Launch out into the deep

Luke 5:1-11 presents the story of Jesus calling some of His apostles. It reads as follows:

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, and saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they caught a great multitude of fish: and their nets brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. 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.

The fishermen were undoubtedly tired from their long night of fishing. They were washing the nets, likely in disgust from such effort that yielded nothing. In the meantime, Jesus was pressed by crowds, so He stepped into Peter’s boat. He didn’t ask permission; He simply stepped in and took charge, asking Peter to row further out so He could teach. Peter’s first work of ministry was rowing a boat – how’s that for a first job? Nevertheless, he obeyed.

Once Jesus finished speaking, He issued the famous command, “Launch out into the deep.” Certainly they wondered when Jesus became an expert in their fishing. They had fished all night without catching anything. Was there really any point? Peter says as much. Yet despite their questions, for the second time in the story, they obeyed. The response was overwhelming – they couldn’t hold all the fish and they had to ask for help from their partners. The haul of fish filled both ships to the point they both began to sink. Peter immediately fell to his knees and worshipped. Jesus then called the three of them (Peter, James, and John) to follow him, but the call is prefaced with the reassuring words, “Fear not…”

Luke’s recounting of this story is a lesson in discipleship. From the beginning, we see that Jesus doesn’t ask our permission when He steps into our lives. He comes at His pleasure, not ours. Then He tells us at times to do things we don’t understand, as He did with the fishermen. We think we know what’s best for us, but we are shortsighted.

Next, we see that God trains us one step at a time. Here it begins with stepping into the boat and the call to row a little way out, but it doesn’t stop there. Next is the call to “launch out into the deep.” This means more than just “Go to deeper water.” It is what Jesus is calling these men to do with their lives. He proved Himself capable of providing when He supplied the abundance of fish. When they obeyed in the thing they understood, He called them to go further, to give their lives to following Him. Even here, He began the call to discipleship with the words, “Fear not…” We know that, despite the rocky course of their time following Jesus, the harvest of souls of these “fishers of men” was even more abundant than this miraculous harvest of fish.

We don’t always like it when Jesus steps into our lives, upturning our expectations, asking us to put aside our goals and pursue something greater. When He calls us to launch out into the deep, to risk our comfort and go where we can’t see the result, we are tempted to fear. But He is only asking us to follow, to do what He has already done. Forgiving that person, witnessing to that coworker, showing grace when you don’t feel like it, moving to a place where you don’t know people, Jesus doesn’t call to do it alone. When He calls you to launch out into the deep, you can do so with confidence, for the ruler of the wind and waves is with you. You don’t know how it will play out, but that’s not up to you. His words to you are simple: fear not and follow me.

Matt Carpenter taught history for fifteen years and has served in pastoral ministry for ten years. He is married to Amanda and they have four children: Phoebe, Simeon, Emmaline, and Olivia. In his spare time he enjoys cooking, reading, hiking, and fishing.