Fishers of men
What images spring to mind when you picture an evangelist?
Sometimes we think of an adrenaline junkie, who could sell ice to the eskimos. Yet when we consider the people who helped us to faith – we are reminded of very different character traits!
Simon Peter can be thought of as an arch evangelist. But in the Gospels, we see a journey from a brash loud-mouth to a loving pastor. Only at the end, is Peter finally the evangelist Christ wants him to be.
It all begins in Luke 5 with Christ calling him from catching fish to catching people:
Jesus 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 inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net 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. (Luke 5:2-11).
Simon is not called because of his great Bible knowledge, his professional religious qualifications or his incredible oratory skills. In fact he’s not even a good man. He’s a sinner and he knows it, falling at Jesus’ knees and wanting Him to leave.
Jesus does not find a good preacher and change him into a fisher. He finds a fisherman – a bad fisherman at that! – and makes him a preacher. It’s not in Peter’s power to make himself an evangelist. But when the Lord says “Thou shalt”, it has to happen.
Perhaps Peter started reading popular paperbacks on the work of evangelism, because he starts acting with all the bravado we associate with “the evangelist.” The epitome of his self-assurance emerges in the upper room on the night before Jesus dies:
Peter said unto Jesus, “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I”. And Jesus saith unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice”. But he spake the more vehemently, “If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise”. Likewise also said they all. (Matthew 27:29-31).
Peter is as bold as brass and leads the disciples in utter self-confidence. Yet Jesus knows that this pride will be his undoing. The man proclaiming his lifelong fidelity to Christ would deny Him three times within a matter of hours. Bold Peter is exposed as an evangelistic failure. But broken Peter would show us the way.
After Christ’s resurrection we read a very touching scene (John 21). It’s the reversal of Luke 5 and of Peter’s denials.
Again we see a miraculous catch of fish, but on this occasion Peter does not want distance from Jesus. He races towards the One he has just betrayed so terribly. Something has happened. Peter knows that there is forgiveness in this Crucified and Risen Master. His sins don’t make him flee. Instead he swims ashore with all his might, as Jesus stands, cooking breakfast for his faithless friends.
Right here, over a fellowship meal, Jesus recommissions Peter:
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee”. He saith unto him, “Feed my lambs”. He saith to him again the second time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee”. He saith unto him, “Feed my sheep”. He saith unto him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee”. Jesus saith unto him, “Feed my sheep”. (John 21:15-18)
Peter would be, not only a fisher of people, but a shepherd too. He would be a pastoral evangelist. And this ministry would be founded, not on his brash resolve, but on his broken-hearted love.
The world needs more fishers of men. But may they be pastoral fishermen. May they be those whose ministry is founded, not on gifting or qualifications or resolve or righteousness, but on a brokenness over sin, a fleeing to Christ for grace and a love of Jesus confessed to the world