The Peter Principle (Luke 5:1-11)


You may be a little surprised to see me here. I’m Simon Peter, former fisherman, zealot, and disciple. I know, you’ve read all about me, and you never expected to see me in person. Believe me, I didn’t expect to see you in person either. I’m here on a bit of business, so I thought I would pop in. Hope you don’t mind.

The business? They want me to write a book. You may have read some of my bestselling books already. Let’s see, there’s First Peter. Later on I wrote a sequel called Second Peter. Back then, we didn’t really put as much work into the titles of our books. Some publishing executive here in Toronto is wanting me to write another sequel. Seems like a lot of books have been written about Fish!Fish! Tales, Fish! Sticks, Fish! for Life. I guess they thought of me since I have a bit of background in the fishing business, and I’m already a bestselling author.

They want me to write a book, except they don’t want to call it Third Peter. They said that wouldn’t sell these days. You need a catchy title I guess. They want to get me on Oprah, get it in the business section, make it a crossover book, all that kind of thing. Want to see the title? It’s going to be called The Peter Principle: Living Without a Net, but Simon Peter. To be honest, I kind of prefer the title Third Peter. Why mess with success, you know what I mean? But I guess you have to go with what the publisher says. Later on I’m going to write other books like The Prayer of Peter, The Peter Driven Life, Forty Days of Peter and Blue Like Peter’s Vocabulary. But one thing at a time. We’ll see how this one goes.

You’d think that by writing The Peter Principle, I’d have some secret to how to become a great follower of Jesus. When I’m interviewed, people always ask me the secret to what happened. I usually feel like I let them down, because there really is no secret. Okay, there is one, and that’s what I want to tell you about today. But really, it had very little to do with me. When I say this, people nod and pretend that they understand, but then they ask me another question like could I explain what happened. Honestly, I can’t. The one thing I know is that I can’t take any credit.

It’s always frustrating when I say this, because I think people are looking for some secret formula that will change their lives. Usually, if my wife is with me, she’ll roll her eyes and say, “Oh please!” There’s no formula. There’s no secret. That’s actually good news. If Jesus chose me because of me, well, then that would leave the rest of you out of luck, because you’re not me. But Jesus didn’t choose me because I was anything special. If anything, The Peter Principle is going to be good news for ordinary people, because I’m about as ordinary as you can get.

Don’t believe me? Okay, let me tell you how it happened. This was the day that it all started. The guys and me, we had just finished working all night. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked nights, but it’s a strange feeling to be completely tired and headed home for bed while the rest of the world is just waking up. We’d been out all night, but it had just been one of those days. You see, we were fishermen, and we caught nothing. Nada. Talk about frustrating. I never enjoyed cleaning nets at the end of a shift, but I could at least tolerate it when we caught something. I was in a foul mood that morning, cleaning those nets, and frankly, I couldn’t wait to go home and chill.

Little did I know my day had just begun.

I looked over and see a crowd and my stomach sank. Jesus. I know what you’re thinking: I should be happy to see Jesus. Well, things were getting a little creepy, I have to tell you. I’d had a few run-ins with Jesus before, and I didn’t really know what to make of him. My brother had introduced us, and sometimes I really wondered if that had been such a good idea. Usually, when you meet a guy, you say, “How are you, nice to meet you” and all that. My brother, Andrew, told me all about Jesus, how we was a cool new rabbi, and he took me to meet me. Right away, Jesus looked at me, and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas.” No nice to meet you, nothing. Nice and all, but a little intense. How would you like if someone met you and said, “You are Joe, son of Frank, but from now on your name will be Rocky.” Like I said, a little creepy.

One day I woke up in the middle of the day – did I mention that I worked the night shift? – and there was this crowd outside my house. I can’t say that I was happy. My wife’s mother, she had been sick with this fever. Jesus had been healing all these people. It amazed us. Sometimes you think that we were used to miracles, that it was no big deal to us. Well, let me tell you, it had us talking. We didn’t know what to make of Jesus and all these healings. Some people thought he was a trickster. Some people thought he was a true healer. I don’t really know what I thought, but when I woke up and saw the crowd outside, I realized Jesus was there. Andrew had talked the wife into bringing Jesus over to take a look at her mother. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on my brother. To my surprise, though, Jesus came in, bent over my mother-in-law, said something, and before you know it, bam! She was up, fixing snacks for everyone. You know mother-in-laws; they can’t rest until everybody’s had enough to eat.

I was grateful to have my mother-in-law healthy again, but I have to be honest – it messed with my mind a little bit. Coincidence? Fluke? Or was Jesus someone with powers that I couldn’t understand? I really didn’t know – and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know either.

So, you can understand why after working all night for nothing, I wasn’t thrilled to see Jesus and a crowd. Jesus was preaching. I wasn’t much of a religious man myself. Nothing against God or anything; it’s just that I wasn’t the type. I could hear a little of what Jesus was saying, but I wasn’t the type to hang around and get preached at. I was also scared that Jesus would see me. So far I’d had two encounters with Jesus, and both were a little strange. I wasn’t sure I wanted a third.

You know that feeling you get when you don’t want to be noticed? You want to blend into the crowd, quietly slip away before you’re seen? That’s exactly how I felt. So I was rushing to finish cleaning the nets, just hoping not to be noticed, when I see Jesus walking to my boat. Not my business partners’ boat. No, that would be too easy. He walks to my boat.

I headed over, not quite sure what to say. Jesus asked me to pull out just a little from shore. What am I supposed to say? The guy just healed my mother-in-law, or did he? I couldn’t see any way out of doing what Jesus said, so I did what he asked. I don’t mind telling you that I wasn’t happy about it, though. I didn’t say much, and neither did Jesus. The minute I got about thirty feet from shore, Jesus sat down facing the shore and started teaching the crowd again.

Great, I thought. So much for sleeping. It’s funny what you think when you’re trapped somewhere against your will. I looked at the water and found myself thinking about swimming for shore. Jesus can row himself back to shore, I thought. I started staring at Jesus’ back and thought about how ordinary he looked. At one point I think I even started to nod off.

“Simon!” I heard Jesus boom.


“Simon, push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”

Now, if I ever needed information on God, I’m sure Jesus would be the first person I’d ask. I’d even listen to Jesus for advice on carpentry. But at the time, I was thinking, “Jesus, leave the fishing to the fishermen.” Everyone knows there’s a time and place to catch fish, but it’s not during daytime and it’s not in the deep water. For a minute, I thought of saying, “Jesus, you stick to preaching, and I’ll stick to fishing.” But, well, I kind of chickened out.

“Master,” I said, “we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” I’d just cleaned the nets, now we were putting them into the water again, and for nothing. I was hoping this would be my last encounter with Jesus.

Then it happened.

We threw in the nets. At first I thought something was wrong, like we’d hit a snag or something. But then I realized that we didn’t have a problem. We had fish. Lots of fish, more fish than the nets were designed to catch. I signaled to the other boat, and they came to help. Between the two boats, we caught so many fish that the boats started to sink.

It should never have happened. It was the wrong time, the wrong place. We’d been fishing all night at the right time and the right place with no results. Now this – carpenter! preacher! tells us where to fish, and this happens.

Then it hit me. This was no mere carpenter, no mere preacher. I wasn’t sure exactly who he was at the time, but I knew God was with him. I knew that he was, without a doubt, the holiest man I had ever met in my life. There, in the boat, surrounded by so many fish that we were almost sinking, all I could think about was how good Jesus was, and how I didn’t fit.

I believed something. I had never really thought about it, but I believed it: God has no use for sinners. There in the boat, it hit me: all my doubting, my bad attitude. I wasn’t even listening to Jesus when he preached – I was trying to figure how to get away and get home. Out of everybody there that day, I was sure that I was the last person who deserved to be in the presence of Jesus. And I haven’t even told you about the other details of my life. Let’s just say that I’d done some things I regretted.

So I’m in the boat, surrounded by all the fish, realizing how thoroughly I’ve blown it, and realizing finally that Jesus is the real thing. All of a sudden, I couldn’t get away fast enough. God had no use for sinners. Jesus had proven he was aligned with God, and so it was obvious to me that the best thing for all of us would be for Jesus to go to people who were good enough, and to leave guys like me alone.

“Master, leave,” I cried. “I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.”

It wasn’t just me who felt that way. I found out later that my fishing partners were feeling the same way. It didn’t seem right. I wasn’t a God person. Jesus didn’t belong with us.

But Jesus said something that absolutely blew me away.

Jesus told me to get up. “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.”

And then it hit me. Up until that point I had assumed that God had no use for sinners like me. All of a sudden, I realized that I had it wrong. I realized that very minute that people who understand they’re sinners are the very people that God wants to use.

We didn’t even think twice about it. We pulled our boats on shore. We didn’t even take the fish. We just left them there. It didn’t even occur to me until later that I’d have to home and explain things to the wife. “Guess what I did today hon? I quit the fishing business. By the way, do you mind going to clean the boat tomorrow? It might smell like dead fish.”

So when people ask me the secret to my success, I tell them The Peter Principle. You could actually say that there are two principles. The first one is this: when Jesus tells you to do something, do it. It doesn’t even have to make sense. I didn’t even do it with a good attitude, at least at first. But my life since that point has been about following Jesus’ lead. He asked me to do a lot of things that didn’t make sense later. A lot. Walk on water. Start handing out a few scraps of food to thousands of people. Whatever, Lord, Believe me, there were plenty of times that I didn’t want to listen to Jesus, to do what he said, but if I can attribute what’s happened in my life to anything, it’s that I started to learn to do what Jesus told me.

There’s one other thing. People ask me if it was something about me that made Jesus pick me. I think there was, actually. It sounds like I’m bragging, but I’m not. I think the thing that made Jesus choose me was that I knew I was a sinner. I used to think that God has no use for sinners. Now I know the truth: people who know they’re sinners are the very people that Jesus can use. If you are a sinner and you know it, then good news: God can use you too.

So when people ask if there’s a secret, I say: buy the book. Heh, my publisher told me to say that. It was a lot easier in the old days. I never had a publisher tell me what to do with First or Second Peter.

No, what I actually tell them is this: Yes, there is a secret. If you think God is going to use you because you’re good, then bad news: God isn’t interested. If you think God can’t use you because you’re a sinner, you’re dead wrong.

But if you know you are a sinner, then good news: you are exactly the type of person that God can use. Just do whatever he says, and follow his lead. And that, my friends, is The Peter Principle.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada