By the Lake of Galilee
Adapted from a Sermon by George Everard, 1884
“He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (5) And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” (6) And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. (7) 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. (8) But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Luke 5:4-8
A few fishermen are standing, on the shore. It is early in the day, and these men have passed a night of working with nothing to show for it. All night long they have been casting out the net — and yet they have caught nothing to reward their efforts. So mending and washing their nets, they prepare to start all over again at the right time.
But One comes near whose work closely resembles their own. He, too, casts in His net, and in preaching the gospel seeks to draw many to Himself. He enters into the boat of Simon, and there speaks to the people assembled near. Then He bids the fishermen to go out again, and let down their nets for a catch. At His command, they gladly set out to do so.
The word of the Master is enough. We see here how they have started to learn His power, and in the days to come they will learn it still more. All things obey His will. The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the fish of the sea — they all must fulfill His purpose. So do they find it here by the lake. Never, for many a long day, had they pulled in such a haul. The net was full to overflowing. One boat is not enough to take in the catch. So they call out to their partners who were in the other boat that they should come and help them.
Then Peter is overwhelmed with a holy awe. He suddenly realises the depth and significance of what he has just witnessed. He catches a glimpse of Christ's awesome majesty and glory. He feels himself utterly unworthy of such a Presence. "Who is this Mighty One? Who is this that has power over all that passes through the paths of the deep? And who am I, so sinful and polluted, that I should be in the presence of such a one? Depart from me, O Lord; I am a sinful man!" But Christ reassures him. Fear not, you are mine, you shall not perish. More than that, you shall be a fellow-worker with me. From now you will be occupied with a nobler work. You shall catch men, and so catch them as to save them to life eternal.
So Christ prevailed over the fish of the sea, but also, wonderfully, over the fishermen too. For He caught them and secured them in His net of love. They became willing captives of Him who called them. For they rose, and “left everything and followed him.”
Let us go back in thought to that scene by the lake. Let us think of Him who manifested His power there. Let us think of the men in their boats and their plentiful supply of fish — and then speak to our hearts four lessons it may all teach us.
1. First, think of the generous kindness of our gracious Master.
It was one of the beautiful features of our Lord's character. He was ever thoughtful and considerate of the needs, feelings, troubles, and anxieties of those around Him. After he had heard that Lazarus was ill, while he stayed two days longer in the place where he was before, and then went to the grave of Bethany — He was thinking of the sisters in their deep grief. When at the marriage feast at Cana wine was lacking — He did not fail to supply them. And now that Simon has lent Him his boat for a time — he will be no loser for it. A rich and bountiful reward will be his. He is rewarded with a catch of fish worthy of a whole week’s worth of work.
Never, never imagine that you can be a loser by anything you willingly yield to Christ. Nothing can be done for Christ, or given to Him, or suffered for His sake — that will not come back in rich blessing. Time, money, labor, effort spent in His cause — all will be abundantly repaid. Not seldom will it return in comfort and prosperity and honor on earth — but always in peace of mind and treasure in Heaven.
And we should learn another lesson here. We ought to be very considerate for others. Make sure all who do work for you are promptly an fairly compensated. Think of the necessities, the temptations, the difficulties, the trials of those around you. Beware of forgetting things that need to be done. Be considerate of the feelings of those who live with you. Never drop bitter, hurting words, words that may burn, irritate, and vex the husband, the wife, the brother, or the sister at your side.
Be considerate for the souls of others. If you are ever in a position to do so, let those who work for you have opportunities for worship on Sundays and on week days. Think of our neighbours in these dark days and do what you can to reach them with the Word of God. Study how you may wisely alleviate the misery and need of the poor and sick.
No one can tell the harm that is done by lack of consideration for others. Debts are left unpaid, to the ruin of the creditor; or excessive work is imposed on those whose health fails under it. In a thousand ways wrong is done, and pain and injury caused, not by any wilful purpose of evil — but simply by lack of due thought for those connected with us. Let us strive to follow the example of our gracious Master in his generous kindness to all around him.
The second lesson this scene may teach us is that,
2. The darkest night may usher in the brightest day.
These men had probably never had a night of more fruitless toil, or of more utter disappointment — than when our Lord came to them. And we can well conceive that they never had more joy in the success of their work, than when He sent them this catch of fish.
Many a dark night may be appointed for you in temporal matters or in spiritual — you may be subject to dark, weary, sorrowful hours. Many a heavy burden may be laid upon you, many a secret trial, unknown to any but yourself and your Savior — may cause you fear and anxiety. Many an effort for the good of others may seem in vain. But continue to hope, and never give up.
Light will surely arise before long, though the night may be long and dreary. Wait patiently, persevere in prayer — and all will yet be for the best. You have learned, like these fishermen, how utterly helpless you are without Christ, and that without Him every effort must fail. You will learn that Jesus will come in due season, and then He will do beyond your utmost expectation.
"Do you ask — when will this hour come?
It will come when it will best aid you. Trust His faithfulness and power. Trust in Him and quietly rest. Patiently suffer on and hope and wait knowing that Jesus never comes too late.
A third lesson we may learn from this scene is that,
3. A holy awe and fear in Christ's presence is the best preparation for Christian discipleship.
Notice that strange fear that came over Peter. Why should he draw back in this way from Christ's presence? What was the connection between the fish he took out of the lake, and his cry "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" Surely it was Divine grace at work. A consciousness of a Divine glory in Christ, brought him to a livelier sense of his own sin. It is always the case with those who are taught of God.
See Job, the "blameless and upright" (Job 1:8) man: "Behold, I am insignificant!" (Job 40:4 NASB) he cries out. "Now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5)
See the Prophet Isaiah when he saw the vision of Jehovah's majesty: "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!" (Is 6:5)
Blessed are those who know something of this fear! Blessed are those who are penetrated through and through with a sense of their own sins and shortcomings! And blessed are those who follow on to know the joy of full pardon and of the favour of Almighty God.
Look at the contrast in Peter at the second catch of fish. He had meanwhile learned to know more of Christ — more of His love — more of His forgiving mercy. And what is the result? At the first catch of fish, he would have Christ depart from him — at the second catch, he is so eager to get near to Christ, that he casts himself into the sea, and swims to shore. Forgiven, saved, conscious of the Saviour's free and abounding mercy — perfect love has cast out fear, (1 John 4:18) and now he delights to be near the Savior who has dealt so kindly with him.
What says your heart? Is there a consciousness of sin, but not yet an assurance of pardon? Or is there a simple indifference about the whole matter?
The heart has been compared to a pendulum swinging between two points. In many cases you find at times strong convictions, inward dread, a sense of guilt and un-preparedness — which makes it tremble at the thought of death and judgment. But again these all die away, and a still heavier sleep of carelessness overwhelms the soul.
And if men go no further than this, what is the sure outcome? There is an hour coming when men will no longer be able to be careless. The solemn realities of eternity will certainly break in upon the soul. Then eternal self-reproach, eternal despair, must be as the worm that never dies to such a one.
But learn to know Christ as an all-sufficient Savior. Come to Him as both willing and able to save. Trust Him for full cleansing through His blood, and for the help and grace of His Spirit. Then indifference will give place to holy zeal — and fear and dread will be swallowed up in love, joy, and peace — and this will be the pledge of the eternal blessedness which will be your portion forever.
4. In the fourth place, the story gives us a few helpful lessons for Christ's fishermen.
Remember there are two fishermen who are ever busily at work.
There is one who by every means strives to catch souls in order to utterly destroy them. He has his co-workers everywhere. He has his nets and lines thrown out in all directions. By ten thousand devious arts, he allures and entices the young and the old, the rich and the poor. Here are some of the baits he uses:
- the sin that is so sweet to the natural heart,
- the hour of carnal amusement and self-indulgence,
- the dazzling pursuit of success and wealth,
- the special attraction that leads a man wrong —
and by these means, multitudes of precious souls are snared and taken, and perish.
But there is another Fisherman who is also at work. He too encloses men in the meshes of His net, and holds them fast with bands and cords. But His work is to save and not to destroy. His bands and cords are mercy, grace, and love. He takes them captive in order that He may preserve them from all evil and bring them to eternal life.
Imagine some men catching the fish in a small pond. Looking closer you notice that the pond is drying up through the heat of summer, and that the purpose of these men is to take the fish in order to place them in a moat always full of pure, fresh water.
Just so does Christ take men out of the world, where everything must shortly fail — and places them in the deep ocean of God's eternal love, where they will be satisfied forever with His joy.
And in this sweet captivity of Christ, there is the only true liberty. He takes men captive, to set them free. He draws them to Himself, that He may deliver them from the slavery of sin. He saves them from the chains of the enemy. He frees them from a guilty conscience, the power of bad habits, the fear of death, and at length from all the consequences of past evil.
Then, by a strange transformation, the fish whom He has caught, become His fishermen. Peter was caught himself, and then was sent out to catch others. Those who know the blessedness of His love, join with the Master in letting down the Gospel net. Saved souls must become winners of those yet in the deep waters of sin.
So Christ's voice speaks to you if you are His: "Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch." Go down into the sea of carelessness, ungodliness, and sin. Carry with you the Gospel message. Go from street to street and from house to house, and tell men of Christ's power to save, and His tender love towards mankind. Go among the labourers, go among those in higher position if the door is open. Go among the children and the young people. And wherever you go speak helpful words of Jesus, and tell of all His pity and steadfast love.
And how can you best do this work?
Fish in all waters, fish in the open sea, in the river, in the quiet stream — as you can. Where you least expect it, you may do the most good. From the most unlikely place — you may gain the most precious catch for Christ's kingdom.
Choose out the most likely seasons — yet count no season inappropriate. Make good use of . . .
times of sickness;
times when sorrow has visited a home;
times of solemn awakening, when the Spirit is moving;
times when you can have a quiet talk with a man out of the way;
special times, like the Lord’s day, when the heart may be somewhat prepared to receive a word.
A word earnestly spoken amidst the noise and bustle of the world may not be lost. "Ready in season and out of season" (2 Tim 4:2) ought to be the spirit of every Christian worker.
Fish with the line, when you cannot with the net. You may not be able to preach to fifty or five hundred — but you can drop a word in season to one by your side. God makes great use of personal, individual dealings with souls.
A kind question,
a striking illustration of truth,
a verse of God's Word,
a powerful application of some kind
— may awaken a sleeper, guide an anxious one, or strengthen and build up one who is weak in the faith.
Never despise the units. One by one God brought to Himself the great multitude which no one can number. Though it is but a little child — never neglect the opportunity of benefiting one soul. Remember Heaven's arithmetic, "there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:10)
Look for definite blessing. A fisherman looks often to his net or his line, and is not satisfied unless fish are taken. And shall we not equally look for distinct blessing on our work? The pastor among his flock, the teacher in the class, the visitor in the district — ought not each and all to pray for and expect plain manifest proofs of the working of God's grace? Do your part faithfully, expect great things from God, and you will not be disappointed.
Imitate the fisherman’s patience. Peter and the rest had worked hard all night, though their work had been all in vain. See the fisherman on a rainy day stand in the middle of the stream, not going home until nightfall, that he might make the best of a favourable opportunity. So should Christian workers have long patience, whether or not they see the success they desire. Sometimes the noblest trophies of the Gospel have been won, after the work has appeared almost hopeless.
Above all, remember that the only sure success is from the presence and blessing of Christ. This was the great lesson of the miracle.
Work without Christ cannot prosper.
Work with Him cannot fail.
It is His power from first to last that brings about anything real and lasting. Remember Pentecost. A great catch of fish was indeed swept into the net that day. But how did it come about? Prayer had been unceasing. Christ was working with the Apostles. The Spirit had descended, and so the work was done. Therefore look to Christ alone. Lean on His Word and power.
And trust in Him who alone can make your work effectual.