Catching Men Alive
Luke 5:1-11 (ESV) On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But 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 and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
When you go fishing, you catch fish alive so that you can kill and eat them, or in some cases you might catch and release the living fish back into the water. We almost never catch fish just to keep them alive. But the fishing in God’s Kingdom is different. In Luke 5:10, Jesus gives Peter the promise, “From now on you will be catching men alive.”
Now to be clear, that word “alive” in the phrase “catching men alive” isn’t there in the ESV translation or in almost any translation you may find, but it is there in the Greek text of the New Testament. The Greek word by Jesus means to capture something alive rather than dead. It is the word for catching a fish with a net, not with a spear. So what Jesus means by using this word is that He wants His Church to catch sinners alive by God’s Word so that He can give them everlasting life through the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
In 1 Corinthians 1, St. Paul says that the message of the cross is considered foolish by those who are perishing from unbelief, but for everyone who is being saved through faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, this message is the power of God. In Romans, St. Paul says that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. This Gospel is a life-giving Word, powerful because it is the voice of God who spoke the world into existence and who now speaks to declare those who were dead in sin alive for the sake of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.
Your Lord Jesus Christ lived perfectly according to God’s Law so that He could present His innocent life to God the Father in the place of all you sinners, and then on the cross He died an innocent death under God’s wrath in the place of all you sinners, so that He could reconcile you to God, cancel all your debts, and not count your trespasses against you. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day so that He could deliver to you the benefits of His death, and in exchange for the eternal death you deserve for your sins, give you everlasting life in heaven.
This salvation Jesus won on the cross needs to be delivered to us sinners today, otherwise we would perish without it. So Jesus arranged for the delivery of the Gospel, which catches sinners alive and preserves them for everlasting life. To His apostles Jesus gave the commission to go out and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name; He told them to teach His Word and baptize in order to make disciples from all nations; He told them to proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation; He told them to forgive the sins of repentant sinners through Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, but to withhold forgiveness from those who refused to repent and believe the Gospel. And by these commands, Jesus gave to His fishermen the authority and the means by which to catch people for eternal life. And those first fishermen were His apostles and then later the fishing primarily would be done by those who would follow in the public ministry of the Church, the Office of preaching the Gospel.
We see a wonderful example of this fishing and catching men alive by the Gospel on Pentecost Sunday. Peter stood with the other eleven apostles and threw out the net by proclaiming the Good News about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The apostles dragged people into the Church by Holy Baptism. These fish that were caught alive were kept alive by the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship” and “the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). In other words, the caught-alive-disciples continue to thrive on the preached Word of Jesus and feast on His true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, which is also known as “the Breaking of the Bread.”
This fishing trip continues today wherever the Christian Church preaches Christ’s Word rightly and administers the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution. We all can play a role in this fishing expedition by sharing the Gospel with our neighbor and inviting them to the Church. Through the apostolic Word and Sacraments that flow out into the world from the Christian Church, the Holy Spirit calls, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps believers with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. May we always, then, make hearing the Gospel the focus of every day of our lives, especially Sundays!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, when Peter fell before You in repentance as a sinful man, You absolved him of his sins by saying to him, “Fear not”; for by Your grace, he was worthy to stand in Your presence. Send us out like Peter to catch men alive, announcing to the world the forgiveness of sins that comes through You, our only Savior and Lord; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.