“Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:3)
“And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And he sat down and began teaching the people from the boat” (Luke 5:3).
I am so grateful Simon Peter is in the Bible; he gives me hope. He continually sets himself up as a needful recipient of the Lord’s mercy, especially in his first encounter with Jesus.
Simon is cleaning his nets when Jesus asks to use his boat to teach from. The morning light had put a finishing declaration on the complete failure of their attempts for the night, and they had resigned themselves to the task of cleaning to prepare for another hard night. Simon is a professional fisherman; his profession is probably a family inheritance going back generations. He well aware of the impact of a fruitless night, precious hours spent striving with all of his strength, only to produce nothing, and losing valuable income as an additional insult. It is in this place of broken hopes that Jesus uses Simon’s place of expertise as a platform for ministry.
To Simon’s knowledge, Jesus is completely unaware of the previous night when Jesus asks him to put his boat out a little way so that he can teach the masses who are crowding in. Simon is physically exhausted from work and no sleep, and to top it off, he feels the shame of having nothing to show for it. Not exactly the best moment for Jesus to ask him for his assistance. Whether he agrees willingly or begrudgingly, he is obedient, and in this moment, that is all that matters.
After teaching, I can picture Jesus–the Rabbi–sitting down in the boat with a little intentionally naïve smirk, and suggests to Simon,
“Put out into the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch” (vs. 4).
He smiles, and leans back with his elbows resting on the rim of the boat. Peter, will you let me explore a little into the deeper issue with you…
Every muscle in Simon’s body must have winced with pain, possibly annoyance, aggravated by broken pride.
“Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing…” (vs. 5).
Excuses, explanations for why this ensuing attempt isn’t going to work, laced with the regret of trying again and again to produce the right results, and knowing it will eventually end in failure.
“… but I will do as you say and let down the nets.”
Why did he says yes? Something about Jesus’ command stirs him.
Simon lets down the nets, prepared for long hours waiting with no results, when suddenly, his nets are bursting under the weight of all of the Lord’s bounty. While his own efforts produced futility, the Lord freely gives him everything. And this is all through a small act of obedience, a very small, but honest allowance of the Lord’s will in his life.
Simon is exposed to the core. He makes the correct connection between the command given by Jesus and the abundance piling into his nets with no seeming end. This place of admission is the first place in the text that refers to him as Simon Peter–definitive, though small, hints of the man that he is and the man he is to become. And it is found in his recognition of his position before Jesus, the sheer poverty of his spirit in the light of the one who commands all of creation.
“But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!'” (vs. 8)
This is, in fact, the very confession Jesus wanted. And from this confession comes the revelation of who Jesus is, “Lord.”
But this confession erupts in the revelation of the Lord’s abundance, His joy, His glory; it is not from some booming proclamation of Simon’s sin–Jesus simply displays His abundance, His delight in the sons of men, His desire to pour out His spirit in signs and wonders. He is showing off. He is pursuing Simon’s heart–not to diminish or shame Simon, but to reveal just how much Jesus wants to give him. It is often painful to receive the love of the Lord when it is first revealed because we are so overwhelmed with our sin.
This is true Poverty of Spirit, however. Simon recognizes his need; he empties himself of his pride, the supposition that he has anything to give or do that will be of any lasting effect apart from the presence of Jesus. It gives way to the subsequent filling of the Kingdom of Heaven. “Now that you have admitted that you have nothing, I can trust you with everything!”
“Do not fear,” He must have said gently, smiling with immeasurable tenderness and mercy, maybe even laughing. “From now on you will be catching men!” (vs. 10).
Peter thought that his failure would keep him from the greatness of Jesus’ plans, but it is in this place of profound brokenness where he is promoted to be the trustworthy possessor of the kingdom of Heaven.