As a result of what happened in this text, the disciples left everything and followed Jesus. Stop and consider that for a moment. They left everything. Many of us know this story so well that this we miss how remarkable their reaction was. Further, many of us imagine that we sufficiently understand (and practice) what it means to follow Jesus, too. But Luke’s account of Jesus calling his first disciples invites us to stop and take another look—at the one we follow, at what it means to follow him, and how we’re doing as his present-day disciples.
Much like the Old Testament reading from Isaiah, Luke helps us consider discipleship by inviting us to identify with an individual. While others were there the whole time (see v. 10-11), Luke focuses our attention on Peter. The narrative itself could be divided into three parts: (1) the instruction, (2) the reaction, and (3) the commission. I’ll consider some details from each, and then offer some thoughts about how a sermon on this text might progress.
- The Instruction (verses 1-5). The context for the instruction is Jesus’ teaching. It’s early in his ministry, but word has already spread (4:37) about him. The crowds are big enough to push Jesus out into the water, which is where Simon Peter re-enters the story with his boat. (Luke already introduced us to Peter when Jesus healed his mother-in-law in 4:38-39.)
The instruction consists of Jesus telling Peter how to fish. Most commentaries note that Peter already knew what he was doing, specifically that night was the right time to catch fish. Notice how Peter addresses Jesus in verse 5. He calls him “Master” (ἐπιστάτα). The disciples call Jesus by this name four other times in Luke (8:24, 45; 9:33, 49), and each time they didn’t understand what was happening. Later, in the next section, Peter addresses Jesus differently (see the next point). After the instruction Luke spends several verses describing the extraordinary catch that followed.
- The Reaction (verses 6-10a). There are two reactions, really. There’s Peter’s reaction to the unexpected catch, and there’s Jesus’ response to Peter’s reaction. Much like Isaiah’s reaction in the presence of Yahweh in the Old Testament reading, Peter recognizes that he does not belong in the presence of Jesus. Not only has he sinned, but he is a sinner, an outcast. This confession is not driven by humility, but by fear. Peter realizes who stands before him, and no longer does he call Jesus “Master.” Now he calls him “Lord” (κύριε). At this point Luke reminds us that Peter isn’t alone. Together, Peter and his fellow fishermen were seized with astonishment (θάμβος γὰρ περιέσχεν), which is a common reaction among those who see Jesus for who is really is.
The second reaction says something about Jesus. “Do not fear,” (μὴ φοβοῦ) he says to the disciples. This is gospel, comfort, assurance. Jesus is Lord, but those who recognize their place before him do not need to cower in fear.
- The Commission (verses 10b-11). Luke spends the least amount of time describing what happened next. Perhaps his brevity at this point is instructive. What does it mean to “be catching/capturing alive men” (ζωγρῶν)? What does it look like to follow Jesus? For the disciples it involved leaving everything and going where Jesus goes. To see what this entailed for them (and also for us), we have to continue reading Luke and listening to Jesus.
There is another obvious connection to the Old Testament reading at this point, as both Isaiah and the disciples were compelled to follow the one who was sending them.
A sermon on this text might be organized through storied discourse structure. A “Story-Interrupted” or “Story-Framed” option might help the preacher bring the hearers into the narrative and experience this encounter with the Lord from Peter’s perspective. This could help them reflect on God’s call for them to follow Jesus in a fresh way. The sermon could proceed in epic form, beginning with the question, What would it take for you to leave everything? and then go back to the beginning of the story to arrive at an answer. In the end, the answer would be the gracious command and promise of the Lord Jesus Christ, spoken anew to your hearers today.
One more caution. I suggest you don’t push the “fishers of men” metaphor too far. As a fisherman, I enjoy the challenge of trying to lure, entrap, and trick fish into going after the fly or taking the bait. These obviously aren’t helpful ways to think about evangelism and witness. Since this text falls as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the beginning of the disciples’ life with Jesus, you might emphasize that they followed and left everything at this point. Perhaps leave the commission to “capture alive” other people for another Sunday.
Concordia Theology: Various resources to help you preach Luke 5:1-11 from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.
Text Week: Various resources to help you preach Luke 5:1-11 from a variety of sources.