1. So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret,
The Lord is still in Galilee preaching here, as we saw He was in the last verse of chapter 4. In this case, however, He is not teaching in a synagogue, but rather is standing outdoors by the Lake of Gennesaret in Galilee. He is speaking the word, the logos, of God to the people. Logos is the same word that is used in John 1:1 for the Lord Himself, the Word of God. He is the living Word, and He was now giving forth the spoken word of God, and the people were hearing Him. Notice that, as usual, a multitude had gathered around Him. The Lord was usually popular wherever He went, with a few exceptions, as we saw in the last chapter, when men for some reason or other simply did not want to hear the words of God that He spoke.
2. And saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets.
There were two fishing boats pulled up on shore nearby where the Lord was speaking. The fishermen had gone out of them, and were washing their nets. That means this probably took place in the morning, as the best fishing was always done at night. They were probably fixing up their equipment so it would be ready to fish again that evening. They were not just fishing for sport, remember, but this was their vocation. Any careful worker knows he must take care of his equipment, and these men who made fishing their livelihood were most careful to keep their nets in good shape.
3. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.
Here we get a glimpse of the tremendous popularity that the Lord Jesus had among the common people. Since no microphones or loudspeakers or other, mechanical means of magnifying the human voice existed at that time, it seems that this multitude was pressing close around the Lord to hear His words. They were pressing so close, in fact, that it was getting uncomfortable for Him. Thus He requests of the nearby fishermen to borrow their boat. Then, He sits in the boat to teach the people. Remember, teachers generally sat back then, though in our day it is more customary for teachers to stand up.
We get the feeling that it was no chance occurrence that He entered Simon’s boat. This Simon was the man called Simon Peter by the Lord. He had met the Lord before this, as we read about his first encounter with Christ in John 1:42. Moreover, the Lord had called him and his brother Andrew, along with James and John, to follow Him back in Mark 1:16-20. Yet it seems that they had not yet dedicated themselves to be His disciple full-time. Thus, they were fishing here. They seemed to consider their work for the Lord as part-time, and now had returned to their livelihood of fishing. Peter was probably fishing with his father Jonah and his brother Andrew. We find out down in verse 10 that James and John had also returned to fishing.
4. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
The Lord had apparently finished His address to the people, and now He deals with Simon, commanding him to launch out into a deeper place and let down his nets for a catch of fish. Some look at this as the Lord Jesus simply desiring to pay Simon back for the use of his boat. Yet we must realize that He had a far more important purpose in mind through all this: the calling of Simon to be a fisher of men. The catch of fish was to teach them a valuable lesson to launch their careers as full-time disciples. This single catch of fish, though great, was not nearly as important as their learning the truth about Him and what He could do through them.
The events listed here do not at all fit with what is set forth in Mark 1. Clearly, this was a different event. As I said, these men were already disciples, yet now they had to decide to follow the Lord full time.
5. But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”
Simon is reluctant since the fishing that night had been so bad. Remember, these men were professional fishermen. They had been plying their trade all night, which was the time for fishing. They had been fishing in the best waters for fishing. Yet in spite of all their knowledge and skill, they had caught nothing. Now, the Lord tells him to fish at the wrong time: during the day, and in the wrong place: just off the shore in the deeper waters. As far as he was concerned, such an act was foolish.
Yet Peter did recognize the Lord’s authority. The word “Master” here is not the Greek word for Rabbi, but rather is the Greek Epistates, and has to do with greater power and authority than a rabbi. So Simon recognized the Lord’s power and authority, though he may have decided to comply only from a desire to patronize the Lord Jesus. Yet remember what Christ said about faith in Matthew 17:20b. “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Faith is taking God at His word and acting accordingly. This is what Peter did. He may not have expected much of an outcome from this. Yet he heard the Lord’s words, and he responded with obedience. Whether or not he thought this would work is beside the point. All that was required was for him to respond. Then, though his faith was small like the grain of a mustard seed, which would be barely visible to the naked eye sitting on a person’s hand, God will respond. Simon had at least as much faith as a mustard seed here, and so he was rewarded.
6. And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.
They no sooner obey, than they catch so many fish that it starts to break their net! This was clearly no natural catch of fish, but a sign that the Creator and Designer of fish was there present to direct His creatures as He would.
7. So 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.
There were too many fish for one boat, and so the fishermen signal their partners to come over and help. Yet even this second boat is not enough, for the two boats are so filled with fish that they both start to sink. The fish had made the boats so heavy that their sides were descending below the water line!
8. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
Simon was quick to pick up on the significance of this. He well knew what it took to catch a great number of fish, and what simply wouldn’t work. He could have no doubt but that what had happened was the very work of God! And the realization comes to him of just Who this is Who is standing before him. Realizing that only the God Who created fish could direct them thus, it dawns upon him that the Lord was not just a messenger of God, but that He was THE messenger of God, the Lord Yahweh Himself. And in this realization, he is overwhelmed by the purity of the One before him. He thinks of himself, and realizes that he is a man stained by sin. It was not any specific act he had done that made him feel unworthy to stand in the presence of the Lord. Rather, it is who and what he was as a sinful man. He is not worthy to stand in the presence of One so pure and holy. Thus, filled with fear and a sense of his own unworthiness to be in the presence of such an One, he falls to his knees before Him and begs Him to depart from one such as he was. This was often the reaction of those who came face-to-face with God. The encounter left them ashamed by their own unworthiness and in awe of the purity of the One they encountered. Yet many in our day have the opposite attitude, dismissing God as if He were the One unworthy to be a part of their lives. How different it is when a person actually encounters the One Who is often so cavalierly dismissed!
9. For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken;
Here we have reference to all who were with Peter. This probably included his brother Andrew and his father Jonah, but who else may have been included it is hard to say. They may have had other family members along with them, or even what we would consider employees aiding them in their work. All these, fishermen by occupation, knew the impossibility of what had just occurred, and they were all just as astonished as Peter. He was not the only one who was amazed by this.
10. And so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”
Now that Simon understands his own condition before God, Jesus reveals to him why He had worked this miracle for him. It was not to drive Peter away from Him in fear and shame. Rather, He was inviting Peter to come with Him and to be a part of His great work, which he here calls catching men rather than catching fish. Sometimes, realizing who and what we are as sinners is all that is in the way of God using us as He desires. Peter started to learn this lesson here, though not completely. He would have to learn it again when the time of his denials came.
11. So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.
These men didn’t give themselves to the Lord halfheartedly. No, once they received the call, they left all behind to respond to His call. It seems that all they did was draw their boats in to shore, and then they left them, their nets, their fish, and everything else in order to follow Him. We have no such opportunity today, for the Lord is not walking around the streets of earth, and so we have no way to follow Him like these men did. Yet we too can demonstrate such wholehearted devotion in our walk and our actions each day. Let us remember to give all and do everything for Him!
12. And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
Now the Lord is in a certain city, though the Bible does not reveal to us which city this was. There, He is seen by a man who is full of leprosy. I do not believe that we have anything like this leprosy of the Bible among us today. There is a disease, also known as Hansen’s disease, that is called “leprosy” today. However, I do not believe that this is the same disease as that described in the Hebrew Scriptures under the name of tsara’ath. In the Divine grace of God, it seems that this terrible malady has passed from existence, although of course we cannot prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt, and some reports of possible cases during the last few centuries have been made. At any rate, this disease in the Bible was indeed a horrible one, and was used by God in the Old Testament as, it seems, a symbol for sin itself.
The Greek word here is lepra, and we would suspect that it is that same, terrible disease as in the Old Testament. This man, therefore, would have been in a most awful condition. We can certainly sympathize with his desire to seek help and grace from the Lord. Moreover, he had a commendable attitude before God. He did not come to Him with hands outstretch waiting for and expecting God to fill them. Many in our day approach God like this, as if they deserve all the rich blessings God can pour out upon them. Rather, this extremely ill man, outcast and broken by the shame of uncleanness, pleads with Jesus Christ, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” He leaves all up to the Lord’s will!
13. Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him.
The Lord demonstrates His willingness, not just in granting the man’s request, but also in reaching out and touching him. None were to touch a man unclean with leprosy, as that would make them unclean as well, not to mention the risk of getting the disease. Yet the Lord had compassion on this man, and demonstrated to him a very human kindness that perhaps the man hadn’t felt in years…the touch of a healthy human hand.
The word of the Lord Jesus is all that was required for the disease to leave the man. There was no fanfare, no choir, no healing service…just the simple words of the Lord. No healer dares to behave in such a manner today. No healer can behave in such a manner today. We have no such healings going on in this dispensation.
14. And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.”
Moses had given the law for the cleansing of a healed leprous man, but we can imagine that this law had not been used overly much in the years since he had given it, since leprosy was a permanent and incurable disease. Those priests who performed the services prescribed by the law probably barely even bothered with this one, since they would not have figured upon ever using it. We can only imagine the amazement of the people who witnessed this man, well known to be a leper, coming to the temple to receive the cleansing of a leper who had been cured. The fact that he would tell no one how he had been healed would have only raised people’s curiosity more. Imagine the quiet witness of this man, coming and asking for cleansing just as if lepers being healed were an everyday occurrence! What story that he could have told about his healing could have spoken any stronger than this? All who saw him come to the temple could have no doubt now but that God was doing a mighty work among them!
15. However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.
It seems that it didn’t take very long for the people to find out that it had been the Lord Jesus Who had worked this miracle. It was probably a simple matter of deduction, since what other healer was among them who could even hope to perform such a feat? Thus, the people flock to hear Him and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. These came to the Lord to be healed, and none of them went away disappointed.
16. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.
The result of all this is that He was so swamped by the multitudes that He often had to withdraw into the wilderness in order to have time to rest and pray. This lack of privacy is something that our modern-day celebrities can no doubt relate to very well. There aren’t many situations in our present-day life that we cannot find some guidance for from the pages of Scripture. As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun. But for those in such situations, the need for some means of privacy and communion with God is demonstrated by the Lord Jesus’ actions here.
Note that the work He was doing was very good, and the need of the people was great. Yet still, though He had compassion on the people, He did not let their needs so dominate His time that He had no time left for prayer and communion with God. So we, in all the good work we are trying to do, should never use that work as an excuse for failing to spend time with our God. Who among us has work more important or needed than that of the Lord Jesus Himself? Yet He took the time away from it all to rest and pray. Let us take Him for an example in this, and do the same.