Fishers of Men
July 29th, 1973 @ 7:30 PM
FISHERS OF MEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-29-73 7:30 p.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Fishers of Men. In preaching through the Gospel of John we are in the last chapter, chapter 21. And let us all of us open our Bibles to the twenty-first chapter of John, and we shall read aloud the first eight verses, the first eight verses. And if on the radio you are sharing with us this hour and can open your Bible to that passage, read it out loud with us. The last chapter of the Fourth Gospel, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, John chapter 21, the last chapter, the first eight verses. Now all of us reading it out loud together. The first eight verses of the twenty-first chapter of John. Now out loud:
After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed He Himself.
There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of His disciples.
Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered Him, No.
He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it in for the multitude of fishes.
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.
And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.
Fishing in the right place; fishing where the fish are. Jesus said unto them, “Children, have you caught anything?” Fished all night long and caught nothing. “Have you caught anything?”
They said, “No.”
And the Lord said, “You do not have your net in the right place. You are not fishing in the right place. You are not fishing where the fish are [John 21:6]. Take your net and cast it on the right side of the [ship]. There the fish are.” And they took their net and put it on the other side of the boat and so great a multitude of fish did they catch, they were not able to draw it in [John 21:6]. Fishing where the fish are. Catching people where souls are to be won. How many times in a Sunday school class do we visit the class and there is nobody there that is lost and haven’t been for years and years?
How many times do the assemblies of God meet in the Lord’s house and there is hardly anyone there who is lost. They are all saved. A survey, an official survey, was made of our modern church attendances, and it was discovered in our finest and biggest churches that on an average there are not as many as five present who are lost. The fish are not there, and we are trying to fish where the fish aren’t.
I am reminded of a feller who was in a rocking chair on his front porch, fishing in a mud puddle in his front yard. It had come a heavy rain and he had a little mud puddle of water in his front yard. Now he was in his rocking chair fishing in it. And a fellow came by and said, “Man, you’ve lost your mind. There are no fish there.”
He said, “I know that but it’s a convenient place to fish.”
That’s the way we are about winning people to Christ. It’s so convenient to come to a nice air-conditioned auditorium and be there blessed in our hearts. And then if the fish are present, why, we try to catch them. But if they are not, it’s still convenient to fish here for the souls of men.
Now you would say, after a survey like that, the church is bankrupt. It’s no effective instrument in the hands of God to win people to Christ. Not so. Not at all! For nowhere does God say in His Book that we are to build church houses and gather our people together and win the lost by their coming in. That isn’t in the Bible. To show you the contrast between what we do and what Jesus taught us, let’s look at some of the things that the Lord said and how we do it.
For example, here is the way that we seek to catch fish. We build some kind of a beautiful sanctuary and then we say over the PA system out there where the people can hear, “Now we’ve got a beautiful fishing station here and all of you fish out there, you come here and get caught.” That’s the way we do it. But the Lord God said, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a drought” [Luke 5:4]. Or here, take your net and put it over there where the fish are, and you will catch out there where the fish are to be caught.
Or look again at us. We say we are going to build a wonderful sheepfold on the side of this wilderness of a city, filled with lost sheep. We are going to build us a sheepfold. Then we are going to lift up our voices over a PA system and over the radio and maybe over television and we are going to say, “All of you lost sheep out there, you come in and get saved.” Or maybe a sheep wander by and sees us and come in and we save him. That’s the way we do.
But how did the Lord say? He said the shepherd left his ninety and nine and went out in the wilderness to seek the lost sheep until he found it [Matthew 18:12-13; Luke 15:4-7]. What we do, even our Sunday school classes, we may seek them three times and if they are not there we drop them from the roll. And we do it quick because it hurts our averages they say.
Look again how we are. We say over a PA system or over an announcement, “We’ve got a wonderful place here. It has stained-glass windows and it has comfortable pews. Now all you fields out there you come here and get sown.” That is the way we do. But the Lord said a sower went forth to sow out there where the field is, where the people are [Matthew 13:3].
We’ve got the whole thing turned around. We say we are going to build a beautiful sanctuary for the Lord. And there we are going to try to win people to Christ inside that sanctuary. But the Lord said go out into the highways and the hedges, into the streets and lanes and alleys of the city and there find them and bring them in [Luke 14:23].
You know how we would do in that story in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts about the Ethiopian eunuch? [Acts 8:26-39]. What we would do is we would get a good prominent place at the turn in the road on that Gaza strip and a very fine elevation. And there we would build us a church house. And then if a treasurer from Ethiopia were to chance by we would invite him inside the house and preach the gospel to him and hope he’d be saved. But the Holy Spirit said to the deacon Philip, “You join yourself to that chariot and preach to him the Lord Jesus out there where he is, going down the road” [Acts 8:29-35].
Ah, how we need the blessed teaching of our Lord in our minds and in our hearts. Why, I cannot tell you the number of times, and I guess it is right for me to do it, I pray, O God, send us a harvest. Give us a great harvest. I never come to a service but that I kneel before God and ask God when the appeal is made, crown the witness with a wonderful harvest.
But this is what the Lord said. The Lord said, “The fields are white [John 4:35]. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest” [Luke 10:2]. Whereas I pray for a good response here at the church, the Lord said pray that workers will be sent out there to witness and to testify to the Lord Jesus.
Now this is the wonderful admonition of our Savior, and it was the blessed practice of the apostles. Why, bless your heart, it was almost three hundred years after Christ; think of that, it was almost three hundred years after Christ before they built any kind of church houses.
Well, where did they do their work? They did it in the agora; they did it in the marketplace [Acts 17:17]. They did it in the house, they did it in the home [Acts 20:20-21]. They did it in the beauty shop. They did it everywhere; witnessing and testifying to the grace of the Son of God [Acts 8:4].
I was talking to a family tonight, and they are coming down the aisle tonight. I was talking to a family tonight and I said, “You live a long way off and it’s unusual you are here. Why? How did it come to pass?”
And they said, “Did you see that couple over there in that Young Adult Three division that you were visiting this morning? Did you see them?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Well, they live in Terrell; they live in Terrell, and they come to church here all the time. They live in Terrell. And they said to us, ‘It may be a long way for you to come, but it’s worth it. Come with us. We’ll bring you.’”
And through the personal emphasis and invitation and testimony of that young couple, you are going to see a family come down here tonight. She’s joining by letter and he’s coming by baptism. And they’ve got two sweet little children. Their home is put together in the Lord. It came about entirely through the personal witness of that sweet couple up there in Young Adult Three. That’s the way to do it. And there’s no other way to do it.
The greatest ministry, I suppose, that ever was seen in this earth was that of the apostle Paul in the Asian capital city of Ephesus when all Asia was turned to the Lord. And you don’t have to guess how Paul did that. He said to the elders at the church of Ephesus, “Remember, that by the space of three years” [Acts 20:31]—think of that, three years—”Night and day with tears I ceased not to go from house to house and place to place, testifying to the Jew and to the Greek”; anybody who lived in the house. “Faith—repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:31, 20-21].
As powerful and dynamic as was the apostle Paul, the way he did his work was to knock on the door from house to house, inviting the people to the Lord Jesus [Acts 20:31, 20-21].
The exposure of Christ is what does it. That’s the way God did it. Did you ever think that when the passion of our Lord was depicted before men, God did it publicly, publicly? He was arraigned before the Sanhedrin [Luke 22:66-71]. He was tried before the high priest [Matthew 26:57-68]. He was tried before Herod [Luke 23:6-11]; He was tried before Pontius Pilate [Luke 23:1-6]. In His entry into Jerusalem it was public and open [Luke 19:35-40]. And when He was finally crucified it was not in some gorgeous cathedral between two golden lampstands on the inside of a beautiful sanctuary. But He was crucified outside of a city gate [Hebrews 13:12] on a road that was so public that it took three languages to tell the people what it was that was coming to pass [John 19:19-20].
The Lord planned it that way; that the death of His Son should be public, before the eyes of the whole world. And we cannot expose our Lord Jesus too much. We don’t have a church like this, like that, like I am going to describe. But it sure had a moral to me.
I read in a paper one time where the church, because of a fire or something, the church had to be gutted out and renovated. And the newspaper article said that on the inside of the church was a statue of the Lord Jesus. And they took the statue of the Lord Jesus while they were renovating the church and stuck it out there on the sidewalk. And it said for the years and the years and the years that the people would pass by that church, a few of them had gone in and had seen that statue of our Lord, but when they took the statue of our Savior and put it outside on the sidewalk, every day there were thousands and thousands of people who saw it, who never had even thought of looking upon that blessed face before.
That’s what we need to do; expose our Savior! You can’t expose Him too much.
Some time ago, though I was not born, some time ago there was a man who was running for president of the United States. And he won the election and he won it because of television. And you know how that came to pass? The man who directed his political campaign called his people together, the committee, the election committee together, and he said, “You can’t expose that guy too much. Expose him. Put the camera on him. Let the people see him.” And the judgment of that man was correct. You couldn’t expose the guy too much. He was handsome. He was good looking. He had a fine voice with a good accent. And the exposition of him won the election for him.
I’m saying the same thing, only heightening up to glory, about Jesus Christ. You can’t expose Him too much. Say anything about Him and it’s true. You can’t brag on Him too much. That’s God’s will for us.
Now I want to close, the time has passed. I want to close with the blessedness of the reward. Why, there is nothing in the earth as dear and as sweet, as precious and as comforting, as exhilarating and full of gladness and joy and intensest gratitude as to see somebody come down the aisle that you won to the Lord Jesus. It’s like a piece of heaven. It’s just like glory. If you had even a little part in the coming, it does your heart good just to see it. Ah, the blessedness, the change in heart and home, like all the goodness of seeing people come to the Lord.
Do you know how it is that I got into the habit of having our people hold up their hands and say, “Amen” when we take people into the church? Do you know where that came from? I never did that all my life. Most of you haven’t been here so many years that you think I have done that all my life. You can’t remember when I didn’t do it. I didn’t do that all my life.
I started doing that over something that happened here in our church. You know what happened? There was a blind couple, a blind couple who began listening to me preach on the radio. And God touched their hearts and one of our members found them in a visitation. They found that blind couple living in a little house. And they found out that that blind couple was listening to me every Sunday on the radio. That was before we had television and they couldn’t see television anyway. But anyway, it was in the day when we had just radio.
And bless your heart, that blind couple said to this sweet member of our church, “Oh, we wish that we could go to church, but for us to go to church we would have to come with our two seeing-eye dogs. And we can’t come without our dogs. And they don’t want dogs down there at the church.”
“Well,” the member said, “I don’t know, but I am going to ask the pastor about it.”
So he came to me and he said, “I found this sweet blind couple and they listen to you every Sunday on radio and they can’t come to church without the dogs. And they are afraid that you wouldn’t want the dogs in the church so they asked me to ask you would it be all right for them to come to church with their two seeing-eye dogs.”
Why, I said, “Man, I’d love to preach to dogs. Bring them. I’d like it.”
First sermon I ever preached in my life was over a funeral for a dog. That’s where I started. I said, “Bring them. Bring the dogs.”
Well, I want you to know, I want you to know I gave the invitation and down the aisle came those two and those two dogs. Right down here at the front. Well, you know, like I’ve been doing all my life, when they came forward, gave their hearts to Jesus and said, “We want to be baptized and want to be members of the church. We love Jesus. We’ve been saved.” Why, I said, “Everybody that’s happy to receive them would you hold up your hand?” That’s what I did.
One of the godly deacons of the church who is now in heaven, when I did that he stood up right over there, and he said, “Pastor, they are blind. They can’t see us hold up our hands.” He said, “Pastor, let’s take the vote again. Ask us, all of us that are happy to have them, let’s say ‘Amen.’”
So I said, “All of you that are happy to have this sweet couple come to the Lord, say ‘Amen.’”
And they said, “Amen.” And from that day to this I have been having our people hold up their hands and say, “Amen.” That’s where I started it.
But listen, did you know that same deacon—God love him, he’s in heaven now, that same deacon stood up over there. That blind couple was the most faithful people you ever saw in your life, and those two dogs, they were always at church. They were always right over there, just as faithful as the British tar.
And I want you to know when I was taking folks into the church, that same deacon stood up there, and he said, “Brother pastor, I have never seen anybody more faithful in attending church than those two dogs. Pastor, I make a motion we take them into the fellowship of the church.” I don’t know whether the clerk enrolled them or not, but I sure thank God for them. Oh dear, how sweet that experience. There is just nothing as full and rich and blessed as to see people come to the Lord.
Down this aisle, at a personal request because of the church and the example, I asked Judge Frank Ryburn, who was chairman of our deacons thirty-five years, I said, “Judge Ryburn, you do lots of work for God. You teach that Baraca class for a generation!” I said, “We are in a soul-saving appeal. We are making an appeal for souls. And Judge Ryburn, if you would come down the aisle with a man, if you would come down with a man that you had won to Jesus, I think the example of what you had done would inspire our church to do its finest work for Jesus.”
Well, he said, “Pastor, pray for me and I will try.” And upon a Sunday not long after that, down the aisle Judge Ryburn came with a man. And he brought him to me and he said, “Pastor, I’ve brought you my man. I have won him to the Lord.”
I shook hands with him, was introduced to him, prayed with him here, and I baptized him. And until the day the Lord called him home he was a faithful servant of Jesus in this house of the Lord. That’s the way God blesses as we fish for men out there where the fish are, inviting them in to the Lord. Anytime, anywhere is an appropriate time and a good time to say a good word about Jesus. You can’t brag on Him too much. You can’t expose Him too much, just as you can’t love Him too much.
And that’s our invitation to you tonight. If somebody has said something to you, if the Holy Spirit has spoken to your heart, in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming down one of these stairways or stand up coming down one of these aisles. “Pastor, my whole family, we are all coming tonight.” Or just a couple or just one, somebody you, on the first note of that first stanza, come, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
WHERE THE FISH ARE
A. Catching people
where souls are to be won
B. A “convenient place
II. Our way vs. Jesus’ way
A. Fish (Luke 5:4, John 21:6)
B. Sheep (Luke 15:4)
C. Field (Matthew 13:3)
D. Housed vs. the road (Luke 14:21b, 23, Acts 8)
E. Harvest (Luke 10:2)
III. How is the work done?
testifying and witnessing to the grace of the Son of God
B. The apostle Paul in
the city of Ephesus (Acts 20:20-21, 31)
C. The exposure of
IV. The blessedness of the reward
A. Seeing people won to
1. Blind couple
2. Judge Frank