The Big Fisherman
May 25th, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
THE BIG FISHERMAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-25-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bring the message entitled The Big Fisherman. And immediately you would know that I am going to preach about Simon Peter. And back of the theme is the background of bringing the gospel message, the witness, and the testimony of our Lord to the man who is seeking God, who wants to hear, who is open-hearted to the witness of a child of the Lord.
Now the sermon is based on the tenth and the eleventh chapters of the Book of Acts. The Lord had been preparing Simon to whom He gave the nickname, the added name of Cephas – that’s what his name would be in Aramaic – Cephas. Or Petros, if you were speaking of his name in Greek, or the "Rock" if you were to translate it into English. Simon the Rock, Simon Cephas, Simon Petros, Simon Peter [John 1:42; Matthew 16:18].
Now there was a need for his preparation, just as there is a need for our induction into such a ministry. For when the Lord came by and called Simon and said, "Follow Me, and I will make you to become a fisher of men" [Matthew 4:19]; that didn’t mean that he would be successful in all instances and in all places. For not everyone will respond, they will not. No matter how you pray or try or work, they will not respond. Even in the institution of the Lord’s Supper, our Savior said, "This is My blood of the new covenant shed for many for the remission of sins" [Matthew 26:28]. He did not say "all," for there are many who will not respond. They will not listen, they will not come, they will not open their hearts, they will not hear. And we must remember that, as Simon Peter must remember it.
In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts and the forty-eighth verse, it says, "and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed" [Acts 13:48]. Well, there are a lot of theologians who have a hard time with that verse, but not if you believe in God and in the sovereignty of God. There are some who are not going to believe; they are not ordained to eternal life because of their hard hearts and their worldly love.
Somebody said to Spurgeon – who believed that, he was a Calvinist and he believed in the sovereignty of God – somebody said to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, "If I believed that, I wouldn’t try. There are some who are going to be lost and why should you try? They are not going to be saved." And the London preacher replied, "That’s true. When I preach, when I testify, when I witness, there are some who are not going to respond. But I know by the same grace and mercy of God that there are some who will respond. God in His sovereign grace will give me some, and I am encouraged to preach, to testify, and to witness, and to work."
And that’s the way we ought to be, not that we are discouraged in the hardness of heart and the difficulty to get people to listen, to come, to respond. We’re not discouraged in that; we are encouraged in it because the same Lord God has ordained some to eternal life. There are some who will respond. Sometimes I wonder at the proportion of it. Is it half, is it most? It is neither. It is some. In the parable of the sower, there are four types: one, the seed fell by the wayside and the birds ate it up; second, it fell on stony ground and perished; third, it fell among the thorns and the briers and it was choked; four, but some fell on good ground, and brought forth an hundredfold and if we got one won, one won, one out of four, it would be a magnificent scriptural proportion [Matthew 13:4-8]. We’ll not win them all, but if we work and try we will win some!
Now, preparing the big fisherman, Simon Peter; he went through some heartaches in his life. All of us can identify with Peter. We’d have a pretty hard time identifying with the apostle Paul. He was so much above, so elevated in his life, I just don’t see how anyone could ever be like the apostle Paul, but we all can identify with Simon Peter. He was very human and in many areas of his life very weak. He was a rock, by the grace of God the Lord made him that, but in himself he was not that at all.
You know what? When you are converted the same weaknesses you had before your conversion, you’ll have after your conversion; it’s just that God’s grace helps us. Now Simon Peter had some tremendous weaknesses. Now here’s one; he quailed and cowered before criticism. It was difficult for him; though Jesus said, "You will be Simon the rock" [John 1:42], he was mostly in his personal character Simon the reed. He just could be bent. Why, he cowered before a little girl one time who said to him – as he warmed himself by the fire and the Lord Jesus was being tried for His life – "You’re one of His; why, you talk like Him." He cursed and swore saying, "I have no idea who He is" [Matthew 26:69-74; Mark 14:66-71].
And at Antioch, at Antioch, years later, at Antioch when there came some Judaizers from James – the pastor of the church at Jerusalem and the Lord’s brother – when there came some Judaizers and saw him mingling and eating with the Gentiles, they criticized him for it and he withdrew and would no longer associate with the Gentile Christians in the church at Antioch, because of the criticism of the Judaizers from James in Jerusalem [Galatians 2:12].
That same weakness all through his life, and when you’re converted and are saved and become a Christian, all of those weaknesses you had before, you’ll still have after. You just need God’s grace, and God’s mercy, and God’s presence, and God’s help to overcome, and that’s what it is to be a Christian. We’re not delivered out of this world because we love the Lord; we’re still in it. And you’re not taken out of that house of clay in which you live after you’re saved; you still live in it. And all of those battlings are just increased, intensified when you become a Christian. You’ve just got Somebody to help you, and to stand by you, and to forgive you, and to help you through. That’s Simon Peter.
Now, did the Lord use it? How He did, how he did! Got him ready, prepared him, and then used him. Do you ever marvel how God uses us? Stumbling, stuttering, full of frailty and fault and failure, yet God uses us and blesses us, and He did Simon Peter. It was Simon who opened the door to the Jews at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-42], and it was Simon who opened the door to the Samaritans and laid his hands on their heads, and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit [Acts 8:14-17].
Why didn’t the Holy Spirit fall upon them when Philip preached to them? [Acts 8:5-13]. Because it was ordained of God that this should be done through Simon Peter! And they did not receive the Holy Spirit until Simon Peter came, laid his hand on their heads [Acts 8:17], and it was Simon Peter who was chosen of God to open the door to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15; Acts 13:46-48]. As Dr. Fowler prayed in his prayer, how we are grateful for the mercy of God, we who are not of the race of Abraham and the children of Israel, that God should have included us in the household of faith, adding us to the body of Christ. And it was Simon Peter that the Lord chose to open that door for us.
Now it came about in this way. And by the way, it is significant that this story is told with greater detail, more meticulous minutiae, than any other story that you’ll read in the Acts of the Apostles. The tenth chapter and the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts are devoted to this story. It is as though God were saying, "Look! Look! The word sets this forth in a clear and eternal life. God is doing a new thing, and it is the arm of the Lord that has gathered this preacher and these people together." The Holy Spirit says, "Look! Look!" So we look at what God is doing. Now it starts off with a man, a Roman soldier, an officer, a centurion, the basic officer of a whole legion, the effective thrust of the conquering power of Rome, the Roman centurion. And he had an elite band [Acts 10:1].
As you know – and I hate to take time for these things – but they are meaningful to us when we understand them. They make the Bible live for us. If a province were quiet, they put it under the senate and the man who led it was called a proconsul. But if a province were volatile, rebellious, they put it under the emperor and the army, and the man who led it was called a procurator.
Now Judea was volatile and rebellious, so it was under the Roman Caesar – that is, it was under the army – and the man who headed it was a Roman procurator. And he controlled the country by soldiers, legionnaires, and this man was the centurion of an elite band, called the Italian Band. But he was a good man, a devout man, one that feared God with all his heart, was liberal, gave alms to the poor, and prayed to God always [Acts 10:2]. And the angel of the Lord came to that Roman soldier and said, "You 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].
Why didn’t the angel tell him the words? Because no man comes into the knowledge of the grace of God except through the testimony of another man, always, always! "Send down to Joppa for one Simon Peter who will tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved." So he sends three men for this one called Simon Peter [Acts 10:7-8]. Now, down there in Joppa at high noon, Simon Peter is on the top of the house – one of the Oriental, flat roof houses – communing and praying with the Spirit of God [Acts 10:9].
And he falls into a trance. And there is let down from heaven three times a great sheet gathered at the four corners and on the inside all kinds of creatures – according to Jewish law, unclean animals – animals they were not supposed to eat. And the Holy Spirit of God, the angel of the Lord, the voice of heaven said, "Peter, eat. Kill and eat." And Simon Peter said, "Lord, I have never disobeyed those kosher laws. I have never eaten anything common or unclean." And God said, "What I have made clean call not thou unclean. What I have made for good, call not thou common and rejected" [Acts 10:10-15]. What an amazing thing!
And at that time, there was a knock at the door, and those three men came to the door, and they asked for Simon Peter, and the Holy Spirit of God said to him, "Arise and go with them, nothing doubting" [Acts 10:17-20]. And Simon Peter prepared by the Spirit of God arrives in Caesarea and in the house of Cornelius [Acts 10:21]. And the Roman centurion stands, and he says, "Now therefore are we all here before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord?" [Acts 10:33]. You couldn’t find a better sentence describing the purpose and motive of our services in God’s world than that sentence there. "Now are we all here?" His household, his friends, his neighbors, everyone he could get together. "Now are we all here present before God?"
The Lord is here. As Jacob said in Bethel, "This is none other than the house of God; this is none other than the gate to heaven" [Genesis 28:17]. And he called it Bethel, the house of God [Genesis 28:19]. Or as Moses on the back side of the desert looking at that bush that burned unconsumed [Exodus 3:1-3], and God said to him, "Take off your shoes, for the ground whereon you stand is holy ground" [Exodus 3:5]. "We are present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" [Acts 10:33]. That is the purpose of witnessing and testifying and preaching, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
Has God said anything, has He? If He has, tell us, what did God say? Don’t worry about that stuff you hear on the radio, don’t worry about that stuff you hear on television, and don’t worry about that stuff that comes out of the mouth of the commentator and the editorialist. We can read that; we can buy it on a newspaper stand for twenty cents. We can hear that lying down with the radio turned on, but did God say anything? What can save our souls from damnation and hell? What can deliver us from the violence and judgment of sin? Does God say anything? "Now are we all here in the presence of God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord" [Acts 10:33].
Well, that really puts a man under the surveillance of heaven doesn’t it? We’re not interested in what you think, or your discourses, or these current events, the issues of the day that are discussed out there by a thousand others. What we want to know is, does God have a message for us? Is there anything from heaven? Does God say anything; is there a word from the Lord? And Simon Peter opens his mouth and begins to speak, and what an unusual message:
To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.
For they took Him and slew Him and crucified Him, and hanged Him on a tree,
that anyone who would believe in Him should receive remission of sins.
[Acts 10:43, 39b, 43b]
Why, Simon Peter, don’t talk to this man about crucifixion, and about the blood, and about the cross, and about remission of sins. Don’t you know who this man is? Well, I’ll read it again. His story starts off with "And he was 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 when Simon Peter stands up there to preach to him in that household, he does it preaching the blood and the cross and remission of sins! [Acts 10:34-43].
Why, you ought to preach Jesus, the great and beautiful example. You ought to preach Jesus, the high and holy and the pure idealist. You ought to preach Jesus, the master teacher, even greater than Zoroaster or Buddha. Yes, and that’s the way the world wants it done: Zoroaster, and Buddha, and Mahavira and Gautama, and Jesus. Just another wonderful and good man, that’s what the world wants to say, but that’s not what the Holy Spirit says! When the Holy Spirit testifies through a man, He points to Jesus, the atonement for our sins, or as John the Baptist said, "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world" [John 1:29].
Isn’t that an amazing thing? The best of men looked upon in God’s sight as sinners. What do you think of that? We’re all sinners, however good we are. We’re all lost, and we need saving and the forgiveness of God. What do you think of that? When I was in the Louisville seminary, there came a preacher to preach to us – all the preachers at the seminary – he came to preach to us. So he asked me – I was just a young fellow there in the seminary – he asked me, "How do I preach to these seminary students, these young theologues, these young students of divinity? How do I preach to them?" And I said to him, "I’ll tell you how to preach to them: just like they were common, ordinary sinners, and call for repentance and dedication and commitment to Jesus. That’s how to preach to them."
"Yeah, but they’re masters of divinity and they’re theologues."
"Yeah, I know; I understand but we’re all just sinners, all of us" [Romans 3:23].
"A devout man, one that feared God with all his house, gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always" [Acts 10:2]. But when Peter stood up and preached to him, he pointed him to Jesus, the Lamb of God, the atonement for our sins; Jesus, crucified, died, and raised for our justification [Acts 10:34-43], and the Holy Spirit uses a message like that, always. When the Holy Spirit uses a man to testify about Jesus, he points to Him as the Savior of our souls. "And while Peter was preaching and testifying of the grace of God in the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that heard his word" [Acts 10:44].
And believing, receiving, accepting the mercy and grace of God, they did two things. One: they confessed that faith, "they magnified God with tongues" [Acts 10:46]. Well, somebody says, was that just gibberish, an unknown jargon? Well, I suppose that it’s like a little piece of human nature, however you learn another language in later life, if you’re greatly excited, you’ll go back talking in your mother tongue. I would suppose that’s what happened here. In that household in Caesarea there were Italians, there were Romans talking Latin, there were Greeks talking Greek, there were Judeans talking Aramaic, there were Scythians talking Scythian.
And in the ecstasy of that moment they all reverted back to their mother tongue, and those Romans were praising God and thanking God in Latin, and those Greek soldiers, those Greek mercenaries, those Greek conscripts were praising God in Greek. Those Judeans were praising God in Aramaic, and those Mesopotamians and Cappadocians and Scythians were praising God in their native language. It was one of the greatest sights the world had ever seen, these Gentiles praising the Lord!
Then the second thing: and as Simon Peter looked upon it in bewilderment and in amazement and in overwhelming gratitude, he turned to the brethren who had come with him and said, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, the same as we?" [Acts 10:47]. Just like I do here in the church, somebody come down this aisle and say, "Pastor, I’ve been saved. I’ve given my heart to Jesus. I want to be baptized; I want to follow the Lord." And I turn to my brethren, the congregation, and I say, "All of you that in gratitude to God receive these on their confession of faith" – and the way I do it here I say, "would you raise your hand, and would you say ‘Amen,’ thanking God for a trophy of grace?"
And that’s what happened here – opening the door to God’s lost Gentiles [Acts 9:15]. We don’t belong to the devil and God’s trying to steal us away out of his clutches. No! We belong to the Lord and Satan has marred us and hurt us. And when we come to God, we’re coming where we belong. We’re coming home.
And that’s the appeal to your heart this morning. In this balcony round, on this lower floor, into that aisle and down to the front; "Pastor, today I make that choice and decision for the Lord, and here I am." Or, "Pastor, this is my family, all of us are coming into the fellowship of the church, all of us. My wife, my children, we all are coming today." Or a couple you, or just you, as the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, just say the word. On the first note of this first stanza, come. "Here I am, pastor, I make it now. I’m coming this morning." Make that decision now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. "Here I am preacher. I choose God; I give Him my life. I trust Him to forgive my sins and save my soul, and someday when I die to take me to heaven, and here I’m coming." Do it now; make it now, come now, while stand and while we sing.