By J.R. Miller
The scene of this lesson is the Lake of Gennesaret. "Although God has created seven seas," said the rabbis, "yet He has chosen this one as His special delight." No body of water on the earth is so sacred to the hearts of Christians, as this little inland sea. Along its shores Jesus walked, wrought, and talked. At that time its shore was a garden, without break, covered with pleasant towns and villages. Desolation now reigns about it. In our Lord's time, it was covered with fishing boats and vessels of all kinds. A great population then crowded its shores. Now the towns have disappeared, and the boats no longer sail on the beautiful waters. Yet everywhere in the sands, are the footprints of Him who came to save us. "It is the gem of Palestine, a sapphire fairly set in its framework of hills--but more fairly set in the golden words and works of the Son of God."
In the story of our passage, we have one of the experiences of our Master on this beautiful sea. The people thronged about Him to hear Him speak. The crowd became very great, and that He might speak to the people more satisfactorily, He entered one of the fishing boats that were moored by the shore. The fishermen had left their boats and were washing their nets. Using this fishing boat as a pulpit, Jesus spoke to the people. That little boat had done good service many times before in other ways. It had carried people across the lake, it had been used in fishing--but it never had been put to such a use as it was that day, when the Lord preached from its deck, to the throngs on the beach.
We can find pulpits every day from which we can preach to the people about us. The boy can speak at school, or from his place of duty, or in the office where he works. The girl can find a pulpit among her friends, at her daily tasks, in the social group of which she is a member. No one ever yet lacked opportunities to speak for the Master. Often the little sermons we speak along the way, as we walk, or as we ride on the street cars or on the railroad train--have more effect, a wider reach of influence, than if we stood up in a church pulpit and made a fine address.
After Jesus had spoken to the people, He asked Simon, the owner of the boat, to push out from the shore into the deep water, and to let down his nets. It seemed to Simon that there could be no use in doing this. He had spent the whole preceding night on the sea, dropping the nets and drawing them up again, each time empty. "We have toiled all night--and have caught nothing," was Simon's discouraged answer. This is true of very much of the work that many of us do. We toil hard--but come home weary and empty-handed. We drag our nets all night, and in the morning we have only weeds and a few bits of rubbish in our nets.
This is true of what we do in worldly business. The majority of men die poor, with nothing in their hands to show for their toil. Many do the same in their intellectual life. With countless opportunities for learning, they at last die in ignorance. Many people have the same experience in spiritual work. Pastors toil for years, and seem to have no souls in their nets. Teachers work with their classes, and seem to have no results. There is often a sad pathos in the Christian's life and work. Many of us are like children trying to carry water, in buckets with holes. It runs out--as fast as we scoop it up.
Peter's obedience at this time was very noble and beautiful. According to the rules of fishing, nothing would come of the Master's command. Yet Peter did not think of that. The word of Jesus had supreme authority with him. It was not his to ask why, or what good could come of casting the net again. No appeal against the Master's word, was to be considered for a moment. So Peter answered without hesitation, "But because You say so--I will let down the nets." Many of the things our master calls us to do or to endure--do not seem best to us at the time. Yet we may always say to Christ, whatever His bidding may be--whatever He asks us to do or to suffer, into whatever mystery of trial or pain He leads us, "But because You say so--I will let down the nets." There need never be the smallest exception to this obedience. Though to our limited vision, it seems that only loss can come out of it, still we should heed the Voice that commands, assured that in spite of all seeming ill--there must be good in the end.
The result of the obedience--proved the wisdom of the command. "When they had done this, their nets were so full they began to tear!" Obeying the master, though it had seemed nothing could come of it, brought its rich reward. Not always do the results come so soon. But obedience to Christ's word always brings good in the end.
We have here an illustration of two kinds of work--that done without Christ's direction; and that done in obedience to His word. The one came to nothing; the other yielded bountiful results. The disciples had toiled all night in their own effort and had caught nothing. Then they dropped their nets at the Master's bidding--and drew them up full. In a wider sense, all that we do without Christ's direction, comes to nothing; while all that we do in His name, yields blessing. Some where and in some way, everything we do for Christ brings blessing. "Your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). "In due season we shall reap--if we faint not" (Galatians 6:9).
The effect of this miracle on Peter was remarkable. He fell down at the feet of Jesus and said, "Depart from me! For I am a sinful man, O Lord!" This is a strange scene--Peter imploring Jesus to leave his boat. Yet it was Peter's very love for Jesus, that made him say this. In the miracle, he had had a glimpse of Christ's power. A vision of divine glory--always humbles a sincere heart.
A room may be filthy; floor, walls, and furniture stained; but in the darkness one does not see the foulness. Let the light flash in, and ever speck of stain is revealed. We are not conscious of the evil in our own hearts. But when the divine holiness is revealed and flashes its radiance upon us--we see our condition, and loathe ourselves! We should seek to see God, for the vision will show us our unworthiness, and then will lead to the cleansing of our lives, to make them more worthy of Him. We never can enter heaven--until heaven has first entered into us and filled our whole being with its holiness and purity.
Peter saw in these wonderful words of Christ, the unveiling of divine power. "He was astonished at the catch of fish." Every day divine works are wrought before our eyes--and we fail to be impressed.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning tells us that while some people see the glory of God in the burning bush and take off their shoes; that others only stand by and pick blackberries! We should teach ourselves to behold God in even the commonest events in our commonest days. Daily life is full of divine goodness, and the evidences of our Father's thoughtfulness and care. He made the flowers, the hills, the trees, the fields, the rivers, the stars. Are there no manifestations of divine power in these works of God? Then, the life of the individual is full of love and power. No person can fail to see in everyday providence, the evidence of God's presence and thought. He provides for us. He sends us countless blessings, and supplies all our needs. He brings friends to us with love, with sympathy, with comfort. In the life of each one of us--there are frequent occurrences just as remarkable as the miraculous catch of fish! Yet, how few of us take off our shoes--and fall down before Christ in wonder!
It is delightful to notice how the fishermen responded to the call of the Master. The call had reached their hearts, and they were not a moment in deciding. They had known Jesus for some time, and were most glad to go with Him. We do not know how much He told them of His plans, of what He wanted them to do. Jesus does not usually give us the details of the life to which He calls us. He only asks us to go with Him; and then, as we follow Him, He shows us the way, step by step. Each day prepares us for the next. One duty done, leads to another.
Jesus is always looking for men. The work of saving the world is still filing His heart and His thought. He wants men who will believe His message. He saw that day in these fishermen, just the kind of men He wanted to go with Him and be trained for the great work He had in hand. They had had a training in their old occupation, which had done much to prepare them for the new work to which they were now called. They had learned patience, persistence, quiet waiting, and diligence in their daily and nightly work on the sea--and these qualities would be of use--in waiting, watching, and fishing for men. The words of Jesus about fishing contain a little parable. The sea is the world, and men are the fish that are to be caught and taken from it.
The Master's answer to Simon showed what we should do with our amazement and adoration. Instead of being paralyzed by the revealing of glory, Simon was to find in it a new call to service. "Fear not! From henceforth you shall catch men." Idle wonder is profitless. Divine revealing should drive us to a fuller consecration and service. The one thing after feelings--is to put them into acts. We should all want to catch men and to save them from their sin--for eternal life and glory. We should all want to be fishers of men. The boys and girls should seek to draw their companions out of the black sea of sin--that they may be saved for heaven.
The response of Simon and of his friends was instantaneous. "They forsook all--and followed Him." This is just what Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do--and what he would not do. Christ may not ask us to give up all in the sense of leaving all; but He does ask us to give up all to Him. He does ask us to believe, to give up body, soul, and property, to go wherever He may send us--and to do whatever He wants us to do. Nothing will be lost to us; however, for He will return to us, a hundredfold increase, all that we give up or lose in His cause.