Go Fish!

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 5:5-6

And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish.

Luke 5:5,6 rsv

It’s a child’s game. Many of you know all about it. I remember playing it when I was a little boy. I played it with my children when they were young. Now, I even play it now and then with my children’s children. The game is “Go Fish.” Each player has cards with numbers on them, and the goal is to collect those numbers in sets of four. When we get all of them, we make a book and that counts toward our score. Suppose I have two 6’s in my hand and I ask my granddaughter, “Anna, do you have any 6’s?” If she does, she has to turn them over to me. If she doesn’t have any, she says, “Go fish!” Then I have to draw a card from the face-down pile. It’s her turn now. She can ask me for cards of a certain number from my collection. First you try to make a catch from your neighbor’s hand and then you go fishing in the larger pile.

I thought about that game when I was studying this passage from Luke, chapter 5. It tells about two different kinds of “fishing.” Listen:

While the people pressed upon [Jesus] 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 [or launch out a little] from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep [or launch out into the deep] and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

In this fascinating passage, there’s a constant interplay between the task of preaching and the art of fishing, between catching fish and winning people. And there’s a connection also between the Lord’s doing it and our doing it, between His part and ours. Think about that with me now – the Lord’s way of playing “Go Fish!”


As the passage begins, Jesus is preaching the Word of God. He’s fishing for people, seeking to win them for His Father’s kingdom, to save them and make them His followers. As He stands by the lake of Gennesaret (which is another name for the Sea of Galilee), the crowds are pressing upon Him from every side. He sees a couple of fishing boats anchored by the shore and steps into one of them, which happens to belong to Simon. He asks him to launch out for a little way into the lake so that the boat can be a kind of pulpit for preaching to the crowd. Later He urges Simon and his companions to launch out into the deep water and let down their nets for a catch.

All of this is freighted with rich meaning. Jesus is doing His fishing, we notice, in shallow water. He’s preaching to His acquaintances and countrymen in Galilee. Later the disciples will be fishing in the deep, preaching the gospel to far-away nations. But it will be the same boat in each case, the same pulpit, the same gospel. What He does in Israel, they will do in all the world. He sits in the boat and faces the Jewish community. They look outward and cast their nets in the wide world.

Simon and his colleagues don’t see this connection at the time, of course. The meaning of it will dawn upon them later. For now the whole experience doesn’t make sense to them. First Jesus asks if He can preach from Simon’s boat. And that’s fine. But when the sermon is over, Simon is totally unprepared for what follows. The Lord tells him to go out in the deep water and let down his nets for a catch.


Remember, Peter is a fisherman. That’s his trade. He knows this lake like he knows the lines in his own calloused hands. He knows when to fish it and where. Can he be taught about his specialty by this young carpenter? That’s what’s happening here.

Peter had been fishing the night before, all through the night. He had been out in that deep water, spreading the nets at the most favorable time in some of his favorite fishing spots. He had been doing everything just right, but hadn’t caught a thing.

Now he’s being told to go out there again. This time it’s the middle of the day. Anyone knows it doesn’t make sense to fish then. If the fish weren’t there in the night hours, Simon thinks, they surely aren’t going to be around now. Jesus’ challenge to let down the nets seems to him awkward, even a little ridiculous.

The big fisherman doesn’t have much confidence in this venture. He doesn’t think anything will come of it. It’s possible that he could become a laughingstock. But he still takes Jesus seriously. He won’t dismiss the word of this Friend who speaks with such authority. Listen to him:

Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.

When he does, the unexpected happens. Suddenly, startlingly, the nets are gorged. It seems that all the fish in the lake must have gathered at that spot. The nets are so full that they’re ready to give way. Simon and Andrew call frantically for help. The other boat comes and they begin together to haul in those fish. The boats are swamped with the catch, about to sink under the weight of it. It’s incredible what’s happening out there!

Again, this is a vivid action parable. The disciples on their own haven’t been able to accomplish anything. They have nothing to show for all their toil. In spite of their experience, skill and savvy, they have come back empty in their fishing efforts. But when they do it at Jesus’ word, by His authority, with His direction, they enjoy spectacular success.

They begin to get the message. Jesus Himself makes all the difference. With them, there’s total inadequacy for the great task. With Him, there’s triumphant sufficiency. In their own strength, they can do nothing. In His, nothing is impossible for them. When He sends them, they can accomplish things beyond their dreams. The catch is tremendous.


Here’s another contrast: His divine glory and our human unworthiness. Peter, surrounded by these mountains of fish, in a boat about to go under, falls at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). This had become for Simon a moment of revelation. In the preaching by the seaside and in the miracle of the fish, Simon had caught a glimpse of the Lord’s glory. He saw something of His authority over all things, His limitless power. Simon realized in that moment that Jesus was more than a rabbi, more even than a prophet. He was Lord of all.

Along with that came a piercing sense of unworthiness. How can a sinful man see God and live? Who is he, Simon, to dwell with everlasting burnings, to stand before the Shekinah glory? “Depart from me, Lord,” as though he said, “I’m not worthy to bow before You.”

As I try to live myself into that scene in the boat, I think of young Isaiah in the temple, in the year King Uzziah died. Remember how he saw the Lord, high and lifted up? God’s train filled the temple. The Seraphim hovered above him, crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah was thunderstruck. “Woe is me,” he cried, “for I am lost. 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” (Isa. 6). The same reality: an overwhelming awareness of God’s majesty, and Isaiah’s realization at the same moment of his own sin. “Woe is me for I am lost. . . . Depart from me, O Lord.”

It was like Saul on the Damascus Road, or John on the island of Patmos. Seeing the splendor of the risen Jesus, they are humbled in the dust. They have seen the face of the Lord and they cannot bear its radiance.

Perhaps the shock was so great for Simon because it came in his own fishing boat. This extraordinary experience came to him in the midst of his everyday life, at the point of his occupation, his expertise. He could appreciate, perhaps more than anyone else, what an astonishing sign it was. He melted to his knees in breathless awe and adoration.


Next comes the promise of Jesus for the ministry of His people. Simon doesn’t need to fear. The unveiled splendor will not destroy him. This is a majesty of mercy, a grandeur of grace. Jesus will not depart from His servant because of Simon’s unworthiness. No, Simon will depart on a great mission for his Lord. And here’s the promise: “Henceforth you will be catching men.” In other words, “From now on, your fishing will be of a different sort, Simon. You’ll be lowering the gospel net. You’ll be gathering in believers. You won’t be catching fish now for your own profit, but people for God’s praise. You’ll be bringing them not into a boat but into the church of the living God. And the result will be, for those gathered in, not death but abundant life.”

“Henceforth you will be catching men.” What a vast encouragement that is! Simon had been amazed at the miraculous catch of fish, but this was only a sign of something far more significant. Remember how Nathanael was astonished that Jesus knew he had been sitting before under a fig tree? Jesus said to him, “You shall see greater things than these.” And that would be true for Simon too.

At this word of Jesus, the whole picture became clearer. The deep waters stood for the wide world in which witness would be borne to Jesus. The disciples would be going out into it at Jesus’ word, with His authority. They would be facing what seemed humanly impossible, without any ability in themselves to fulfill their mission. And yet they would enjoy success beyond their wildest imaginings. They wouldn’t simply be fishing for people, trying to influence them, hoping to win them, watching and waiting. They would actually gather them in, in great numbers. Here was Jesus’ assurance to them that their missionary labors would not, could not, be in vain. He would create their ministry. He would make them to be fishers of men.

But how would this come about? What would they need to do? How would they be equipped? It was all very simple, apparently. Hearing this word of commissioning and promise, they brought their boats back to the land, left everything, we read, and followed Him. They needed to be free, apparently, of their other entanglements so as to be totally available to Jesus for the task. They needed to listen to His word, walk in His fellowship, to follow His lead. They needed to throw in their lot with Him, to become entirely His. Then He would do the rest. And, friends, that’s still a promise for us.

Jesus today is still making Himself known to people, still calling them to trust and follow Him, still sending them forth and making their labors fruitful.

And what a great multitude, friends, have already been gathered in! They number in the hundreds of millions all around the world. And all those Jesus brings in, He wants to send out again to be His witnesses. For them too, success is certain. Their labors and sufferings, their toils and tears, their preaching the gospel and seeking the lost, none of that will ever be in vain. When Jesus says, “Go fish,” it’s not like the message of that child’s game. It doesn’t mean, as it does there, that we’re disappointed, that our efforts are fruitless, that we come back empty, that we have to look elsewhere. No, when Jesus says it, the joyful word is, “From now on you will be catching people.” May it be so.