But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” (Luke 5:6)
How easy it is to make assumptions – particularly in our early Christian walk – that impact our spiritual growth and knowledge of the Word down the line. A good ‘for instance’ is the story of the disciples with the miraculously huge catch of fish – note ‘the story’ not ‘the stories.’ Simply relying on preached sermons or a cursory glimpse at the Word easily leaves the erroneous understanding that there is only one story, whereas there are, in fact, two – similar but very different, but each with tremendous significance in the lives of the disciples and also in our Christian walk. Would that we had time in this devotional to explore them all!
The first event takes place in Luke 5, near the beginning of Christ’s ministry, when he calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to be His disciples. The second is found in John 21, towards the end of Christ’s ministry, and precedes His restoration of Peter following his denial of Him. The parallels are obvious. The disciples are fishing. They land a huge catch – the magnitude differs, but essentially it’s a similar image: too many to draw in alone. Each event is followed by time with Christ.
One of the most fascinating, encouraging and assuring things about the Word of God is the emergence of the divine ‘pattern.’ This is not a ‘recipe for success’ or ‘standard operating procedure,’ but rather a wonderful weaving of truth together in one complete whole. No event stands entirely alone. No lesson can exist outside of the context of the entire whole. Every truth is linked to the others, each adding rich layers of detail and revelation to create a single perfect truth. This is the foundation behind careful study of the Word, because as we begin to familiarise ourselves with both the Old and the New Testaments, the types, shadows, symbolism and patterns begin to emerge, filling our hearts with the true riches of God.
These two stories beautifully illustrate this, not only through their obvious parallels but because of their placement as well. They work almost as mirrors of one another – like two reflective ‘bookends’ either side of the Gospels, revealing yet another beautiful truth. God starts as He intends to continue. If we look back, it’s to see that the God He is today is the same God He was back then. What He did then will be perfectly reflected in what He does now. There is nothing random or chance in the work of God in our lives.
In the first event, Christ reveals Himself first as the Son of Man, and in the second, which occurs after the resurrection, He confirms Himself as the Son of God. Obviously, Christ’s full revelation was never a ‘one time’ event, but rather a process of growing revelation through fellowship and intimacy – this is the communion time. After the first event, the disciples walked with Him and shared in His ministry for three years. It took that long for the full implications of the Son of Man to be understood, and for the foundations to be laid for the Son of God. After the second, He ate breakfast with them – a reminder of the breaking of the bread – and confirmed His resurrection and restoration. Son of Man and Son of God are one, with no conflict between them.
He is the author and finisher of our faith, and this is reflected so poignantly in these events. In the first, He reveals their calling. For those four disciples in their little boats, it went far beyond a humdinger of a catch which could only be miraculous. Jesus crammed a whole bunch of ‘showing’ into that miracle. He provided them with a glimpse, a picture of their calling in the world, the true purpose of their lives, and opened the door of no return. He revealed the vision, and gave them a tiny peek into the heart of God, and then took them out of familiarity and into intimacy. In the second, He reaffirms all of these things – the gentle restoration of a guilt-ridden Peter is one obvious example.
The second event is the mirror of the first – one which would surely have turned their minds back to that remarkable moment when Christ changed their lives forever. Having walked with Jesus for three years, He did not need the same number of fish to get their attention. It is wise to remember that ‘signs and wonders’ serve a particular purpose – to confirm the Word of God through His sovereign grace. The second event is therefore not so much a repetition of the first but a gracious reminder of the first, and of all the promises and events between and after. We could think of it as a ‘replay button,’ a trigger to stir up their faith, their thanksgiving, their vision. The purpose here was confirmation and affirmation.
There is such assurance that comes with understanding this. When things seem dark, when we seem bereft of comfort and sometimes even of His presence, that’s the time to remember what He has already done. What He did then, the way He did it then, is part of the unchanging, utterly faithful nature of God. It is our viewpoint that changes, our responses that shift, but God Himself remains unmoving and unshakeable, eternal, perfect and complete.
The significance of the remembering is to prepare us for the ‘what comes next.’ Our relationship with Christ is never static. Each level of fellowship leads to greater intimacy, which usually includes greater knowledge of Him, greater surrender to Him, greater love for Him, and greater purpose in Him. We should never forget that our fundamental purpose is always to bring glory to God by reflecting Jesus in all that we are, say and do. Times with Christ, whether we realise it not, are inevitably times of preparation, and usually preparation for some kind of change. It’s a dynamic relationship of growth and challenge and stretching. We cannot be with Christ and stay the same.
Finally, the real miracle in the miracles of fish is not so much the miracle of abundance as the miracle of the presence of Christ. In both instances, Jesus gives a command. In the first, He commands a group of utterly exhausted and disgruntled fishermen to simply throw their nets overboard. There response is typical of all of us: But… Nevertheless, when obedience overrides all the other human emotions, miracles happen. They happen not because we’re obedient, but because of the one we are obedient to. ‘If You command it, Lord’ is the response Christ desires. The most significant truth on both these events is the presence of Jesus. Without Him, there would be no command, no obedience, and no miracle.
It is the presence of Christ alone that ensures guidance, our obedience, and the fulfillment of His purposes. We can fish all night, strive in our own strength, follow all the ‘rules’ of fishing we know and draw on years of experience, but unless Christ is in it, there will be no success. That’s the real significance of obedience – hearing the command. And we only hear the voice we know. If we don’t know the voice, we cannot hear the voice, and we cannot obey the voice. There is nothing significant about obedience in and of itself. It’s the Christ in it that makes the difference.
We may love Him, we may have the vision, we may have the zeal and the enthusiasm, but we need Jesus in the boat – the situation. He knows where the fish are. He knows the time, the place, the method and the manner of the work required. It’s really telling that He first says ‘follow me.’ It’s only after the communion time, the fellowship time, the growth time and the changing time, that this becomes ‘go to the nations.’ His command to ‘follow me’ will always come first – and it’s ongoing. It doesn’t start and end with our first encounter. It’s the ‘pattern’ – and let us not attach religious legalism to this concept – that infuses God’s interaction with His people, from Genesis to Revelation.
It’s the learning to follow that determines the rest. That is always the first command. Only when we learn to follow daily, in each situation, every circumstance, through the challenges, opportunities and demands of our individual lives and calling in Him, do we find Jesus in it. The rest is really immaterial. This is the real miracle – Christ in us, and through us in every situation. If we learn to follow the rest will come without our striving and struggling and spending our last strength in service. It will happen because Jesus is in it and in us, and where Jesus is, His purpose is perfect and complete.
Help us to follow, Lord, in the little things and the large. Teach us daily, by the grace of Your Holy Spirit in us, to cast down our nets, turn aside from the things of self, and focus our eyes on You. Help us to love You with a love that looks beyond the world and the ‘me’ in all of us. Help us to hear Your call, know Your voice, and to respond with the simple faith You graciously give each of us.