a perfectly good airplane to see if he has a perfectly good
parachute. Many Christians have the same attitude about the call of God; they
were content before they got it, and are not at all sure they want to go that
direction. After all, what if God doesn't uphold his end of the bargain?
Much of God's providence depends on your point of view.
Consider the fish that were caught this night: from our perspective as
Christians, this is just an example of how God can and will provide for his
children – his Providence. But you can also look at it another way: it tells
you there are still a lot of fish left in that lake. You might look at it from
a commercial point of view. The temptation is to tell God that you really don't
need to call right at the moment, after all — you have all those fish to sort
The secret is this: expect God to provide. Do
not doubt. Most of us think we're pretty good at this; our usual problem is
that we expect God to provide – but not that way. We want him to
provide, and also to take our advice on how to do it.
Permit me an old example. One night, many years ago, I had
checked into a hotel late at night. I turned on the television; the only thing
worth watching at all was a sports event, Russian weightlifting. Out came Ivan.
He sees this bar full of weights and with a mighty heave put it into the air.
After the applause 10 Russian soldiers came out to carry the barbell off stage.
Later on Igor came out to pick up even larger barbell. He threw it into the air
to great applause. Afterwards, they sent out one Russian soldier to pick up the
barbell – with a forklift. Most of us are still looking for our 10 soldiers
when the forklift arrives.
God, it seems, expects us to take it at his word when it
comes to this matter of Providence. There are three common arguments for why we
should do so; all of them revolve around the promises of God.
The first is this: "consider the lilies." Christ in
essence tells us to look around and see how God provides for everybody else. He
sustains this universe that he created; gravity works the same way today that
it did yesterday. Is it therefore a great and difficult thing for him to
provide for you?
Americans in particular have a difficulty with this. They look
around and they see the riches of this world. It's easy to forget that riches
are temporary, and so are our needs. We see wealth is a permanent solution to
our provision, when it's really passing and fading.
Finally, if it gets down to something remotely difficult,
remember the fishes and the loaves?
Humor is the sudden perception of the absurd. God gave us a
sense of humor so we could deal with the absurd. It is a point of divine style;
God is fond of paradox. Let me give you some examples:
Matthew 10:39 NASB
"He who has found his life will lose it, and he
who has lost his life for My sake will find it.
1 Corinthians 3:18 NASB
(18) Let no man deceive himself. If any man
among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that
he may become wise.
It is as if God is telling us that we have the entire
perception of the universe backwards. But could it be otherwise? Could it
possibly be that we are so smart and so strong as to be the equal of God? You
have only to ask the question to see how absurd it is. Dealing with God cannot
follow the rules we use for dealing with the rest of the universe. So it is
that the things we learn all our lives long somehow don't apply when we talk
with God. In fact, he condescends to us. We don't necessarily see his power and
1 Corinthians 1:25 NASB
(25) Because the foolishness of God is wiser
than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Do you see it? When the call comes it seems absurd to you
that any such thing could possibly work. By the world's standards, it can't.
It's just that God doesn't go by the world's standards. He loves us so much
that he lets us see his foolishness so that we might become wiser and greater.