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Fish Miracle

Preaching
Preaching the Miracles
Cycle C
While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. 2 And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 And when he had ceased speaking, 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 great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, 7 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. 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." 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at 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 be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men." 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

This is a fish story, but it is not fishy! Nor is it a humorous fish story that is known for its exaggeration when it comes to size. It is not a story about a fish that got away. It is a true story of how two boats were filled with fish to the point of sinking, and a story of how this event changed a man's life.

It happened on the Sea of Galilee, a fresh water lake 13 miles long and eight miles wide, 680 feet below sea level. Jesus' Galilean ministry was centered around the lake. Capernaum, his headquarters, was located on the sea. The gospels tell us that Jesus often crossed the lake as he pursued his ministry.

Today's miracle concerns Peter, who is known through church history as "the Big Fisherman." It was the occasion for him to have a change of career, from catching fish to catching people for Christ. To this day restaurants located on or near the Sea of Galilee serve "Peter's fish."

For these 20 centuries Peter and Christianity have been associated with fish and catching fish. A symbol of a fish was used as early as the first century to define the Christian faith. It was a rebus. The letters of the Greek word for fish, Ichthus, gave up the creed of a Christian. I (iota) stood for Jesus, X (chi) for Christ, O (theou) for God, U (upsilon) for son, and S (sigma) for Savior. The letters said in Greek: "Insous Christos Theou Uios Soter." In English: "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior." To this day this symbol sums up the Christian's creed and is still used in the church's iconography.

There is more than one miracle in this pericope. It was a miracle when a carpenter of Nazareth told a professional fisherman how to catch fish and succeeded! It was a miracle to catch two boat loads of fish after a night of catching not one fish. It was a miracle to get a proud, self-confident, blustering man to confess that he was a sinner. It was a miracle to get a man in middle age to change careers from a fisherman to an evangelist, from a Jew to a Christian, and from an unskilled laborer to a professional preacher! It took a miracle to change Peter. Will it take a miracle to change us, too?

Acclimation

The Situation
According to Luke, Peter received a special call to discipleship. Since Peter was to be the leader of the church, it was appropriate that he received a special call. The call came in connection with a miracle. It happened during the early ministry of Jesus. He was baptized; in the wilderness of temptation he chose the method of fulfilling his messiahship. He was rejected by his hometown people of Nazareth and began to preach in synagogues and to heal various people. One day a crowd of people came to hear him preach while he was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Gennesaret). So great was the crowd that Jesus was being pushed into the water. He stepped into a boat owned by Peter, and while seated in the boat, he preached to the people. At the conclusion of the sermon, Jesus asked Peter to push the boat into deeper water so that he and his fishing partners could let down their nets for a catch. Peter thought this was foolish because they had fished all night and caught nothing. Nevertheless, Peter took Jesus at his word and obeyed. At once, the nets were so full of fish that Peter had to call for help from his partners. There were so many fish that two boats were about to sink. Peter was so amazed at this miracle that he felt unworthy to be in the presence of one with such divine wisdom and power. He fell down on his knees, asking Jesus to go away from him because he was a sinner. James and John were among the fellow-fishermen and were equally impressed. Jesus assured them that in the future they would be fishers of people. The three beached their boats, left all their equipment, and went with Jesus as disciples. It was the turning point in their lives. Now they had a new career - catching people for God's kingdom!

The Setting
1. The Church Year. The miracle of the catch of fish on the Sea of Galilee occurs on the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany. The season of Epiphany deals with the manifestation of God's glory in Jesus. The miracle is appropriate for this season because Christ does manifest God's glory by his knowledge of the location of fish, for after all he was a carpenter raised in Nazareth, miles from the sea. Also, his divine glory was demonstrated by his power to fill the nets to overflowing at a time when expert fishermen fished all night and caught not a single fish. This glory so impressed Peter that he and his partners abandoned their jobs and equipment to follow an itinerant preacher who had no home nor livelihood.

2. Related Passages
A. Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20. According to Matthew and Mark, one day Jesus walked on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and saw two sets of brothers fishing: Peter and Andrew, James and John. Jesus invited them to be his disciples and promised he would teach them to catch "men." At once they abandoned their boats and followed him.

According to Luke's account, Andrew was not included. Only Peter, James and John are mentioned. The focus is on Peter, who was given the call. Incidentally, James and John, as fishing partners of Peter, accompanied Peter in his response to following Jesus.

B. John 1:35-42 - John tells a different story of Peter's call. Andrew, Peter's brother, was a disciple of John the Baptist. He left John and became a disciple of Jesus. Then he went for Peter and brought him to Jesus, who enlisted him as a disciple. In this account, there is no special call to Peter and there is no miracle.

C. John 21:1-14 - This is another account of a miracle involving a great catch of fish. Is it the same miracle of Luke 5:1-11 with two different versions? In the above passage, the miracle is a post-resurrection appearance. There are similarities in the two accounts: (1) Peter and several disciples go fishing in the Sea of Galilee. (2) They fish all night and catch nothing. (3) Jesus directs them to let down their nets, and at once their nets are filled with 153 big fish. (4) Jesus confronts Peter.

However, there are good reasons to believe that these are two separate miracles. In Luke, the miracle occurred in connection with Peter's call to discipleship. In John, the miracle was related to Peter's recall as a disciple, for Peter had denied Jesus and went back to his former occupation of fishing. Peter at this time needed to be re-enlisted as a disciple.

3. The Lectionary - Lesson 1 (Isaiah 6:1-8). Yahweh calls Isaiah to be a prophet. Isaiah's call was based on his experience with Yahweh. Isaiah saw God's glory and responded with a confession of sin. His sins were forgiven. When the Lord called for a servant, Isaiah volunteered, "Here I am. Send me." This experience corresponds to Peter's in today's gospel. Likewise, Peter saw the glory of Christ, confessed his sin and responded with total commitment as a disciple of Jesus.

Lesson 2 (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). The nature of the gospel. In explaining the essential elements of the gospel, Paul lists several resurrection appearances of Jesus. Paul refers to his call to be an apostle, even though at one time he persecuted the church. By the grace of God he became a church builder. This call, similar to Peter's in the gospel lesson, was based on his first-hand experience with Christ on the Damascus road. It was there that he was called and commissioned as an apostle.

Gospel (Luke 5:1-11). Peter is called to be a disciple. The gospel lesson contains the account of Peter's call to be an apostle in connection with a miraculous draft of fish. Reginald Fuller claims that the miracle is a post-resurrection appearance which Luke inserted here to illustrate "I will make you fishers of men." Many modern scientists consider the miracle to be a "pious legend." Since Christian faith is based on Christ as Savior, the above questions about the historicity are not disturbing. The focus of the pericope is not primarily on the miracle but on Peter's call. This harmonizes with a call of Isaiah in Lesson 1 and Paul's call by the risen Christ who confronted him, like Peter at the Sea of Galilee, and called him to be an apostle.

God's call in each case is connected with a miracle. In Isaiah's case, the miracle was the vision of God, the voice of God, the act of forgiveness and the call of God to serve. In Paul's, his call came with the miracle on the Damascus road: the voice of Christ, the blinding sun, Paul's being struck blind. With Peter, there was the miraculous catch of fish which amazed Peter to the point of confessing his sin and leaving all to follow Jesus.

Psalm of the Day (Psalm 138). The psalm reminds us that "great is the glory of the Lord (v. 5)." It harmonizes with the glory of God seen by Isaiah, with the resurrected Christ, and with the glory of Christ seen by Peter.

Prayer of the Day. In the prayer the vision of God's glory in Christ is mentioned: "You sent your only Son as the word of life for our eyes to see and our ears to hear."

Hymn of the Day ("Lord, Speak to Us That We May Speak"). In this prayer-hymn, we ask God to speak, lead, teach and fill us that we may fulfill our call as disciples.

Explanation

Pressed (v. 1) - Jesus was a popular preacher. He was almost always followed by a crowd. Once four men with a paralytic on a pallet could not enter a house because it was jampacked with people. In today's gospel, the people were so many that they were pushing Jesus into the water. As a result, he had to get into a boat. What did Jesus say that attracted the crowd? He was preaching the word of God. People still flock to fearless preachers who speak the Word of God from the Scriptures. This is one of the secrets of church growth.

Lake (v. 2) - Only Luke calls the Sea of Galilee a lake, the lake of Gennesaret. The other synoptic writers call it the Sea of Galilee. In his gospel John refers to it as the Sea of Tiberias (6:1), named after the town, Tiberias, located on the lake, and after the Roman emperor, Tiberias. Having been rejected by the Nazareth congregation, Jesus took to the open spaces to teach and preach as John Wesley did centuries later.

Boats (v. 2) - Jesus borrowed Peter's boat for a pulpit. The prow of a boat is still called a pulpit. The church is referred to as a ship carrying redeemed souls to the shore of heaven. In church architecture the area for the people is called, not the "sanctuary," but the "nave," a Latin word meaning "ship." In Jesus' day the custom was to stand to read Scripture and to sit to deliver the sermon. The boat as a pulpit freed Jesus from the crush of the crowd and yet enabled the people to hear and see him. The pulpit must ever be the prow of the ship to cut through the waves of opposition and to give direction to the church.

Deep (v. 4) - To catch fish we have to go where they are. Thus, Jesus ordered Peter to push his boat into the deep water and let down the nets. If we are going to fish for people to accept Christ and join the church, we must go to people who are deep in sin, sorrow, fear, worry, trouble and confusion. To go into the deep calls for courage, for taking a risk. To go into the deep means going out on a limb, taking chances, pioneering and venturing in faith.

But (v. 5) - It is only a three-letter word, but it has enormous implications. When Jesus directed Peter to go to the deep water and let down the nets, Peter protested that it was of no use, for they had fished all night and caught nothing. Moreover, night and not day was the better time to fish. To do so was foolish, useless and ridiculous. After all, Peter was a professional fisherman and Jesus was an inland carpenter! What did Jesus know about fishing? "But" - in spite of all these reasons, Peter obeyed. It went against his reason and experience. Peter had confidence in Jesus' word and trusted it. "But" points backward to human futility and forward to trust in Jesus' word. The result of obedience is a miracle!

Master (v. 5); Lord (v. 8) - Note what Peter called Jesus before and after the miracle. Before the miracle he addressed him as "Master." It was another man for "Teacher." Today we would probably say "Reverend." As master, Peter called him "Lord." Now Jesus was more than a human teacher. The early church confessed, "Jesus Christ is Lord." The demonstration of knowledge and power resulting in the miracle convinced Peter that Jesus was the Messiah.

Depart (v. 8) - Peter exclaimed, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." It was good for Peter that Jesus did not heed the request. It reminds us that it may be good for us that some of our prayers are not answered. Why did Peter say "Depart?" The miracle made Peter uncomfortable and unworthy to be in the presence of one who displayed the knowledge and power of God. Peter sensed the divinity of Jesus. The closer we come to God, the more unworthy we feel, because we are unaware of the contrast between God's holiness and our sinfulness. Abraham felt unworthy to repeatedly ask God for a favor (Genesis 18:27). When Job had a first-hand experience with God, he said, "I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:6)." When Isaiah saw God's glory, he wailed, "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5)."

Catching (v. 10) - Jesus promised Peter that in the future he would catch people for the kingdom. To be a disciple of Jesus means to be a catcher of humans, a winner of converts to Christ. A true Christian automatically is an evangelist who witnesses and wins. To catch fish calls for effort. A fisherman goes where fish are; fish do not come to the fisherman. Fish must be caught; they do not jump into the boat. To catch fish requires bait and/or lures to attract fish. Accordingly, we must make Christianity attractive and wholesome. Fish bite because they are hungry. The world is full of people hungry for the love of God in Christ.

Everything (v. 11) - Did Peter and his fishing partners walk off the job on the basis of one meeting with Jesus? It is not probable. Surely there were prior meetings. John tells us Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus. Matthew and Mark tell of the two sets of brothers with Jesus at the lake. Prior to Luke's account of Peter's call, we are told that Jesus was in Peter's home and healed Peter's mother-in-law. At the time of the fish miracle a close relationship was knit together as master and disciples. It was the culmination of previous contacts, and now the fishermen entered a second career of full-time work for Jesus in his ministry of kingdom building.

Application

Relevance of Revelation - 1. God's call is the subject of all three lessons for this fifth Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah, Paul, Peter. Today many people have no idea of what is meant by a call of God. Even some ministers of the gospel think of their work as a profession rather than as a call. A call is the conviction that this is the work God wants us to do. Does this apply to Christian laity as well as clergy? According to the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of believers, each Christian has a divine vocation, a calling of God to serve. A call gives a person answers to questions such as who am I, what is the purpose of my life, what does God want me to do with my life?

2. Where does Christ meet us today? Christ comes to us where we are to call us to his service. He came to a tax office to call Matthew. He came to the shore of Lake Gennesaret to call Peter. He does not necessarily come in an earthquake, fire, tornado or hurricane. He comes on an ordinary day in an ordinary way to ordinary people at their ordinary tasks. We do not come to Christ; he comes to us to call us to discipleship.

3. Peter was called to catch people for the kingdom. Jesus gave him a second career from fishing for fish to fishing for converts. Peter was called to win people for Christ by witnessing. A study of Protestant churches indicates that 95 percent of the members make no attempt to witness or win non-Christians to the Christian faith. This may be a major contributing cause of the mainline church's numerical decline. If it is true that only five percent of church members fish for people to accept Christ, it is urgent to extend Christ's call to the vast majority in the church to fish for new members.

Sermon Suggestions
1. It Took a Miracle! What would it take to make a disciple out of you? Would it take a miracle to get you to be a Christian? It took a miracle of a burning bush to get Moses to lead God's people out of slavery. It took a miracle of a great catch of fish to get Peter to surrender all and follow Christ. Do we need a miracle other than the incarnation, the atonement or the resurrection? In this miracle we see to what length God will go to get us to love and serve him. God in Christ is that desperate!

2. Seeing Ourselves for What We Are. Today's society is saturated with sin, but there is a minimum of sin-consciousness. Our slogan is "We have done nothing wrong." We sense no guilt. Consequently, there is no confession of sin nor any remorse. How can this be? It may be that we are comparing ourselves with like-sinners rather than seeing ourselves in the nearness of God. In the miracle Peter sensed in Jesus the nearness of God when he experienced the knowledge and power to perform the miracle of the fish. He was in the presence of holiness and his sinfulness became apparent. Thus, he cried, "I am a sinful man." In the presence of a great and good God, humans feel unworthy because of their sin. To get people to acknowledge their sin is not to preach fire and brimstone of judgment, but to present Christ in all of his purity and perfection.

3. Take Him at His Word. Jesus asked Peter to do a ridiculous thing. He was told to push out into deep water and let down the nets. From Peter's viewpoint, this was foolish. It was against both reason and experience. Peter was an experienced and expert fisherman who had fished all night and caught nothing. Moreover, the day was not a good time to fish. In spite of all this, Peter obeyed and a miracle resulted. The Word of God may seem ridiculous, but his Word can be trusted, because God cannot lie. Christ says some things that seem to be foolish to us: to be great, be a servant; give, and it will be given to you; lose your life, and you will save it; humble yourself to be exalted. His Word, however, can be trusted. You can count on his promises.

4. Change of Career. The miracle caused Peter to have a change of career. It is still fishing, but instead of fish, people. In fishing for fish, we bring living fish to death; in fishing for people, we bring people out of death to life in Christ. Though the object of our fishing is different, the methods are the same; go to where the fish are, offer them food through bait or lures, have patience until they bite and rejoice in the catch. Here is a technique for personal evangelism.

5. How Far is too Far? How far do you want to go in religion? To what extent do you want to get involved? Can one go too far in religious devotion? Take the case of Peter. After the miracle, he with his partners, "left everything and followed him." Do we mean it when we sing, "Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to thee?" Suppose we asked Peter toward the close of his life, "Peter, was it worth it?" One thing is sure: we cannot go part way in following Christ, we cannot be lukewarm. It is all or nothing, hot or cold. Christ calls for nothing less than total surrender, dedication and commitment. Is that asking too much?

Sermon Structures
1. The Miracle of a Changed Life (5:1-11). It may take a miracle to change your life. It took a miracle to change Peter from a fisherman to a disciple. In this passage we see how this miracle can take place in your life. A person becomes a disciple when:
A. Confronted by Jesus - "Depart from me" - v. 8
B. Called by Jesus - "You will be catching men" - v. 10
C. Commissioned by Jesus - "Left everything and followed him" - v. 11

2. What a Miracle Can Do for You (5:1-11). What Peter did was a response to what was done by the miracle. The miracle produced life-changing attitudes and actions. Peter did nothing but respond to Jesus' words and action.
A. Confession of sin as a response to Jesus' divinity - v. 8
B. Obedience to Jesus' command - v. 5
C. Surrender life to Jesus' cause - v. 11

3. From Fishermen to Disciple (5:1-11). Peter was a common, blue-collar laborer who earned his livelihood by commercial fishing. How would a simple, uneducated man become the leader of a great religious movement, the church? In this pericope, we see how it happened and how it can still happen.
A. Recognize the divine - v. 8
B. Realize your sin - v. 8
C. Respond in obedience - vv. 5, 11

4. It Takes Faith to Get a Miracle! (5:1-11). When there is no faith, Jesus is unable to perform a miracle. Faith does not perform a miracle. Christ by his divine power and wisdom makes a miracle possible. Faith allows the power of Christ to work a miracle in your life. Faith opens you up to divine performance. In Peter we see the faith we need if Christ is going to make us a miracle.
A. Faith that obeys - v. 5
B. Faith that confesses sin - v. 8
C. Faith that follows Jesus - v. 11

5. Changes in Your Life (5:1-11). Change is one changeless thing in life. It is not a matter of the possibility of change, but whether the change is for the better. Remarkable changes came to Peter's life when Christ came into his life. It can happen to you also. The changes Christ can make in your life:
A. Change from unbeliever to believer, from "Master" to "Lord" - vv. 5, 8
B. Change from pride to humility - v. 8
C. Change from a fisherman to a preacher - v. 10.

6. A Man and his Boat (5:1-11). Peter needed a boat to ply his trade as a fisherman. To get fish, he had to go to deep water. A boat was essential, a prized possession. When Jesus came into Peter's life, his boat was also involved.
A. Peter gave his boat for a pulpit - "Use me, Lord; use the boat of my life for your purposes." - v. 3
B. Peter gave up his boat for a pulpit - He forsook his boat for a pulpit to preach the gospel. "Love so amazing demands ... my all." - v. 10

7. All of This to Gain a Convert! (5:1-11). Why did Jesus perform this miracle of the great catch of fish? Was there a good purpose? In an inductive way consider the possibilities:
A. Because Jesus was asked to do so? No.
B. Because Jesus wanted to make up the loss of no fish the night before? No.
C. Because Jesus wanted to impress the crowd? No.
D. Because Jesus wanted to gain Peter as a follower? Yes.

Illustration

Total Commitment. "They left everything and followed him (v. 11)."
Kagawa: "Send me anywhere, only go with me. Place any burden upon me, only sustain me. Break any tie except that which binds me to Thyself and Thy service."

William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was asked to explain the success of his work: "I will tell you the secret. God had all there was of me. On that day when I caught a vision of what Jesus Christ could do with the poor of the land, I made up my mind that God should have all of William Booth there was. And if there is any power in the Salvation Army today, it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life."

People Fishing for People. "Henceforth you will be catching men (v. 10)."

Available "fish" - It is reported that there are 90 million unchurched people in the United States.

The fishermen: Survey after survey indicates that from 70 percent to 80 percent of new converts were personally invited by relatives and friends.

How to catch fish-people: Churches in China are growing at the rate of one congregation per day. Yet, it is illegal for one church to have an evangelism program, to hold mass rallies or to confront people with Christ. When asked how then the church could be growing under these circumstances, the reply was: "It is the quality of life of our members that brings inquirers to attend church and eventually to become a part of it."

Waiting to be "caught:" One day a boy came in from a game of hide-and-seek with tears streaming down his face. His father asked him what was wrong. The son explained that he had hidden himself but no one came to find him. The father hugged his son and said that now the boy could understand how God felt when no one came to find a person.

Punch in Your Faith. Peter had faith to push into the deep and let down the nets as Jesus ordered. In Britain there is a magazine devoted to the spiritual life titled, The Life of Faith. There is another well-known magazine devoted to humor called Punch. A friend had the habit of sending each week a copy of The Life of Faith to a missionary. But one week he included a copy of Punch. In an accompanying letter the friend wrote, "I have decided to put "punch" in your "life of faith."

A Life Change. Because of the miracle of the catch of the fish, Peter was changed from a fisherman to a disciple. Only Christ can change a life. A psychiatrist said to a pastor: "I can cure somebody's madness, but I can't cure his baldness. Psychiatry can turn a schizophrenic bank robber into a mentally healthy bank robber. A good teacher can turn an illiterate criminal into an educated criminal."

Victory out of Defeat. Peter and his partners fished all night and caught nothing - total defeat. When Christ came into his life, there was victory.

George Frederick Handel was dogged with misfortune. He had debt upon debt, despair upon despair. He had a cerebral hemorrhage and was paralyzed on his right side. For four years he could neither walk nor write. The doctors gave up on him. He wrote several operas, but again he fell in debt. At age 60 he thought his life was finished. Then he was challenged by a friend to write a sacred oratorio. He read the Scriptures and decided to work on the Messiah. For 24 days, without eating a crumb, he worked fanatically to produce the Messiah, which many today consider the greatest oratorio ever written.

Take Him at His Word. Though Peter had fished all night and caught nothing, Jesus asked him to let down his nets for a catch. It seemed foolish to do so, because Peter knew there were no fish to catch. "But at your word I will let down the nets (v. 5)."

In 1662 thirty British criminals were allowed to walk unguarded from one prison to another because their prison was overcrowded. They were Quakers who were imprisoned because they refused to swear by an oath the law required. They said, "We Quakers make no oaths. Our word is our bond." They were to go from Newgate to Bridewell prison. The jailer said, "You know the way to Bridewell. Promise me you will get there before nightfall." Their leader, Thomas Elwood, explained, "We have made a promise, we have given our word. Our word is our keeper!"
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