Jesus—His Life and Message: Miracles (Part 7)
April 25, 2017
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: Miracles (Part 7)
Nature Miracles (Part 1)
The Gospels record many of Jesus’ miracles, including numerous healings, the casting out of demons, and even raising the dead. They also include miracles that Jesus performed which overruled nature, often referred to by commentators as nature miracles.
Throughout the Old Testament, we read of God causing events which are contrary to the normal workings of nature—the plagues of Egypt,1 the parting of the sea,2 the sending of quail,3 the water springing from a rock,4 the fire sent from the Lord,5 Aaron’s rod sprouting and bearing almonds,6 and others.7 The Gospels tell of Jesus performing nature miracles as well, such as walking on water,8 calming a storm,9 feeding 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish,10 turning water into wine,11 and causing huge catches of fish.12 The focus of the next few articles will be on Jesus’ nature miracles.
As the miracles in the Old Testament attested to God’s power and the authority He’d given those whom He’d anointed as leaders and prophets, so too Jesus’ miracles in the New Testament showed the power of God working within Him. His healings and exorcisms demonstrated His power over sickness and spiritual forces, while the nature miracles showed His authority over the things of nature.
In the Gospel of Luke, we read of a nature miracle which occurred fairly early on in His ministry and had a huge impact on some of His soon-to-be disciples. While the focus in these verses is on Peter, James and John were also there; and seeing this miracle, they too made a major decision to leave their fishing business to follow Jesus.
The account begins:
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him 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.13
Lake Gennesaret was also known as the Sea of Galilee,14 the sea of Tiberias,15 and in the Old Testament as the Sea of Chinnereth.16 This body of water is much more a lake than a sea, approximately 53 km in circumference, 21 km long, and 13 km wide. To get away from the crowds that were pressing in on Him, Jesus got into a boat and asked the boat's owner to take Him off the shore, so that He could teach without being crushed by the crowd. The fishermen had already done their fishing—probably during the night, as that was when they typically did deepwater fishing—and the boats would have been tied up at the shoreline or dragged up onto the shore. The fishermen had taken their nets out of the boats and were washing them.
Once Jesus was finished teaching, He turned His focus to Simon, whose boat He had borrowed. While Simon was his given name, Jesus later gave him the name Cephas (which in the Greek form was Peter). Within the New Testament he is referred to as Simon, Peter, Simon Peter, and Cephas.
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.”17
Peter was a professional fisherman, along with his brother Andrew, and they were partners with James and John. Peter addressed Jesus as “master,” which was a title used to address a person of high status. By calling Him “master,” Peter showed that he recognized Jesus’ authority, even though he was in charge of the boat. (At this point in the Gospel, Peter wasn’t yet a disciple.) When Peter said that he and his partners had been toiling on the lake all night and had caught nothing, the Greek word translated as toiled means to become exhausted by laboring with wearisome effort. From Peter's comment, we gather that this took place in the daytime, probably in the morning shortly after the fishermen had toiled all night. Peter knew that the night was the best time for deepwater fishing, using a specific deepwater net (as opposed to a shallow-water net used for daytime fishing from the shore), but in spite of that knowledge, and in spite of being exhausted from a fruitless night of fishing, Peter agreed to head out in the daytime, based on Jesus’ direction. Peter and his partners loaded the nets into their boats and rowed out into the lake. Once they arrived at a spot, presumably where Jesus told them to go, they put out their nets.
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.18
While there were others in the boat, the passage focuses on Peter. Upon seeing the size of the catch, that the nets were so full that they were beginning to unravel and both boats were close to sinking because of the load, he fell down at Jesus’ knees. This was a sign of humility that people at that time displayed before someone whom they considered superior. At this point in the Gospel, Peter didn’t yet fully understand who Jesus was, but by kneeling in front of Him, he was recognizing Jesus’ authority and that Jesus was God’s agent, acting in the name of God.
It took some time for Jesus’ disciples to fully understand who He was. Three chapters later in Luke’s Gospel, after Jesus calmed the wind and storm, we read of how the disciples were asking one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”19 It was quite some time later that Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am,” and Peter replied, “The Christ of God.”20
At this point, early in their relationship, Peter recognized that Jesus was someone deeply connected to God and through whom God was working, even though he didn't have the full picture yet. Sensing this, he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Recognizing the vast difference between himself as a sinner and Jesus as one doing the works of God—manifested in His power to bring about the miraculous catch of fish—Peter felt unworthy to be in Jesus’ presence. He recognized Jesus’ greatness and holiness. His calling Jesus “Lord” at this stage of the Gospel was at a different level than calling Him “Lord” after His resurrection. At this point, “Lord” wasn’t yet meant as an acknowledgment of Christ’s divinity, but was in recognition of Jesus’ authority and that God was working through Him.
Though Peter may not have fully understood the significance of who Jesus was, his response was a good beginning.—He humbled himself and honored the Lord. He saw the goodness of God in the overflowing nets full of fish. As the apostle Paul later wrote:
God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.21
Author Darrel Bock expressed it this way:
Grace is at work. An unworthy Peter and his companions receive and observe the benefits of a gracious God through his agent. They are overwhelmed. Thus, the awe in view here is focused first of all on the visit of the holy God—much like Elizabeth’s awe in Luke 1:43. Holiness and awesome knowledge are displayed in God’s working through Jesus. Second, the awe is fueled by the recognition that this God would be so kind to them in providing the bountiful catch. Third, the catch also points to Jesus’ greatness and power. Jesus is the agent of God’s beneficence.22
Peter wasn’t the only one who was amazed at the huge catch:
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.23
The word translated as astonished conveys wonderment combined with fear, which is understandable considering that such a catch had no rational explanation. Jesus addressed Peter, and by inference the others as well, telling them Do not be afraid24—something which He told them and others at additional times in the Gospels.
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.25
Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.26
Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.27
He then went on to say to Peter, who represented the others as well:
From now on you will be catching men.28
Peter and the others would no longer be catching fish in order to sell them in the market, but rather would be catching people to bring them into God’s kingdom. These fishermen, from now on, would have a complete break from their past. Going forward, they would be “catching men.” Jesus’ statement can be seen both as a prediction of them successfully doing so and that it would be ongoing work for them. Just as they had worked to bring in fish, from now on they would work to bring people to Him.
And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.29
After what was probably the greatest catch of fish in their lives, and certainly the most exceptional, these men left it behind to follow Jesus into a new career of being fishers of men. They walked away from their boats and business to enter a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus.
In this instance we see that Jesus either supernaturally arranged for the fish to be in a specific place in the lake or had supernatural knowledge of where they would be. Whatever the case, we see Jesus having the power to direct Peter and his partners to the exact spot where they would catch two boatloads of fish, an act which caused these professional fishermen to be astonished and to leave everything behind to follow Him.
When Jesus performed this miracle, and other nature miracles which we’ll look at in upcoming articles, He was demonstrating His power over nature. These acts reflected the creative power of His Father. They were signs that God was working through Jesus, as well as manifestations of God’s love and care for people. Such miracles helped Jesus’ first followers to grow in their understanding of who He was; and to this day they remind us that through His death and resurrection, not only have we been given the gift of eternal life, but in addition, God can and does act within our lives.
(To be continued in Nature Miracles Part Two)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Exodus 4:2–3; 7:20; 8:6, 24; 10:13.
2 Exodus 14:21.
3 Exodus 16:11–15.
4 Exodus 17:6.
5 Leviticus 9:24.
6 Numbers 17:8.
7 Joshua 3:14–16; 10:13; 1 Kings 17:14; 2 Kings 2:8–22; 6:5–7.
8 Matthew 14:23–32; Mark 6:47–51; John 6:16–21.
9 Matthew 8:23–27.
10 Matthew 14:13–23; Mark 6:30–44; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–15.
11 John 2:1–11.
12 Luke 5:1–11; John 21:4–11.
13 Luke 5:1–3.
14 Mark 7:31, Matthew 15:29.
15 John 21:1.
16 Numbers 34:11.
17 Luke 5:4–5.
18 Luke 5:6–10.
19 Luke 8:25.
20 Luke 9:20.
21 Romans 2:4.
22 Bock, Luke 1:1–9:50, 458.
23 Luke 5:9–10.
24 Luke 5:10.
25 Luke 12:32.
26 Luke 12:7.
27 Luke 8:50.
28 Luke 5:10.
29 Luke 5:11.