Some men are melted and moulded in one flash of brilliance from the Throne of Heaven, as was Paul on the dusty highway to Damascus; other men are chiselled out with the Master Sculptor’s tools from the rough granite, as was Peter the Rock-man. The great Worker (John 5:17) chooses His own methods and materials. Some may reply as Moses did, “Oh Lord, I am not eloquent” (Exodus 4:10), or as Isaiah, “I am lost … I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5), or as Jeremiah, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6), or as Gideon, ““Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15), or as blinded Saul, “Who are You, Lord?” (Acts 9:5), or as impetuous Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
God, desiring workers in His service, puts no hindrance in the way. Rather He uses that which lies to our hand. Of Moses He asks, “What is that in your hand? … A rod.” He took David from the sheepfolds to feed His people and “… with upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.” (Psalm 78:70-72). Paul was a tent-maker, and tabernacles and sanctuaries are very evident in his teaching (see Acts 17:24; Ephesians 2:21). Peter was a fisher of fish, called to be a fisher of men (Luke 5:1-11).
We should ponder well these scenes by the Sea of Galilee, that first scene at the call to higher service (Luke 5:1-11; Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20), and that last scene recorded only by John (John 2:1-14). Why was this scene re-enacted? The same rod that became a serpent at the beginning of Moses’ career was stretched across the waters of the Red Sea. There is a significance in God’s repetitions (compare Job 33:14, Job 29-30).
Peter was a skilled fisherman, and although he had caught nothing on those two notable occasions, the “washing” and “mending” of nets suggest that they had previously been successfully used; and Peter is commissioned by the Lord Himself to “cast a hook and take a fish,” on the other occasion where we read of his following his original craft after his call (Matthew 17:24-25). He could catch with net and with line. It is not the aspect of the hunter here. Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 16:16, foretells a day when God will send fishers first to fish His people, then afterwards, hunters to hunt them. These crafts are so different. The former needs art and skill and patience to catch alive and not bruise in the catching, the latter, force and violence and rush, with no concern in overdriving even those with young. We need to cultivate the former.
We take ourselves, in thought, to those shores of Galilee of the nations (Isaiah 9) to look upon the pressing multitudes (Luke 5), hungering for the word of God. Into the frail, unoccupied and borrowed boat the Master steps, and condescendingly asks its owner Simon, to come in beside Him, and to row Him out a little from the shore. Then he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “At Your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:4-5). And the Master of oceans, and earth and skies brought from their home in the deep a great multitude of fishes to those nets. Here indeed was the Creator, the last Adam, with full control over “the fish of the sea [and] whatever passes along the paths of the seas” (Psalm 8:8).
Then there arose a need for more fishers. This is the Lord’s order. He will supply the men for the work. Peter can bear up no longer, and, at Jesus’ knees he cries, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” When a man realizes his own sinfulness and weakness in relation to God’s holiness and power, God may use him, and the outshining of His glory does not repel, but rather attracts the willing penitent to Himself. “FEAR NOT” is the word, so often repeated in the past (Isaiah 41:10,14; 43:1,5; 44:2,8; 54:4; Daniel 10.12; etc.). “From henceforth” – a complete change in character – you will be catching men alive – a continuous occupation, catching men for life, and not for death, taking them from the troubled seas to the new atmosphere of the kingdom of the Son of His love.
Mark tells us what they left for this new vocation; their father, their boats, their hired servants, their catch, their all. We long for those scenes to be re-enacted in our day, for filled nets. Many days pass by, many lessons are taught and learned, a few more hammer strokes are needed on Cephas, and again we take ourselves to the shores of Galilee. Peter is in good company with Nathanael, who had confessed, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are King of Israel” (John 1:49); and with Thomas, who had made a belated confession, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). John also was there, and he has left us such a record as proves that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31). Peter, too, had earlier declared, by divine inspiration, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Yet how often in John 21 Peter is called “Simon Peter,” his old and his new natures still combined. And how significant it is for the Lord Himself to repeat, three times, “Simon, son of John,” as if to say, “Where is that rocklike character I once conferred on you, in the name Peter?”
The significant differences between the latter and the former catches of fish are noteworthy. Firstly, we observe that both events were prefaced by a futile night’s work in their mundane occupation. This is by no means an infrequent occurrence in our own experiences. But John 21 presents a resurrection scene, the “day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach.” He is not with them on the waters; He was standing on the beach, but He is intensely interested in their work and well-being, for He asks, “Children, do you have any fish? They answered Him, ‘No’. And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (John 21:5-6). There is no breaking net in this scene – no schisms (the meaning of the Greek word used). The catch was taken into the boat in the earlier scene, here it is hauled ashore. The catch was innumerable on the first occasion, here it is definitely numbered, for it is a divine prerogative to number, measure or weigh, and all the fish are “great.”
So together they feast with Him, the Risen Lord, on the shore of the sea of their many trials. But men must be pliable in His service. The keen “fisher” may yet have to be a patient “shepherd”, feeding lambs, tending yearlings, feeding sheep. Thus it was a sure seal to Peter that his thrice-repeated denial had been forgiven, when the Chief Shepherd put into his care His own beloved sheep. Peter remembered this scene in after years, when, in his first epistle, he reminds the elders and fellow-shepherds of the flock of the Dispersion, of their Chief Shepherd’s return and expectation; and he recalls the “clothing” but “with humility” (1 Peter 5:5).
Following this latter scene, and unquestionably linked with it, the Lord twice asks Peter if he desires Him by deliberate judgement and choice (Greek – agape; Latin – dilegere). Twice Peter repeats, “You know that I love You,” otherwise translated, “You are the Object of my special attachment and personal affection” (Greek – phileo; Latin – amare). On the third occasion the Master asks deliberately, changing to Peter’s own chosen word, “Do you love Me?” There is, in the thrice-repeated avowal of love by Peter, an allusion to his thrice-repeated denial. So, admitting the omniscience of his risen Lord, he exclaims, “You know all things, You know that I love (phileo) You.” Then is uttered that simple yet pregnant word, “Follow Me” … meanwhile the beloved apostle John follows unbidden!