Luke 5:1–11 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
Small Acts of Obedience Become Important
Sometimes, the littlest things can have the most lasting impact. That's why we should never underestimate the importance of small acts of obedience. They may seem insignificant to us, but they are often the first step toward our destiny. The Lord has a plan for each believer's life and a method by which he brings it to fruition. We'll see today that Peter's experience with Jesus is a wonderful example of how tiny faith steps can lead to a big calling.
Luke begins his story today in vv. 1–11, when Jesus was teaching beside the Lake of Gennesaret. As the crowd pressed in on him, he saw two boats at the shore and asked Peter to row him out a ways in one of them so he could keep teaching. Who'd have guessed that this would be a turning point in Peter's life? It was a rather simple request; but what if he'd said, I'm awfully busy. I fished all night and caught nothing and now have to clean the nets before I can go home and rest. Please find someone else's boat to borrow. Imagine what he would have missed. . .
You know, your life really isn't that different from Peter's. Jesus is still calling people to obey his simple promptings. Sure, his requests may be inconvenient or unexpected, but do you really want to forfeit what's on the other side of a small act of obedience? When Peter let Jesus use his boat, he opened the door for the Lord to use his entire life.
Catch Fish? Or Catch People?
In today's eleven verses, we see the Lord Jesus helping some fishermen — Peter, James, and John — get their lives aimed in the right direction. Scholars are divided over whether this incident is identical with Jesus' call of these fishermen as recorded in Matthew 4:18–22 and Mark 1:16–20. We'll leave the question somewhat undecided. Nevertheless, Jesus' job was to get their eyes to focus not on fish but on himself and lost people.
In the three opening verses, Jesus is teaching God's Word while Peter's working at his fishing business. By v. 11, Peter's left his business to follow Jesus at catching people, not fish. Jesus' words in v. 10 are the key for understanding and applying this story: "Don't be afraid; from now on you will fish for people." The word "catch" literally means "to capture alive." While in their vocation, the live fish they caught would quickly die; however, in their new fishing focus, dead people would be caught and quickly come alive for Jesus. The story shows us how Jesus transforms everyday people (even sinful people, such as Peter) into his servants, involving us in his great cause of "catching people for God." It teaches us: The greatest purpose we can have in life is to follow Jesus by catching people for him.
To catch people for Christ, we must obey the sovereign authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. First, Jesus gets into Peter's boat and asks him to put out a little way from the land so he can teach the crowd, without them pressing against him. When he's through teaching, Jesus directly commands Peter to put out into the deep and let down the nets for a catch. We see a carpenter telling a professional fisherman how to do his job. Peter knew that the best time to fish was at night and that he and his fishing partners had fished all night but to no avail. However, after registering his brief protest, Peter quickly adds, "But because you say so, I will let down the nets" (v. 5). His obedience resulted in miraculous success.
Luke's Lesson on Evangelism
Appreciating Jesus' words about catching people, we're obligated to view this miracle as a lesson on evangelism. Personally consider each of these five lessons found in vv. 1–11 that you'll need to learn and obey.
1. The message of evangelism is founded on God's Word. In vv. 1–3, Jesus is preaching the Word of God — coming from God as its source — to the crowd. As 4:43 makes clear, his message focused on the kingdom of God, the realm where God is sovereign and people are subject to him. The Word that Jesus preached originated with God and therefore had God's authority. As Jesus said, "I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me" (John 8:28). So if you want to be more effective in evangelism, get more into the Word so that you're clear about the gospel. Not every Christian is a preacher, but every Christian is a witness; to be an obedient witness, you must learn the basics of the good news.
2. The initiative for evangelism comes from the Lord. It's clear that Jesus took the initiative in turning these fishermen into fishers of people. Peter, James, and John weren't sitting out in their boats one day when one of them got the brainstorm, Hey, we ought to become evangelists! That was probably the furthest thing from their minds. But the Lord had different plans and his plans prevailed. You may be thinking, This message doesn't relate in any way to me. I'm no evangelist; never! While it may be true that you aren't gifted in evangelism, it's God's will that you adopt his purpose as your purpose; it's clear from the text that the Lord's purpose involves taking ordinary people, such as these fishermen and you, and turning them and you into his agents for catching people for God.
3. The guidance we need in evangelism comes from the Lord. The Lord directs Peter the fisherman where he should cast his nets. Jesus was giving the orders; when Peter obeyed, he and his partners achieved miraculous results. If you aren't sure how to reach out to lost people, you need only pray: Lord, show me where I can find the fish that you want me to catch for you, and I'll cast my nets there.
4. The results in evangelism come from the Lord. On this occasion, Peter got almost more fish than he could handle — the nets began to break, the boats began to sink. On the Day of Pentecost, the same thing happened spiritually; when Peter preached, 3,000 trusted in Christ. Whatever results you see or don't see, keep in mind Paul's words: "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow" (1 Cor. 3:6). While trying to become more effective at presenting the gospel, remember that true conversion comes from God alone.
5. The obedience we need in evangelism lies within us. If Peter hadn't obeyed by putting out into the deep and letting down the nets in obedience to the Lord, this miracle wouldn't have happened. Peter had to obey for the Lord to perform this miracle. At first, Peter voiced his objections as to why it wouldn't work. Like Peter, it's easy to come up with a hundred reasons why you can't do what the Lord has asked or told you to do. Sometimes his commands appear kind of screwy, as this command must have appeared to Peter. But, like Peter, you need to put aside your reasons why it won't work and, instead, obey the Lord in seeking to bring people into his gospel net. Obediently let down the net of his gospel and let the Lord bring people into it.
God sometimes asks us to do things that seem irrational. That afternoon, after Christ finished teaching, he told Peter to go out farther with James and John and let down their nets for a catch. Peter knew that the best fishing was at night. However, because he'd obeyed Jesus the first time and received a front-row seat to hear him teach, Peter agreed to do "the ridiculous." And wouldn't you know it, they brought in more fish than they could handle!
Because Peter obeyed in a small matter and in a humanly illogical request, Jesus called him to become a disciple and an evangelist, transforming him into a powerful leader of the church. Imagine what the Lord can do with your life if you'll heed his small promptings and obey him, even when his requests make no sense to you. Why not find out? Your God-given destiny is on the other side of obedience.
- Q. 1 How did this current miracle affect Peter? Why does this one have a more profound effect on him than the healing of his mother-in-law?
- Q. 2 Are you currently afraid of or hesitant to follow the Spirit's prompting(s)? Afraid to become a Hearty Boys study facilitator? Hesitant to pray aloud in a group? How are you doing at permitting Peter's example of obedience to help you follow the Spirit's prompting(s)?
New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 5]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "Miraculous Catch of Fish."
Jesus Calls His First Disciples
5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2He saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."
5Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."
6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will fish for people." 11So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.