We can only guess what was going through Peter’s mind. Because of the tragedy and the triumph of the past few days he might just have wanted to take some time to let it sink in. But judging from what he said he had had enough of this wild ride that came with being a disciple.
He had been minding his own business that day on the Sea of Galilee, casting his nets as he had so many days and weeks and months before. Then Jesus came and said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). There was something so compelling in that word that the weathered old fisherman dropped the nets and began a journey whose course he could not have possibly imagined.
Not that it was easy. Later Jesus had to come and call him back. Luke tells us that Peter went back to his nets, perhaps because the way of discipleship cost more than he thought. But Jesus found him again after a night of fruitless fishing. Jesus said nothing to Peter about why he left following Him but simply told him to push his ship a short way out into the water so that He could preach to the crowd that had gathered. The sermon finished, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Peter protested that he had fished all night and hadn’t caught a thing. Maybe it was the way Jesus said it or the look in His eyes. Whatever it was Peter dropped the nets only to find that they were full to overflowing.
Now, here is the strangest thing of all. When Jesus gave to Peter the harvest of fish he was after, Peter was not happy or excited at all. He cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (5:8). He realized that in this act it was as if Jesus was saying to Peter, “If fish is how you want to define your life, then here. Have all the fish you want. More than you ever imagined. And when you have counted the fish and calculated the worth tell me, Peter, is that how you want to tally the value of your life?”
Then Jesus firmly, gently, persistently said, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men” (5:10).
Yet again this scene is repeated. After the death and resurrection of Christ, Peter announced to the disciples, “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). Bible commentators tell us that he was not saying he was going to go fishing for a day but to return to fishing as a career. But Jesus came again after another night like the one long ago when the fish fled from the nets. “Have you any food?” He asked. And then, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (21:5,6). Again, the nets were full to breaking with what was another unwanted harvest. Peter’s heart would break again under the examination of his Lord and he would hear for the final time the same words he heard before, “Follow Me” (21:19). And he did follow Jesus across the hills and plains of the ancient world, into prison and finally into the Coliseum in Rome where he was crucified upside down. Upside down because, he said, he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. But this was after he enjoyed the harvest that comes with obeying Christ’s all to leave all and follow Him.
Has Jesus spoken to you about leaving the nets to be a fisher or men? Will you be like Peter and find that you have all you wanted and more but that full nets can sometimes mean empty hearts? Perhaps God is calling you to be a Salvation Army officer. If so, don’t take the boat out for another ride or drop the nets looking for some other harvest. He has called you. It is up to you to obey.