That is what Jesus promised to make His first disciples (Mark 1.17) – “fishers of men.” And it was an apt description. “Simon and Andrew … were fisherman” (v.16). They knew what it was to lower their nets, looking for a catch. They knew what it was to toil all night, and come up empty. They surely also knew the elation of hoisting the nets and finding them crammed full with a shoal of fish. And hopefully they had learned to be grateful even when the fish came into the boat in only ones and twos. These two men knew how to fish! And following Jesus and becoming His disciples was going to be something akin to that. But “from now on” they would “be catching men” (Luke 5.10, emphasis added).
And that is the task of each of Jesus’ disciples ever since – “catching men” for the Savior; letting down the nets of the gospel, and hoisting men, women, girls, and boys into the boat of God’s kingdom. And it is a noble task. But (like fishing) it may also be tiring, sometimes disappointing, work. Many are the occasions when we can say with Simon: “we worked hard all night and caught nothing” (Luke 5.5). Many are the times when the net is lowered faithfully, and dragged with great care through the waters, only to come up (again) with nothing. And then there is that one elusive fish that you so desperately want to catch for Jesus – and you keep fishing for her, or trying to scoop him into the boat – but to no seeming avail.
But Jesus would have us keep lowering the gospel net; keep casting the line of the good news into the water; keeping fishing for men – trusting that the Lord does, indeed, have the power (in the words of my historical hero, Thomas Boston) to ‘drive the fish into the net.’ Witness the stunning catch made by Simon and his brother in Luke 5.1-11. They had “worked hard all night and caught nothing.” But Jesus sent them out again. And Simon (in spite of his brief protest) dutifully obeyed. And do you remember what happened? This time they caught so many fish that “their nets began to break” … and they had to call for a second boat so as to have room to haul them all in! And it was a lesson in “catching men.” Jesus 'drive[s] the fish into the net'! Our job is simply to lower that net at His command – and to keep lowering, even in spite of many an empty lift.
And so, as one who has only ever caught a very small handful of fish, I am encouraged to keep trying. And I hope you are, too. Who knows when the Spirit will move in mighty power, and the church pews will begin to be so filed with new and hungry converts that we will have to call for help from other churches, trying to find places to fit them all in? So keep fishing. Do not lose heart. Keep lowering the nets of the gospel, waiting for the Lord to ‘drive the fish into the net.’