Sermon Series: Fish, Fishing, Fishermen: Jonah
April 27th, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-27-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor announcing the theme for these next several sermons that are not involved in a special day, such as Mother’s Day, and such as our Memorial Supper Day, which will be this coming Sunday. The general theme will be “Fish, Fishing, and Fishermen.” And the great reason that lies back of what I am preaching is this. The time has come, we believe, under God, in His wisdom and direction, the time has come for us to organize in our church, put together the many facets in our church of the work of our men.
Now beyond what any of us can remember, I cannot remember when we did not have in our churches a dedicated band, organized, efficient, committed of women. My mother belonged to the Ladies’ Aid and worked in it. Then when it became Woman’s Missionary Union, she belonged and worked in one of the societies. So in this church, one of the finest dedicated efforts in our church is Woman’s Missionary Union. They’re divided into three societies, and they further so many wonderful and blessed ministries in our midst. Our girls’ auxiliaries, our missions studies, oh and how many other areas I haven’t time to delineate.
Now we’re going to do the same thing with the men in our church. We’re going to have one tremendous organization with a director and under that director we’re going to have Baptist Men with a president, a leader; and then Baptist Young Men with a president and a leader; and then a designated effort for our Royal Ambassadors, our ministry to boys and teenagers. Then we’re going to have a Fisherman’s Club in that group of six hundred soul-winning men. Our Junior Board will be a part of it. Our mission ministries every year—and this is becoming a pattern into which the Holy Spirit has led us—every year our men ought to and are and are getting ready to, our men are dedicating themselves to some ministry of missions outside of our own nation, sometimes maybe here in our own country, but mostly outside of our country.
This summer there’ll be some of us down in the River Valley and some of us in Old Mexico, as recently we were in northwestern Canada. Then next year, in 1970, we’re going to Japan. When the Baptist Word Alliance convenes in Tokyo, we ought not go over there and just sit and look. We ought to go over there and do something for God. So, the biggest Baptist Church in Tokyo has asked our First Baptist Church here in Dallas to be a part of a great evangelistic effort there.
And this preacher is going to hold the revival meeting. And we ought to have at least a hundred men there visiting, knocking at doors, bringing those Japanese businessmen, professional men and citizens of Nippon to the services. And our Chapel Choir ought to be there singing the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. And that’s just a little review, a tiny one, of what we’re proposing to do. It is a great soul-winning missionary commitment on the part of our men. And that’s why the theme of the messages: “Fish, Fishing, and Fishermen.”
So the first sermon starts off with Jonah. And the idea that is to be expressed in the sermon is when the fish caught the man, or running away from the Lord. “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying” [Jonah 1:1], His name was Jonah Amittai. They say it like this: Jonah the son of Amittai. You’ve got two names. All y’all have got at least two names. Well, that’s the way they said that. Jonah Amittai, like O’Leary and O’Daniel, that “son of” over there in Ireland. Or MacDonald and MacAllister, that’s “son of” in Scotland. Well, in the Bible, you’ll have a man designated. His name will be Jonah, they say son of Amittai, Jonah Amittai. The Lord sent word to him and said, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city” [Jonah 1:2], and it was a great city. It was founded by Nimrod, one of the ancient cities of the world. And it existed until 612 BC.
Go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me.
But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: paid the fare, went down into it, and to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest, and the ship was about to be broken in two.
Then follows the story of those sailors as they got on their knees and pled before the God of heaven to spare them. Then they sought why the furious storm, and finally a lot fell on Jonah; and against their wills, but at his own pleading, he was cast into the sea [Jonah 1:4-15]. “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the prepared fish three days and three nights” [Jonah 1:17]. Then follows the story of his prayer and repentance [Jonah 2:1-10], “Then the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, “Go unto Nineveh, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee,” [Jonah 3:1-2]. And then follows the story of the greatest revival in human history [Jonah 3:3-10].
Now we’re going to take it, just as the Book presents it here, “The word of the Lord came unto Jonah Amittai saying, Go to Nineveh” and he refused to go [Jonah 1:1-3]. Now isn’t that something? Here is a prophet of the Lord, and elsewhere in the Bible you’ll find him mentioned, he was a prophet in Israel. He flourished a little before 750 BC.
Here’s a prophet of the Lord, but a prophet is not mechanism. He’s not an automaton. He’s a man in himself. He has his own will and his own volition, just as you have. And God doesn’t make us mechanical and automatic. We have choices, and even the prophets had choices. And this one had a choice, and he said, “I won’t do it. Nobody else has ever been called to go to Nineveh, and You can’t be serious in asking me. I’m not going to Nineveh,” said this sullen prophet of the Lord [Jonah 1:1-3].
Well, why not go to Nineveh? Was he afraid for his life? No, because Jonah was a brave man. When that furious storm bore down on the Mediterranean Sea and the whole crew and the ship were about to be lost, Jonah said, “Throw me into the deep, for the reason for this storm is on account of my disobedience to Almighty God” [Jonah 1:12]. He asked to be cast overboard and into the sea.
Well, that’s a brave man. And another reason I know he was a brave man, and his refusal to go to Nineveh was not because he was a coward—another reason I know he was a brave man was when he came to Nineveh, he preached against it and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4].
Now if you read your Bible at all, do you remember Jeremiah? When Jeremiah announced to Jerusalem that Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army was going to destroy the city, they arrested him and put him down in a miry pit to die [Jeremiah 38:6]. And had it not been for the compassion of some friends and the acquiescence of the king, Jeremiah would have died there in that miry pit [Jeremiah 38:7-13]. So Jonah took his life in his hands when he entered the city of Nineveh and said, “Yet forty days, and this city shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4]. That wouldn’t please any king or any ruler. I know he was a brave man, so he didn’t refuse to go to Nineveh because he was afraid.
Well, then why did he refuse to go to Nineveh? [Jonah 1:1-3]. Was it because he thought it would be waste of time, no reason to go, there’d be no converts there, there’d be no success there? Was that why Jonah refused to go? No, it was the very opposite, he was afraid he’d be successful. And isn’t that something? He didn’t want to preach the gospel of the Jehovah God in that heathen city because he was afraid they’d turn, and be converted, and be saved, and God would forgive their sins and deliver them from their iniquities [Jonah 4:1-2].
I’m not going to expatiate on that, but you’d better look at your heart real good. Do you know people that you don’t witness to because you are afraid they might respond? Why, I’ve had people, leaders in this church, tell me that very thing. “I’m afraid they might come. I’m afraid they might respond.” Well, you say, “Pastor, that can’t be.” My brother, I don’t know of anything anymore “being” than that.
That’s exactly why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Now Assyria was a bitter foe of Israel, and just a little while after this story of Jonah, Assyria destroyed Samaria and took the northern ten tribes into captivity [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. And when Jonah thought of the prospect of those hated heathen being converted, he said, “I will not go. And I will not witness. And I will not testify, and I will not try to reach them” [Jonah 1:1-3].
So Jonah went to the opposite side of the earth [Jonah 1:3]. Now to a Hebrew, that side of the earth was Nineveh, over there in the Mesopotamian Valley, that’s to the east. And then just as far west as he could think of and he could know, just as far west was Tarshish [Jonah 1:3], the land and country of Spain. So he went to Joppa and said, “I’m going to the opposite side of the earth. I’m going to get away from all of those people over there on the other side.”
And he went down and bought his ticket, paid the fare [Jonah 1:3]. Isn’t that strange how human nature is? But we’re all like that. We will observe the pedantries of life, the littlenesses of life, the picayunish things of life, the minutiae of life, and yet finally the great tremendous will of Almighty God. And Jonah’s that. He’s an honest man. He’s a good man. He didn’t try to be a stowaway and get in that boat and go for nothing. He paid his fare [Jonah 1:3]. He’s an honest, good man, observing all of the amenities of life. Yet defying the will of Almighty God, there he is in the ship, and he says, “I’m going to flee from the presence of the Lord. I’m going to Tarshish” [Jonah 1:1-3]. And isn’t that funny? Just exactly where do you go, fleeing from the presence of the Lord? Do you remember the psalm:
Whither shall I flee from Thy Spirit? And whither shall I go from Thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.
If I rise on the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall Thy right hand lead me, and Thy hand shall hold me.
If I say, Yea, but the darkness will cover me; even the night is as the light unto me . . .
the day and the night are both alike unto Thee.
Just exactly where are you going to flee from the presence of the Lord? “Well, I’m going to the jumping off place,” and when you get to the farthest place, there you’ll be, and there God will be; so Jonah, going down into that ship to flee from the presence of the Lord, going to Tarshish [Jonah 1:3]. “And the Lord sent a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest” [Jonah 1:4]. My! What instruments God has to enforce His will. Ooh! What agents He has: wind and storm and tempest and fury. Oh! What things God has! Sometimes the Lord God reaches into His bag of damnation and pulls out things that just overwhelm you.
I think of that especially in the life of modern teenagers. “Ha! Watch us,” they say. Ha, ha! they say, and they throw everything overboard, and they become sexually promiscuous, and they take trips on LSD, and they just do everything. This is a permissive age, without restraint, and God reaches into His bag of damnation, and it isn’t long until you’ll see venereal disease rise one thousand percent among teenagers, and just like that. And it isn’t long until you see their minds in aberration from all of those drugs; and then the Lord only knows all of the reaping of the things that they do.
“Ha! Ha! I’m my own captain and I’m going to do what I like!”
Old Jonah, fleeing to Tarshish [Jonah 1:3]; and there he is in that boat, and he’s a long way off, and the Lord God crooks His finger to one of His winds and says, “Go get him! Go get him. Go get him” [Jonah 14]. Oh, but that wind could have said, “Lord, You don’t understand, he’s a long way off!” God says, “Go get him. Go get him. Go get him.” And I want you to know, when the wind gets a hold of a ship at sea, it’s hard to unloose its jaws. And there that whole ship is, and Jonah in it, just shaking to pieces, fleeing from the presence of the Lord.
Now the Lord has prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah [Jonah 1:17]. Now isn’t that something? “Fish, Fishing, and Fishermen.” Somebody asked, “Do all fishermen lie, or is it that just liars fish?” Oh, dear me! A man walking down the street accosted me and said, “I see the sign out there of your subject, ‘Fish, Fishing, and Fishermen.’ Are you a fisherman?” I said, “No, no I’m not. I’m not a fisherman; that’s a spiritual subject, but I want you to know what little I’ve gotten into it, I’m just like all the rest of them.” We have a deacon in our church named McAllister and he took me fishing down at Coon Creek one time.
And I got out in that boat with a cane pole, and he baited it with a minnow, and I threw it out there as far as I could throw, and I caught a fish. And it jumped out of the water trying to get loose from that hook, and he was so big he broke that cane pole in two! And when I came back and told my spouse about it, I said, “That fish was that—good night alive—that long!” You just naturally lie when you’re telling fish stories, you just do.
That lad there, Lee Roy, his brown eyes are so innocent and his face is so open and honest. You sit there and look at him and think how holy and pious, Lee Roy. Well, Lee Roy announced to me over there in Shreveport, he said, “Pastor, I’m getting up in the morning at four o’clock, and I’m going fishing with a guy who knows exactly where they are.” So, I didn’t see anything of him all day long until that night at the service in the big coliseum. And there he was, standing, leading ten thousand people in a great evangelistic song service.
And in the middle of his leading the singing, he came over to me where I had my head bowed in prayer and intercession for the lost, and he placed in my hand a little white piece of paper. Well, I thought, God bless him, God bless him, Lee Roy has a great burden on his heart. There must be a busload of lost sinners brought over here from his hometown in Louisiana, and he’s praying for them, and he wants me to know they’re here.
So I took that little white piece of paper he so demurely laid in my hands and I turned it over, and what I saw was a picture of Lee Roy Till holding up a ten-pound bass. I didn’t know whether to brain him, or kill him, or shoot him, or what, but there he was, holding up a ten-pound bass, and that guide over there looking at him with great admiration as he held up that big, big fish. Well, I found out he got it out of the deep freeze and holding it up there.
Now didn’t I say God’s got a whole bag full of damnations? Didn’t I say that? Do you know what he did that night? I never saw such a night in my life, and this shows you how God judges you. First of all he got up there, introduced my daughter Mable Ann to sing, and he introduced her as my sister. That’s the first thing he did.
The second thing he did was, he had prepared to sing a solo—you know, in the middle of all those things he does when he’s leading the great evangelistic song service, and the accompanist and the instruments, you know, and the choir’s doing a hum in the background. Well, when he began that solo, he was at least ten notes too high and the choir didn’t know what to do, and the instrumentalists didn’t know what to do. And then last of all, he got up to announce the hymn and he announced the wrong number. That’s the Lord. That’s the Lord.
“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah” [Jonah 1:17]. So they got out here and they look in the gullet of all these big whales and this and that and the other. It never says in the Bible that a whale swallowed Jonah. Over there in the New Testament, in this King James Version out of which I preach, it says a whale, but that is a wrong translation. Even in the Greek it says a “big fish,” and that’s what it says here. “The Lord prepared a great fish” [Jonah 1:17].
Now you listen to me. Whenever you take miracles out of the Bible, you take God out of it. And whenever you take miracle out of the universe, you take God out of the universe. Now look here at just this little story, and when I turn one page I’m already beyond the Book of Jonah in that story, you’ve just got miracle after miracle. There’s the miracle of the wind [Jonah 1:4]. There’s the miracle of the lot falling on Jonah [Jonah 1:7]. And there’s the miracle of the sea being calm when he’s thrown into it [Jonah 1:15]. And there’s the miracle—ah! And the Lord prepared a gourd to grow up, and the Lord prepared a worm to cut it down [Jonah 4:6-7], and the Lord prepared an east wind to make it wither [Jonah 4:8].
That’s God! And you don’t have God without miracle! The signature of God is miracle, and you can always know the presence of God by the miraculous. And God prepared a great fish [Jonah 1:17]. Well, God could have prepared that fish with ten rooms in him, and wall to wall carpeting, and radio and TV, and put the antenna from the dorsal fin back to his tail. That’s the Lord God; if it’s God, it’s always miraculous.
If God makes a flower, He will make it out of mud. It’s a miracle. If God makes something grow, He will make it out of a little dead seed. That’s God. And if God creates a universe, He will make it rhythmed and harmonious. If God has anything to do with anything, it’s miraculous. That’s the signature of God. That’s how you can know His presence: the miracle. The miracle of regeneration; if a man is converted; God has done something to his soul [John 3:3,7; Titus 3:5]. And that’s the way with this miracle. God prepared a fish [Jonah 1:17].
Now we must close. When that fish—and here’s a miracle—regurgitated Jonah out on the land, and God called him the second time [Jonah 3:1], he went to Nineveh, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in Jehovah, and they had the greatest revival in the world [Jonah 3:1-10]. Let me show you how great that revival was.
The greatest revival that we know of in human secular history was the revival Charles G. Finney held in Rochester, New York. There were 100,000 converts in that revival in a town that held 50,000 people. What happened was, all upper New York came to that meeting. And they were saved by the thousands and the thousands. The greatest, single revival the modern world has ever known was in Rochester, New York, under Charles G. Finney in about 1840, but that didn’t compare to this revival [Jonah 3:1-10].
Nineveh was a city that had 120,000 little children in it [Jonah 4:11]. You can figure from there how big the city was. It took three days to walk through it [Jonah 3:2], and that entire city turned to the Lord [Jonah 3:5-10]. That’s why Jesus refers to it in the twelfth chapter of Matthew, “repenting unto the preaching of Jonah” [Matthew 12:41]. There never was a revival like the revival Jonah held in the city of Nineveh. Oh, what God can do with a man who’ll obey His will!
Now let me add this little thing. Evidently there’s a message in this book, because it’s in the Book of the Prophets. It’s not in the Book of Histories; it’s in the Book of the Prophets. Evidently, God has a message for us. Well, what is that message? Briefly it is this: when I’m outside of the will of God, I’m in trouble. I’m in trouble. When I’m outside of the will of God, I’m in the tempest; I’m in the storm. And I can’t flee from it because wherever I go, I take myself with me. When I am outside of the will of God, when I refuse the voice and call of God, I’m in a hurricane, I’m in a fury, I’m in a storm, I’m in a tempest.
When I’m outside of the will of God, things don’t fit, because life is like a jigsaw puzzle. There’s a little piece here and there’s a little piece there, and a little piece yonder. Every old day is a piece, and when I’m outside of the will of God, it doesn’t fit; like a great building, and the blocks are numbered, but I don’t have it right and it doesn’t fit.
And another thing, when you’re outside of the will of God, every providence that overtakes you is a sign and a knocking that you’re not doing right. When you’re in the will of God, every trial that comes to you will be just like a testing to see if you are really committed, if you are really serious. But when you’re outside of the will of God every providence that overwhelms you is a sign to you that you’re not right with the Almighty. It is the most enervating, debilitating way to live in the earth, because you live defeated all the days of your life.
All right, the reverse, when you’re in the will of God: when you’re in the will of God, ah what God does with you. It is wonderful. It is marvelous, it is glorious. The most miraculous thing I think is spiritual history is the conversion of that entire city under the preaching of Jonah. A heathen, Assyrian capital and they all turned to the Lord. The king came down from his throne and sat in sackcloth and ashes. And even the beasts of the town were covered with sackcloth [Jonah 3:6-8]. The people cried mightily unto God. Every man turned from his evil way, all through the testimony of one man [Jonah 3:4-10]. And you know when you’re in the will of God, what God will do with you; He will use you to bring other people to the knowledge of the Lord. Never fails, never fails, never fails.
My thought is now for the souls of men
I have lost my life to find it again
Ere since one day in a quiet place,
I met the Master face to face.
[from “I Met My Master,” author unknown]
When you give your life to the will of God, God is going to use you and bless you. He will bring others to the knowledge of the Lord through you, people I could never reach; folks nobody but you could bring to the knowledge of Jesus. Well, bless us as we walk in the way, expecting the remembrance and benediction of heaven upon us.
Now Lee Roy, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing that song, somebody you, give himself in faith to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], come and stand by me. Or a couple you, or a family you, or just you, on the first note of the first stanza, into that aisle and down here to the front, come and stand by me. “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to the Lord.” Or, “Pastor, today we’re putting our lives in prayer and service to the blessed Jesus by your side in this wonderful church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. On the first note of the first stanza, come. God bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.