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  • Writer's pictureMichael Ives

You Shall Catch Men

“Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Luke 5:10


In this marvelous account, Jesus catches Peter. Now this may seem strange, given that Simon Peter had already become a follower of the Nazarene. Andrew, Peter’s brother, had been a following of John the Baptist. But the Baptist redirected his disciples to Jesus, for Jesus “must increase,” and he “decrease.” Andrew dutifully went, but soon was himself caught by the Master. From there he went to his brother for another catch. “We have found the Messiah” (Jn. 1:41)! Andrew drew Peter to shore, as it were, and Jesus did the rest! Peter began following Jesus.


But still, he kept one foot on dry land. He held on to his day job—better safe than sorry, after all! Following is one thing; forsaking all quite another. But Jesus would not let this one go. So on this morning, after he finished teaching the crowds, he bade Peter go fishing. “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” What! Peter was the fisherman, Peter knew these waters like the back of his hand, Peter went when the fish were out, and Peter had done everything right. Yet Peter that night had come up empty. Yet out of respect, he yielded to Jesus. Reluctantly no doubt, but reverently. He believed the Master; at least, generally speaking. But what did the carpenter-preacher really know about this trade?


Much, much more, Peter. Oh, so much more than you realize or can even imagine! For soon, the tug of the dragnet. And behind the tug a raw force such as he had never felt before, yanking his hands, his arms, his body over and down. He beckoned his partners in the other boats. As they pulled in this once-in-a lifetime catch, the boats were not the ony thing weighed down. Peter’s soul was overwhelmed with  guilt. “He fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). But where his sinful unbelief abounded, grace did much more abound. Grace and glory—gracious glory and glorious grace. Jesus caught this man, this sinner. With the cords of love, he drew him. By effortless, almighty power, with perfect wisdom tailoring a miracle to this Galilee fisherman, with tender lovingkindness, assuring provision in the face of ungrateful skepticism; with this hidden net, Jesus caught Peter.


What Jesus did with Simon Peter, He does with a world of sinners. He left the shore of heaven to come into the depths of this world awash with sin. All sinners move along, quite at home of their world of ungodly rebellion. Little do they know that they are soon to perish. But unlike the fisherman’s trade, Jesus came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. He came and catches save!


He draws these sinners by the Word, by the preaching of the Gospel. To be sure, during the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry, His Word was accompanied with miracles such as this. These miracles attested to the truth and heavenly authority of Jesus’s teaching; and they also signified the very spiritual realities set forth in the preaching. The miracles drew people, no doubt. But the miracles themselves were too weak to catch the soul. Witness many who fell away who had seen the “finger of God” in Christ! And even the outward act of preaching reaches only so far. Jesus casts his dragnet into the waters broadly and indiscriminately. He draws any and all by that freely preached Gospel. But the Word never fails to catch the elect. Those particular sinners whom the great Fisher of men will draw to shore and save, those, each and every one, will be irresistably drawn. The very force of heaven will do its work; and yet the drawing will be sweet, and gentle, and harmless through and through. No arm-twisting here! “And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him” (Luke 5:11).


But Peter was both an end, as well as a means to an end. “And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him” (Lu. 5:10). Jesus had been preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom that morning. He had cast His preaching-net into the waters of men, and many, very many were drawn by it. But he would recruit helpers. What a wonder! That the very Son of God, who needs no help, who needs not even a silly net to woo fish together to one spot, that this One should cut his time short. He would catch for three years, and then hand His trade to others. Or better put, that He should powerfully fish through his apostles from heaven!


Jesus had earlier said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). For three years, Jesus both fished for men and made fishers of men. Twelve of them. “As the Father hath sent me, even so have I sent you.” The apostles were endued from on high with Jesus’s Power, the Holy Spirit, that they may fish in Israel, fish in Samaria, fish to the very ends of the earth. A world of sinners must be gathered. They must be saved!


Now, let the caught catch. Have you been caught? Were you surprised, like Peter, by the unforeseen, unspeakable, awesome love, grace, power, tenderness, and wisdom, tailoring your salvation to your particular, sinful soul? Were you lost in the watery depths, at home in a condemned world, ignorant of the blessed world above? Did the preaching catch you? Were you sweetly forced to comply with Jesus, who sought and saved? Is Peter’s sense of unworthiness yours? And is Jesus so precious, that you must come near at his feet, prostrating yourself? Then if you have been caught, help catch!


Let Gospel officers—first and foremost!—go and catch men. The apostles may be in glory, but the work continues on. Jesus ascended, and gave gifts to men: “some apostles, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” Have you, ministers, been caught? Then catch! Have you perishing souls in the waters before each and every Lord’s day? Cast in the net. Spare not; lift up your voice! Proclaim their doom by the law, then ply them with the overtures of mercy by the cross. Study the “art of man-fishing” as Thomas Boston did; study and learn by trial and error.


Labor in complete dependence on the mysterious, hidden power of Christ. Yet labor with all your might to cast out that Gospel net and strenuously pull them to Jesus. Pull them with persuasion, with appeals, with promises, with threats. Do not despise them, for you are a caught sinner as well. Cast the net for the prodigal, and cast the net for the elder brother.


And, O elders, elders, you too! You have been caught as well. Perhaps you do not preach, but are you not “apt to teach?” Are you not equipped to “convince the gainsayers? As you go on family visitations, cast the net in for Christ. Let it down for the little ones who are under your care. Let it down “in meekness [also] instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” And fear not to venture out into farther depths, where many elect souls swim on in ignorance of their sin and misery. Ministers need you in this vital labor as well!


And indeed, stay not by the shore, ministers and elders. Go where the fish are, not where you wish them to be! Row and row and row again until you encounter the heathen. Wait not for them to swim into church. Fish in your immediate neighborhood. Cast out the net for the profane, the Roman Catholic, the thrice-divorced. If you have no natural ‘parish,’ create one of nothing. There are many streams, ponds, and lakes of sinners all about. Adopt your own Galilee, and fish in faith. If you toil all night with no haul, wait for the day of Christ. Then and only then will the hidden force compel them into your net. But be not slothful in business. The Master will call us to account!


And, O Gospel believers, one and all, help catch men!  Now, while you may not be a ‘fisher’ by trade, you O Christian, have been caught no less than your pastors. Christ has caught you, that you might help catch others. Is your mother, son, daughter swimming in sin? Catch them. Your foul-mouthed co-worker? Catch him. That stubborn agnostic friend? Catch her for Jesus. Pray in faith. Drop the Word. If you cannot draw them straight to Jesus, draw them if you can into the dragnet of your pastors’s preaching. Peter was a needy fisherman! He beckoned to his partners to lend him a hand. Can you lend your pastor a hand? Do it for Jesus, who sweetly, who mysteriously, who mightily caught you. “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”

Originally published in the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth by the Heritage Reformed Churches.

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