Posted by: Heather | September 10, 2008

I will make you fishers of men

Want to do an interesting study? Compare Luke 5:1-11 with John chapter 21.

Let me explain why this study was so important to me:
I find myself being a lot like Peter. Those who know me would tell you that (like Peter) no one ever has to wonder what I am thinking. I tend to be pretty transparent. I also struggle with being impulsive (like Peter). Peter was the one who said to Jesus, “let me walk out to you” when Jesus was walking on the water. The other disciples must have wondered what was wrong with him, but that is the type of thing I would have done.

However, there is a radical change that took place in Peter’s life between the Gospels and Acts, and it was a change for the better. Peter was still outspoken, but he had found stability. I have always felt that the key to this change in Peter’s life must be in John 21. I have tended to gravitate toward the exchange between Peter and Jesus about “do you love me?” in looking for this key. However I realized about a month ago, that I was entering the conversation half way through.

So let’s start at the beginning. In Luke 5, Jesus is teaching on the shore of Galilee (the Sea of Galilee, Geneseret, and the Sea of Tiberius, are all the same body of water, just different names). He asks Peter to take him out in his boat so that he can address the crowd more effectively, and then when he is done teaching, he suggests that they row out further and fish. Peter says that they fished all night and caught nothing, but since Jesus said to, they would try again. They cast out their nets and immediately they are full and breaking. They call to their partners on the shore to bring out the other boat. Both boats are filled to the point of being ready to sink and their nets are breaking. Peter turns to Jesus and tells Jesus to leave him, “because I am a sinful man.” Jesus answers, “don’t be afraid. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Fast forward about 3 years. Peter has now followed Jesus and developed a relationship with him. But the last few weeks have tried that relationship. Jesus started talking about dying. Peter rebuked him, and Jesus called him Satan! Peter said he would die with Jesus and Jesus said that Peter would deny him 3 times before morning. Peter drew his sword against amazing odds and Jesus of all people told him to put it away. How confusing!! Then Jesus was proved right, Peter denied Jesus 3 times as predicted. Now Peter has seen Jesus 2 times since the resurrection, but we have no record of a conversation between them. This is the background to John 21. Once again, Peter and a few of the disciples are fishing. Possibly in the same place as 3 years before. Once again, the fishing isn’t going too well. Once again Jesus tells them where to fish and BAM there are fish in the net. Peter’s reaction is exactly opposite from before. This time, he leaves the boat and goes directly to Jesus. I asked Tyson about this, and his reply was that in Luke 5, Peter didn’t know Jesus. In John 21, he did. He knew Jesus would forgive him for denying him. I think he had a point. I also think a pattern with Peter (a good pattern) is that he couldn’t stay away from Jesus. Even when confused, frustrated, weak, even ashamed, he had to go to Jesus. (we could learn from that – I happen to think that the main difference between Judas and Peter is what they did after they messed up. Judas wallowed and sank, while Peter went to Jesus. We tend to put Judas down as a terrible man, but my personal opinion is that he was no worse than me. He just didn’t go get forgiveness. Jesus would have forgiven him, after all the last thing he did for Judas before he walked out was to wash his feet knowing full well where he was going! As a side note, the foot washing was a symbol of forgiveness, and one of the things Jesus was showing the disciples was that they were to be agents of forgiveness – he was showing them the posture of forgiveness as well. It breaks my heart to think of the disciples to a man– Judas included – abandoning, denying, and even betraying Jesus on their freshly washed feet, but I am getting way off track here.)

Anyhow, I think we have to look at the second half of John 21 in light of the first half. Jesus was obviously reminding his disciples of his promise 3 years previous. Let’s think about that promise for a minute. He did not say follow me and you will see how to fish for men. He did not say follow me and I will teach you to fish for men. He said I will make you fishers of men. Their job was to follow. His job was to make them fishers of men, just like he put fish in their nets. It was not about their ability, when left to them the nets were empty. It was up to him to fill the nets.

Now let’s look at the exchange with Peter. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you unconditionally love me more than these?” The word Jesus uses for love is agape. I am not sure if he is comparing Peter’s love to the other disciples, or if he is asking if Peter loves Jesus more than he loves the disciples. I think it is the first. It has been suggested that he is indicating Peter’s love for fishing, but I think agape is the wrong word for that comparison. Peter’s answer kind of dodges the question. Peter responds in the affirmative, but changes the intensity of his claim, and he completely avoids the comparison. He says “Yes, you know I like you a lot.” Peter uses the word phileo, rather than agape. Then Jesus instructs Peter to tenderly care for Jesus’ lambs.

The second time Jesus uses agape again, but drops the comparison. It could be understood like this. “Do you unconditionally love me (at all)?” Peter’s second answer is identical to the first. Affirmative, but not unconditional love, instead he claims a strong affection. Jesus’ answer is to instruct Peter to rule over his flock of sheep.

The third time is different. This time Jesus uses the same word Peter has been using. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you like me a lot?” This time Peter is hurt because Jesus use the same word he had been using. Peter’s response is to throw himself on the mercy and power of God. He says “you know everything, you know how much i like (phileo) you.” Some people say Jesus asked Peter 3 times because Peter denied Jesus 3 times. I think Jesus would have asked as many times as it took to get Peter to respond like he did the third time. You see, Jesus had told Peter what he would do when Peter himself didn’t know what he would do. Peter seems to be referring to this. It is as if Jesus says “bingo, right answer, now feed my sheep” this is all on the backdrop of Jesus reminding his disciples who was responsible for the results. Jesus would make a feeder of sheep out of Peter, just like he would make a fisher of men out of him, and just like he filled their nets. Then Jesus tells Peter that he will in fact die for Jesus, but he only told him this after Peter threw himself on the mercy and power of God. Then Peter asks about John, but Jesus reminds him to just follow Jesus. (you follow, I’ll handle the results)

Isn’t that awesome!! If we are still trying to fish for men, rather than just follow, then our nets will be empty. Jesus handles the results.




  1. Right on Craig! I love it…we always think we have to do this and that, when in fact all we need to do is follow, all we need to do is seek and abide and God does the rest through us. Sometimes we get caught up in doing and serving rather than just loving God and letting him do great things through us.

  2. Lyle,I was looking at your post about love, and thinking about it today. You know, even our love for God is something he supplies for us. (i got it backwards on my comment for your post) the love of God is poured out in our heart by the Holy Spirit when we are justified. This is why Peter couldn’t stay away from Christ. He couldn’t help it because it is another thing that God supplies just like the fish in the net.Craig

  3. I really like the ship analogy. It really is humbling to think of my own position as totally unable to help myself. Apart from the mercy of God’s love, and the direction I get from the Holy Spirit (the “comforter” or “encourager”–“enabler?”) I am without direction. Dead in the water, so to speak.I feel this word picture will go a long way in helping me to lower my own opinion of myself and work toward lifting others up. After all, if He set the example and would do it for me, and even left the ability for me to do it through His power, it must be an essential part of the Christian walk. ~H

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