Selected highlights from this sermon.
Jesus didn’t work alone. He recruited an ordinary bunch of people to be extraordinary witnesses. We too are called to the ministry that Christ has laid out for us.
Like the apostles, we are partners with Christ and can fish with confidence. We can trust that the Holy Spirit will bring the fish into our net.
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Today I begin with a story.
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks were frequent, a crude little life-saving station was built. The building was just a hut and there was only one boat, but the few devoted crewmen kept a constant watch over the sea. With no thought for themselves they went out day or night tirelessly searching for any who might need help. Many lives were saved by their devoted efforts.
After a while the station became famous. Some of those who were saved, as well as others in the surrounding area, wanted to become a part of the work. They gave time and money for its support. New boats were bought, additional crews were trained and the station grew.
Some of the members became unhappy that the building was so crude. They felt that a larger, nicer place would be more appropriate as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots and the hospital beds, and put better furniture in the enlarged building.
Soon the station became a popular gathering place for its members to discuss work, and to visit with one another. They continued to remodel and decorate until the station more and more took on the look and character of a club. Fewer members were interested in going out on life-saving missions so they hired professional crews to do the work on their behalf. The life-saving motif still prevailed on the club emblems and stationery, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club held its initiations.
One day a large ship was wrecked off the coast and the hired crews brought in many boatloads of cold wet half-drowned people. They were dirty, bruised and sick, and some had black or yellow skin. The beautiful new club was terribly messed up, and so the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside where the shipwrecked victims could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities altogether because they were so unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted on keeping lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that after all they were still called a lifesaving station. But those members were voted down and told that if they wanted to save lives they could begin their own station somewhere down along the coast.
As the years went by the new station gradually faced the same problems the other one had experienced. It too became a club, and its lifesaving work became less and less of a priority. A few members who remained dedicated themselves to lifesaving. They in turn then began another station.
History continued to repeat itself and if you visit the coast today you’ll find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters but most of the people drown.
Well, as you know, that story is the story of the Church. We are to be a lifesaving station and it could very easily be that we have turned into a club, and we have forgotten our primary purpose. The Bible says that Jesus, knowing that He was to die, chose 12 disciples, and the reason that He chose those disciples is that He had to convince them that they could carry on His work and He had to equip them for the task. They were to be the lifesaving station. They were to be reaching out to those who were drowning. And you and I need to know that the same Lord who called them calls us to a similar task, and to similar responsibilities. And what I want to do this morning is to convince you that you can do God’s work, and also hopefully to even equip you. That’s the agenda.
The passage of Scripture is Matthew 4, and the verses are few so I shall read them. This is Matthew 4 where Jesus called two sets of brothers. Beginning in verse 18 it says, “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.”
What are the steps that Jesus took to equip 12 men, one of whom was a rebel, to continue His work after His death? First of all, He called them.
Now I need to point out that there are really three callings that they experienced. The first was the call to salvation. When we read a passage like this we think to ourselves, “How can Jesus just be walking along and see two people, and they quit everything that they are doing and follow Him?” Remember this. This is not the first time they met.
If we had time we’d turn to John 1 where we discover that Andrew comes to Jesus and he brings his brother, Simon, and he says to Simon who is Peter, “Peter, we have found Him of whom the prophets spoke. We have found the Messiah, who is called the Christ,” and he brings him to Jesus. That’s the call of the Gospel that is given to everyone. And if you are listening here today, we say to our Jewish friends, “The first call is the call to see Jesus as Messiah, as Christ, as Lord.”
There’s a second call and that is the call to be a disciple, to be a learner. And for that group Jesus had quite a large number. In fact, at one time He sent out 70, the Bible says. They went out two by two, which means they had 35 different teams going house to house.
And then there was also through this specific call to be a disciple, the twelve. Matthew 10:2 says that Jesus called the twelve disciples to Him, and then it says, “And the names of the Apostles are,” and it lists them as Apostles. And Luke says, “He called the twelve whom He also called Apostles.” They were a unique group. They were going to spend full time with Him. They are the ones who were going to follow Him around, who would be with Him in Galilee and in Jerusalem. And wherever this rabbi went, that’s where those disciples were going to be. So He called them.
Aren’t you struck with whom He didn’t call? He didn’t call the Pharisees. He didn’t call the Sadducees. He didn’t call the elite. As I looked into this I was astounded once again at the ordinariness of the men that Jesus called. And you know, they were slow learners. They were hard-hearted. One day a multitude comes and they say to Jesus, “We’ll send the multitude away so that they can buy their own bread,” and Jesus said, “No, you give them to eat.” And Jesus wanted them to be the ones who would see the miracle, but they were quite hard-hearted.
One day people were bringing little children to Jesus so that He could touch them and bless them. And they said, “Well, you know He’s busy,” and they tried to hinder the people from doing it. And Jesus said, “No, invite the little children to come to Me.”
And then this really astounds me. They had several arguments as to who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Can’t you just imagine that happening? Wouldn’t that be something if among the pastoral staff at Moody Church there would be an argument as to who is the greatest? Wouldn’t the elders, if they heard about it, fire all of us and start over again? I think so. And here you have disciples who are petty, who are self-willed, and who are calloused, and this is the group upon which Jesus put this responsibility, and these are the ones who are going to carry on after His death. Wow! A friend of mine says that Jesus doesn’t call the equipped. He equips those who are called. So first of all I want you to know that He called them.
Secondly, He challenged them. The call was “Follow Me.” The challenge is, “And become fishers of men.” Now notice how Jesus takes their vocation, which they were good at. They’d been out on the Sea of Galilee for all of their lives, born into homes where fishing was the vocation. Jesus is saying, “I’m going to take your vocation as a fisherman and I’m going to translate that into someone who is going to catch people.” And so Jesus makes that transition because He knew that there were qualities in fishermen that would be very, very good once they began to fish for people, namely to evangelize.
What are those qualities? First of all, fishermen are patient. I just marvel at the fact that there are people who go fishing early in the morning, even at Lake Michigan, and throw hooks into the sea and spend an entire morning drowning worms. (laughter) This has been endlessly fascinating to me that somebody would do that. Patience! Hour after hour after hour! And I say, “Have pity at least upon the worms.” But there they are.
Courage! In those days their little boats upon the sea were often beaten by the waves. The Sea of Galilee could have tremendous storms, and so they had to go out. You want to be a fisher of men, a fisher of people, you want to witness for Christ? You’re going to have to have some courage because sometimes it is not easy and sometimes it is not convenient.
I think of knowledge. You need to know what bait fits what fish. Common sense! You stay out of the way. Let the bait and the hook do its work. And of course, perseverance!
Have you ever met somebody who is really in love with fishing? I mean there are people who actually pay good American money to go up north. The country that is north of us has very good fishing, and they’ll go up there and they will fish. But have you ever talked to a fisherman and said, “Were you fishing yesterday?” He says, “Yeah, I fished the whole day.” “Did you catch anything?” And he says no. I challenge you to say to him, “Well, I guess that’s the end of fishing. You’ll never fish again in your life, will you?” The fisherman will say, “Are you serious? Just because I didn’t catch anything yesterday doesn’t mean that I’m not going to continue to fish. I will fish, fish, fish until I catch some.”
Aren’t we that way in witnessing? I remember when I was in college I made friends with a number of students who clearly did not know Jesus as Savior, and we used to eat lunch together, and I would give them some good reasons why they should believe on Jesus. And to my knowledge none of them did. And I remember how discouraged I was. I, in effect, said to God, “Why should I even bother with people that don’t believe?” What a good fisherman says is, “I’m going to do it and do it and do it. If I don’t catch anything, I’m going to do it, do it, do it.” Persistence!
Now listen to me carefully. God was going to take these qualities, fishing in Galilee, and translate them into fishing for people. You know there are some of you here who are gifted in what we sometimes call secular vocation, though you are serving God in a secular vocation. I recognize that. But you are gifted as bankers and accountants and computer geeks, and you have the ability. (laughter) I mean, isn’t that okay? Isn’t that what they are? (laughter) Let me tell you that they are sure something! And you have the ability to be able to do this. And you are writers, and you don’t understand that in the Christian community your giftedness is desperately needed.
And some of you, who are about to retire and want to spend the rest of your life in sunshine doing nothing, having all day to do it, listen to me. God may be equipping you to take those gifts and translate them into the mission field, into Christian service, into work for which you are uniquely qualified.
And God said to these people, “You are doing this kind of fishing. I’m going to introduce you to a different kind of fishing, but the qualities that you need for this side of the work you’re going to need for the other side. Listen, you are uniquely gifted. Don’t ever spend the last years of your life doing nothing. There are so many worthwhile things God has given you to do. Isn’t it amazing that finally when you get it all together and you find out what it’s all about, you leave it? No! You transition into a brand new form of service.
First of all, He called them. Secondly, He challenged them. Thirdly, He partnered with them. And this story is found in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus said, “If you are going to be fishers of men, if you are going to be fishers of people, why then indeed what I’m going to do is to show you that I know something about your secular vocation, and I’m going to prove to you that you can do My work. I’m going to partner with you in the fishing business. This is a remarkable story because the crowd is pushing in on Jesus, remember. They are getting so near the shore that He feels that if He takes another step back, He’ll be in the water. So there are two boats there, and what he does is He says, “I’m going to get in a boat and I’m going to let it out maybe a hundred feet from the shore.” And He sat in the boat and the crowd was right up to the shore. Their toes were touching the water, and He taught them. And we can imagine that He began teaching maybe at mid-morning and now it’s noon, and Peter is washing and mending the nets because Peter and his companion were out all night fishing. And Jesus said to Him in verse 4, “Put out into the deep and let your nets down for a catch.”
Now you have to understand that this was a real strange command for two reasons. First of all, this clearly was the wrong time. The fishermen in Galilee knew right well that the time that you do the fishing is during the night. You don’t fish at noon. It’s the wrong time. Secondly, it’s the wrong place. If anything, during the day the fish come along the shore and that’s where you fish. You do not fish in the deep at noon. There are no fish there, and if they are there they will not come into your net.
Now I think we could use our sanctified imagination here and we could almost see a discussion going on between Peter and Andrew and some of the others saying, “You know, He’s a great rabbi, but He ain’t much about fishing. He really doesn’t know what He’s talking about. You know, that’s the problem when you are a carpenter and think you know something about fishing.” But Peter said in verse 5, “At Your word.” I like the translation that says, “Nevertheless at Your word.” We’re committed to You. We’ve decided to throw in our lot with You. We want to learn from You. You said it. I’ll do it.” Wrong time, wrong place, but Jesus said it.
Notice the text says, “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish in their nets, and they were breaking.” What they had done in their own strength the night before, which proved to be unsuccessful, turns out now under the obedience of Jesus to be eminently successful. Wrong place! Wrong time! It matters not. Jesus said it. We do it and we are successful. Even though we are fishing in the very same place where we fished all night when the fish were supposed to be swimming into nets, and now we are there and lo and behold, the nets are full.
Could I suggest to you that there are times when what we need to do is to fish again in waters that have been unfruitful? There are some of you who have witnessed to others and you have shared your faith, and you’ve caught nothing. And there are times when, under the obedience of Christ and depending upon His power, we fish again in the very places where we have not had success, and we go trusting Him because we do not know but that in that same water of failure there shall be success.
You know, of course, what Jesus was saying to them, don’t you? What He was saying to them was, “If I can prove to you that I can help you catch fish in Galilee, you have to understand that we’re going to become partners together, catching human beings for the Kingdom. And because I can do one, I can always do the other.”
Why is it that we can fish with confidence? First of all, it’s because of Jesus Christ’s power. I love this. All night the fish swim past the nets, and now suddenly when they are not supposed to be there, by a divine impulse, these fish come from God knows where, and they are all headed to a net, and by some spiritual compulsion all of these fish say, “There’s a net there. That’s where I’m going.”
You know, God gave to Adam authority over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, and over every thing that creeps upon the earth. And because of the fall of man He lost that authority, but Jesus here is the second Adam. So Jesus can speak, and when He speaks He commands the fish, and the fish come at His command. Why can we witness with confidence? It’s because we are partners with Jesus. The Bible says, “No man can come to Me except the Spirit draw him.” And in the very same way, when we fish, when we share the Gospel, we may think to ourselves that we are failures. Well, at the end of the day the responsibility is for Christ because only Christ can command your heart to come.
Listen up, those of you who are not believers. You’ve never received Christ as Savior. Even while I am speaking I am trusting the blessed Holy Spirit of God to be drawing you into the net of the Kingdom. I’m trusting the Holy Spirit, that voice within you that says that you should believe on Jesus, that voice within you that tells you that you need Him, and that without Him you will be lost, that voice within you, that urgency. Listen to that voice because without it you would never believe upon Christ. We can do it first because of the command of the Jesus – the power of Jesus, and secondly because He does command it.
“Lord, it’s the wrong time. It’s the wrong place, but at Your Word I’ll do it.” I’m not suggesting that we run around handing out tracts to everyone, and buttonholing people for Jesus as we meet them. No, we do listen to the voice of the Spirit, most assuredly because there are situations that God sets up for us. But we’re not so naïve as to realize that indeed we are commanded to witness, and sometimes we do it because He says, “Do it!” And unexpectedly He may cause fish to come into our net.
Today I am thinking of you who have been believers, some of you for many years, and never once have you witnessed to anyone about Jesus and the Gospel. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, you know I would do it if I just had a sign from heaven.” I heard a story about man who was like that, a Christian man, who sat on a bus and said, “Lord, if You want me to witness to somebody today, just send me a sign.” At the next stop a man got on wearing a three-piece suit. The man sat right next to this Christian, bowed his head, tears came to his eyes and he began to pray, “Oh God, I don’t know if You are there. I’ve no clue, Lord, as to how I can be forgiven. I don’t know whether or not You care for me. Oh God, please send somebody who will tell me how I can connect with You. Would You do that please?” And the Christian is listening to this and he said, “Lord, is this the sign? (laughter) Is this the sign, Lord?” He said, “Lord, I need another sign. I need some confirmation. Lord, if this is the sign then turn the bus driver into a pumpkin. Then I’ll know for sure.” (laughter)
What sign are you looking for if you are working with a colleague and you have never once shared with that colleague what is most important to you? Thank God for Evangelism Explosion that we have here at The Moody Church because that is equipping people who are called. But even if you haven’t taken Evangelism Explosion, and I hope that at some point you do, the fact is that you can witness too. Like someone once said, “Witnessing is really one beggar telling another beggar where he can find bread.”
Would you, by God’s grace, make a promise this week (and I’ll make the same promise) that you will go to someone and say this to them? “Would you mind if I were to tell you something that someone once told me that is very important and that changed my life?” Would you say that to somebody? I’ve used that frequently and I’ve never had anyone say, “No, I’m not interested in what somebody told you some time ago that changed your life.” People always say, “Yeah, sure tell me.” And then just simply say, “You know, I was wandering along in life.” And some of you have had adult conversion experiences as how you came to know Christ. And for those of us who were converted a little younger we can change it a little bit and we can say, “I was growing up in this environment, but I want you to know that as a result of my relationship with Jesus Christ, this is what Christ has done for me.” And we saw that this morning, didn’t we, as we had these marvelous testimonies of God’s grace, converting an atheist, converting someone of a different religion, converting somebody who was in the pit of sin. And God came and said, “Swim into the net.”
And you see, you’d think that after this experience, Peter would say, “You know, this is really great. And by the way, you know, they did (in verse 7) signal for partners in another boat to come and help them because the nets were breaking. And that’s what our missionaries do, by the way. They are saying, “We need help in Mexico. We need help in the different countries of the world. Come over and help us,” and we try to do that.
But you’d think that Peter would say this. “My goodness, with a miracle like this, I would like to sign Jesus up for the fishing industry. This would really be great. We could make a bundle on fishing, and of course, give the proceeds to God.” No! When Peter saw it (I’m in verse 8.) he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, Oh Lord.” He knew that he was in the presence of deity and holiness. He wasn’t thinking about making money on fishing. At that moment he could only worship because he was in the presence of someone who can cause fish to swim into a net. And as we lead people to Jesus Christ, we also fall down and worship. And it’s not an ego thing. It is the most humbling experience to know that God used you in the fishing business.
Back in the 1800s I am told that in Cleveland – the Cleveland Harbor in Lake Erie – ships would come in, and off in the distance real high they would have some upper lights. And those lights were for ships that were coming in from a long distance, and they could see those lights, and they could know where they were supposed to aim the vessel. But as the ships got closer what happened is there were some lower lights, and those lights were there because the boats needed to know where the rocks were and to be carefully guided into the actual harbor. So you have the upper lights that give the overall picture, and the lower lights that had more specificity.
Well there is a story that a ship was coming along, and because of a storm, the lower lights were burned out and the ship hit rocks, and many were drowned. It was that event that caused Philip Bliss to write a song that is not in our hymnals, but some of us who are a little older remember singing it in church, don’t we? And the hymn is:
Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor struggling, fainting seaman
You may rescue, you may save.
We’re not a club. We’re not here to make ourselves feel better. We are a rescue station in partnership with Jesus who we pray will cause fish to come into our net. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we thank You today that we are partners. Your Word actually says that we are co-laborers together with God. In other words, we cannot ourselves cause men and women to believe, but we can put the message out there. We can hold the lights. And we ask, Lord Jesus, that You will burn within us the confidence that we need to fish, to witness again when we’ve been unsuccessful. Oh cause us to be a witnessing church, we pray, to the broken-hearted, to the defeated, to those in despair.
And now I can’t conclude this message unless I speak to all of you, and to those who have never trusted Christ as Savior. Perhaps today God is causing you to swim into the net of the Kingdom as Peter put down his net after the day of Pentecost and 3,000 souls were saved. Would you, at this moment say, “Jesus, I see you to be the Savior. I come now to receive You as my own.” You tell Him that.
Father, thank You for what You taught the disciples. Thank You for what You teach us. Thank You for the awesome privilege of working with You in Your kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
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