Fishing for Men
May 4th, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
Appeal, Evangelism, Witnessing, fishermen, Fish, Fishing, and Fishermen, 1969, Matthew
FISHING FOR MEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-4-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Fishing For Men. This is one in a brief series that I have begun to follow called "Fish, Fishing, and Fishermen." And today it is Fishing For Men. Now, there are three passages, in each one of the synoptic Gospels, and they tell the story of the same incident. Only each one of the synoptic writers – the word synoptic refers to seeing a thing alike – and Matthew, Mark, and Luke are those three synoptic writers. John is so different in his presentation of the gospel – and these three are going to be the background of the message this morning:
And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter – later called Cephas, Peter, a rock – 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, and followed Him.
And going on from thence, He saw other two 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 the text, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" [Matthew 419]. That’s from the latter part of the fourth chapter of Matthew. It would appear, as these synoptic writers tell the story, that the Lord came by and called them into this vocation. But we learn from John, who is not one of those synoptic writers – we learn from John that this incident happened not in Christ’s first introduction to those disciples, but in an altogether different way.
Now the chronology of the event is like this. After the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River [Matthew 3:13-17], in the southern part of the Jordan Valley, He was tempted, tried by the devil [Matthew 4:1-11]. Then after the temptation, He had an early Judean ministry. In that ministry is the story of Nicodemus [John 3:1-21]. Then He went through Samaria, and you have the story of the Samaritan women who left her pitcher at the well to return to her town of Sychar to witness to the grace of Jesus [John 4:5-29]. Then His Galilean ministry that begins here with this story that I’ve just read.
So when the Lord came by and called those four fishermen, Andrew and Peter, James and John [Matthew 4:18-22], they had already been with Him several months in His ministry down in Judea, and they’d also been with Him on the Jordan River because they were disciples of John the Baptist [Acts 1:22]. That was one of the requirements of being an apostle, a man who had been with John the Baptist and who had been baptized by John the Baptist. And when the Lord passed by and said, "Follow Me," they knew exactly what that meant. They were being called to a fellowship of work in the Lord Jesus, seeking souls, fishing for men.
Now I want you to see the difference in the call of these disciples and what discipleship meant in Israel in that day. First: a disciple in that day when Jesus lived was someone who was called to learn, to study, and to follow a life direction and pattern that was already set and had been set for centuries. There were rabbinical schools, like the school of Hillel, like the school of Shammai, like the school of Gamaliel, to which Saul of Tarsus attended. And disciples that were called to enter those rabbinical schools were called to learn. They were taught doctrine, and they were taught tradition, and they followed a life that was already outlined.
But this discipleship is in an altogether different category, and you’ll see that when I read it as Mark tells it. "And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men" [Mark 1:17]. These men were called into a discipleship of being and of becoming and of doing. They were called into a fellowship in the work of our Lord, to do something for God, to win men to Christ, seeking souls. "Follow Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men."
All right a second thing about this discipleship that is so different from the discipleship of all other groups in Israel at that time, the second thing: so much of the discipleship, the "followership," in the days of the Lord Jesus was violent. It reminds me, as I read of that day, it reminds me of this day. It was a call into the "followership," the discipleship of the day when Christ lived, it was a call into agitation, and into violence, and into disruption.
And so many joined that train, followed that discipleship, that in 66 AD, they led the nation into a catastrophic rebellion, that ended, as you know, in 70 AD with the destruction of the state, and with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, and with the destruction of the holy temple.
Now the agitation, I say, and the violence of that day on the part of these hotheads reminds me of our day and of our time. I have here in my hands an address by J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the F.B.I. And he speaks of the agitation in our day in these words:
The mood of the new left and philosophy of life is not one of support for America and its traditions of upholding moral and democratic values; rather, it is one of defiance, hostility, and opposition to our free society. It seeks to destroy, not to build; its whole approach is one of negativism: to criticize, belittle, denigrate –
Now I had to look that word up; I had never seen it before. –
denigrate the principles on which this nation was built. Cynicism, pessimism, and callousness are its motto. At its heart the new left is nihilistic and anarchistic.
Then as he continues his address, which is very long, he came to another paragraph in it:
Basic to [the new left’s] mood is the idea that contemporary American society, contemptuously called, "the establishment," is corrupt, evil, and malignant, and must be destroyed. To reform it, to change it for the better is impossible. It must, along with its Judaic-Christian values, be liquidated.
[from "SDS College Orientated, It’s Goal-to Liberate Society" by Larry Krasulak, in The Beachcomber, Vol XXX No 21, Lake Worth, FL, March 10, 1969]
Now that’s what J. Edgar Hoover says of the goals of these agitators that you see throughout the length and breadth of America, walking up and down these streets, intimidating officials in our universities who don’t have any backbone, period, exclamation point! And a thousand other things that are occurring and coming to pass in America. Now as I say, as I read of the times of our Lord and that propensity to violence on the part of those agitators, it reminds me of our day and of our generation.
Now, the discipleship into which Jesus was calling these men was an altogether different kind of discipleship. For this was a discipleship to save men’s souls, and to save men’s lives, and ultimately to save the people and the nation. What a contrast, and what an unbelievable one! Do you remember the story of James and John, two of those men He called here? He nicknamed them Boanerges, Boanerges. He called them that, "Sons of Thunder" because they were so volitive. They were so fiery.
Do you remember the story told in the ninth chapter of Luke when He sent out those boys, those young men, those young disciples? He set them into a village of Samaria and there to prepare for His coming, like Dr. Bryant and Mel Carter sometimes do in preparing for a crusade, He sent those disciples before Him to prepare for His coming into the village. And the Samaritans wouldn’t receive Him, they wouldn’t open their doors to Him, they wouldn’t have Him [Luke 9:52-53]. And when John and James came back to the Lord, they said, "Lord, the time has come. Bid fire to come down from heaven and destroy them, burn them up alive, turn them into ashes!" [Luke 9:54]. And the Lord said, "You do not know what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them" [Luke 9:55-56]. This is a discipleship in an altogether different world. This is a discipleship of salvation, of winning, of seeking, of saving. "Follow Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men."
Before I leave this, may I say one other word? Believe me, the future and the destiny of our nation, and of our young people, and of our country does not lie in the hands of those who are violent and seek by violence to tear its structure apart. But if we have any future, and if we have any destiny, it lies in the dedication of followers of Christ who are seeking souls for Him. "Follow Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men" [Mark1:17].
Now I’m going to turn to the story as Luke tells it. And we’re going to follow the especial call to Simon Peter. In the fifth chapter this same story is told by Luke, and he says it like this, that the Lord was teaching by the side of the sea, and great crowds pressed around Him [Luke 5:1]. And in order to speak to them, they were about to shove Him into the water:
He saw two boats there: and the fishermen gone out of them, washing their nets. And He entered into one of the ships, one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and said to him, Thrust out a little from the land, and He sat down and He taught the multitudes who were there on the shore.
And when He had left speaking, He said to 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 night long – we have fished the entire night and have taken nothing: nevertheless at Thy word I will do it, I will let down the net.
And when they had done it, they enclosed a great shoal of fishes: and the net began to tear apart, so great was the catch.
And they beckoned to their partners, Peter and Andrew, beckoned to their partners, James and John, and they came and filled up both the boats.
And when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
And the Lord said to him, Fear not Simon, Fear not, for from now on thou shalt catch men – from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
Now that is the special call and particular call to Simon, the big fishermen. And you’ve heard me said when the novelist entitled his novel, his story The Big Fisherman, he entitled it correctly. There are several things in the Bible – and I haven’t time to mention them now – that give you the impression that Simon must have been a giant of a man physically, stronger than seven other men, stronger than six other men [John 21:8-11]. Simon Peter was an especial one in the discipleship of our Lord.
When LeeRoy and I were in Israel last September – last September, isn’t it September, you and I? October. October, he says it’s February; man! October. It was October. We had a guide – I’m never gonna ask you anything more while I’m preaching. He’s not awake! Our guide, Israel Sulkowicz, had one thing he wanted us to do, and that was to eat a dinner at a place that he loved himself on the northern slope on the Sea of Galilee, overlooking the full length and breadth of the sea, and he wanted us to have a dinner of fish. And when we sat down he said, "This is called St. Peter’s fish." It’s a little crappie, just about the size of a big man’s hand and of course deliciously fried and prepared in one of the most delightful meals that we have ever eaten. Now do you remember that?
[LeeRoy Till] "I do."
You remember that?
[LeeRoy Till] It was good fish.
St. Peter’s fish out of the Sea of Galilee.
Now when this thing happened, the Book says when Simon Peter saw it, that great catch of fish, he fell down at Jesus knees, saying, "Depart from me Lord; for I am a sinful man" [Luke 5:8]. Now we’re going to follow through that whole story, fishing for men. Now look:first the Lord said, "Now you launch out there in the deep, and let down your nets for a draught" [Luke 5:4]. And Simon Peter said, "Lord, we fished all night long, all night long, and have caught nothing, and have caught nothing. Lord, it is a waste of time; there are no fish here, none here, there just isn’t. We’ve tried the entire night, and this is the early morning, and there is no fish to be found" [Like 5:5]. And when he enclosed that great shoal of fish, then the story, falling at Jesus’ feet, "Lord, Lord I am a sinful man, I can’t fish. I can’t fish. How could I be a fisher of men?"
For you see, the occasion of it, and you can just follow it through plainly if you look carefully. The Lord Jesus; Simon could see: the Lord Jesus could look down into that lake, and He could look through those waters, and He saw that whole shoal of fish right out there. And Simon Peter could see immediately, that the same Lord God that could see through the waters and down to the bottom of that lake and that shoal of fish, was the same Lord God that could see through him and to the depths of his own heart. And he said, "Lord, Lord, Lord, I can’t be a fisher of men." And he fell at Jesus’ knees, "I am a sinner man, Lord" [Luke 5:8].
Isn’t that a funny thing? I talked to a man this week trying to get him to Jesus, and he did what I’ve heard men do ten thousand times multiplied in my ministry. Telling me how good he is, and how fine he is, and how upright he is, and how moral he is, and how honest he is, and how fine he is, and how righteous, and on and on and on and on. And course all I can do is just nod, "Yes, that’s right, I know, I know you’re an honest man. I know you’re a good man." And you know, it is so strange. The farther a man is away from God the better he thinks he is. Man, I’m walking in the light of the goodness of my own life, I don’t need another torch, I’m able and sufficient to myself. The farther a man is away from God the better he thinks he is. And isn’t it a strange thing: the nearer a man gets to God, the more sinful he feels himself to be. Isn’t that strange? And when you get real close to Jesus, you just abhor yourself, like Job. You read the nineteenth chapter of Job and see what Job thought of himself. But at the end in the forty-second chapter, "Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" [Job 42:6]. Now that’s what happened to Simon Peter.
Well, the second thing: and the Lord said to him, "Launch out into the deep, and let down thy nets for a draught." And Simon Peter said, "Lord, I have toiled all night long and haven’t caught anything" [Luke 5:4-5]. Well, failure is just a sign for us to begin again, that’s all. Let’s start over again, that’s all. Let’s try again, that’s all. Because when you work for Jesus, you’re going to meet lots of failure. And Simon Peter says, "Lord, I can’t be a fisher. Why, I’ve toiled and toiled and toiled, and I haven’t caught anything. I can’t catch fish." And believe me, the spirit of a true fisherman is sure one of trying all over again. Let’s start again.
I wish I had time to tell you a story that Wiley Chapman got me into in my little church in Kentucky. Down there not far from us flowed the Barren River. And he is a born fisherman; Wiley Chapman was a young teacher in the high school there where I was pastor. So he took me down there and he said to me – camping, you know, on the river – and he said to me, "Now the first thing we do, we gonna get this net and we’re gonna run up and down this river catching minnows. We’ve got to have them for bait." So I got on one end of that net, and he got on the other end of that net, and we ran against the stream, and we did that all day long. We ran against that stream. We didn’t run down it; we ran against it! And when the sun went down I was dead. I was dead, I was deader than Lee Roy Till is this morning and that’s real dead. I was dead!
Now he had a new box, and it had mesh wire all around it, and every time we’d run up there and get those minnows for bait, we’d put them in that mesh cage. And the cage was stuck down in the water to keep the minnows alive, and anchored, you know, to a limb there. Well, after all day long a running against that stream and catching those little old things and sticking them in that cage, why, he went away for some errand and I laid down, I collapsed down exhausted on the sandbank there where that cage was tied.
And after I had lain there a little while, I thought I’m going to look to see the fruit of our day’s work. And I went over there and I pulled that cage out of the water, and to my horror there wasn’t a minnow in it, not one! And I looked at that thing closely – he had just had it made – and the carpenter had tacked it all the way around on all those sides, but there was one side at the bottom that he had forgotten to tack and every one of those minnows had just swum right out of that bottom, and there wasn’t any left. Well, when he came back I said, "You go pull up that cage of those minnows and look at it." And he pulled it up and he said something not very nice, even though he was a Christian.
Well, I said, "Our fishin’s off, isn’t it?" "Oh no," he said, "you come with me!" Why, he was not discouraged at all after he got it out of his system. Sometimes I think it’s better to do that than it is to take it out on your wife or the dog or something. And you know what that guy did? He started all over again with me. He got me on the other side of that net, and evidently the river had overflowed in days past, and he took me to those dark smelly water holes where the water had been stagnant for no telling how long, and we went down into every one of those holes seining for crawdads. They are the awfulest looking critters that God ever made, a crawdad. Oh! It’s an insult to intelligence just to pick one of them up. Oh! And I sink down, mud over my knees sometimes, almost over my head where the hole would fall off. And we went clear through all of that until the midnight hour, getting crawdads in order to put them on those trotlines that he’d had across that river. Well, I got to stop telling that story, but there’s a whole lot more to it that that.
I want you to know; I never saw anything in my life like fishermen. If he’s a fisherman, nothing discourages him. "They’re not here, that’s right, but boy they’re over there." When you go over, "Well, they’re not over here, but man they’re over there." "Well, they’re not there, but they’re there over there." That’s a fisherman!
And that’s what God said to Simon Peter, "Simon, you have toiled all night long and you have not caught anything. Listen Simon, that is just the sign to start all over again." And Simon Peter said, "Lord, I do not know about that. I tell You this is the driest haul I have ever made in my life. Nevertheless, at Thy word, I will let down the net. I will try again" [Luke 5:5].
All right, a third thing in that story: and the Lord sat down and talked to people out of the ship [Luke 5:3]. And Simon Peter listened to Him, and when the Lord said, "Simon, you are going to do that too; you are going to catch fish for men, you are gonna speak for Me," and Simon Peter looked and said, "Lord, how in the world could I do that? How could I do that?" Listening to the Lord speak about God, and salvation, and all the rich treasures in glory. "Lord, I can’t fish for men. I can’t talk like that." He fell utterly unable and inadequate.
Did you know I’ve lived through that? Oh, I haven’t words to describe it. When I was introduced to my first little congregation, I trembled from head to foot. It frightened me to death. My little country church of about eighteen members; it frightened me to death. And when I stood up to preach on Sunday morning, I would spend the entire Sunday afternoon crying. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say it. I had it in my soul, but I just couldn’t preach it. And every Sunday afternoon, get off to myself and cry. Did you know to this day, this present day, time after time after time, I’ll have dreams at night, and that same feeling of inadequacy and unableness will come over me, as I dream that I’m preaching to you.
Let me pause here to say how God blesses. They had a pulpit committee here of seven, six men and one woman, who called me as pastor to the church. And one of the men was very definitely for another man that he wanted to be called here. And after I preached here, when the committee met, that man said, "That boy is the preacher; that’s the one!" And they turned to him in amazement and said, "Why, why, we don’t understand. What made you change like that?" And he said – he was one of the deacons seated right down there on the front row – he said, "When that boy stood up to preach, I was close enough, and I watched the Bible in his hand, and his hand trembled as he held the Word of God." And the deacon said, "I’ve been here a long time" – and he had been; he was raised in this church. He said, "Time after time do I see preachers come and stand in that pulpit, and they do it as though this were just common stuff. This is just doing what I do all the time; this is just another occasion." "But," he said, "For the first time he stood there, and the Bible was shaking in his hand."
Isn’t that funny? I knew that Bible was shaking in my hand; I couldn’t keep it from shaking. I trembled before the Lord and before this church, and when I went home, I said to God, "Lord, I’m so ashamed of myself. I just seemingly can’t ever do it! And standing there before the people, and the Bible shake in my hands." Isn’t it amazing? And that that was the thing; that was the thing; I was ashamed of it before the Lord and told Him so. That was the thing that put it on that deacon’s heart; "That’s God’s man, and he’s our man." That feeling of inadequacy just drives you to your knees, and Simon Peter saw it and fell down at Jesus’ knees, "Lord, I can’t fish. I can’t fish. Depart from me, Lord [Luke 5:8]; and unable, and not gifted. Lord, I can’t." And the Lord God said, "Simon, it is a man like that I am looking for. Fear not; stand up Simon. From now on you are going to catch fish" [Luke 5:10]. And how he did! The Lord said to him, "Satan’s desired to have you that he may sift you like wheat, but when you are converted – when you turn around – strengthen thy brethren" [Luke 22:31-32].
On the coals of fire, fish for breakfast, and the Lord, who had seen and heard him deny Him three times, the Lord said, "Lovest thou me? Then Simon follow Me unto death, fishing for men" [John 21:15-17]. And at Pentecost, it is this man who fell on his face before the knees of Jesus. It’s this man who is God’s preacher for the hour [Acts 2:14-42]. And in Samaria, it is this man who opens the door to the Samaritans [Acts 8:14-25]. And in Caesarea, it is this man who opens the door to the Gentiles [Acts 10:34-48]. "Fear not Simon; stand up, from henceforth, thou shalt catch men" [Luke 5:10b].
Well, it’s a great calling, isn’t it? It’s a heavenly commitment, isn’t it? And we’re at it and we’re in it. And more and more, as God shall give us grace, we shall pray to turn the energies of our church and of our own lives to testimony and to witness, for the saving of the lost, for the saving of the home, for the saving of the life, for the saving of the nation. God bless our testimony, fishing for souls.
Now we’re going to sing our song of appeal. And as we sing it, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give your heart to Jesus, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, would you come? Would you make it now? "Here I am, pastor, here I come." On the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now, make it now. Make that decision now. Turn to your wife and say, "Wife, let’s go; let’s go." Do it now. Then when you stand up, stand up coming, and stand up by me down here. Now let’s stand and sing.