In the last essay we studied Luke 4:14-44, which begin an account of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and in this essay we are studying Luke 5:1-26. In 5:1-3 we see the setting for the call of the first disciples. The Lake of Gennesaret is another name for the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is standing by the shore, and the crowd is pressing him. We will see this attention from crowds frequently. Once Jesus began his amazing teaching and healing ministry, crowds of people constantly beset him. And that is true in this situation.
There were two fishing boats there, one belonging to Peter and his brother Andrew, and one belonging to James and John, the sons of Zebedee (v. 10). Luke does not mention Andrew by name, but Mark names him in his Gospel (Mk. 1:16). Verse three tells us that Jesus got into Peter’s boat and asked Peter to “put out a little way from the shore” so that Jesus could use the boat as a place from which to speak to the crowd.
In verses 4-10a, we learn in verse five that the fishermen already had fished all night without catching anything, and we already saw in verse two that they were completing their night of work by washing their nets. Interestingly Luke says nothing about what Jesus told the crowd from the boat. Instead Luke tells us about a miraculous catch of fish that took place after Jesus spoke to the crowd. Jesus suggested to Peter that he take the boat out to deep water and cast his nets (v. 4). Peter protested a bit by reminding Jesus that they had fished all night without catching anything. But Peter agreed to do it (v. 5). The catch was so abundant, they had to get the other boat to come and help; and they filled both boats with so many fish they were in danger of sinking (vv. 6-7).
Peter is deeply moved emotionally, and his feelings manifest themselves as a conviction of sin (vv. 8-9). The result is that Jesus calls him to ministry. In verses 10b-11 Luke focuses his account on Peter; but Mark tells us that Jesus also called Andrew, James and John to ministry that day, or possibly on another day around that same time (Mk. 1:16-20). Now this was not the time when Jesus chose them to be apostles. That came later (6:12-16). But there is a sense in which Jesus began what we call the Christian ministry that day.
I should mention that scholars dispute whether or not Mark 1:16-20 is a parallel. There are at least three reasons for thinking it is not. One, in Mark the men were casting their nets rather than cleaning them. Two in Mark there is no mention of the crowds, let along Jesus’ speaking to them. And three, the miraculous catch of fish is not mentioned in Mark.
Turning to application, two things stand out for me. First, obeying Jesus takes one from failure to success. Peter and his friends had fished all night and failed to catch a thing. Then Jesus told Peter to go against his training and experience and cast his nets in deep water during daylight. Peter knew that the fish always were caught in the Sea of Galilee at night in fairly shallow water. But Peter obeyed. What if he had not obeyed? What if he had defensively declared that a carpenter should not tell a professional fisherman how and when to catch fish? Had he done that, he would have missed out on a miraculous catch of fish. Now the prosperity gospel preachers would make a big deal out of this. They would focus on the material aspects and probably would miss the really important thing. The really important thing was Peter’s call to ministry. Had he been unwilling to obey Jesus in this small thing of fishing in deep water, he may never have been invited to join Jesus in ministry. Peter’s real success was not in that large catch of fish; it was in his success in ministry.
The second thing that stands out for me is related to the first. Following Jesus requires full commitment. I am sure all of you have heard the old joke about the contributions of the chicken and the pig to a bacon and eggs breakfast. The chicken makes an important contribution, but the pig makes a full commitment. Peter and the others made a full commitment. They left everything to follow Jesus (v. 11).
Next, in 5:12-16, Luke records the healing of a leper by Jesus. The term “leprosy” generally brings Hanson’s disease to our minds. Hanson’s disease attacks the nerves causing the victim to lose the sense of pain. Therefore cuts and scratches go unnoticed, and infection sets in and eats away at one’s flesh in a rather gruesome way. However, in the Bible the term “leprosy” covers a wide variety of skin diseases, some of which were curable and some not. Thus there is no way for us to know what this man’s disease was. The Old Testament, in Lev. 13-14, lays out detailed regulations regarding leprosy. It gives the process of examination by a priest, what the priest was to look for, the length of quarantine as the case was being reviewed, how to pronounce one clean if the disease didn’t spread, and the proper sacrifices to complete the cleansing process. Directions on avoiding contact with healthy people also are given for those who could not be cured.
Mark tells us that Jesus reached out to heal the man, because Jesus was moved with compassion (Mk. 1:43). Notice that Jesus touched the man. He was not afraid to touch even a leper, if the leper was in need. Touching him also made Jesus ceremonially unclean, but Jesus never seemed to worry about that sort of thing. Notice also that Jesus told the man to follow the law by going to the priest and making the proper offerings, so that he could re-enter society. In addition Jesus told the man not to tell anyone about the healing, because Jesus regularly tried to reduce his fame in order to keep down the size of the crowds. But not surprisingly, verse 13 tells us that his fame spread abroad anyway. This led Jesus to seek solitude for rest and prayer for spiritual renewal.
When we think about application in relation to this story, we see that Jesus brought this man from sickness to health. Obviously this was a physical healing, but spiritual healing is more important. And Jesus brings all who come to him from sickness to health. Warren Wiersbe offers a good analysis of this man’s experience. First, he needed to be changed, because he was a leper. He couldn’t even live among his family, because of the disease. Second, he wanted to be changed. The only way he could return from exile from society was to be healed. And third, he was changed by the grace and power of God.
Sin is analogous to leprosy. The severe forms of leprosy go deeper than the skin (Lev. 13:3). So does sin. Leprosy spreads, and so does sin. As leprosy spreads, it defiles; and sin has he same effect. When leprosy is cured, it is described as a cleansing. And again, the same is true of sin. When we repent of our sins, and believe in Christ, our sin is cleansed away. Just as surely as Jesus cured that leper, Jesus brings us from sickness to health.