Peter was an ordinary human being. He was just another face lost in the multitudes, eking out a living by the sweat of his brow and the ache in his body. Perhaps, like many of us, he once had a dream when he was a young boy. Whatever happened to that dream, if there ever was one, was forever lost to us. By the time we meet him, he was a weathered, tough fisherman; a veteran of the trade he had probably known since birth and had learned from his father.
One day his brother, Andrew, came running to him in excitement. “We have found the Messiah (John 1:41)!” Peter followed his brother to meet this man, who “looked upon him, and said, Thou art Simon the son of John: thou shalt be called Cephas (which is by interpretation, Peter).”
Together with others, Peter followed Jesus to a wedding at Cana. Whatever thoughts he had of this possible Messiah up to that point was quickly challenged when he witnessed the water turned to wine. Now, he believed (John 2:1-11). Not many days later, at the Passover, Peter watched as Jesus drove the merchants and animals out of the temple in a display of pious fury. He heard the words from Jesus’ lips: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:13-19)!” What did Peter make of this man now?
It seemed that soon after the Passover, Jesus dismissed the band. Peter went back to his fishing. After a few weeks of excitement, it was back to a mundane existence – work, worry and weary – fretting over bread & butter issues.
One morning by the lake of Gennesaret, Peter and his fellows were washing their nets after a night of fishless toil. Hungry. Exhausted. Frustrated. No fish, no income. A familiar face stepped into his boat. It was Jesus, the miracle worker. He asked Peter to put his boat out “a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the multitudes out of the boat (Lu 5:3).”
After he was done teaching, Jesus turned to Peter with a strange request. “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught (Lu 5:4).” Jesus, a carpenter, a landlubber, telling him, Peter the fisherman, to fish? Although he was tired, Peter “answered and said, Master, we toiled all night, and took nothing: but at thy word I will let down the nets (Lu 5:5).”
What happened next was beyond Peter’s expectation. The catch was so large he had to call in help from James and John, his partners in the fishing industry. The sheer weight of the catch was tearing the nets and sinking the boats (cf. Lu 5:6-7). Was Jesus smiling as he watched the astonished fishermen yelling and straining at the nets?
A realisation dawned on Peter. This was no mere itinerant preacher in his boat. This was a holy man. This was, as Andrew had told him, the Messiah – the Anointed One of God. Peter had previously believed at Cana. This was not the first miracle he had seen Jesus performed. But this was the first performed for him. This was personal. God had taken notice of a poor, ordinary fisherman.
He sank to his knees. In a tremulous voice, he said to Jesus, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord (Lu 5:8).” He realised his unworthiness to be in the presence of Jesus. His divine power and force of personality had arrested Peter. The burden on his heart far outweighed the fish in the boats. His heart was broken.
Jesus looked upon Peter with what must have been compassion. In a gentle yet authoritative voice, he said to the trembling fisherman, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men (Luke 5:10).”
Peter, the ordinary fisherman, from that moment began his training to become an extraordinary fisher of men. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter once again let down his net. This time, though, the net was the gospel of Christ and the catch was not an abundance of fish but an abundance of souls. Peter was no longer fishing for fish to feed his family, but fishing for souls to the glory of God.
The Son of God took notice of an ordinary fisherman, looked beyond his uncouth exterior and transformed him into an extraordinary soul-winner. Peter was a man entangled in weaknesses. He was impulsive, bullish. But his encounter with Jesus broke him.
“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit (Psa 34:18).” The Lord can make us useful servants too when we surrender to His will. The question is: are you willing for your heart, hardened by sin and pride, to be broken? You decide.
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do (Heb 4:12-13).”