There’s often a difference in simply knowing about Jesus, and experiencing Jesus. This truth is abundantly clear when considering Peter’s call narrative, as recorded in Luke 5.
Peter had heard of Jesus before. Rumors had been spreading through the various towns surrounding the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had been teaching in synagogues and healing the sick. Word was spreading and all praised him.
Even if Peter hadn’t heard the rumors, Peter had seen, and met Jesus. Jesus had come to Capernaum and spoken in the synagogue. After speaking in the synagogue, Jesus had gone to Peter’s home and healed Peter’s mother-in-law who was suffering from a high fever. Later, Jesus had spent the evening healing many people in the city. Peter knew who Jesus was. Jesus had spent time in Peter’s house. Jesus had healed Peter’s family members.
It’s probably these previous experiences with Jesus that convinces Peter to obey Jesus and head back out to do some more fishing even though the previous night had been a disaster.
It’s apparent Peter doesn’t want to fish anymore. The previous night had been wasted, the nets had been cleaned, Peter was tired, and he was getting the courage up to head home and announce his previous night’s failure when Jesus asks him to put out into the deep and let down the nets.
We can hear Peter saying, “But master, we’ve already done that. We worked hard last night. We let down the nets repeatedly. We caught nothing. Better to wait until tomorrow night than to try again right now. However, you did heal my mother-in-law so I feel slightly obligated. We’ll head back out, but I’m sure this is a waste of time.”
Yet this is the moment when Peter moves from knowing about Jesus to experiencing Jesus. Amazingly, they start to catch fish; and not just a few fish, but so many that the nets begin to break. They signal their partners, James and John, to come over and help, but the catch is so large that the boats even begin to sink. Though the fish are coming in record numbers, Peter quickly loses interest in the fish because he begins to realize he is in the presence of one sent from God. Like Isaiah, who sees the vision of God and declares woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips, Peter recognizes his own unworthiness and declares, away from me for I am a sinner. In this moment of catching fish, Peter experiences Jesus in a way that transforms his life. He no longer just knows about Jesus, Peter experiences Jesus. And when they get back to shore, Peter leaves everything, his boat, his career, even his family, to follow Jesus. He doesn’t know exactly where Jesus is going, but he knows he wants to be with Jesus.
It’s really easy to know about Jesus. We can learn facts, sing songs, and listen to Jesus’s teachings, and we’ll become pretty good people. In fact, most of our friends and acquaintances will think very highly of us. We’ll be good citizens of our nation, and good neighbors. Many people even go through their whole lives simply knowing about Jesus, going to church and living fairly decent lives.
But something changes when we experience Jesus. When we come face to face with the Son of God we are forever changed. We start to recognize just how big God is; how wonderfully amazing God has become. As we recognize how big God is, we start to recognize just how small we are. It’s as if the bigger God gets, the smaller we become. But that truth doesn’t separate us from God, causing us to run away because we are unworthy. Instead, it actually draws us closer to God because we want to be in God’s presence. We want to be transformed. We come to understand that nothing else in life matters: not job, not possessions, not even family. The only thing that matters is to know and experience the love of Christ in life transforming ways.
So instead of just learning about Jesus, spend some time experiencing Jesus. Allow Jesus to transform your life, so that you are not just a good person, but you are a disciple who has left everything to follow Christ.