The Big Fisherman
January 2nd, 1983 @ 7:30 PM
THE BIG FISHERMAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 1:1-5
1-2-83 7:30 p.m.
And the Lord bless the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the first in a long series of sermons, of messages, of lessons, on the epistles of Simon Peter. In the providence of God, one of those strange things that the Holy Spirit sometimes does, the end of the second epistle concerns the second coming of Christ [2 Peter 3:1-18]. So the series of messages, beginning tonight, will climax in sermons on the return of our Lord. The title of the message tonight is Meet the Big Fisherman, Simon Peter. Now just to begin with, let us read 1 Peter 1, verses 1 through 5, 1 Peter 1:1-5. And then each Sunday night, you will have an outline in your Sunday Reminder of the message that is delivered; and you can write notes in that outline if you so please. But we will follow through, Sunday night after Sunday night, these passages, first in 1 Peter, then in 2 Peter. Now we are reading out loud together, 1 Peter chapter 1, the first 5 verses. Now together:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
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.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
[1 Peter 1:1-5]
And that is the climax of the epistles: “ready to be revealed at the last time.” Our salvation is now, when we accept Jesus; ultimately, the consummation when the Lord comes again and our beloved dead are resurrected from the graves, and we, we are all changed [1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. It is a marvelous, marvelous faith.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 41, Paul writes, “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another in glory” [1 Corinthians 15:41]. And he uses that as an illustration of how God has made us, both in this ministry of the pilgrimage in this world, and in the resurrection and the world that is yet to come. We’re not all alike; we differ in every category. If God can make snowflakes – think of the billions and uncounted billions of them that are fallen – and no two snowflakes are alike; so it is with us: God never makes two of us alike. We are different. We are different in abilities, we are different in temperaments, we are different in responses, we differ in every category. Divine grace is not a steamroller set to crush out all the wrinkles of our individuality. Divine grace is like the glorious sunlight shining through one of these stained-glass windows, and thereafter it is colored. Some of it’s red, some of it’s blue, some of it’s orange, some of it is golden. So divine grace, shining through our differing personalities: we’re not all the same.
I think of the preachers that I listened to when I was a boy. I attended a revival meeting, so long time ago, by Gypsy Smith, one of the most unusual preachers that you could ever listen to, a marvelous minister of God’s grace, Gypsy Smith. I heard, when I was a boy, Dr. J. M. Gray, who was the president of Moody Bible Institute, a thousand miles away different from Gypsy Smith. I listened, of course, as a boy, to the greatest preacher our Southern Baptist communion has ever produced, Dr. George W. Truett, who preached in this pulpit forty and seven years. What a man of God, what a representative and ambassador, plenipotentiary of heaven was Dr. Truett. And I listened many times to B.D. Krem, an uneducated cowboy, saved from among the cowpokes of West Texas, but one of the most colorful, one of the most dynamic of all of the evangelists that you could imagine. These men, so greatly differ, yet all of them were saved by the loving grace of Christ and called by the Holy Spirit of God to be preachers of the gospel, representatives and ambassadors from heaven. We differ, as the stars differ in the sky. We differ in our individual personalities, in our responses to the Lord.
It is thus in the Word of God. These prophets of the Old Testament, so greatly differed one from another. Amos is a country preacher. When you read his prophecy, it is as though he had just come to town out of the country. He says of himself, “It is true: I am no prophet, neither was I the son of a prophet; but I was a shepherd, a herdsman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit: and the Lord God took me as I followed the flock, and said, Go preach to My people Israel” [Amos 7:14-15]. Then he added, “The lion hath roared; who will but tremble? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” [Amos 3:8]. That’s Amos. Isaiah moves in an altogether different area. He is a court preacher. The high flown, poetic imagery of Isaiah is as much above Shakespeare and Milton as the stars are higher than the earth. Such high flown imagery as this: “The law shall proceed out of Zion, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” [Isaiah 2:3-4]. Poetry, imagery, dynamic, beautiful, of the highest order; that’s Isaiah. Jeremiah properly is called “the weeping prophet”: “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the lost and the slain of my daughter Israel” [Jeremiah 9:1]. How different they are.
Thus it is with the apostles. They’re not the same. Matthew is not like Thomas. Thomas is not like Bartholomew, and Bartholomew is not like Simon Peter. And Simon Peter is not like John. Simon Peter is impetuous in the extreme. He is no sweet petunia growing up in the backyard, nor is he a little flower wasting his sweetness on the desert air. Simon Peter is going to be heard! He speaks, he stands up, he is impetuosity personified. And he was that way from the beginning. Simon Peter is always impulsive; he speaks and then he thinks about it afterward. The Lord Jesus, the night that the Lord’s Supper was instituted, first washed the disciples’ feet; and when he came to Simon Peter to wash Simon Peter’s feet, Simon said, “Lord, You are not going to wash my feet!” That’s Simon Peter. And the Lord said, “If I do not wash your feet, you have no part with Me.” Then he says the opposite: “Now Lord, not my feet, but my hands, my head, wash me all over” [John 13:4-9]. That’s Simon Peter. The impetuousness of Simon Peter is always exhibited in the story of his life. John, the apostle John, by the time he wrote his Gospel all the participants are dead, so he calls the name of the servant of the high priest, Malchus [John 18:10]. It says that when they came to seize Jesus, Simon Peter drew out his sword and cut off his right ear. That’s the way that I know that Simon Peter is right handed, he was right handed: when Simon Peter took out his sword, he didn’t intend to cut off that guy’s ear, he was going to cut off his head! So when Malchus ducked, he ducked to the left, he ducked this way, and Simon Peter was right handed: when he went down like that, he ducked, he cut off his right ear. Had he ducked the other way, he’d have cut him in two! That’s Simon Peter.
Well, you can’t help but identify with a man like that. He’s like us: not the same all the time, and not guarded and not sedate in his responses. He’s up and down, just like us. And he was a rough, cursing, lost man before Jesus got hold of him. I read the story the other day of Mary A. Livermore, who was a suffragette. She was back there a long time ago, many, many years ago; she was a representative of the women’s movement, the feminist movement, to get them to vote, to get them the right to vote. So she was on the Boston Common one night, to make a speech in behalf of women’s suffrage; and it was a highly unpopular and unacceptable political appeal at the time. So she was going to make a speech for the right of women to vote. And she was appearing there to speak on Boston Common. Well, there gathered around her a mob. Some rough men, rough, rough, rough men, they were there to see to it she wasn’t going to make a speech; they were going to break up the convocation, the assembly. And the friends of Mary A. Livermore gathered round her, greatly distressed for her safety, and asked her to withdraw, “Don’t try to make a speech here.”
And she said, “I have it in my heart. I’ve given my life to this dedication, and I’m going to speak.”
And they said, “But you mustn’t, look: your life is in danger; there’s not a policeman in sight, and there’s nobody to protect you.”
And she turned to the leader of the mob, a great, big, rough, gargantuan man like Rogers right down there, the mayor of Wilmer Hutchins, great, big, overgrown, gargantuan bouncer, just like him. She turned to that rough fellow who was leading the mob against her, and she said, “This gentleman here will protect me”; and pointed to that rough guy. And then added, “This gentleman will see to it that I have a right to speak.”
And I want you to know, the story I read said that that great, big, gargantuan bouncer went around that crowd and said to this guy, “You so and so, you shut up! And you over here, you keep quiet!” And he stood guard while that dear woman, Mary Livermore, delivered her address and made her speech. Now that is the kind of a guy Simon Peter is like: a great, big fellow.
Well, now what makes you think he was a great big fellow, preacher? Why, it is very apparent in the story of the Gospels. In the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John, there are six of those apostles that are struggling with a net full of fish, to bring it to land [John 21:8]. And the Gospel said Peter himself went down there and by himself he drew the net to land, what six men were struggling with [John 21:10-11]. And then you remember, I gave you another illustration how I know that Peter was a gigantic kind of a fellow: in the third chapter of the Book of Acts, when they entered into the Beautiful Gate of the temple, there was a man brought there, sat down there, a blob of a man that had never walked in his life, and he’s forty years old, just seated there begging alms, a crippled, born that way [Acts 3:2]. And when Peter looked at him and said, “Get up and walk” [Acts 3:6], would you have done that if you’d have sat down for forty years and never been able to walk? The man just looked at him in astonishment, and the Bible says, “Peter took him by the right hand, and raised him up!” [Acts 3:7]. If I had time, I would sit down up here and ask the strongest man here in this audience to come up here, and with your right hand lift me up. Brother, it would amaze you how you couldn’t budge me if I were a dead blob down there on that floor; you wouldn’t move me. Simon Peter raised him up by the right hand, just lifted him up. That’s the big man Simon Peter.
Now, there is strength in a man like that. You can’t help but notice how the impetuosity of the fellow magnifies the Lord. He’s that way. You can’t help but notice, I say, the strength in a man like that. In the sixteenth chapter of, no, in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, there is the story of his call. And he’s out fishing with James and John, the sons of Zebedee; they have a company, the Scriptures say, they are fishing partners. And he’s out fishing. And the Lord comes by and calls him, calls him to be a fisher of men [Matthew 4:18-19]. Heretofore he’s been taking those net proceeds to the market. But now he’s going to catch men for Christ. Well, how does he answer? Does he say, “Well, Lord, I’ll think about it. You come back after six days and we’ll discuss it. Maybe after two weeks of consideration, I might even try Your proposition?” Does he answer like that? No. When Jesus comes by and speaks to Simon Peter and says, “I am asking you to follow Me,” the Bible says he forsook his net, and the old fish, and the old life, just like that, and followed Jesus [Matthew 4:20-22]. That’s great. When God calls, he answers with his life; that’s marvelous.
All right, take again, the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, they’re up there at Caesarea Philippi, in old Dan, and the Lord Jesus is talking to those twelve men. And He says to them, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” And they reply, “Well, some of them say You are John the Baptist raised from the dead; and some of them say that You are Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” And Jesus says, “Well, whom do you say that I am?” [Matthew 16:13-15]. Well, it could have been like this— and I’m sure to some extent it was—the disciples looking at the Lord Jesus, they said, “Well, Lord, it’s about six of one, half dozen the other. It’s about fifty-fifty. We just don’t quite, we just haven’t come to a conclusion; we just don’t quite know. You could be John the Baptist raised from the dead, that’s right. Or You could be Jeremiah, the weeping prophet; You just weep and cry all the time. It could be that You are Elijah the great preacher of the apostasy, we just haven’t quite made up our mind.”
Not Simon Peter! The very moment Jesus asked that question, Simon Peter spoke up and said, “Lord, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” [Matthew 16:16]. And it was on that avowal that Jesus said, “I say to you, that you are petros, and on this petra, this great foundation, I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [Matthew 16:18]. That’s Simon Peter. There is strength in a man like that.
When the twenty-first chapter of John is added by John as an addendum to his Gospel, he tells the story of the Lord Jesus suddenly appearing in the gray mist of the morning, on the edge of the lake [John 21:4-6]. And when they catch that miraculous draft of fishes, John says to his old friend Simon, “Simon, you know who that is? That is the Lord” [John 21:7]. Now the other six apostles, gradually moved the boat to the shore; but not Simon Peter. He jumps in the water and comes to Jesus, to welcome Him [John 21:7]. Lord, what a spirit in a man like that! And how it’s needed today. We philosophize, and rationalize, and reason, and discuss, and go back and forth whether a thing is the truth or not, whether the Bible is the inspired word or not, whether Jesus is the Son of God or not, whether there’s life after death or not, whether there’s heaven or not. We just discuss it and discuss it, and philosophize about it.
Isn’t it a wonderful thing to find somebody who says, “This I believe, so help me God! This is the truth of the Lord, and I accept every syllable of it.” Wisdom is knowing what to do. Skill is knowing how to do it. And virtue is in doing it. It is not he that philosophizes and discusses that enters into the kingdom of God; but it’s he that doeth the will of our Father which is in heaven [Matthew 7:21]. There is strength, I say, in a man of impetuous dedication, all out for God, and “Here I am, and here I stand.”
Now, I’m not disavowing the fact, according to the Word of God, that there are weaknesses in a man like that. They are very apparent. Did you ever think about a pendulum? A pendulum never swings just this, come down, and here; a pendulum will always swing like this. It comes from this side to this side, and then back to this side; it will swing from one side to the other. It’s like carrying a pan full of water: it spills on this side, and you right it, then it’ll spill on the other side. There are weaknesses in a man like that. Look at him, in the Gospel of Matthew and all four of the Gospels, the story is told about Simon Peter, when the Lord announces He is going to be crucified. And Simon Peter says to the Lord, “Lord, You are not going to be crucified. We’re going to stand right here. We’re going to protect You; we’re going to give our lives for You. We’re right here with You.”
And the Lord says to Simon Peter, “Simon, before the cock crows, thrice”—that is, before the morning comes—“three times you will even deny that you know Me” [Matthew 26:34; Mark 14:30] And Simon Peter swears before the Lord, “Lord, though I would lay down my life for You, I will not deny You” [Matthew 26:31-35]. And before the cock crew the third time, announcing the dawn of the morning, one, two, three times Simon Peter swore, went back to his old habits, swore and cursed like he had done all the days of his life out there on the Sea of Galilee, “I do not even know Him. I never heard of Him. This is the first time I have ever seen Him” [Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72]. That’s Simon Peter.
Or take again in the tenth and the eleventh chapters of the Book of Acts, there is the story of God using Simon Peter to open the world of the gospel to the Gentiles [Acts 10-11]. And he comes back to Jerusalem, and before the mother church, he defends the right of the Gentile to enter the kingdom of our Lord just by faith [Acts 11:12-18]. That’s Simon Peter. Now in the second chapter of the Book of Galatians, first and second chapters of the Book of Galatians [Galatians 1-2], Simon Peter is in Antioch, and there are those there, a committee from James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, and they have heard that in Antioch those idolatrous Greeks have come into the kingdom of our Savior without being circumcised and without keeping the law of Moses. Now that is what Simon Peter had been espousing; but when they came from James, Simon Peter dissimulated, and said, “Now I do not know whether I was quite correct in that or not,” and he dissembled, that’s the King James Version, “he dissembled,” he played the hypocrite, and he disassociated himself from these idolatrous Greeks who had come into the kingdom just by trusting Jesus, not becoming Jews [Galatians 2:11-14]. That’s Simon Peter.
Makes you sad, doesn’t it? Hurts your heart to read it, doesn’t it? But that’s that kind of a man; that’s the weakness in human nature. He’s always striking either twelve at high noon, way up there in the heavens, glorifying God; or he’s striking twelve at midnight in the nadir of sorrowful despair. That’s Simon Peter. He’s never at nine in the morning, or three in the afternoon; he’s never in between. He’s either way up there, or he’s way down there; he’s one or the other.
Well, to conclude, how is it that God uses a man like that? How is it that God uses folks like us? Well, it is very plain in the Scriptures. And I want you to see it. When the Lord said to Simon Peter, “Simon, three times you are going to avow you never knew Me. You are going to deny Me. Three times you are going to do that” [Matthew 26:34; Mark 14:30; Luke 22:34], the Lord looked at Simon Peter and said, “Then Simon,” the King James Version is, “when you are converted, when you turn, when you come back, strengthen the brethren” [Luke 22:32]. No word of denunciation or castigation or damnation or condemnation, just, “Simon, after you have cursed and sworn and denied that you do not even know Me [Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:69-70], when you turn, when you come back, strengthen your brethren.” Brother, he can do it, can’t he, because he’s been down that road we’ve been down! He has failed, and we have failed. He’s fallen short, and we’ve fallen short. We identify with Simon Peter beyond any other character or person in the Bible. He’s like us, and we are like him. “Simon, when you are converted, when you turn, strengthen the brethren” [Luke 22:32].
Now you look at this man. This is the man that denied the faith before the presence of a little servant girl. This is the man who swore and cursed he never heard of the Lord, didn’t know the Lord. He was laughed out of his Christian commitment by a little servant girl. And he ran like a coward when the Lord was arrested and crucified [Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50]. Yet the Lord said, “Simon, son of Jonah, I am going to call you petros, a rock” [John 1:42]. Good Lord! There’s no Gibraltar in a man like that; there’s no rock in a man like that! That’s what we think. But Jesus could see beyond what we see. Jesus could see the rock in him. Jesus could see the Gibraltar in him! Jesus could see the might and the power in him. Jesus could see that. And when I read here in the Bible of the denial of the Lord [John 18:17], don’t stop, don’t stop: turn the page and come to the next book, the Book of Acts; turn to chapter 4 and verse 12, when he is preaching, saying, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. And now the next verse: “And when they saw the boldness of Peter and John . . . they took cognizance of them, that they had been with Jesus” [Acts 4:13]. That’s the Lord. That’s the Lord. He sees in us what nobody else can see. Jesus is for us, and Jesus sees in us the possibilities of service and consecration that most of us never, never observe.
You know it’s like this: a great sculptor like Michelangelo can look at a piece of rough, rugged marble, and see an angel in it. In one of the museums of Florence, Italy, they had two or three of those enormous, rough, ugly hunks of marble, and Michelangelo had just carved about one half of a saint in each one. They don’t know why he ceased chiseling. But as I stood there and looked at those, I thought, “That is remarkable! It’s genius; it’s inspiration. That hunk of marble is so rough and so unseemly; but that genius had taken out of it almost finished, not quite, those beautiful figures.” They were in his head, they were in his heart, they were in his mind. He could see it.
Or take again, I wanted to go to Dresden, East Germany, for one reason: because Raphael’s Sistine Madonna is there. And I stood before that Sistine Madonna, and I thought, “Isn’t it wonderful that a man could see that on that canvas, that beautiful, wonderful, glorious scene of the Sistine Madonna?” He could see it in his mind and heart before it was on canvass. Or, this morning one of the men mentioned the St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the burial there of Sir Christopher Wren, Lector, si monumentum require, circumspice; “Reader, listener, if you seek a monument, look around you, look around you.” And that glorious cathedral was in the mind of Sir Christopher Wren; he saw it before a stone was placed. That is Jesus with us. He sees us like a great sculptor sees an angel in the rough marble, or like Raphael sees that beautiful picture in his mind and heart, or like the great architect sees that marvelous cathedral; Jesus sees in us what is our finest and best. And He draws it out of us.
Any time that a man associates with Jesus, prays to Jesus, thinks about the Lord Jesus, reads about the blessed Savior, any time we just brush with our Lord, we are exalted and lifted up. He sees the best in us, and He brings the best out of us. Jesus is for us. He is our Savior, He is our Lord, He is our friend, He is our fellow pilgrim, He is with us; always, Jesus is for us.
And that is one of the sweetest, dearest remembrances, realizations that I can have in my life. I’m not alone; Jesus is with me. And I don’t fight a battle alone; Jesus is by my side, helping. And I can have Him with all of His blessedness for the asking, for the taking, for the opening of my heart. It is as simple as opening a door and letting Him come in. He said so: “I stand at the door, and knock: if anyone open the door, I will come in, and we will fellowship together” [Revelation 3:20]. It’s as simple as opening a door. It is as simple as taking a drink of water: “Anyone that drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again; but he that drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; But the water I give him shall be a well of water springing up into everlasting life” [John 4:13-14]. It is as simple as taking a drink of water. It is as simple as eating a piece of bread: “He that eats My flesh, this manna from heaven, shall never die, but have everlasting life” [John 6:53-58]. It is as simple as eating a piece of bread. It is as simple as receiving Jesus in your heart. “Lord Jesus, I open my heart to Thee. Welcome, Lord, into every recess, and every chamber, and every room of my thoughts, and my mind, and my dreams, and my prayers, and my visions, and my days, and my moments, and my life. Welcome, Lord Jesus, into my heart.” It is as simple as receiving Christ into your heart. Oh, oh, oh. What a precious invitation God has extended to us: to walk with Him and to be with Him. And He is our Friend. He is our Savior. He is with us. “Lord, Lord, thank You for loving me, dying for me, forgiving me, saving me. O blessed Jesus, how could I praise Thee enough if I had a thousand lifetimes and a million eternities?” That’s Jesus to us.
This is our appeal for you tonight. In a moment we’re going to stand and have a prayer; and then after the prayer, sing a song of appeal. And while we sing that song, it’s God’s beautiful moment for you to come down that stairway from the balcony, or down one of these aisles in the throng on this lower floor, “Pastor, tonight, we have decided for God. We’re opening our home.” “I’m opening my heart. I’m opening my life to the Lord Jesus; and I’m coming.” Make that decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we pray and when we sing our song, that first step will be the most beautifully meaningful you’ve ever made in your life. Welcome with us, pilgrimmaging with our Lord, on the highway to heaven, loving Jesus, praising His name every step of the way. Do it. May angels attend your way as you answer with your life.
May we stand for the prayer?
Our wonderful, wonderful Lord, what a message from the life of Simon Peter! So much like us: a man of great strength, but a man of tremendous weakness. But the Lord saw in him a great servant, saw the best in him. And the Lord does that for us. When He looks upon us, He covers our weaknesses with strength, our sin with forgiveness [Ephesians 1:7]. When Christ looks upon us, not as an enemy, but as a friend, as a Savior, O Lord, how You encourage us, how You help us. There’s not a one of us, Lord, in divine presence but is conscious of his weaknesses and of his sins. We’re all alike. How wonderful of our Savior, cover them over, atonement, covering [Romans 4:7-8]; and sees in us what is best, what we can be. Oh, bless the name of our wonderful Lord! And our Savior, as we sing our song of appeal tonight, send us souls, families, children, young people. Make it a gracious harvest. And we shall love Thee, and praise Thy name for each one who comes, through Christ our glorious Lord, amen.
While we sing, come, come. Welcome, welcome.