A common practice of Jesus and his contemporaries is for crowds to following teachers as they walk and talk. In Luke 5, we find that practice being played out with Jesus, however, in that instance the crowd is becoming too numerous, and is described as “pressing” upon Jesus and listening to the word of God.1
We see in the crowd’s behavior that aspect of the human condition that causes us to hunger for truth, for reality. The people were not looking for a sideshow any more than we look for one today. Just as we are, they were famished for genuineness, for truth, for authenticity. Humanity is not looking for a better religious production. We are looking for life!
From the language and activities of Luke 4, it is clear that Jesus had been up all night healing those who were brought to him.2 Those same crowds continued to feed their fascination with, and hunger for Jesus. To accommodate the crowd, and to grant himself a little breathing room, Jesus climbed into a boat owned by Simon (later to be called Peter) and asked him to put out a bit from the shore of Lake Gennesaret.3
Ironically, it was Simon’s home from which Jesus did his healing work the night before while Simon was engaged in his night of fruitless fishing.4 Riding atop that floating dais, Jesus seated himself, and taught the crowd.5 We are not told what Jesus said, only that he taught from a seat in the boat.
When he finished his teaching, Jesus made a request of Simon that seems a little absurd. He told Simon to put out into the deep water and let the nets down for a catch.6 In my childhood experiences, my father and I fished the shallow waters in the early morning and at dusk, because that was where and when the fish came to feed.
I suppose, with the net-style fishing done by Simon and his companions, it may have been appropriate to fish in deep waters. But Simon and his companions, professional fishermen, had fished throughout the night to no avail. They knew their craft, and had given their best efforts to a fruitless night’s work, so the request from Jesus must have seemed rather silly, perhaps a little annoying, even eliciting a mild objection from Simon.
In his protest, Simon addressed Jesus with a term that goes beyond the politeness of “teacher.”7 He calls him ὲπιστάτα (epistata), denoting a deeper respect than one would bestow on a common teacher. It is, “a title which was given even to such teachers as anyone entertained respect for, without as yet standing in a personal relation to them.”8
“Master, we have exhausted ourselves with a frustrating night of fishing in which nothing has been caught…”
Simon knows it is pointless to drop the nets yet again, but Simon has spent enough time with Jesus to this point that he knows better than to end his sentence in that way.
“But … at your word … I will let down the nets.”
– Luke 5:5
Simon was the one who knew how to catch fish, and even with all of his professional experience, he was unable to catch any fish after an entire night of dropping and raising the nets. His level of frustration, even exasperation, must have been quite high. And now, a non-fisherman, a carpenter, is telling him where to go catch fish.
Given the lead-up to this, it is difficult to imagine a more imposing request. Knowing what we know about Simon’s temperament, it is amazing he did not blow a cork right then and there. Instead, Simon responds, “At your bidding,” or “At your word.”
When I Don’t Feel Like It
The Christ-follower’s life is a life that says, “At your bidding, I will,” when everything within us wants to say, “No, I do not feel like it,” or “No, I do not want to do that.” When I am ridiculed and persecuted, Jesus tells me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me.9 That goes against the grain for me – but at your bidding, Lord, I will. Jesus tells me to bless those who curse me,10 when I would much rather curse them right back – but at your bidding, Lord, I will. When someone makes a demand of me that seems unreasonable, and perhaps actually is unreasonable, Jesus says I should go beyond what they ask of me.11 Walk farther than they ask me to. Give more than is expected or required. I do not want to do this – but, at your bidding, Lord, I will. When it violates what we might call common sense, when we can see no possible positive outcome, when the world dictates a completely different response – at your bidding, Lord, I will let down the nets for a catch.
Jesus asks for that which stands in direct opposition to everything our experience and education tells us is true and real. His commands sound ludicrous. Yet, when we yield to the seemingly nonsensical, Jesus can perform the unquestionably miraculous.
Jesus commands the disciples to feed the multitude of thousands with a mere five loaves and two fish.12 Utter nonsense! But, at your bidding, Lord, I will. Jesus commands Peter to step out of the boat, and onto the water.13 Completely absurd! But, at your bidding, Lord, I will walk on the water. Jesus tells me to not judge, something I am so prone to do, and that comes so naturally.14 At your bidding, Lord, I will refuse to judge. Jesus teaches me to behave toward others the way I want them to behave toward me.15 At your bidding, Lord, I will love others as myself. He commands me to forgive without end,16 when my fleshly self wants to hold a lifetime of grudges for every offense ever committed against me. So, at your bidding, Lord, I will crucify my flesh, and live as you will have me live, granting grace to my oppressors.
This is For Your Own Good
That sounds so parental, yet it is nonetheless true. “Now son, I’m doing this for your own good.” When God commands us to be and to act in certain ways, we can be confident that it is not because God gets a thrill out of bossing us around, but rather because he wants what is best for us. The fact that God is the creator of all that exists, including us, means by extension that he knows what is best for us. He knows how we function, how we operate, our inner drives, what harms us, what blesses us. The fact that he is a God of love – that his essence is love – means that his commandments to us are given out of that love for our good. Adhering to them protects us from harm, and even destruction.
When God commanded Adam and Eve to avoid the tree in the center of the garden, he did so because he knew that their messing with the tree was going to put them, and us, in a world of hurt. And look where we are today as a result of their failure to say, “At your bidding, Lord, I will leave the tree alone.”
When God teaches us to stay sexually pure, it is because he knows how such intimacy binds the souls of two individuals. He knows the addictiveness of pornography, the ruinous, dehumanization of human sex trafficking, the crushing destructiveness of infidelity intruding into a marriage.
When God commands us to love our enemies, and to forgive those who sin against us, it is because he knows that non-forgiveness is a relational cancer that will consume us, and undermine every relationship we have or try to establish, but patient love toward an enemy may eventually lead them to repentance and result in them knowing the love of Jesus just as we do.
When Jesus teaches us to serve one another as he, our Master and Lord, has served us, he does so knowing that serving others is edifying and joy-inducing, while a self-serving, narcissistic existence will suck life from the core of our being. God’s commandments are not designed to keep us down, to oppress us, or to take from us, but rather to give to us the best life possible, the greatest joy, the ultimate truth. Knowing this helps us be able to say, “At your word, Lord, I will.”
A Product of Intimacy
There is another aspect to God’s love for us. It leads us out of our addiction to self and to ego, into a deep and satisfying intimacy with him. Everyone has a relationship with God, whether they realize it or not. For some of us, that relationship is close and intimate. For some it is mediocre, stale, and occasional in its interaction. For some, it is hostile, angry, even adversarial. But we all relate to God whether we do, or do not want to do so, and even whether or not we want to acknowledge that God exists.
It is God’s desire to cultivate a level of intimacy with us that is warm, pleasant, and familiar. It is a bond of such love and trust that we cannot keep ourselves from running into God’s embrace at every opportunity. It is genuine, devoid of superficiality. It is intimacy that is fed by the reality of the omnipresence17 of God, and the Holy Spirit of God that indwells us.18 Listen to David, the man after God’s own heart,19 as he describes this embracing of intimacy with the omnipresent God.
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
– Psalm 139:1-4, NASB
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
– Psalm 139:7-10, NASB
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.
– Psalm 139:17-18, NASB
In that beautiful Psalm, we see the heart of a man who knows the constant presence and intimacy of God. It is not possible to read those verses without feeling the love and passion of David’s warrior heart. Yet it is the heart of a man who bares himself before the Creator and invites him in. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” Such a heart eagerly says, “At your bidding Lord…”
1. Luke 5:1
2. Luke 4:40-42
3. Luke 5:3
4. Luke 4:38-42
5. Luke 5:1-3
5. Luke 5:4
7. Luke 5:5
8. Van Oosterzee, J. J. (2008). The Gospel According to Luke: An Exegetical and Doctrinal Commentary John Peter Lange & Charles C. Starbuck (Trans.). Philip Schaff (Ed.). (p. 82). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 9. Matthew 5:44
10. Luke 6:28
11. Matthew 5:39-42
12. Mark 6:30-34
13. Matthew 14:29
14. Matthew 7;1
15. Matthew 7:12
16. Matthew 18:21-22
17. Omnipresence is the theological doctrine regarding God’s infinity, wherein he transcends the limitations of space and is present in all places at all times.
18. Romans 8:9, 8:11, 1st Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2nd Corinthians 6:16, Galatians 4:6, 2nd Timothy 1:14, 1st John 2:27
19. Acts 13:22