The Big Fisherman
May 25th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
THE BIG FISHERMAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-25-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Big Fisherman. And as you would know, it is a sermon on Simon Peter. And the background of the message is the tenth and the eleventh chapters of the Book of Acts. The Gospel story in the great Galilean ministry begins with the call of those four fishermen: Andrew and Simon, and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John [Matthew 4:18-22]. And the Lord especially picked out Simon and gave him a new name. He called him Cephas [John 1:42], that is Aramaic; he called him Petros, that is Greek [Matthew 16:18]. He called him “rock,” that would be English, and said to Simon Peter, “Simon, Cephas, Simon the rock, follow Me and I will make you to become a fisher of men” [Matthew 4:18-19].
Then in the years that followed, the Lord trained the big fishermen how to catch fish. First of all he must realize that not all will respond; they will not all turn; they will not all believe; they will not all accept. You are not going to catch all of the fish. There are some who will not believe. They will not.
When the Lord instituted the Holy Supper He said, “This is My blood of the new covenant which is shed for many” [Matthew 26:28]. We could hope it might even be most but it did not say most; “which is shed for many,” for there are others who will not respond [Matthew 26:28]. In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, in the recounting of the first missionary journey, in Acts 13:48 the Bible says, “And as many as were ordained until eternal life believed.” There are those who are not ordained to eternal life. They are not going to believe. However much you pray or weep or beg or ask or cry or importune, they are not going to respond.
Well, there are those who say, “I just don’t believe in that doctrine.” How a little man made out of dust and ashes does not accept a doctrine is immaterial to Almighty God, for He is not bound by our little thoughts and circumscriptions. God runs this universe. All creation lies in His omnipotent hands. And in that Holy Book out of which I preach, He has revealed to us that there are those who are ordained to eternal life. There are some who are going to be saved. And the obverse of that coin is no different. There are some who are not going to be saved. You are not going to win them all.
Somebody said to Charles Haddon Spurgeon one time, “If I believe as you believe, I wouldn’t preach at all. Why preach?” Spurgeon, as you know, was a great Calvinist; that is, he was a great believer in the Word of God and in the sovereign omnipotence of the Almighty. So believing that, believing as a Calvinist believes, that God ordains, well, they said to him, “No use to preach! No point in preaching because there are those that are not going to believe. They are not going to turn.” And Spurgeon said, “Nay, but contrariwise, the greatest encouragement that I have in my ministry is this: though they will not all believe, they will not all turn, they will not all be saved, yet God will always give me some.” And Spurgeon said, “I have that assurance that when I stand and faithfully witness to the grace of God in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 2:8-9], God will always give me some.”
We are taught that very plainly in the Word of the Lord. For example, in the parable of the sower there are four seeds that fell [Matthew 13:3]. One, the seeds fell by the way side and the birds ate it up [Matthew 13:4]. Second, there were seeds that fell on stony ground, and it perished immediately [Matthew 13:5-6]. Third, there were those that fell among thorns, and the briers choked it to death [Matthew 13:7]. Fourth, there were some that fell on good ground, and it brought forth an hundredfold unto God [Matthew 13:8]].
One out of four. If we can win one out of four, we are doing according to the Word of the Lord; just one out of four. So the fisherman must realize, he must be taught, we must learn, we will not win them all, and we are not to be discouraged. When a family, when a youth, when a teenager, when a young man or woman, when they say no and they will not respond, we are not to be discouraged. That’s the way it is in this weary world.
All right; another thing about Simon Peter. As God prepares him to fish [Matthew 4:19], to be heaven’s big fisherman, seeking souls for the Lord, Simon’s going to learn that there are tremendous weaknesses in his life. And all of us identify with Simon Peter. Paul is above us. I don’t know how any man could ever be like the apostle Paul. But certainly, all of us can sympathize with, and identify with Simon Peter. He had colossal weaknesses in his life, and they appeared before he became the great opener of the door to the world: the Jew, the Samaritan, the Gentile [Acts 1:8]. And those same weaknesses appeared in him after he was used of God in the most signal of all of the spiritual ministries in God’s world.
I speak of one of his weaknesses. He cringed and he cowered before criticism. His soul just withered up. One time, warming himself by the fire [Mark 14:67], a little maid came by, a servant girl in the palace of the high priest. She came by and looked at him and hearing him speak, said to him, “You are one of His disciples” referring to the Lord who was being tried for His life. “You are one of them. You talk like Him.”
And Simon Peter said, “You think I talk like Him? Well, listen to this.” And he cursed a blue streak, denying that he ever knew Him [Mark 14:66-71]. What a colossal weakness! And after the Lord launched him and plunged him head long into that New Testament ministry, that same weakness appeared. At Antioch, Simon Peter was eating and going in and out with the Gentiles and some of the Judaizers came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. They said, “We are from James,” the Lord’s brother who was pastor of the church here at Jerusalem. They came down, and when Simon Peter saw them, he, and the Bible uses the word, he dissimulated. Instead of standing up for the gospel, for all men, including the Gentiles, Simon Peter bowed like a craven slave, like a coward before those Judaizers, and withdrew himself from the Gentiles. And it was then, and we haven’t time to follow it, that Paul confronted him to his face and called him a cowardly hypocrite, dissimulator, that is a more beautiful word, dissimulator; that word actually is hypocrite [Galatians 2:11-14]. That’s Simon Peter.
And, I say, we all identify with him. The weaknesses you have in your life stay with you all of your life. You don’t ever get beyond them. The weaknesses you have before you are converted, before you are a Christian, you’ll have those same weaknesses after you are converted. Your conversion will not change those weaknesses. They will be there just the same.
The only difference is, when you are saved you have Jesus helping you to battle it through. And it will be a battle. If you are volative before you are saved you will be just as volative after you are saved. By volative I mean if you get furiously angry easily and you have a high temper. That’s what I mean by volative. If you are high strung and easily riled up before you are saved, you will be just like that after you are saved. Only thing is, you have Jesus in your heart to help you control it, that’s all.
One of these fine Christian men just flew off of the handle at church, just got mad. Well, I’ve done that and I know exactly how I felt. And one of those little puny, anemic, milquetoast came up to him and accused him to his face. You know, he wasn’t a good Christian and all this something and the other. And that God-blessed, volative Christian turned to that little milquetoast and said, “I control more temper in one day than you do in a lifetime!”
Boy, that’s preaching. No, you don’t lose that drag of the old human nature after you are saved. You’ve got it with you. But the glory and the marvel of the Christian faith is this; with all of the drag of our human nature and all of the weaknesses of our life, we’ve all got them, God uses us. He uses us. And He did Simon Cephas, Simon Peter, Simon the rock [John 1:42].
So on the day of Pentecost it is Simon who preaches the sermon, opening the door of salvation to the Jews [Acts 2:14-41]. And it is Simon God uses to open the door to the Samaritans [Acts 8:14-25]. And now we come to the most unusual of all the open doors, to be thought of, to be imagined, in all God’s grace and mercy. For the time has come in the elective purpose of God for the door to be open to the entire Gentile world; to you and to us.
And that story is told with greater detail, meticulous, minutiae, than any other story in the New Testament. Isn’t that amazing? The entire tenth and eleventh chapters of the Book of Acts are dedicated to this story [Acts 10:1-11:30]. It is as though the Holy Spirit were saying, “Look, look, look! God here is doing a new and a wonderful thing.” It is though the hand of the Lord was gathering together this congregation and this preacher. Look at it. See it.
So let’s follow after. The story starts off with a man who is a soldier, like Colonel Peters, a soldier. He is a centurion and he is stationed in the capital of Judea. If a province were at peace it was a senatorial province, it was placed under the Roman senate. But if a province was rebellious, volative, volcanic, it was placed under the Roman Caesar, because he controlled the army. Well, Judea, the Roman province of Judah was a volative, rebellious and volcanic province, the most one in the Roman Empire. And as you know it erupted in 66 AD and was finally destroyed in 70 AD. So, under imperial Caesar the country was controlled by the army.
Now in a senatorial province the ruler was a proconsulate, answered to the senate. But in an imperial province the ruler was a procurator and answered to the imperial Caesar. Consequently in the capital city of Caesarea there was stationed this elite band called the Italian Band, and the leader of it was a Roman centurion, a legionnaire, a soldier named Cornelius [Acts 10:1].
Now he was an unusual man. He was a devout man and one that feared God with all of his house. He gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always [Acts 10:2]. And the Lord spoke to him through His angel and said, “Send down to Joppa for one Simon Peter who will come and tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved” [Acts 10:3-6,11:14, 30-32,].
Why didn’t the angel tell him those words? Because no man, no man, is ever saved apart from the testimony of another man. We must witness and testify and preach. You send down there, said the angel, for one Simon Peter who will come and tell thee those words whereby thou and thy house may be saved [Acts 11:13-14].
Now, God is preparing that big fisherman. At noontime on one of those flat Oriental houses he’s up there on the roof talking to God. And he falls into a trance, and there is let down a great sheet from heaven gathered at each one of the four corners [Acts 10:9-12]. And on the inside of that sheet are all kinds of unclean animals according to Jewish, kosher law. And the angel says, “Rise, kill, eat” [Acts 10:13].
And Simon Peter says, “Lord, I have never eaten any thing common or unclean. Never” [Acts 10:14].
And the Lord said, “What God has made clean, call not thou uncommon” [Acts 10:15]. You are to call no man common or unclean.
While Simon Peter was thinking about that vision there was a knock at the door [Acts 10:17-18]. There were three emissaries from the centurion in Caesarea, the capital city, knocking at the door. And the Holy Spirit said to Simon Peter, “Go, nothing doubting” [Acts 10:19-20].
So Simon Peter enters the house of Cornelius, and Cornelius welcomes him [Acts 10:24-25], and then in his address Cornelius says, “Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord” [Acts 10:33]. And that is the best definition, delineation, description of the purposes of church services you will find in human literature.
“And now are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord?” [Acts 10:33]. We are all here. And I’ve got my family here. We are all here. My friends that I can encourage to come, they are here. All of my household are here. We are all here. And we are as in the presence of God, all of us here present before God. The Lord is in this place.
Like Jacob. lay down, put his head on the stone to sleep, and a vision of angels, a ladder that leaned against the parapet, the balustrades, the banisters of heaven. And the angels ascending and descending, not descending and going back up, the angels ascending and descending. They were there, they are here. And when he awakened he said, “This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate to heaven.” And he called it Bethel. This is the house, beth-el of God [Genesis 28:11-19].
Or as Moses, watching that burning bush burn unconsumed, and the Lord said to him, “Take off thy shoes from off thy feet. For the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” [Exodus 3:2-5].
This is that. We are all here present before God. The Lord is in this place. And we are present to hear all things that are commanded thee of God [Acts 10:33]. Does God have anything to say? Then tell us! Does God speak to us today? If He does, what does God say? Don’t bother about all that stuff, and stuff, and stuff that we can hear on the radio, endlessly on the radio, that we can hear on television, endlessly on television, that we can read in the editorial pages, endlessly the editorialists.
Why bother us with that? I go downtown, stop at any newspaper counter, any magazine stand, for twenty cents, buy it, go home, and if I don’t go to sleep after dinner, read it. Or I lie down on the sofa, turn on the radio and listen to it endlessly.
What we want to know is does God say anything? Does He? Does God speak? What does God say? Tell us. What can save our souls from damnation and hell, and what can save our families and our children from perdition, and what can deliver our nation from the judgment and wrath of Almighty God? Does God say anything?
That’s why you come to church, to hear a man deliver the words commanded of God. May I parenthesize to say the greatest tragedy that I know that has overwhelmed modern American life is just that! Instead of the preacher standing up and saying what God has said and what God speaks, delivering God’s message, well, they remind me of just one more radio commentator or just one more editorialist. There is not a preacher that lives in America that knows as much about what is going on in the world as any employee of the State Department. Because they are on the inside and he is not. And for him to give his life and his ministry to all of those things that an editorialist or a commentator or a Department of State official knows five times as much as he does, is a tragedy! And no wonder the people go to church, yawn and go out and play golf.
Now are we all here before the Lord, all of us [Acts 10:33]. My family is with me. My friends and my household, all I could persuade to come, we are all here. Now tell us, did God say anything? Has the Lord a word for us?
Then Peter opened his mouth [Acts 10:34]. Well, that is kind of vulgar isn’t it? He opened his mouth. Well, you ought to croon, ha ha. You ought to croon you know like those dime a dozen singers that you hear up on the radio. He ought to croon his message. No! he ought to proclaim it! That’s what he ought to do. Like a trumpet, God says.
Isn’t it a shame that all of you don’t read that thing in Greek? And in those days came John the Baptist kērussō in the wilderness of Judea [Matthew 3:1]. What does kērussō mean? That means he was hollering to the top of his voice. That’s what that means. He was exclaiming. He was trumpeting. And they could hear him clear to Jerusalem. That’s about twenty miles. I’d say that’s pretty good, pretty good. They’d sometimes talk to me about that. You can’t hear me more than three miles on any clear morning.
In those days came John the Baptist kērussō in the wilderness of Judea. Exclaiming, declaring, trumpeting the word of God [Matthew 3:1-2]. Then Peter opened his mouth, and said [Acts 10:34]. And that is an amazing message. “To Him, to Him give all the prophets witness” [Acts 10:43]. Why, he is preaching to Cornelius it says here about Jesus whom they slew and hanged on a tree, “And to Him give all the prophets witness, that through Him whosoever believeth, receiveth, shall receive remission of sins” [Acts 10:43]. Why, Simon Peter I can’t imagine. You are talking to this man about crucifixion, and about the blood, and about the atonement, and about the death of the Son of God, and about the remission of sins. Why, Simon Peter, don’t you know what God said about that man? Look. A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always [Acts 10:2]. And yet you are talking to that man about the forgiveness of sins, and about the cross, and about the blood of Jesus, and about the atonement [Acts 10:38-43].
What do you think about that? The Book says that in God’s sight all of our righteousnessess are as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]. The Book says we are all sinners alike [Romans 3:23]. Just some of us sin in different ways. But we are all sinners alike. All of us. And when the Holy Spirit guides a man to preach, you know what he will do? The Holy Spirit will lead a man to point to Jesus [John 16:13-15], dying on the cross for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], and raised from the dead for our justification [Romans 4:25]. If the Holy Spirit has anything to do with a man’s sermon, he will be preaching like John the Baptist. “Behold, behold” he said, “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29].
That’s preaching. And that’s delivering the message of God. First, that we are sinners. However good we may be and noble and fine, but we are all sinners [Romans 3:23]. We are lost. And we face the judgment of Almighty God. And then having shown us our sins, a man speaking under the power of the Holy Spirit will then point us to Jesus that can take away all of our unrighteousnesses, all of our iniquity and wash us clean and white in His atoning grace [John 1:29]. That’s preaching.
And that’s delivering the message of God. And a wonderful thing; when the Holy Spirit finds somebody, a voice, a soul, a witness, a testifier; when the Holy Spirit finds somebody who will deliver that message, pointing to Jesus the Lamb of God, something always happens.
And it happened here. “While Peter yet spake these words” [Acts 10:44] in the very midst of pointing to Jesus—that’s the last sentence of his message—“To Him give all the prophets witness that through His name whosoever believeth on Him shall have remission of sins” [Acts 10:43]. While Peter was speaking, hadn’t done his sermon, just pointing to Jesus, behold, “The Holy Spirit fell on all of them that heard the word” [Acts 10:44].
And two things followed. First, they confessed the Lord with their mouths. They heard them speak with tongues and magnify God [Acts 10:46]. Does that mean that they fell into jargon and into gibberish? Oh, no! One of the psychological puttings together of life is this: if you have ever been taught a mother tongue and then in a later life you have gone to some other country and began to speak another language, if you ever get excited as if in ecstasy, you will go back, and you will talk and exclaim in that mother tongue. You just will. Now what happened here when they heard the voice of God in Simon Peter, and the Holy Spirit used the message of the blood and of the cross and of the atonement to bring them in faith to the Lamb of God, they were so ecstatically glad, so indescribably, immeasurably happy that they began to speak in their mother tongues [Acts 10:45-46].
In that household of that Roman centurion in Caesarea there were Romans who spoke Latin and they were praising God in Latin. There were in that mercenary army, there were Greeks and they were praising God in Greek. And in that army, in those mercenaries, Romans conscripted those men from the ends of the earth. There were Cythians, and they were praising God in the language of Cythia. There were Mesopotamians, there were Cilicians, there were Cappadocians, there were Judeans, and they were praising God in Aramaic. And it must have been an unbelievable sight to see the household of Caesarea and those soldiers of Cornelius just magnifying God so much so that they were astonished; these of the circumcision, these of the Jews, these who had come with Simon Peter [Acts 10:44-46].
And then Simon Peter did another thing. And this is the second thing; something that I always do here in this church, always. He turned to his brethren, and he said, “Look, look. These have come to the Lord in faith, in acceptance, in repentance. They found forgiveness and salvation in Jesus. Can any man forbid water that they should not be baptized?” [Acts 10:47]. That’s what I do. Standing down here, these come. “I have accepted the Lord in the full free pardon of my sins. I have trusted in Him as my Savior. I want to follow the Lord through the waters of the Jordan.” And I turn to my brethren and I turn to my sisters and I say that they stand here to be received. Then we do it a little different in our church. You could do it any other way. But this is the way we do it here. I say all of you who are happy to receive them will you raise high your hand and say “Amen.” And these followed the Lord in the acceptance of God in heaven through the blood of Jesus and in the rejoicing of the brethren [Acts 10:48].
And that opened the door through which we have been entering in through the centuries since. And that door is wide open today and now. In this balcony round and on this lower floor, somebody you to give himself to Jesus [Romans 10: 8-13], would you come and stand by me? A family you to put your life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; a couple you to come, or just one, somebody you, there is a stairwell at the front, at the front and the back and on either side. And there is time and to spare. In this balcony round, taking the Lord, receiving the Lord, opening your heart to the Lord, come, and stand by me. “Today, pastor, I open my heart to the blessed Savior and here I am” [Ephesians 2:8]. A family you to come, “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children. All of us are coming today.” Or just you, make the decision now, do it now, make it now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. Do it now. Come now. God bless you now; 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)