Getting Our Attention
When God calls a man for particular service, he shreds his everyday world.
Luke 4:38-5:11 records a series of three miracles by Jesus. During the first two, Jesus’ disciples just take everything in. When the third miracle takes place, they fall to pieces. Why?
I believe the answer hinges on the presence or absence of trauma. The first two recorded miracles, wonderful as they are, do nothing to rock the disciples’ world. They simply allow the disciples to watch from the inside. Let’s look at each.
Rescuing the World from Crisis
The first involves Jesus’ teaching and exorcism in a synagogue (Luke 4:31-37). When Jesus enters the synagogue, a man with a demon cries out in an apparent mixture of terror and mockery, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34 ESV).
Jesus rebukes the demon and casts him out. Luke writes, “And when the demon had thrown [the man] down, he came out of him, having done him no harm” (Luke 4:35).
In writing about this miracle, Luke records the people’s astonishment twice. At the beginning, the people in the synagogue are “astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority” (Luke 4:32). Then, when he drives the demon out, their astonishment grows. “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (Luke 4:36). But we hear nothing out of the disciples.
Immediately after the synagogue incident, Jesus goes to Peter’s house (Luke 4:41-42). Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a high fever, and the people beg Jesus to heal her.
And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s [Peter’s] mother’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.
The fever is a life-threatening intruder. As he does with the demon, Jesus rebukes the fever. And as the demon leaves, so does the fever. Jesus meets each crisis head-on and rescues the victims.
The Purpose for the Miracles
Jesus’ reputation explodes as a result of these miracles. People bring the sick to him. Demons protest, but they obey his command to release those whom they torment (Luke 4:40-44).
Meanwhile, his closest disciples take everything in. Why?
The reasons are simple. First, Jesus’ closest disciples are already on the inside. They probably have seen Jesus do other miracles. Even if they have not, however, they are part of Team Jesus. Their position as insiders prevents them from reacting with the same abandon that the people show.
Second, and more importantly, the two miracles that Luke records involve restoration. In Jesus’ case, restoration means far more than making things better. It means eliminating evil so completely that it may as well never have done its damage in the first place. In both recorded miracles, Luke practically bends over backward to stress the world’s return to pre-evil normalcy.
In the synagogue miracle, for example, Luke includes what appears to be a trivial detail. After the demon throws the man down, he leaves the man, “having done him no harm.”
Likewise, in the healing miracle, Luke records that Peter’s mother-in-law “immediately…rose and began to serve them.”
The reason that Luke includes these statements is not to show that the demon was playing softball, or that Peter’s mother-in-law was good only for service. It is to stress Jesus’ complete mastery over the enemies that cripple the people. Whether they be disease or members of the demonic world, he renders them impotent.
The World-shattering Event
Then we come to the fishing incident. This miracle unfolds in exactly the opposite from the way that the other two miracles take place. Instead of rescuing the disciples from crisis, he drives them into one.
The scene begins quietly. Jesus teaches by the Lake of Gennesaret in the morning, and when the crowds threaten to drive him into the lake, he asks Peter to put his boat out into the water. He finishes teaching the crowd and dismisses them (Luke 5:1-4).
Then he tells Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:6).
Nice idea, but they have fished all night and come back empty. The night has been a disappointment. Nevertheless, Peter obeys, and the result shatters their world. Here is the way that Luke records their reaction:
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.”
Anatomy of a Crisis
The superabundance of fish is not just a wow factor. It is a crisis. The catch has reached into the supernatural, and the men call for the other boat to come and help them.
The miracle brings destruction. The nets break. Both boats begin to sink from the haul.
The men are wrenched from their normal world to the unimaginable. Jesus has driven them into a world in which they are at his mercy. When they finally reach the shore, all Peter can do is to cry out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
A New Vision
And that is the point. Jesus has altered their vision of the world. Up to this point, the disciples have watched Jesus drive tragedy away and bring the world to normal. Now they can never see him through “normal” eyes again. Jesus has transported them from their world to his, and in his world, he is Lord.
With the crisis, Peter, James, and John are ready to listen. When he calls them to be fishers of men, they drop everything and follow.