“Will you really leave everything behind for Me?”
I was excited to begin God’s task for me. I woke up early and thought of my schedule for the day as I prepared my breakfast. I had organized the previous night things I needed to research, study and plan.
But the Lord was not yet done speaking. He brought to my mind people in our local church who left their profession to serve in full-time ministry. Then there were the apostles who also left their profession to follow Jesus and became fishers of men.
As I pondered on their example, Jesus lovingly asked, “Will you really leave everything behind for Me?”
For the past years, He has been preparing me to leave one possession at a time. And now only one thing is left.
I went back to my room and read the calling of the first disciples.
“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
In John 1:35-51, we see the early encounters of Jesus with a few of the apostles. While the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are similar. This was when Jesus called them to full-time ministry. I focused my study on Luke because of his detailed account.
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God.2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God.
The Lake of Gennesaret is also known as the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18), and the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1). It’s a large, freshwater lake about 13 miles long and 7 miles wide, and about 690 ft. below sea level, making it the lowest body of freshwater on earth. It was home to a thriving fishing industry. Many events in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry took place in the region of Galilee and areas surrounding the Sea of Galilee.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Luke 4, He returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, cast out evil spirits and healed many including Simon’s mother-in-law. And all the people were amazed by His authority and power.
So it wasn’t the first time the people heard Him preach about the Kingdom of God. And it wasn’t the first time for the apostles either. Jesus’ early encounters with Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael was recorded in John 1:35-51. Then we see in Luke 4:38-39, Jesus went to the home of Simon (who is also Peter) where he healed Simon’s mother-in-law who was suffering from a high fever. They called Jesus as Teacher and were still getting to know more about Him.
Jesus saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. To keep the people from crowding him, He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat. He did the same in Matthew 13:2; Mark 3:9, 4:1.
Much of their fishing was done at night (John 21:3). Then at daytime, they would work on their equipment, mend and wash their nets to prepare them following night. So this event happened in the morning after a night of fishing.
When Jesus had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
These experienced fishermen worked hard all night but didn’t catch any fish. Now they were calling it a day and were washing their nets. Then Jesus, a carpenter who may not have any experience in fishing, tells Simon, an experienced fisherman, to set out to fish. To which Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything…” If they caught nothing the previous night, which was the best time to fish, then chances of catching anything during the day would even be smaller. There’s no point fishing in the daytime. And there’s no point fishing around that area because they already did everything they could all night and caught nothing. They knew their job, they had been doing it all their life. This didn’t make sense to Simon.
Nevertheless, he continued: “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Though it didn’t make sense, Simon obeyed because Jesus said so. He had heard news about Jesus, had encountered Him prior to this, had heard Him preach, had seen His miracle done in his own home, and from Teacher he now calls Him Master. He was seeing and knowing more and more who Jesus is.
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
How small were their boats that they couldn’t hold a large number of fish and they began to sink? And how small and delicate were their fishing nets that they began to break with that large catch?
We have to remember that fishing was their trade. In Mark 1:20, Zebedee, the father of James and John, had hired men which indicates that his fishing business was a prosperous one. This also means the size of the boat could hold Zebedee, James, John, their hired men, their fishing equipment plus the fish they’d catch which would be placed in the boat. We can also read throughout the Gospels that there were times Jesus and His 12 apostles were in a boat. That’s at least 13 people plus maybe some crew that runs the boat. So we can conclude that their boats were fairly large.
We also need to consider that fishermen in that area knew what the normal catch would be, what a good catch or even a great catch would be. And they had designed usually capable nets and boats that would be able to handle the amount of catch they’d get in the Sea of Galilee.
And when they had done what Jesus told them to do, an incredible result happened: they enclosed an enormous quantity of fish that the nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help, then they filled both boats so full that they began to sink. The catch was so massive that it literally went beyond anything they had ever anticipated because their nets couldn’t contain it and their boats couldn’t hold it.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
They were all astonished. This was beyond anything they had ever experienced. There was no other explanation except that it was an expression of divine power.
Notice Peter’s response. First, he fell at Jesus’ knees and called Him Lord. He knew now that Jesus is God. Second, understanding that truth led him to recognize his sinfulness. When we see God for who He is (holy) we see ourselves for who we are (sinful).
Why did Peter say: “Go away from me, Lord?” Jesus’ reply to him: “Don’t be afraid” shows Peter was terrified. He knew he was a sinful man standing before a Holy God. He was afraid for his life. It was the terror of being in the presence of holy God and being on the brink of divine judgment.
God is holy. Holy means separation from everything that is sinful. God is without sin and is separate from sin. When man sinned against God we became separated from God. We know that all of us have sinned. Whether minor or grave sin, the point is we have sinned. The Bible says: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12)
The wages (fitting compensation) of sin is death. This death refers to spiritual death which means when we die we would be forever separated from God and forever experience His judgment against our sins. What would become of us then? We either be forever separated from God or someone holy sacrifice himself as payment for our sins instead.
And that’s exactly what God did because of His great love for us. He made a way. He whom we have offended made a way. God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a holy life and sacrificed Himself as payment for our sins that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Through God’s grace, we can be made holy and be reconciled back to God not because of ourselves but because of Jesus’ holiness. When we repent of our sins and turn to Jesus we can be saved. This is the Jesus that Simon Peter and the other apostles were talking to: Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. God Himself in human flesh calling them to follow Him.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
In the terror of this moment, Peter wants to send the Lord away, but the Lord wants to pull Peter closer. What from Peter’s viewpoint is so frightening that he wants to run is so encouraging to the Lord that He wants to embrace Peter. At the very point at which the sinner feels the most alienation is the point at which the Savior is seeking reconciliation. And here was Peter and his two buddies, James and John, wanting to run when Jesus wanted to embrace them, wanting alienation when Jesus sought reconciliation. This is the glorious moment of their repentance. Jesus showed His divine mercy and love. –MacArthur, John. Sermon: “Characteristics of Jesus’ Divinity, Part 2”. Grace To You.
This also shows evangelism was the primary purpose for which Jesus called the apostles, and it remains the central mission for His people (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross to save us from our sins and reconcile us back to God. Those who have been reconciled to God through Christ have been given this task of reconciling people to Him. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
It should’ve been enough that He spoke and it was the voice of God. It should’ve been enough for them to know who Jesus is with His teachings and miraculous signs but He did more. After He finished His message, He wanted to demonstrate who He is. He wanted Simon Peter, James and John to come to the full understanding of who He is. Because it was time to bring Peter to full commitment. It was time to call them to full commitment.
Following Jesus means making Him our top priority, it means giving our full commitment and devotion, it means loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Following Jesus may require us to leave everything just like what He required the apostles to which they wholeheartedly and joyfully obeyed.
“Because You say so, I will.”
In the same way that Jesus’ instruction to Peter didn’t make sense, Jesus instruction to me also doesn’t make any sense: leave my job to pursue work without income for Jesus. So how on earth can I provide for myself? It’s ridiculous! Unreasonable. Yes, but only to shortsighted people like me.
And that’s the beauty of it! God’s power displayed in the seemingly absurd circumstance. Not blind faith but faith anchored on His promises and affirmations through the Bible. This clarity yet absurdity of God’s leading makes me more excited to witness what He is doing, to be in awe of His power and glory, to see more of His work, and to know Him more and more.
If you’ve read all the previous posts about this “Unconventional Calling” series, you may have noticed that it only revolved around my work, family, and writing for God. For an absurd instruction such as this, I asked the Lord to affirm me many times so I can stand firm on His Word and not be swayed by worldly perspective, or be shaken by opposition, difficulty, discouragement or whatever circumstance I may find myself in. This 6-part story series is evidence of God’s faithfulness in answering that prayer. He gave me more than enough affirmations so I can be resolute and not be moved, so I can be fixed on His promises and continue on this path He prepared for me.
It should’ve been enough that Jesus spoke and clarified His leading to me. It should’ve been enough for Him to realign my priorities. It should’ve been enough that He taught me the cost of following Him and the things I needed to give up. These should’ve been enough for me to understand, respond in obedience and stand firm. But He did more. After He finished teaching, He wanted to demonstrate His intimate love for me.
The calling of the first disciples has become an intimate and special message of God for me. It was as if Jesus was telling me those same words He told the apostles:
- “Will you really leave everything behind for Me?”
- “It was time to bring (Olivia) to full commitment.”
- “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”
- “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
“Is this the calling?” I laughed asking both myself and the Lord. By calling I mean the call to ministry. I thought only pastors and missionaries are called to ministry or maybe also those working full-time in a local church. And I’m certain I’m not meant for any of those. So it never occurred to me that Jesus would call me this way.
I remember the first time I volunteered in a ministry, I only wanted to help in any way I can. Then a few years later, God placed in my heart to pray for this: to be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work (2 Timothy 2:21). I only want to be useful for the Lord. But I never thought He would commission me this way. Why would He call someone like me?
“Father, this mandate is for every believer. I shouldn’t even be reminded of it because it’s expected. But who am I that You would call me to Yourself, intimately speak to me, and personally commission me to proclaim the Gospel just like You did with the apostles? It’s not like a king would personally seek out a beggar to appoint him regarding a public edict. But You did. How intimate can You be? How unfathomable is Your love? Who am I, Lord, that You would call me into ministry this way? I don’t know what to say to You. I’m unworthy to serve You. I’m unworthy to have You. I’m unworthy to even stand before Your presence. But even in my unworthiness, who am I to resist Your call? What else can I say to You? Yes, Lord, I will do as You say; I will leave everything behind for You because, in reality, I don’t have anything or anyone but You.”
“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Jesus. (Luke 5:10-11)