One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."
Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." Luke 5:1-5

The first Memory of Gennesaret is appropriately connected with a fishing scene in its inland sea. It must have been now about the end of November or beginning of December, when the sultry heat of summer had disappeared; when the trees were either bared of their leaves, or seared with autumnal tints, and the voice of the turtle-dove was silent. Our Blessed Lord had recently returned to His native Galilee, after a summer absence in Judea; and several eventful months were now to be spent on the shores of the lake, before the next Passover, in March or April, summoned Him again to the capital.

As He was now walking alone along the white sand that fringed the beach, we may suppose it to have been at that morning hour when nature was waking up again to life and energy; the usual traffic had been resumed in the little seaport of Capernaum, and the fishermen, who had been out the livelong night, were returning to the nearest landing-point with their spoil. Four of these seafarers, Andrew, Peter, John, and James, had reached the shore. They had been unsuccessful in their labors; weary and jaded, they were in the act of washing their nets before retiring to their hamlets for refreshment and rest.

But One who, as we shall presently see, was no stranger to them, had been noting their unrecompensed toil. There was a deep meaning and reason, which they knew not at the time, for the dispiriting results of their midnight industry, but which was, before long, to be made manifest. Meanwhile, however, Simon is approached by a voice whose music he was often in future to hear. His Lord "as one that serves" begs from the lowly fisherman the accommodation of his boat, that He might make it a platform from which to address His first Gennesaret auditory—a throng of ardent followers who had gathered on the sea-beach, eager to listen to His teachings.

We may realize the scene. The Lake, so often fretted with storms, exposed to sudden gusts coming sweeping down the ravines of the mountains, was now hushed into a dead calm. Tree and rock, fishing-hamlet and villa, were mirrored in its quiet waters. Hushed, too, was the dense mixed multitude that crowded on the shore; while the great object of their eager curiosity—Jesus of Nazareth—sat in meek majesty in Peter's fishing-boat, about to speak the words of eternal life!

Dare we picture to ourselves the expression of that godlike countenance? Accustomed as we are to think of Him as the ideal of human excellence, and in outward form as well as inward loveliness, "fairer than the children of men," we may venture to realize some feeble image of that portraiture, while yet the happy memories of peaceful Nazareth were hovering around Him, and before a woe-worn path had furrowed the brow of the Man of Sorrows with the lineaments of predicted sadness.

It was the sunny morning of a dark and troubled life-day. The Sun of Righteousness, as He arose on this valley and shadow of death, had no spot, no murky cloud foreboding the darkness that was to shroud His setting. He was "as a bridegroom coming forth out of his chamber, and rejoicing like a strong man to run his race." With grace poured into His lips, this "Chief among ten thousand"—this "altogether Lovely one"—proceeds to unfold the great revelation for which, during four thousand years, the world had waited in anxious expectation. It was a momentous day in the history of the Church. It was the inauguration of the first noble band of missionaries—an ordination scene and ordination sermon—the setting apart of under-shepherds by the Great Shepherd, to "feed the flock of God" which He was about to "purchase with His own blood."

We cannot pronounce when and where the first introduction took place between Jesus and these future teachers of the world. May He not possibly, in the days of His youth, when living in mysterious seclusion in the not far-distant Nazareth, have stood on the shores of Gennesaret, and, as the young fishermen of Bethsaida were helping their fathers to adjust their nets, may they not have unconsciously beheld in the stranger, their future Master and Lord? We can form, with greater certainty, such a conjecture at a later period; we have in one passage an indirect intimation that Capernaum formed a rendezvous for the caravan in north Galilee, in going up to Jerusalem to observe the paschal feast (John 2:12). If so, might not these youths, who were afterwards to be linked in so holy a relation, love to group and pitch their tents together in that sacred pilgrimage? Might they not travel onwards singing their psalms, under the clear light of moon and stars, in their nightly journey—the Galilean fishermen little dreaming that some of those very songs they chanted were to the praise of the wondrous Being who, in human form, walked at their side?

But be this as it may, we know, at all events, that not many months before the events here recorded, they had met Him on the banks of the Jordan, probably after the celebration of the Passover, when, on returning to their native lake, they paused to listen to the Baptist's stirring words. The Great Messiah, of whom he bore witness, was then pointed out to them. They hailed Jesus of Nazareth as their Lord and Master, and cast in their lot with Him as disciples. Whether they met during the brief intervening period we cannot tell. But we may surely well believe that often would these four fishermen spend their lonely midnight hours on the lake, by discoursing of Him whom His great Forerunner had so recently pointed out to them as "the Lamb of God."

Could Peter forget the penetrating omniscience which had even then scanned his own character, and anticipated the lights and shadows in his ardent temperament (John 1:42)? Could Andrew and John forget the hallowed evening converse, when, at His own gracious invitation, He welcomed them to His temporary abode, and from four o'clock till the night shadows closed around them, caused their hearts to burn within them? Moreover, if they had never personally met since, their confidence in His power and in the divinity of His mission must have been strengthened and confirmed by the miracle recently performed on the nobleman's son at Capernaum, all the more impressive that it was by the power of a distant word at Cana, that the dying youth had been raised to life. It must have been, at all events, now with a joyful surprise, while washing their nets, that His longed-for voice was heard. How would the lost labor of that midnight be forgotten, and the thought of fatigue banished, when they beheld Him once more standing on the shore ready to unfold to them and to the multitudes the mysteries of His kingdom! With what delight would they gather around to listen to the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth!

Let us pause at this point in the sacred story, and gather a few PRACTICAL LESSONS.

I. Observe here, how God honors worldly industry, and hallows His own appointed heritage of toil.

These fishermen, though enrolled among the disciples of Jesus, did not on that account forsake their honest callings, as if discipleship and daily work were incongruous. No; with all the hallowed recollections of that day at Bethany and the Jordan, no sooner did they reach Bethsaida, than, clothed in their rough cloaks, they were out night after night on the sea, patiently waiting subsequent communications of their Lord's will. And now, when He meets them again, when that loving Voice is once more heard, how are they engaged? Still at their work—their hands ministering to their necessities—standing knee-deep in the water, in the shadow of their fishing-boats, "washing their nets." What does all this tell us, but that Christ honors and consecrates daily industry. He would here, as elsewhere, proclaim the beautiful harmony between the most laborious ardor in our several earthly employments, and religious earnestness; that the world's dullest tasks and most drudging toil can be baptized and hallowed with the new-born spiritual element; and that while men may be "not slothful in business, they may be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."

II. We learn that Jesus gradually prepares His people for service and trial.

As in mental training, so in spiritual, there is an education—a gradual progressive discipline. They are brought to their exalted attainments in grace—the consecrated heights of His kingdom—not by some sudden or miraculous elevation, but step by step. It is "first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear." The fishermen of Bethsaida may have received, as we have already conjectured, the first hallowed impressions from casual meetings with the young Nazareth Pilgrim in their journeys to the city of solemnities; or the earliest seed of the kingdom might have been more recently planted by the teachings of the Baptist. This had been still further nurtured by a solemn personal interview with their Lord. Months had elapsed, to allow all these to take root. They had been left to themselves during this intervening period to a secret work of faith and prayer. And now, when love has been deepened, and faith strengthened, He demands loftier services; imposes heavier responsibilities. The Disciples are to become Apostles. The nets and boats of Galilee are to be left for the mightiest ministry ever entrusted to human hands.

There may be exceptions, and there are exceptions to this great rule. A persecutor may be struck down, and in a moment transformed into an apostle. A felon may be arrested by grace amid the agonies of crucifixion, and in the twinkling of an eye be translated from a criminal's death to a believer's crown. But God's processes in the spiritual economy are, generally speaking, gradual and progressive. The temple rises stone by stone. Nicodemus-like, we have to grope our way to higher spiritual manifestations, to higher faith, higher duties, higher grace. Were it otherwise, it would contradict the Divine method of working. It would unteach the oft-recorded lesson in that mighty volume of parables, where growth is never sudden; but slow, silent, almost imperceptible: the sapling hardening into the oak before it can wrestle with the storm; the child creeping before it can walk, spelling its way upwards through successive stages of mental progress.

God Himself more than once, indeed, employs this very same image regarding His people. He acts a parent's part in guiding the tottering steps of feeble spiritual infancy, "dandling them on His knees," comforting them as one whom his mother comforts," "bearing them on His shoulders, as a man bears his own son that serves him," "leading them about, instructing them, keeping them as the apple of His eye;" until at length, strong in the manhood of vigorous faith, they "mount upon eagle's wings."

III. Learn in our seasons of trial and despondency never to despair.

Peter had been toiling all night, and nothing had been caught. But his Lord gives the word, "Launch forth into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch." Peter replies by telling of their lack of success—that "all night" (the best and most likely time for catching fish) they had labored in vain; but, addressing Jesus as "Master" (evidently showing the relation in which he already stood to Him), he adds in simple faith and submission to a will he had been taught to love, "Nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net." The result was the enclosure of such "a multitude of fishes that the net broke."

Ah! when was the soul ever disappointed which followed the Lord fully? How often, in our night-seasons of despondency and trial, are we prone, in our short-sighted folly, to exclaim, "All these things are against me?" How often do we feel, in spiritual experience, as if all effort in Christian attainment were worse than hopeless? The heavens have become as brass, and the earth as iron; our prayers are unavailing; ordinances are unblest; sanctuary wells are without water; our sun is wading amid clouds; the net of faith is let down amid the promises of God; but unable to appropriate them, we are ready to say amid this long night of spiritual toil, "Surely my Lord has forsaken me, and my God has forgotten me."No! no! pray on—labor on—trust on—"They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength!"

Resolve, with Peter, "Nevertheless, at Your word, Blessed Savior! I will launch forth once more. I will let down my net into this dark, deep, unfathomable sea. Though You slay me yet will I trust in You. In ourselves, Lord, we are helpless, hopeless, weak, perishing; but at Your word we proceed; Lord, what would You have us to do? Our wills we would resolve into Yours—Your will is always the best. We shall not arraign the appointments of Your unerring rectitude. Even though at times we are led to adopt the words of the prophet—'I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain;' with him can we add, 'Yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.' Even if carrying a cross be required, fresh launching forth into the deeps and midnights of trial, we shall let down our nets, assured in the end of a glorious recompense."

For have we not His own recorded promise?—"Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth." Hosea 6:3. Let us seek to value more and more that precious promise.

The multitudes on Gennesaret's shore, and the disciple in the boat, who with fond eagerness listened, and with joyful alacrity obeyed, read to us solemn lessons. Of the one it is said, "They pressed on Him to hear the word of God;" of the other, that, triumphing over carnal doubts and reasonings, he exclaimed, "Nevertheless, at Your word."

Oh, what a blessed formula for us! "This path of mine is dark, mysterious, perplexing; nevertheless, at Your word I will go forward. This trial of mine is cutting, painful for flesh and blood to bear. It is hard to breathe through a broken heart—"may Your will be done." But, nevertheless, at Your word I will say, "Even so, Father!" This besetting habit or infirmity, or sin of mine, is difficult to crucify. It has become part of myself—a second nature; to be severed from it would be like the cutting off of a right hand, or the plucking out of a right eye. Nevertheless, at Your word, I will lay aside every weight; this idol I will utterly abolish! This righteousness of mine, it is hard to renounce; all these virtues, and amiabilities, and natural graces, it is hard to believe that they cannot in any way be mixed up in the matter of my salvation; and that I am to receive all from first to last, as the gift of God, through Jesus Christ my Lord. "Nevertheless, at Your word, I will count all but loss for the excellency of His knowledge."

Reader! let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly! Let it be your counselor; the ultimate court of appeal in every perplexity. If your own proud reason, or self-will, or corrupted nature and blinded conscience, should dictate an opposing line of procedure, let this lofty determination settle and silence all doubt, "Nevertheless, at Your word." Sit as a meek disciple under this infallible Teacher. Silence the temptations of the great Adversary as your Lord silenced them before you, by the rebuke, "Get behind Me, Satan—It is written." And when the Sabbath comes around, be it yours, like the crowd on Gennesaret's shores, to go to the sanctuary eagerly thirsting for the Word of eternal life—not the words of frail mortals, worms of the dust; but, despising all the excellency of man's wisdom, seeking only to have declared to you the whole counsel of God. Be earnest in prayer, that He may send forth His light and His truth to lead you and guide you. Then shall a Savior God be invisibly present by His Spirit, to bless and lighten, to gladden and refresh your souls; and the Beatitude, intended for all time and for every age of the Church, will be made good in your experience: "Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound. They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance!"