Fishing Where the Fish Are
May 18th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
FISHING WHERE THE FISH ARE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-18-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Fishing Where the Fish Are, not where they are not. On Tuesday night, we are having a meeting – and one of the most significant ones – we are having a meeting of some of the men of our church. And we are organizing a Fisherman’s Club, and we are putting together in one circle the manpower of our church, all of which is dedicated to a very definite and precisely defined end. We are going to try to do what a church ought to do and what Jesus commissioned us to do. We are going fishing.
Now these several sermons are built around the theme of "Fish, Fishing, and Fisherman" – and the message today, Fishing Where the Fish Are. In the addendum to the Gospel of John, the Fourth Gospel, the sainted apostle wrote an addition after he had finished it. And it is a tribute to Simon Peter – we haven’t time to speak of that – but in that incident that the apostle describes, there are seven of those disciples who are in Galilee waiting for the appointed rendezvous with the risen Lord.
And while they are waiting, they go fishing; toiled all night long, fished all night long, and caught nothing [John 21:3]. Now that is the way the fishermen do when I am along. They don’t catch anything. Now either they’re lying to me or I’m a Jonah, because they say, "Now before you were here," or, "After you’re gone, why, we catch all kinds of fish," but they don’t do it when I’m with them. I think they’re lying, that’s what I think. Well, that’s what happened here, they didn’t catch anything. All night long they fished and caught nothing. Now in the gray mist of the morning, a shadowy figure on the shore. It was Jesus, raised from the dead; of course they could not recognize Him [John 21:4]. And He lifted up His voice and He said, "Have you caught anything? Children have you any meat? Have you caught any fish?" And they replied, "No! [John 2:5]. Not even a minnow, no! We haven’t caught anything." And Jesus said unto them, "The reason is, you are not fishing where the fish are. Now take up your net and put your net down where the fish are." So they lifted up the net and put it on the right side of the boat where the fish were and they caught such a multitude of fishes they were not able to draw it in [John 21:6].
How do you like that? That’s good, and it has an incomparable message for us because that’s what we do; we fish where there are no fish. And we don’t do it singly, or incidentally, or adventitiously, or accidentally; we do it on purpose! And it is the program of our church. We fish where there are no fish. For example, our Sunday school classes, we fish there; and there in most of our classes they have not a single unsaved soul enrolled in it, nor do they have any unsaved souls present. So if you fish there, you’re not going to catch any fish.
And how much more is that true with the organized life of our church? For they are made up of members, purposely so. Our Training Union, there are no fish there; they’re training in church membership. Our Woman’s Missionary Union, there’s no fish there; they are all members of the church. Our Men of the Church, there are no fish there. We fish where there are no fish, and not only that but the same thing is true with our church services. We fish here; and there’s no fish to be caught.
An organization, one of those statistically minded ones, took a survey of all the churches. And they found that on any given ordinary Sunday, in the entire day, there are not as many as five who attend church who are not saved. And when you fish in church, you are fishing where there are no fish! Well, does that point out and emphasize the spiritual bankruptcy of the congregation of the Lord? No, not at all, for you can read that Book from side to side and front to back and you’ll never find in that Book where God or the Holy Spirit or the Lord Jesus, any of Them, said that we were to depend upon the lost coming to church and preaching sermons to them and they get saved. It just isn’t in there.
But what the Lord said constantly was this: that we were to go out where the lost were; we are to fish where the fish are. Well, then why do we do it here at the church? Well, we got a reason for it: it’s convenient here, it’s easy here, it’s salubrious here, it’s felicitous here, it is happily arranged here. Why, look at all these pretty things we have in the embellishment of our church. We’ve got pews to sit on that have cushions, and we have carpets on the floor, and we have stained-glass windows that are pretty, and we have a fine beautiful and acceptable service. And we like to fish here because it’s convenient and easy.
It’s like that fellow. There came a big rain, came a big rain and there was a mud puddle in his front yard, and he got his rod and his tackle; he got his fishing gear. He set his rocker on the porch, and while he sat in the rocker on the porch, he was fishing in that mud puddle in his front yard. And somebody came along and said, "Man, don’t you know there are no fish there? What you a-doin’?" He said, "I know there’re no fish here, but it’s such a convenient place." That’s the way we are.
Now, this gives me opportunity to point up and to point out the difference between Jesus’ way and our way. First, about fishing. Here’s the way we fish. We build a big fishing edifice, and then we stand up behind a P.A. system or with a microphone and we lift up our voices, and we say, "All of you fishes out there, come up and get caught, all of you! You bass swimming over there, you crappie swimming over there, and you mudcats down here on the bottom of the lake or the stream, come up here and get caught!" That’s the way we fish. But what the Lord said was, "Launch out into the deep, and let your nets down for a draught" [Luke 5:4]. Or as in my text, "Quit fishing where there aren’t any fish." Pick up that net and let it down where the fish are [John 21:6]. That’s Jesus’ way!
All right, let’s look at Him again. Here’s the way we do about the sheep. We build on the edge of the wilderness a nice salubrious fold. And we put on the side of that fold a big sign, and the sign reads, "All of you lost sheep out there in the wilderness, if one of you happens to stray by and come into the fold, we’ll preach a sermon to you and hope you get saved." That’s the way we do it. But Jesus said that the shepherd left the ninety and nine, and went out into the wilderness and searched for the sheep that was lost until He found it [Luke 15:4]. Now here again, the way we do is we try three times and then drop them from the roll, but Jesus said seek the lost sheep in the wilderness until you find it.
All right, again: here’s the way we sow the field; we take a stance behind a pulpit desk or in a Sunday school class, and we say, "All you fields out there, come up and get sown! I’ve got a patch over there I want to sow in barley, and this one in wheat, and this one in maize, and this one in cattle corn. Now all you fields out there, you come up and get sown." That’s the way we do it. But Jesus said, "A sower went forth to sow" [Matthew 13:3b]. And out there in the fields He planted the word of God. That’s the way we are in Zion. We love the comfort and the ease of Zion and we hibernate in it and like it. We are pleased with it, we are comfortable in it, and here we are, and here we sit [Amos 6:1, 4-6].
But Jesus said our ministry was to be in the highways, and the hedges, and the byways, and the streets, and the lanes of the city [Luke 14:23]. Here’s the way we would have done it. We would have gone down on the road toward Gaza, and at a prominent bend in the road, there would we have erected an impressive edifice. Then, if a prominent Ethiopian eunuch treasurer of the nation were to come by, why, he might come in, and we’d preach a sermon to him and hope he’d get saved. "But the Holy Spirit said to deacon Philip, ‘Go near, and join thyself to this chariot’" [Acts 8:29]. What a difference.
Take just once again, the harvest. Here’s the way we do it. On such and such day, we’re going to preach the gospel, and on such and such day we’re going to have a series of protracted meetings. Now, all of you saints come around the pastor, and we’re going to get down on our knees and we’re going to pray; "O Lord, Lord, Lord, send us a mighty harvest. O Lord, Lord, grant us a great ingathering. Amen." That’s the way we do it.
Now here’s what the Lord said to do. "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest" [Matthew 9:38]. Don’t need to worry about the ingathering, don’t need to worry about the harvest; if you have laborers out there, if you have witnesses out there, if you have reapers out there, if you have harvesters out there, God will give us a harvest! What we need to pray for is that God will send forth us: laborers, harvesters, reapers.
Now, you can already see the great fundamental principle that lies back of what I read in that blessed Book. We are to take the message out, witnessing, testifying, inviting, proclaiming. For three hundred years there were no church houses, and yet the time in Christian history that the church was the most dynamically regnant and powerful, in its course of two thousand years, was in those first three centuries, when they had no church house at all. They were out where the people are: this is the method of Christ, the way He taught, the way He practiced, and it was the method followed by the disciples.
And so effective is that method that Satan has attempted to impede it and to thwart it, and to hinder it through all of the centuries since. What Satan does is to try to contain the gospel. He puts it in four walls and tries to keep it there. Or he puts it behind monastic walls, high barriers, and tries to hide it there. But the message of Christ is to be taken out, and the method of God is to expose Jesus! I mean all of Him. Now you look at the method of God as He sent His Son into the world. Now you watch the method of God.
You have four evangelistic stories of the Lord Jesus, the four evangelists, the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They’ll speak of the life of our Lord, then when they come to the Passion week, there they expatiate. They’ll briefly identify here and summarize there, but here they take time. It’s the great week of our atonement, our salvation, and here’s the way they do it.
It begins on Palm Sunday, Palm Sunday, and on that Sunday the Lord is publicly, openly presented to the whole world. This is the great consummation of prophetic history, and the people are shouting, even the little children are. "Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the Son of David! Glory to God" [Matthew 21:9]. And the whole city and the whole earth is moved with the coming of the Messiah. That’s the way it starts. Then when He is tried, He is tried before the high priest, then He is tried before the Sanhedrin, then He is tried openly and publicly before the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate [Matthew 26:57-68, 27:1-2, 11:26]. Then He is crucified in some hidden spot, clandestinely, secretively, furtively, in the night, in the dark, no!
He is crucified openly and publicly out beyond the city walls [John 19:20]. Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two golden candelabras, but on a hill just outside the main gate. Not between two candlesticks but between two thieves [Matthew 27:38] and in a place so open and so public that it took three languages [John 19:19-20] for the passers-by to know why He was condemned and executed. That’s the way the Lord ordained that the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, when He came into the world should be openly exposed to the whole creation, where men and angels can look upon Him.
And that is the purpose of God in our history today, except we repudiate it. We deny our own heritage and refuse to follow our own Book. Yet how full of strength and how full of dynamic power when a people will do that: expose the Lord. Take Him out, let the people look at Him, let the people see Him, let them hear Him, look at Jesus, expose Him!
In my reading, somewhere – I read so much I can’t remember sometimes – but in my reading somewhere, I read about a church that was renovated. It may have been in the war and the thing was bombed, or it may have been old, old, old. That’s my feeling in remembrance, that it was in disrepair. And they were repairing the church. Now it was the kind of a church that had statues of Jesus in it. So in repairing the building, they took the statue of the Lord Jesus and sat it out there on the sidewalk in front of the church, in the middle of a downtown busy city.
And the story that I read about it said that that statue of Christ on the sidewalk, for the few days it was there, attracted more attention, and more conversation, and more thoughtful looking, and reverential gazing than all of the years it had been there inside of that cathedral. For people walking down the sidewalk looked at the statue of the Lord, and they stopped and reverently gazed at the likeness of the Lord. And they spoke of it and pointed to it, and there were thousands who saw it who had never known it was inside of the four walls; exposing the Lord Jesus.
Some time ago, we had a presidential election here in the United States of America. And one of those candidates had a lot of heavy hair, and talked with a certain brogue, and had a certain stance and look. Now, there is an axiom in politics, "Don’t overexpose your candidate," because if you do, you’ll likely to lose. Don’t overexpose your candidate. So in that election, they turned a camera on that bushy-headed candidate – he was a young man and a nice looking fellow.
And as they did so and as they watched it, one of the network executives said, "You can’t overexpose that guy!" And they took that as a cue. "You can’t overexpose that guy." And he won the presidency of the United States of America for one reason only, and that was a TV camera exposed him, and his opponent just withered beneath the glare of those television cameras.
I am saying to you: you can’t overexpose the Lord Jesus Christ; you can’t do it. Take Him anywhere, present Him anywhere, talk about Him anywhere, lift Him up anywhere, exalt Him anywhere, preach about Him anywhere, sing about Him anywhere, write about Him anywhere. You can’t overexpose the Lord Jesus. He measures up in any circle: academic, scientific, theological, anthropological, sociological, psychiatrical, psychological. Any way you name Him, He will stand higher than the heavens are high. He is the incomparable, unapproachable, unlike One.
The blessed, blessed Lord Jesus; you can’t preach about Him too much, or talk about Him too much, or love Him too much, or exalt Him too much, or worship Him too much. You can’t overexpose the Lord Jesus. And that is our one assignment. Why, the preacher who stands up in the pulpit to defend the gospel, to apologize for the Book is wasting his time. All Jesus needs and all the Book needs is exposing; just deliver its message, proclaim its word. It needs no apology. It needs no defense.
I feel like Charles Hadden Spurgeon, speaking about the Book and about the Lord of the Book. He said, "Needs no apology, needs no defense. It’s like a lion, just loose him and he will defend himself." I feel that way about the Lord and the message of the Bible. No apology, no defense, much less from puny, made of the ground and dust and ashes, such as I. Just proclaim it, just say it, just lift Him up, just expose Him. Let the whole world gaze upon the matchless and incomparable Son of God! That’s what we’re assigned to do.
Now, in the little moment that remains, I want to take one little leaf out of doing that. Did you ever wonder as you come down here to church, we do things here in church that nobody else does? And I like that. I’d hate to be a girl that wanted a dress and the same dress that all the other girls were wearing; I’d like to have a little different kind of a dress if I were a girl. I just believe I would. If I had the money I’d go to Christian Dior and have him make one just for me, so that nobody in the world had one just like it. That’s what I’d like.
Well, we do some things here in this church that nobody else does, just little old idiosyncrasies, and here’s one of them. When we hold up our hands to greet the folks that God has given us, I say, "All of you with the pastor who are happy to welcome, hold up your hand high and say, ‘Amen.’" Well, nobody on the earth does that but we. So, would you like to know where that came from? Well, I want to tell you; I want to tell you. Long time ago, before we had a television service, when we just had a radio service, long time ago one of my fishermen in the church, one of the men, went knocking at the door and behold he stumbled upon a blind couple. And he visited with them, and he found out that every Lord’s Day that blind couple listened to the pastor on the radio, and they expressed the desire to come to church. So this fellow member of our dear church came to me and said, "Pastor, there is a blind couple that I have found, visiting, knocking at the door, and they want to come to church. Would it be all right for them to come?" I said, "Why, we’d just be delighted." "Oh, but pastor, wait now, wait. Each one has a seeing-eye dog, and if the couple comes to church, they must bring the two dogs with them. Now do you want two dogs in the church along with the blind couple?"
"Well," I said, "Yes, but just to be sure, I’ll take it to the congregation." So I brought it here to the congregation, and I told them about that blind couple and their two seeing-eye dogs. And I said, "All of you who would be in favor of welcoming the two blind people and their two dogs, would you hold up your hands." And all of our people held up their hands. It was unanimous; we never have a negative vote in this church as we say. Well, it was unanimous. It was unanimous. So they came to church, and they sat over there in that little area and their seeing-eye dogs by their sides.
You don’t come to this church and God not do something to you. You’d have to be a stone image; you’d have to be a brass monkey if you come to this church and you don’t feel something happen on the inside of you. You’ve either got to respond or you have to quit, one or the other. Well, they came and sat down over there with their dogs. And as they came and the days passed, God spoke to their hearts, and on a Sunday morning, down the aisle they came. And they told me they’d found the Lord, and they wanted to be received as candidates for baptism here in this dear church. Well, I was so glad, I was so glad.
And when I presented them, like I’d been doing all the years of my life, I said, "All of you that are happy to receive these two blind people, would you hold up your hand?" So everybody held up his hand. Then one of the deacons – he was seated right down there – one of the deacons said, "Pastor, they can’t see us hold up our hands. Why don’t you say, ‘All of us who are happy to receive this blind couple say, ‘Amen.’" "Well," I said, "wonderful! All of you dear people that are happy to receive this blind couple, will you say, ‘Amen’?"
And we just shook – we had chandeliers in this old church – and we just shook those old chandeliers like that. "Amen!" We were so delighted to have them. Well, the days continued, and I want you to know, you never saw such faithful folks coming to church in your life, always over there in that corner. And you never saw such lovely, faithful, reverential dogs in your life, over there in that corner, right over there in that corner. And bless you, I want you to know that upon a day one of my fine members came to me and said, "Pastor, I have been a-watching that blind couple and how faithful they are, but I also have been watching those two dogs. I’ve never seen such faithful dogs, such reverent well behaved dogs. And," he said, "pastor, if you don’t mind, at the next session of our church on Sunday morning, I’m going to make a motion that we take those two dogs also into the membership of our church."
That’s the Lord; that’s the Lord. Why, I, you, anybody who’s ever witnessed to Jesus could stand up all over this place and take a leaf out of your life, how God has given you a trophy. Fishing, fishing where the fish are, out there where the folks are. Our problem is not the not-church-going sinner, our problem is the not-going-church. I’m not saying you’re going to catch all the fish. I don’t suppose any fisherman ever thought that he did. However many he caught, that were that many more in the lake, that many more in the river, and however these seamen fare, there are that many fish left in the sea. The Lord told us that Himself in the parable of the sower:
Some fell by the wayside and the birds ate it up.
Some fell on stony ground.
Some fell amid thorns that choked it.
But some fell on fertile, plowed ground and bore a hundredfold increase to God.
[Matthew 13:4-5a, 7-8]
I don’t say that when we go out, we’re going to win them all. No, because we’re not. But I do say this: if you sow the seed, some of it will grow. If you go fishing, some of them, you’ll catch. And if you testify to the grace of the Lord Jesus and knock at the door, fishing where the fish are, God will give you some. And that’s our mandate [Matthew 28:19-20], our assignment, and blessed and happy is the pastor, and the staff,
and the deacons, and the teachers, and the church leaders, and the membership that fulfills God’s will for us – testifying, witnessing, inviting, loving, praying, bringing to the blessed, blessed Jesus. Now may the Holy Spirit sanctify and hallow the testimony of this hour.
In a moment, we shall stand to sing, and while we sing that appeal, a family you, will you come and stand by me. A couple you, or one somebody you. "Pastor, today I give my heart to the blessed Jesus, and here I am. Here I come." Or, "Pastor, we’re putting our lives in this church. This is my wife, these are our children; all of us are coming today." Or just you, as God shall make the appeal, shall press the appeal; while we sing this song, won’t you come? Make the decision now; do it now. And in a moment when we stand, stand up coming, and God bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
WHERE THE FISH ARE
A. Fishing in the wrong
B. We do it on purpose
– the program of the church
C. It’s convenient and
II. Our way vs. Jesus’ way
A. Fish (Luke 5:4, John 21:6)
B. Sheep (Luke 15:4)
C. Field (Matthew 13:3b)
D. Housed vs. the road (Luke 14:21b, 23, Acts 8:29)
E. Harvest (Matthew 9:38)
III. How is the work done?
A. We are to take the
message out, witnessing, testifying, inviting
B. The four evangelistic
stories of the Lord Jesus
1. Whole earth
moved with coming of the Messiah (Matthew 21:9)
C. The exposure of
1. Our assignment
IV. The blessedness of the reward
1. Blind couple
B. If you sow the seed,
some of it will grow (Matthew 13:4-5a)