Fishers of Men
October 11th, 1964 @ 7:30 PM
FISHERS OF MEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-11-64 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled Fishers of Men. The services in the evening are dedicated to a preaching through the life of Christ. We go so slowly that it is hard for the people that listen I know to have any sense of movement. Yet Sunday by Sunday, every Sunday evening there is a part of the life of our Lord concerning which we are delivering a message.
And I’d like to say that I cannot believe that such an hour has come as I now look at and experience in this church. For years and years when the state fair of Texas opened up the church nearly went out of business. The Sunday school dropped down abysmally and the training union disappeared catastrophically. And the whole church disintegrated precipitously. You just hardly had anybody in the choir. You hardly had anybody out there.
And when I read or heard read the attendance we had in the local church here over 4000 in Sunday school this morning in the local church and over 1400 in the local church of training union tonight, and this marvelous audience to preach to man, I just feel like taking off and spending the rest of the night preaching the Gospel of the Son of God. You want to stay? It’s a grand thing to tell about the Lord.
Now what we are doing tonight is this. When the Lord Jesus was baptized He entered immediately upon a ministry. That ministry is never referred to in the synoptic gospels. It is only described in the Gospel of John.
But the Lord immediately entered upon an early ministry. Most of it was in Judea. After He was baptized, after He was tempted, after He was tried by the devil, He entered on this first ministry and those early disciples accompanied Him.
For example, one of the things in that ministry was His interview with Nicodemus down in Jerusalem. Then coming up toward Galilee passing through Samaria is the story in the fourth chapter of John of the Samaritan woman.
Then coming up to Galilee, He calls, after His rejection at Nazareth, after the new home at Capernaum, He calls these four fishermen to permanent discipleship and says, "I call you that you might become, to make you to become." Isn’t that an unusual Greek construction? He called them to make them to become fishers of men. That’s what we are going to preach about tonight.
Now turn to the third gospel, chapter 5, third gospel, chapter 5. I am going to preach about that tonight in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Luke. But we are going to read the story as Luke tells it in chapter 5. Luke chapter 5, we shall read out loud the first eleven verses.
And on the radio you get your Bible and read it out loud with us, the third gospel, Luke, chapter 5, the first eleven verses; all of us sharing it out loud together. Let us read.
And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God, He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret,
And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
And He entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And He sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
Now when He had left speaking, He said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
And Simon answering said unto Him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at Thy Word I will let down the net.
And when they had this done this, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed Him.
Now this is Matthew’s great summation of it.
And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.
And they straightway left their nets straightway, and followed Him.
And going on from thence, He saw two other brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.
And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him.
Now from the synoptic gospels you would have the impression that that is the first time they ever saw the Lord Jesus. That’s the first time they were ever introduced to Him and upon the first meeting why, they forsake their nets, and their father, and the whole fishing business, and the old life, and the old world and become disciples of the Lord.
Now we learn different of that in the Gospel of John. These disciples had been with the Lord for a long time. They had met Him down there on the banks of the Jordan River. They were disciples of John the Baptist. They had accompanied the Lord Jesus through that early Judean ministry. They had been up with Him to Canaan, Galilee when He turned the water into wine and they went back to Judea with Him in a ministry among those people around Jerusalem. And they’d gone with Him all the way up through Samaria and were now in Galilee again.
Now having come back to Galilee they that day went back to their own business. And all that day they toiled fishing, caught nothing; all that afternoon and they didn’t give it up. They toiled all night long fishing.
Now it was the next day after they fished all the day before, and all that afternoon, and all that evening, and all that night that the Lord Jesus came walking by the Sea of Galilee. And when He saw those four fishermen out there He said to them, "Follow Me, follow Me."
Now to us that means just come along after me. But the disciples who heard that call, and this is a thing that was not unusual for a master to do, the disciples who heard that call knew what the Lord meant. It was a call to permanent follow-ship. It was a call to these disciples to turn aside from their old life and the old world, the nets, the fish, the lake, all of it and to devote their full and entire life to the Lord Jesus. That’s what the Lord meant when He said to these four men, "Follow Me."
There were three things in that call that those disciples realized. And the first was this. Jesus has met His first opposition. The first harbinger of persecution had arisen. It’s small. It’s the size of a man’s hand. But it is an earnest of the vast persecution and opposition that is to come.
And when the Lord called these disciples they knew and they understood the difficulties that awaited them. And when they gave their lives to follow the Lord it was with that cognizance that it was a mission, an assignment and a discipleship of tremendous difficulty and hardship.
And what finally that was even they didn’t realize. For the Lord said, "Can you be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? And can you drink the cup that I drink?"
They said, "We can."
I don’t think they realized it. James, one of those boys there was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. Simon Peter was crucified head down. John was placed on a lonely isle to die of exposure and starvation. And of course, all the traditions say that Andrew also died a martyr. They understood somewhat of the tremendous assignment into which they were called, one of great difficulty and opposition.
All right, a second thing. The Lord Jesus called them to a discipleship that had in it a self-surrender of everything they knew and everything they possessed. And they understood that. It meant bid goodbye to father, and mother, and family. It meant a denial of themselves in turning aside from place, and home, and family, and children. It meant a turning aside from their livelihood. All that they’d ever know, the whole of the whole life was forsaken and left behind.
And then a third thing entailed in that invitation to "Come and follow Me." The Lord said that in an unusual way. Mark 1:17 put the genesthai in it. "Follow Me and I will make you to become fishers of men." There never was a Rabbi who made an invitation like that.
All the other disciples who were taught by the Rabbis followed their masters in order to learn something. Like Saul of Tarsus came from the capital of Silesia over in Asia Minor to sit at the feet of Gamaliel in order that he might learn all of the rabbinical lore. That is why he was a disciple of Gamaliel to learn from Gamaliel. What I am saying is that they were just following out the bit and the self-direction that they’d already chosen for their lives.
But this is an all together different kind of a discipleship. For the Lord is calling these men to become something. He is calling them to do something. I am making a distinction here between a disciple who sits at a master’s feet in order to learn something or a disciple who follows the Lord in order to become and to do something. And this was a call to a discipleship unlike that of any rabbi who’d ever taught in Israel. They were called to do something.
And I can’t help but pause here to describe a difference between our church and some other churches I know. There are some devout, and holy, and consecrated people who love to get together and to listen to the exposition of the Word and who love to learn of the deep things of God and they give themselves to a discipleship of learning; just exactly as Saul of Tarsus did, just exactly as all the pupils in the rabbinical schools of Gamaliel and Shemi and all the rest of those centers of theological learning.
But the true discipleship of our Lord is an all together different kind of a calling. We are not only called to learn, we are not only called to study, we are not only called to open our hearts to the truth of God that the Lord might teach us but we are called to become something and we are called to do something. That was the great challenge of the Lord to the disciples. "You come after Me, you follow after Me and I will make you be something. I will teach you to do something. Follow Me and I will make you to become fishers of men."
So the disciples have forsaken their fathers, their homes, their families, their nets, their old business, the old world, the old life. They have forsaken it all and they are now following the Lord Jesus.
Then Luke tells something about Simon Peter in the day of that call. The Lord said to Simon Peter, "The boat, push it out, row it out just a little bit from the shore with a crowd so pressed that I can’t see them and I can’t speak to them." So He got in Simon Peter’s boat and Simon rode from the shore just a little and the Lord used that boat as His pulpit and He taught the vast throngs of people.
Then after He had delivered His message of teaching and Simon Peter listened to Him, Simon Peter listened to Him, Simon Peter listened to Him. I can understand how Simon Peter felt. "Lord, You have called me to deliver God’s message and to catch these souls for Jesus and to deliver this great and marvelous good news of the kingdom of God. And Lord, I don’t see how I can do it. I’ve never felt so inadequate in my life."
I’m leading up to why Simon Peter, when he saw that vast of fishes, fell down at the feet of Jesus and said, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man." That’s what I am leading up to. Why Simon Peter did that. What happened in his mind? What happened in his heart that he fell down at the feet of Jesus when he saw that marvelous vast of fishes and said, "Lord, I am so unworthy. I am so unworthy. Depart from me. Lord, Lord, I am such an unworthy and such a miserable sinner." That’s what I am leading up to.
Simon Peter sat there in that boat that belonged to him and he listened to the marvelous teaching of the Lord Jesus as the Lord Jesus cast out a spiritual net to catch the souls of men. And Simon Peter listened. And he heard and that was the ministry to which Jesus was calling him. And he felt so grossly and so deeply inadequate.
"Lord," he thought in his heart, "How in the world could I ever do that? How could I deliver a message like that? How could I ever be a fisher of men like that?" And then he looked at those nets. Why, his whole life in prospect as a fisher of men like the Lord Jesus standing there speaking to those multitudes. Simon Peter’s life was like that empty net. Taught all night long, cast that net all night long and all that he brought up was an empty net filled with mud and sand and torn with rocks.
And that morning when the Lord came by he was in the boat washing and mending his nets, empty, sterile, unable. And Simon Peter felt that.
Do you know what? I am glad now. I am grateful now for the background through which the Lord led me in His providence as I became a preacher and a pastor. But do you know for thirty-seven years now, for thirty-seven years now I still often dream, often dream of that indescribable trembling, and fear, and inadequacy that I felt when I started out seventeen years of age.
I would spend the solid afternoon on the Lord’s Day crying, crying. Go to my room where I stayed in a dear home, shut the door and bow my head and weep, and weep, and weep, and weep. I had tried my best at that morning hour to preach and a little congregation of 18 people, 20 people, just do my best and just fail so ingloriously. I couldn’t say the word. I couldn’t make the sermon. I couldn’t deliver the message. And that afternoon, cry and cry.
And when I’d go out to the church, ah, the trembling I would feel in my soul and the fear that gripped my heart. I say after thirty-seven years I still often, often dream and that feeling comes upon me of fear, and trembling, and inadequacy. Lord, I can’t do it. How shall I? How shall I? That’s what Simon Peter felt.
Listening to the Lord Jesus and God called him to be that, to deliver God’s message, to bring God’s good news, to be a fisher of men. And so the Lord said, "Well, Simon, in His defense, we’re just going to have a lesson here. We’re going to have a lesson here." He said, "Simon, roll this boat out into the deep and let down the net and catch fish."
And Simon said, "Master, Master, it’s not any use. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I’m not able. I’m not strong. I don’t know, Master. I’ve tried that all night long. All night long, all night long we have toiled and we haven’t caught anything."
The Lord is saying to Simon, "Simon, when you fail, that’s just a signal from heaven to start over again. That’s all that is." When you don’t succeed that is just God’s Word to you. Take heart, take courage, and try again. That’s all that is.
O Lord, that I could learn that! Lord, teach me that. Lord, put that in my heart. If what we are doing pleases God and if it is God’s call don’t ever be discouraged and don’t ever quit. Stay with it. Stay with it. When you fail, that is just God’s little sermon to you. Start over again. When you don’t succeed that is God’s message to you. Try again. Try again. That’s all that means.
Simon answering said, "Master, we’ve toiled all night long and haven’t caught anything; just broken nets, just sand, and mud, and gravel, and rocks."
"Simon, launch out there and put that net down." And here is the first sign of the yielded surrender of Simon Peter. He said, "Nevertheless at Thy Word Lord I will let down the net. I will let it down."
And Simon Peter dropped the big net into the depths of the sea and they enclosed a great shoal of fish. The nets began to break. They beckoned to their partners. They came and they helped Simon and Andrew, James and John helped Simon and Andrew. And they filled both of their ships so full, they themselves began to sink.
And when Simon Peter saw it, now he fell at Jesus’ knees saying, "Lord, depart from me. I am a sinful man, O Lord." What was that? Why, when Simon Peter saw the futility and the failure of his own life and hands toiled all night long following a toiling all day long and catch nothing? And then the Lord filled that net full of fish. Why, this is what happened to Simon Peter.
The Lord saw that shoal of fish down there. The Lord saw that school of fish down there. The Lord saw to the bottom of that lake down there. And that meant if the Lord could see to the bottom of the sea the Lord also sees the bottom of my heart, and the bottom of my soul, and the bottom and the farthest recesses of my life.
And then Simon really saw his inadequacy. Lord, Lord, O God, looking in me as I know You can see like that looking in the bottom of the lake to see all that fish. O Lord, how unworthy and how inadequate. Lord, I am not fit. Depart from me. Depart from me.
And the Lord Jesus said, seeing Simon at his knees, bowed there at his knees, the Lord Jesus said, "Simon, stand up, stand up. Stand up Simon! Stand up. Stand up. I know your heart. I know your life. I know all about you. But Simon, I’ve called you to make of you a fisher, a catcher of men. Stand up, Simon, stand up."
What He said, "Fear not, fear not, be courageous, Simon from henceforth thou shall catch men." Why, that was a pattern of Simon’s life.
"Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat. But when thou art converted, when thou art converted strengthen the brethren. I have prayed for thee." When Simon denied the Lord, the Lord looked on him, and went out, and wept bitterly. He came back just like God knew he would. He stood up at the day of Pentecost, brave and courageous as a lion and preached the Gospel of the Son of God.
"Fear not, Simon, from henceforth thou shall catch men." Ah, what a glorious thing that the Lord who knows all about us yet chooses us, and understands us, and sympathizes with us, and calls us, and blesses us, and sanctifies the work under our hands knowing all about us.
And when we know all about one another we get filled with contempt, and we criticize, and dislike, and all those things. Aren’t you glad the Lord doesn’t treat us that way? Knows all about you, all about you; down to the depths of your soul and yet He loves you, and calls you, and says, "Stand up, stand up, fear not. I’ve chosen you to be a fisher of men."
Now I want to say a few words about that then I must close; a fisher of men. I’ll make you to become a fisher of men. Did you ever walk down the street and meet a man with a little golden fishhook in his coat of tails? I’ve done that every once in awhile. I think that is one of the finest things in the world.
I never see it but that I always ask the same question. I go up there and I look at that little gold fishhook and I say to him, "Do you belong to Coon Creek out here, this fishermen’s club, or do you belong to some country club somewhere or do you so and so and so and so?" You know you think that.
And then he says, "Oh no!"
And you say, "Well, what does that stand for?"
And he says, "I’ve given my life to be a fisher of men. I belong to the fisher men’s club, catching souls for Jesus." Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
And oh what God can make a man to become. Now I want to tell you one thing that I did last week. I went over here to our Latin American crusade at our Calvary Chapel and I heard Homer Martinez, that little catholic boy in San Antonio who was so marvelously saved. And I listened to Homer Martinez preach the gospel.
And when he got up to preach why, he said, "How happy I am that our pastor is here and after the service is over I want the pastor to come back and see me. I have brought him a book and I want him to have this book." So after the service was over I made a beeline back there to get my book. Nicest thing in the world for people to give you something. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just give you something.
Well, I went back there to get the book and you cannot imagine the delight of my soul. The book was The Conversion of Cyclone Mac, Baxter McClendon and Other Sermons. Well, I’d heard about Cyclone Mac ever since I was a little boy. And when I was in Kentucky and preaching in Kentucky I met his tracks everywhere. He held meetings all over that country and they were marvelous meetings. They were blessed of God.
I never had seen him. He died before I had an opportunity to know him but I just met that man’s influence everywhere back there in Kentucky. And here was a book of sermons by Cyclone Mac and the first one was the story of his conversion.
Well, I want you to know I went home. I sat in my study. I opened that book and I started reading as he told about his conversion. And dear people I just turned the page and just cried and I turned the page and just weep and I just turned the page and just cry. You just never heard such a story in your life. You just never heard such a story in your life. You just never did.
Why, it is unbelievable. It is amazing. It is miraculous. It is glorious how God can take an old reprobate, and an old gambler, and a poker player, and a drunkard, and a thief, and a liar, and everything vile and villainous, wicked and bad and convert him and convert him and send him out to become a preacher of the glorious Gospel of the Son of God. "Follow Me and I will make you to become fishers of men."
Oh, it is glorious! It is marvelous what God can do with a man’s life. You, you, you, anyone of us, sanctify and hallow the efforts of our hands. Glorify our testimony. Make us sweet, and precious, and good instead of vicious, and sniping, and cynical, and bad. Give us a new heart. Give us a new personality. Give us a song in our souls and glory, glory, glory in our hearts.
Shine in your eyes. Vibrate in the tone of your voice. You just look something, you are just somebody else. That’s what God can do with you. And bless your testimony. "Follow Me, follow Me and I will make you to become fishers of men." O Lord, grant it to us tonight.
Our time is gone. Before we go off of the air could I make an invitation as you listen on the radio? Once in awhile a man will write me saying, "As I was driving down the highway I heard your sermon."
I got a letter that I published in the reminder, an airplane was flying over Dallas and he listened to our entire service and he was having a great struggle in his soul. And he said, "I’ve found encouragement and comfort in God." Flying over Dallas, the sermon lasted clear to the border, the state line of New Mexico.
On this radio if you would like to have glory, and encouragement, and peace, and help from heaven, and the presence of God in your life, let Jesus make you to become a disciple of the Lord, a fellow servant in the vineyard of Jesus. Ask Him, follow Him, accept His invitation and see if there is not a new day, and a new glory, and a new joy, and a new happiness, and a new victory, and a new destiny. That’s what God is able to do. He made us and He can remake us.
In the great throng here tonight somebody you giving his heart to Jesus, coming into the fellowship of the church, while we sing this hymn of appeal, make it tonight. Make it tonight. There is a stairway at the front and the back on both sides. There is time and to spare for you to come. In the throng on this lower floor into the aisle and down here to the front, "Preacher, tonight I turn to Jesus. I open my heart to the call of the invitation of the Lord. I follow Him beginning now. God shall have me. God shall possess me. God can take me and here I come. Here I am." He calls tonight, "Follow Me." Come, come, join us who have found in the Lord the triumph and the victory of our lives. Do it now. Do it now. While we stand and while we sing.