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Fishers of Men

In the Old Testament book that bears his name, Jeremiah records a terrible and frightening prophecy that ironically foreshadows some language used by Jesus in the New Testament (Jeremiah 16). At the time of Jeremiah, the Israelites had been terrible sinners. Their chief sin was one of idolatry in which they had defiled the land God had given them with a worship of false gods. They had stopped following God, or even considering his ways. They had not been walking with God, and they no longer had faith or respect. Because of this, God instructed Jeremiah to proclaim a coming punishment that would be so severe that the people would remember their rescue from it more than they would remember their rescue in the famous exodus from Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14-15). Their punishment would be banishment to Babylon and to lands outside of the one promised to their ancestors. Eventually, their rescue from that terrible punishment would be a restoration to the promised land from which they had been evicted. But before that rescue can happen, God tells them through his prophet that he is going to send fishermen to root out Israelite sinners from every nook and cranny where they secretly dishonor him. Once caught by the fishers, they will be doubly punished before the nation’s restoration is delivered (Jeremiah 16:16-18).

This prophecy is in stark contrast to the work of Jesus who disciples fishers of men not for the purpose of punishing sinners, but for the sole purpose of the restoration of God’s children to his intended place for them in creation. And he started that process using Peter and a miracle of real fish. Peter was likely skeptical when the Lord commanded him to cast his nets into the deep water to catch fish where none likely would have been. But Peter obeyed the master, and when he did, he pulled in more fish than he, his mates, and his boat could safely handle alone (Luke 5:6-11). Although he shouldn’t have been, he was shocked by the event. After all, Peter’s brother, Andrew -- possibly weeks or months before -- had already introduced him to Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:35-42). Peter had already seen Jesus heal his mother-in-law of a high fever, and likely witnessed the casting out of demons (Luke 4:38-43). By the time Jesus was challenging him to fish the deeper waters, Peter was calling him “master” (Luke 5:5). But for some reason, the reality of breaking fishnets and tipping boats outweighed a vanishing fever, and the intangible exit of demons and spirits. The physical breaking of nets and tipping boats convinced Peter of the supernatural presence he was in. All of this time, he had been walking alongside a man of sinless divinity, and hadn't quite realized it. Now terrified, he couldn’t hide from his own sin, and for a moment he almost made the same mistake that Jeremiah’s ancient Israelites before him had made when they tried to hide their sin from the presence of God (Jeremiah 16:16-17). “Depart from me!” he called. But Jesus was having none of that. As far as Jesus was concerned, Peter would be a fisher to catch men and women out of the fallen world, and restore them to a relationship with God so that they could be royal citizens in a divine kingdom once lost to them.

Peter’s small steps of trust had led him to a miraculous place on a boat in deep waters with the master of the universe for whom he had gained enough respect to obey against his own experience (Luke 5:5). His trust had changed him for the better, and now he would be used to change countless others.

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