The Big Fisherman
August 12th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
1 Peter 1:1-2
THE BIG FISHERMAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 1:1-2
8-12-73 8:15 a.m.
Welcome both in this great auditorium and on the radio. You are listening to the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas who is bringing the message entitled The Big Fisherman. And we are in these general epistles, and this morning begins with the first epistle of Simon Peter. Starting at verse one:
Peter, petros, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the Diaspora scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia
– Roman provinces in what we know as Asia Minor –
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
[1 Peter 1:1-2]
And so we shall follow the letter as it continues and as these Sundays shall continue in God’s grace. But today we are taking the first word, petros. Peter, Simon the rock.
Sometime ago a man wrote a book, a novel, entitled The Big Fisherman. And when he wrote the book he entitled it splendidly, correctly. Peter must have been a very strong and tremendous man. What makes you think that? In the twenty-first chapter of John there are seven of the disciples that are in Galilee, and they are fishing. And under the direction of an unknown figure on the seashore who is standing there in the gray dawn of the morning, the disciples, placing their nets on the other side of the ship, catch a great school of fish. And they are struggling to bring it to land, their nets are so filled [John 21:8].
But Simon Peter precedes them, going to the Lord Jesus when John tells him "That is the Lord" [John 21:7]. So the story says that as those men were struggling – six of them were struggling to bring the net to land – that Simon Peter went down there and drew it to land by himself [John 21:11]. Now that would be a tremendous man, that six men are struggling, and he goes down there and draws the great catch of fish to the shore by himself.
You have another indication of the stature of that man when in the third chapter of the Book of Acts: the impotent cripple who is laid at the beautiful gate of the temple, expecting to receive alms of those who entered in – Simon Peter said to him, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth stand up and walk" [Acts 3:6].
Well, if you had been crippled from your mother’s womb and somebody, a stranger, came by and told you to stand up and walk, chances are you wouldn’t stand up and try to walk. He was impotent from his mother’s womb; he had never walked. And when this stranger said, "Stand up," well, he didn’t stand. But he was holding out his hand expecting to receive an alms. So Simon Peter took him by the hand and raised him up bodily [Acts 3:7]. Now I tell you, to do that, at a leverage like that, to lift a man, a grown man, to lift him up like that – now to pry him up, or to pull him up like this might be possible for some of us, but to extend your hand and lift a man up would take a tremendous amount of strength.
Well, these are just indications of the stature of that disciple and apostle Simon Peter. In the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul says: "There is a glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and there is also another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another in glory" [1 Corinthians 15:41]. The kingdom of heaven is like that. It is filled with different kinds of men. They are different in temperament. They are different in abilities. They are different in affinities. They are different in personalities. The grace of God is not a steamroller that flattens out the wrinkles of our individuality. We are still ourselves, even though we are Christians and some of us called into the work of the ministry of Christ.
Men differ so much. I think of the preachers, and I wish I had time to describe some of them. So different, such as a Gypsy Smith that I listened to in a revival, or a B.B. Crimm who was a cowpoke – when you listened to them, they are preaching the same gospel, but how different as it goes through the personalities of those different men. It’s like these stained-glass windows. There is one sun shining outside, but when the light streams in, it is thereafter colored by the glass itself: some of it is red, and some of it is blue, and some of it is yellow, and some of it is green. So the grace of God shining through the personality of a man, and they differ as much as these colors in the stained-glass windows differ.
I think of the prophets. Amos is a country man. And you can smell the soil of a freshly turned furrow when you read Amos. He talks like a farmer. But when you read Isaiah, you are following the beautiful language, and diction, and grammar, and poetic imagery of a court preacher. They are as different as night and day, yet they are instruments in God’s hands.
These apostles are like that: Matthew, and John, and Thomas, and Simon Peter – he always heads the list. Anytime there is a list of the apostles, Simon is always named first. But he was an unusual man. He was impetuous. He was volitive. He was like a mountain stream rushing down to the valley below. He was on his feet in a moment. He acted, then he thought later about what he had done. But he didn’t think first; he did first! For example, the Lord, in washing the disciple’s feet, came to Simon Peter. And when Simon saw what He was going to do, Simon said, "Lord, You are not going to wash my feet." And the Lord said, "Simon, except I wash thee, thou hast no part with Me." Then just like that he is on the opposite side: he said, "Lord, then not my feet only but my hands and my head. Wash me all over." Yet he just said, "Lord, you are never going to wash my feet" [John 13:4-9].
Or take that story in the garden of Gethsemane, when the Lord was arrested. When John tells the story, all the participants have been long dead. So he calls their names. He calls the name of the servant of the high priest, Malchus, and he calls the name of the man who tried to kill him. And that was Simon Peter. And John says that when that group came, led by Judas, to arrest the Lord, that Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it from its sheath and cut off the right ear of Malchus [John 18:10]. I know by that that Simon Peter was right-handed, because that fellow, Malchus, standing in front of you, he dodged the blow. And had he dodged this way, Simon Peter would have cut off his head. That’s what he intended to do. But in order to escape the blow he dodged that way. So when the sword came down that way, why, it just grazed him and cut off his ear. But Simon Peter meant to cut off his head. That’s Simon Peter, a volitive and impetuous man.
Now a man like that has great strengths, tremendous strengths. He can strike while the iron is hot. He can make a decision in a moment – in a moment of danger, or in the business, or the marketplace, or like a general out on the field surveying the ebb and tide of battle – he can make a decision just like that. There are strengths in a man of an impetuous and volitive and quick disposition.
You have an instance of it in the story that you read a while ago. The Lord came by, and He called Simon Peter to follow Him. Now Simon could have said, "Now Master, don’t rush me. Let me think about this. Let me consider and ponder this. I don’t want to make a mistake in this decision." He could have said, "Now, Master, You come back ten days from now, and I’ll have an answer for You." What does the Book say that Simon Peter did? Immediately, he forsook all and followed Him [Luke 5:10-11]. And what Peter did, the others did also. He was a natural born leader of men. That’s magnificent!
Or take again Simon Peter at Caesarea Philippi when the Lord said to the disciples, "Whom do men say that I am?" [Matthew 16:13].
"Well," said the disciples, "They are inconclusive. The poll doesn’t show any particular trend. It’s about six of one, half dozen of the other. It’s about fifty-fifty as to whether You are John the Baptist raised from the dead, or whether You are Elijah, or whether You are Jeremiah, or whether You are one of the prophets. And we don’t know. Sometimes I think You are John the Baptist. Then sometimes I think You are Elijah, and then sometimes I think You are Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Then sometimes I think you are one of the other prophets – just don’t quite know." Then the Lord said, "But whom say ye that I am?" And Simon Peter spoke up, and he said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matthew 16:13-16].
It didn’t take him – he was there speaking, he was there on his feet, he was there affirming! You can’t help but sort of listen to a man like that. He’s no sweet petunia out in a backyard, wasting his sweetness on the desert air. Man, he’s standing up and being heard!
And you know a characteristic like that is sort of refreshing in a day like this, when we are taught to be inconclusive about everything. The badge of a smart man is that he has no opinions, he has no judgments. Everything stays in solution: he has no particular convictions, he is open-minded!
So we live in a world of philosophical disquisitions. And they are sometimes prone to believe that this might be true, and sometimes prone to believe that this might be true. And nobody knows where the truth lies. It’s sort of like reaching out for an evanescent, intangible something in a limbo; so we don’t know what, and we don’t believe anything.
Isn’t it wonderful to see a man who knows his own mind, and is persuaded of it, and is in conviction about it, and speaks up concerning it? It’s not everyone that philosophizes about the kingdom of God that enters in, but he who does it – the will of the Father in heaven. Wisdom is knowing what to do and skill is knowing how to do it, but virtue is in doing it! You can’t help, I say, but to admire a man like Simon Peter. He has strengths. There is strength in a man like that.
Well, there are also weaknesses in a man like that. You can’t escape it. It’s like a pendulum. A man of that disposition has a tendency to go to extremes on one side or the other. Or, It’s like carrying a pan of water: you spill a little of it on this side, then you pull it over and it spills over on the other side. And Simon Peter is like that. He also has his weaknesses. For example, when the Lord said to the disciples, "You are going to forsake Me tonight; all of you, you are going to leave Me tonight." And Simon Peter spoke up and said, "Lord, all of the rest of these disciples may forsake You, but I will not. I will not. I will follow You unto death!" And the Lord said, "Simon, will you follow Me unto death and you will never forsake Me? Simon, before the cock crows twice," crow one time at midnight and crow the next time at the dawn of the morning, "Before the cock crows twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice" [Mark 14:27-31]. That’s Simon Peter. That’s the weakness of a man like that.
Or take him again, take him again: here is Simon Peter in the house of Cornelius, and God has shown him that he is not to call any man common or unclean [Acts 10:15]. Christ died for all of them, and the gospel is to be preached to all of them. So Simon Peter learns his lesson, and he goes into the house of the Gentile Cornelius, saying to Cornelius, that being a Jew it is not lawful for him to enter into the house of a Gentile or to break bread with them; but God showed him he was not to call any man common or unclean [Acts 10:28]. So he goes into the house of the Gentile Cornelius, and breaks bread with him, and stays with him; God has taught him.
Now, you read the second chapter of the Book of Galatians. And when Simon Peter was at Antioch, why, there came certain [men] from James, who was a rigid traditionalist. And Simon Peter dissimilated – that’s a nice word that Paul uses that means "played the hypocrite" – and he pulled away from the Gentiles [Galatians 2:12]. He was a strange mixture from this to that: he was a combination of courage and cowardness, he was a combination of rugged strength and instability. He was a man who always struck twelve – just that: sometimes at high noon in some glorious hour of triumph, and then sometimes at midnight in some dismal failure. It was never nine o’clock in the morning to Simon Peter, or three o’clock in the afternoon; it was always twelve.
Can God use a man like that, a man like Simon Peter? Look, a man like that is teachable. He recognizes – he’s the first to recognize those swings in him, those volitive responses in him, and the extremities in him; he’s the first to recognize it. He’s teachable.
When Simon saw the draught of fishes, he fell down at the feet of the Lord Jesus and said, "Lord, depart from me; I am a sinful man" [Luke 5:4-8]
. And in the sixth chapter of the Book of John, when everybody had left the Lord after the sermon on the bread of life in the synagogue at Capernaum [John 6:32-66], the Lord turned to the twelve and said, "Will you also go away?" And Simon Peter replies, "Lord, to whom shall we go? We are not leaving You" [John 6:67-68]. One time, "Lord, depart from me; I am a sinful man" [Luke 5:8]. The next time, "Lord, I am staying with You, whatever the whole world else will do, I am following Thee." He’d learned a lot hadn’t he? A man like that is teachable.
Another thing about him: a man like that will turn. He’s going in the wrong direction? There is a turning in him. There is a great capability of being something other than what he now is. Look: the Lord said, "Simon, Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you like wheat. You are going through the fires, Simon, he is going to try you hard, but I have prayed for you. And Simon, when you turn" – you have it translated, "when thou art converted," what Jesus was saying – "And Simon, when you turn, when you turn, strengthen My brethren" [Luke 22:31-32].
Surely enough, Satan took him and Satan sifted him; he treated him bad. When the Lord was arrested, Simon Peter ran like a coward. And when he stood by the fire, warming himself while the Lord was on trial in front of the Sanhedrin, he cowered before the questioning of a little girl, a little damsel, a little servant in the house of Caiaphas; and finally cursed and swore that he never knew Him [Mark 14:66-71]. Satan treated him bad, and he fell to the bottom. The Book says he went out from the presence of the Lord standing there, tried by the Sanhedrin. "He went out, and wept bitterly" [Matthew 26:75], bitterly.
Is that the man that Jesus calls a rock? [Matthew 16:18]. Is that the man that Jesus says is the type of an apostle on which He is to build His church? That? Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait – you don’t see Gibraltar in him now, but you wait a minute. When the Lord was raised from the dead, He said, "Go tell My disciples and Peter" [Mark 16:7]. And when the Lord appeared to the disciples – those seven up there on the Lake of Galilee – when the Lord appeared to them, it was Simon Peter He turned to and said, "Take care of My lambs, My little ones, and feed My sheep" [John 21:15-17], Simon Peter. And in the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, it says, "When the leaders in Jerusalem saw the boldness of Peter and John" [Acts 4:13], there is your man. And that is what Christ can do with a man.
Well, to conclude, it’s a marvelous thing, what Christ can see in us. Like a sculptor, an artist, can see an angel in the solid rock and chisel it out. Like an artist can see a beautiful painting on a canvas, and he draws it out. Or like an architect can see a magnificent building; it’s in his mind, and he sees it. That’s the way the Lord is with us: He sees us, not as maybe we really are, but the Lord looks upon us as what we can be. And what we can be in God’s sight is simply wonderful.
In the sight of others, we may be the sorriest of the sorry. In the eyes of some, we may be the most colossal of failures. And in the judgment of the world, we may just live in one nadir of failure after another. But not in His sight; always in Christ we are looked upon as being at our finest and at our best. And if we fall below, He is there to forgive us. And if we are discouraged, He is there to encourage us. Always, Christ looks upon us as our best and our finest.
This is Simon: he shall be called petros, a rock! [Matthew 16:18]. That’s our Lord. Always put this down, that Jesus is for us. No matter what, no matter how, no matter anything, He is always for us. He is like my mother: in her sight, ah, I could do no wrong.
Jesus is like my father: "I’m proud of that boy," I heard him say one time to a man in the shop. "I’m proud of that boy," and he added another word, "I’d trust my soul to that boy." You know where that arose from? My father gave me all of the money, and it was in change, a great big bag of it to take to the bank. And as I walked out the door, the man said, "Mr. Criswell, do you trust that boy with all that money?" And my father replied that sentence as I heard walking from the door outside, "I am proud of that boy. I’d trust my soul with that boy." He is for me.
Always remember that about our Savior. He is always for us! He looks at us in our finest and in our best. He encourages us. Thank God for His illimitable, immeasurable, unending love and faith, His encouragement. He is with us.
We must sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, there is no friend like Jesus; take Him. There is no strong helping hand like the Lord’s; take it. There is no meaning in life, no hope and destiny like that in Jesus; take it. Do it now, make it now. When we stand to sing, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.