My teaching at this time will be very simple, but I hope it will be highly practical; for my longing is that none of you, that love God, would be reluctant to go fishing for him.” – Charles Spurgeon
I’m a coastal junkie. The sea is in my veins. Today my writers perch is at Catches Waterfront Grill on Florida’s spectacular gulf coast. A couple of local boaters have just tied up to pilings and come ashore for lunch. Me? I have no boat, but I’m making do with a relaxing view of the Pithlachascotee “Cottee” River as it meanders toward the Gulf of Mexico. My “desk” (a high top table) is at water’s edge under one of the biggest, tallest, tiki huts in this part of Florida. Yes indeed, I love life along the shoreline – here in the Sunshine State or almost anywhere in the world.
So, it goes without saying that whenever I have visited Israel, my expedition would always include a boat excursion on the largest body of freshwater in the land of the Book – Yam Kinneret. This inland “sea” has been called by many different names throughout human history (Gennesaret, Tiberias, Ginosar and Minya), but perhaps it’s best known as the Sea of Galilee. At roughly 685 feet (209 meters) below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on planet Earth.
In Biblical times there was a fishing village located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee known as Capharnaum. We learn from the Newer Testament writers that an extraordinary man known simply as Jesus left the village of Nazareth and settled in Capharnaum (Mt 4:12). It would become His home base and from here He gathered many of His first devotees. Among them was a fisherman named Simon Barjona (Simon son of Jonah).
The Bible reveals very little about Simon Barjona’s life before he met Jesus. It appears that he was born in or near Bethsaida (John 1:44), on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, eventually settling a few miles to the west in the Galilean town of Capharnaum where, along with his brother Andrew, he built a fishing partnership with James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Luke 5:10). Truthfully, it’s not who Simon Barjona was that is of interest to me; it’s who he became. Let me explain.
Legalism says God will love us if we change. The Gospel says God will change us because He loves us.” – Tullian Tchividjian
There was a man living as a recluse in the Jordan River Valley at that time who was called John the Baptist. He was the last prophet of the Older Testament order, and it is said that he came as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He was a man with a message about a coming Liberator.
Simon’s brother Andrew and John (one of his business partners) had become adherents of John the Baptist’s preaching. When their teacher pointed to Jesus one day and proclaimed him to be “the Lamb of God”, Andrew went back to Capharnaum and told Simon, “We have found the Savior” (John 1:41). Andrew then introduced his brother to the Liberator. Jesus looked at Simon and said: “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall now be called Cephas” (John 1:42). Cephas is an Aramaic word meaning “stone”. In Greek the word is Petros, which translates into English as Peter. Ah, so now you know why we call him Peter.
Jesus would regularly teach people along the Galilean shoreline. Over time, He encountered issues with crowd control. One day the multitude grew so large that they were literally driving Jesus into the water. Here is the Newer Testament record of that fateful day,
1-3 One day the people were crowding closely round Jesus to hear God’s message, as he stood on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. Jesus noticed two boats drawn up on the beach, for the fishermen had left them there while they were cleaning their nets. He went aboard one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, and asked him to push out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and continued his teaching of the crowds from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Push out now into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
5 Simon replied, “Master! We’ve worked all night and never caught a thing, but if you say so, I’ll let the nets down.”
6-8 And when they had done this, they caught an enormous shoal of fish so big that the nets began to tear. So they signaled to their friends in the other boats to come and help them. They came and filled both the boats to sinking point. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell on his knees before Jesus and said, “Keep away from me, Lord, for I’m only a sinful man!”
9-10 For he and his companions (including Zebedee’s sons, James and John, Simon’s partners) were staggered at the haul of fish that they had made. Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid, Simon. From now on your catch will be men.” (Luke 5:1-10 – Phillips)
First, Jesus engages the services of Simon and his boat so that He could better teach the growing crowds. Remember, they didn’t have PA systems in those days so the water surface would actually help to amplify His voice, making it easier for such a mass gathering to hear Him.
When Jesus finished speaking, He told Simon (who was evidently in the boat with him) to go further out into the lake where the water was deeper and to lower his fishing nets (Luke 5:4). At first Simon protested. “Look Jesus, we have fished here all night and we have caught nothing” is what he told him. Think about it. Simon knew his trade. Fishing the Galilee is usually done at night, not during the day. On top of that, he had already spent hours cleaning and repairing his nets for the next night’s run. But, then he said something unexpected, “Nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5).
Sometimes, when I read the words of Scripture and they don’t seem to make sense to me, I say to myself, “God, you want me to do what?” I’m learning not to do that. It’s a good thing Simon put aside his practical wisdom (doubts) and did as Jesus asked. Look again at what happened:
6-7 “And when they had done this, they caught an enormous shoal of fish so big that the nets began to tear. So they signaled to their friends in the other boats to come and help them. They came and filled both the boats to sinking point.” (Luke 5:6-7)
Simon knew that this was a supernatural event. He was overwhelmed. His response tells us all we need to know as he fell on his knees before Jesus and said,
8“Keep away from me, Lord, for I’m only a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)
Like everything else that the Almighty orchestrates here on spaceship earth, there was a purpose in all of this. Jesus reassured the shaken fisherman with these words:
10“Don’t be afraid, Simon. From now on your catch will be men.” (Luke 5:10).
And so, from that day forward Simon Barjona, the professional fisherman, became Peter – the fisher of men. His commitment to follow the Liberator Jesus would now be absolute. The scriptures tell us that he and his business partners:
11 “…brought the boats ashore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:11)
I’m sure that Simon Peter & Company had no idea how incredible the next three years of adventure would turn out to be, nor that they would be a part of a movement that would change the course of human history.
Too many Christians are no longer fishers of men, just the keepers of the aquarium.” – Paul Harvey
This was not the only seafaring escapade that Peter shared with Jesus. Here’s an account of another adventure, recorded in the Newer Testament:
24 “Night fell, and out on the lake the disciples were in trouble. For the wind had risen and they were fighting heavy seas.
25 About four o’clock in the morning Jesus came to them, walking on the (surface of the) water! 26 They screamed in terror, for they thought he was a ghost.
27 But Jesus immediately spoke to them, reassuring them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said.
28 Then Peter called to him: “Sir, if it is really you, tell me to come over to you, walking on the water.”
29 “All right,” the Jesus said, “come along!”
So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
31 Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and rescued him. “O man of little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” 32 And when they had climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.
33 The others sat there, awestruck. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed. (Matthew 14:24-33 – TLB)
It’s the fourth watch of the night (between 3 A.M. and 6 A.M) and Team Jesus is in trouble. They are all on a boat, attempting to cross the Sea of Galilee, when a fierce storm arises. Fighting a strong headwind and hammering waves, fear for their lives now grips them. Without warning, they see what looks like a man calmly walking on the water toward the boat. They freaked. Wouldn’t you? “It’s a ghost” they screamed. But the “ghost” was none other than the Master – Jesus. He tells them not to be afraid.
Have you ever done anything impulsive? No? Don’t be a liar. We all have. Simon Peter was habitually impulsive. So of course he was the first to speak out, “Sir, if it is really you, tell me to come over to you, walking on the water.” So Jesus told him to have at it.
Now, I will say this for Simon Peter, he showed a willingness to attempt the humanly impossible. He put his big number 10’s overboard and began to walk toward the Liberator Jesus. Let’s put that another way; by faith, Peter did the impossible – he walked on the water!
But then something happened. He took his eyes off of Jesus and began to weigh the circumstances. Let’s see, howling wind, crashing waves, not to mention people don’t walk on water; Yikes. Simon Peter panicked and began to sink into the tempestuous sea. What would you do next? Exactly. “HELP, save me”! (Matthew 14:30).
Jesus reaches out to Peter and He grabs his arm in a firm grip. Next Jesus yells at him for attempting the impossible, calling him stupid. Sorry, that is not what happened. Instead Jesus reprimands him for entertaining distrust; “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
The lesson here is simple; absolute faith in the supernatural power available through our relationship with the Creator of all things means that nothing is impossible in your life. That does not mean that everything your little heart desires is now possible. What it does mean is that the impossible is always possible. You will have to ponder that one on your own; I am not going to do all of your thinking for you.
Every example in the Gospels where God shows up, it’s always when the seas are the stormiest, where there is discontinuity.” – Clark Durant
Peter was just a simple fisherman. But, he was willing to surrender all to follow the Liberator Jesus. As a result, the Spirit of the Almighty re-purposed him into a fisher of men. Today that same Spirit is calling men and women everywhere to spread the good news of redemption to a lost and rapidly dying world system. If you say yes to the Liberator Jesus, you too become his fishers of men and women. There is no greater privilege here on the earth. Just ask Peter.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie ®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656