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Jesus Uses Empty Vessels – Luke 5:1-11



           By Kevin W. Bounds

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The year was 1920. The scene was the examining board for selecting missionaries. Standing before the board was a young man named Oswald Smith. One dream dominated his heart. He wanted to be a missionary. Over and over again, he prayed, “Lord, I want to go as a missionary for you. Open a door of service for me.” Now, at last, his prayer would be answered. When the examination was over, the board turned Oswald Smith down. He did not meet their qualifications. He failed the test. Oswald Smith had set his direction, but now life gave him a detour. What would he do? As Oswald Smith prayed, God planted another idea in his heart. If he could not go as a missionary, he would build a church which could send out missionaries. And that is what he did. Oswald Smith pastored The People’s Church in Toronto, Canada, which sent out more missionaries than any other church at that time. Oswald Smith brought God into the situation, and God transformed his detour into a main thoroughfare of service. [1]

Brian L. Harbour, Rising Above the Crowd.

 Empty Nets (vv. 1-2)

  1. Jesus uses seemingly empty experiences to advance his purposes.
  2. Jesus was continuing his itinerant preaching ministry. At this point, Jesus was proclaiming the gospel to those around the lake of Gennesaret. (1)
  3. In a day without megaphones, microphones, or public address systems, the crowd inched closer and closer to hear the words of the grace that flowed from the Messiah’s mouth. In my imagination, I can see Christ being pushed to the water’s edge as the crowd thronged him. To the point, that he begins to look around to find a boat to put some distance between him and the mass of people. This was a common practice of teachers in this day because this would produce an amphitheater-like effect.
  4. Remember God uses circumstances to advance his purposes. In this case, he used nets that returned empty from the night before.
  5. In verse 2, Luke records that the boats were empty because the fisherman “were washing their nets. As the story develops, Luke records this ship is Simon’s and that they had “toiled all night” (v. 5) and had nothing to show for it.
  6. However, the disciples would not have been in the position they were to hear Christ teaching on the shoreline, had they caught fish the night before because they more than likely would have gone to the market to sell their catch. This also means that the boats would not have been in a position to be used by Christ either. Thus, meaning some in the crowd would not have been able to hear the message.
  7. I am certain Simon (Peter) and the other disciples were discouraged after coming back from fishing empty handed. But had they not experienced the seemingly empty experience in the night, they would have missed out on an encounter with Jesus in the morning.
  8. “… weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. Psalm 30:5 (KJV)
  9. You may be experiencing a season of seemingly empty toil in your life, but God may be positioning you for a miraculous encounter.
  10. Joseph may have wondered many times what God was up to. And Moses’ forty years on the backside of the desert probably felt like a season of barrenness. But God was positioning them with purpose. He was directing their destiny despite the drought.
  11. Jesus used the empty nets to prepare the boat to be ready for launch!

Empty Boats (vv. 3-7)

  1. Notice in verse 3, Jesus uses the empty boat to bring Simon (Peter) a little closer to him. At first, the fisherman was washing his nets in failure. However, this failure set him up to get closer to the one that has never known defeat.
  2. After being in the boat for a while, Jesus commanded Simon (Peter) to “…launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” (4)
  3. Simon (Peter) would not have been able to launch out if the He would not have been in the empty boat that had been prepared for this very moment.
  4. In verse 5, although he may have thought it was an exercise in futility, Simon (Peter) used faith by making his statement. He stated, “nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”
  5. You may not understand what God is trying to accomplish but just follow his commands. The results will be astounding.
  6. The haul of fish was overwhelming. Neither the nets or the boats were empty now! Their fullness came when it was the appropriate time.

Empty Men (vv. 8-11)

  1. Jesus used the empty nets and boats for his glory. However, what he desires is empty men and woman.
  2. In verse 8, after seeing the miracle, Simon Peter fell at Jesus’ knees crying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” This was the reason for all that had occurred up to this point.
  3. Notice Luke uses the name Simon up until this revelation in verse 8, where he adds the name Peter. This was the nickname Christ would late give him that meant a rock. Could this addition signify that the admission of spiritual emptiness means this the beginning of a transformation?
  4. In verse 10, Christ reveals what his plan and purpose for all the empty vessels that day. He says, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
  5. The disciples went from failures to fishers of men!


  1. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him. Luke 5:11 (KJV)
  2. Often, I have looked at the final verse of the call story and marveled at the faith of these men. They leave everything to follow Christ. Although there is an element of this story that focuses on their faith, I believe it also reveals the faith Jesus had in them. He saw empty vessels he could use.
  3. You may be experiencing an empty season of failure, but Christ can use you. Get in the boat. Get alone with Jesus and allow him to transform you from the inside out.


[1] “Detour,” Brian L. Harbour, Rising Above the Crowd,, accessed 19 Jan 2017.


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