FISHERS of MEN
PRESBYTERY SERMON September 24, 2005
Preached By Louis F. DeBoer
Text: Matthew 4:19 Scripture: John 21:1-14 Psalms: 96A (Before sermon), 145A (After sermon)
Introduction: The American Presbyterian Church has existed for over 25 years. However, in God’s providence we have not grown. We are still only three small churches. We are still a denomination of less than one hundred souls. The lesson of course is that all that is in the Lord’s hands. We can only preach the gospel. It is God who decides whether the message is a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. Either way the word preached goes forth to accomplish what the Lord’s pleases and to fulfill his purposes. The lesson is that only the Lord can make us fishers of men.
Fishers of Men: Four of the apostles chosen by our Lord were fishermen by trade. They cast out their nets and sought to catch fish. Christ tells them to follow him…to follow him into a new calling. They will still be fishermen…but will not longer fish for fish. Now they will seek to fish for men.
Just as the sea is filled with men and some are destined to be caught and others to escape the nets, so the earth is filled with men, some of whom are elect and destined to be called by the preaching of the gospel, and others are destined to be left in their natural estate as sons of Adam. The task of calling out the elect from this sea of men is a task that calls for fishers of men.
And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. Matthew 4:19-20
We note that Christ says that he will make them fishers of men. They cannot make themselves fishers of men. Only God can enable them to accomplish such a task. All they can do is leave their nets and follow Christ. Only Christ, the sovereign Head of the church can call men into the ministry of the gospel. And only Christ, by the work of the Spirit, can prosper them in that calling.
It is God who makes fishers of men.
The Lord’s Timing—One Night In Galilee: This truth is graphically illustrated in an incident in the life of our risen Lord recorded in John 21:1-14. Let us examine this passage of Scripture.
1After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself. 2There 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. 3Simon 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. 4But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. 5Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. 6And 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 for the multitude of fishes. 7Therefore 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. 8And 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. 9As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. 10Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. 11Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. 12Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 13Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. 14This is now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. John 21:1:14
The apostles had labored all night and had caught nothing. When at the Lord’s direction they cast the net per his instructions they caught an astounding amount of fish immediately. Without his providential blessing they cannot catch real fish. Without God’s blessing and in fulfillment of his purposes we cannot have any success as fishers of men. We can only cast the nest. That is our calling. That is our duty. Only the Lord can give the increase. We can only sow the seed. The Lord prepares the ground. What happens when we labor as fishers of men and cast our nets into the sea of humanity?
- · Some fish never see the net…some men never hear the gospel.
- · Some fish avoid the net…Some men resist the gospel and reject its message.
- · Some fish after seemingly being caught swim out of the net…Some men temporarily profess the faith but later fall away.
- · Some fish are caught by the net…Some men are effectively called by God’s Spirit working through the preaching of the gospel by those Christ has commissioned as fishers of men.
As the Scriptures put it…
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Isaiah 55:11
For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. Romans 9:15-16
Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: 10For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. 11And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Acts 18:9-11
An example of God’s timing and God’s providence in building his church is the PCA congregation in Providence, RI. The congregation had existed for about twenty years, had located in various towns in Rhode Island. For a while it seemed to prosper and then it fell on hard times and almost dwindled away. It was down to a few families and the pastor left. A new pastor came and the church relocated again, this time to the city of Providence. There it started to grow again and became a stable self sustaining congregation. Then the Korean Presbyterian Students Association at Brown University decided that a para-church group was not enough. They needed a real church with a real pastor and the sacraments. They joined the PCA congregation that had recently moved from Barrington to Providence. They were zealous in bringing students from Brown. These used their ties in the local community to invite many local families to the church. Soon the church had outgrown its facilities. It rented an armory seating about 200 and soon needed two Sunday morning services to accommodate the 300 to 350 persons who were regularly attending. It was obviously God’s timing and the net was cast on “the right side of the ship” resulting in an overflow catch. For twenty years this church plant seemed to have a uncertain future. Many times it seemed this particular church plant might fail. Pastors came and went, some probably left quite discouraged. God’s ways are higher than our ways…his thoughts than our thoughts.
America: What, humanly speaking, are the prospects for the American Presbyterian Church?
What is the spiritual state of the nation? I believe it is well characterized in the words of the Apostle Paul…
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. 2 Timothy 4:3-5
In such times the strict testimony of the American Presbyterian Church has seemingly fallen on deaf ears. People, for the most part, are into “Christianity” for what they can get out of it. The Charismatics with their health and wealth gospel are prospering and driving the church growth movement. Evangelical churches are dominated by self-help programs…how Christianity can help your marriage, your career, and your finances, and not about how we can serve and worship the Lord, and if needs be suffer for him. One of the largest churches in the nation, Joel Osteen’s in Houston, was built on the preaching of the power of human potential and of positive thinking, rather than on the gospel of deliverance from the wrath of God to come on sinners. America, does not seem ready to hear the witness of the historic Christian faith as professed by the American Presbyterian Church.
Opportunity: One of the lessons of the cycles of the book of Judges is that a people who have God’s word, but have apostatized, generally are not brought to a state of repentance unless they come under the progressive temporal judgments of God. We cannot know, but if there is to a return to God and his word in America…If there is to a better response to the testimony of the American Presbyterian Church, it may only come after the American people are reeling under God’s judgments. It may only come after all their idols have come crashing down. It may only come after those they trusted in to give them peace, prosperity, and safety, have been brought to shame and confusion of face. “Put not your trust in princes“
Difficulties: When Israel apostatized and worshipped Baal. Elijah didn’t pray for God to bless Israel. He prayed for God’s righteous judgments, for God’s covenant sanctions, in the form of drought and famine, to fall on Israel. That was the necessary prelude to repentance, revival, and reformation. That was the setting for the contest on Mount Carmel between Jahweh and Baal.. Elijah was unpopular. Ahab called him the “troubler of Israel.” Are we willing to be unpopular? The evangelicals with their mindless slogans of “God Bless America“, are popular, but they are asking God to bless apostasy and prosper our national wickedness. Are we willing to “trouble” America and confront her with her sins and call her to repentance as Elijah did?
If we do our duty we may have to endure persecution. Paul told Timothy that he needed to be faithful, in contrast to those teachers who were prepared to cater to itching ears, and that to be faithful he had to be prepared to “endure affliction.” We also, must be prepared to be faithful…and be prepared to endure the afflictions that will accompany that faithfulness. May we be granted grace to do so.
Our Duty: The lessons of Hurricane Katrina are not being learned by the nation. Today churches faced with such suffering rush to morph themselves into just another social welfare agency. They seek the world’s approval by offering indiscriminate aid to those under God’s holy judgments. Nowhere in the Scriptures, not once, is there a single example of churches offering material aid to unbelievers. In the Old Testament there is not a single example of material aid to Philistines or Moabites, when they came under God’s judgments. In the New Testament the work of the deaconate, and Paul’s fundraising for the churches of Judea, were all exclusively to aid fellow Christians in distress.
Instead, the churches need to pronounce God’s prophetic word. They need to proclaim that there are no “natural disasters,” there are just the providential acts of a holy and offended God.
We need to heed Christ’s words on natural disasters…
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Luke 13:1-5
This is what people need to hear. New Orleans is just one city. That section of the Gulf coast is just a small part of the United States. The rest of the nation needs to be confronted with the fact that they also are sinners under a sentence of death; that their day is coming; that unless they repent they shall face similar judgments or worse. Hurricane Katrina was but a pin prick compared to the wrath of God to come on unrepentant sinners. The sufferings engendered by this hurricane will be as nothing a compared to an eternity in the Lake of Fire.
Yet the churches are strangely silent. They want to appear nice…They want to appear loving. They rush in with material aid. They turn their sanctuaries into shelters and their church basements into soup kitchens. Then they tell the victims of God’s justice that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives if they will only please listen to Him. What a travesty!!! What a disgrace!!! What treason to Jesus Christ, the Head of the church.
The American Presbyterian Church: The question becomes…will we be ready to serve the Lord in those days? And how will we serve the Lord. Are we prepared to serve him in difficult circumstances? Are we prepared to undergo the hostility and hatred of this world.
The churches in general are not. Evangelical leaders when on television are always more concerned about appearing “nice” and appearing to be “loving” than about confronting a hostile and unrepentant world with the truth it needs to hear. When men such as Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones III appear on Larry King Live they seem more concerned with trying to be accepted than in confronting a sinful world with the spiritual realities that it faces. They hedge and dodge the tough questions and speak of love and concern for unbelievers. We will never have a reformation until they are willing to give the kind of answers that will flood the switchboards of CNN with a deluge of calls from angry and offended sinners.
When Stephen told the religious leaders of his day what they needed to hear they were furious and gnashed on him with their teeth. Do we have that kind of courage? Are we prepared to bear the reproach of Christ? Are we prepared to bear the reproach of the gospel?
Christianity is about the truth not about making “nice.” Are we prepared to proclaim the truth, fully and courageously, without fear of man, scorning the opposition of this present world, and seeking only to be faithful to him who loved us and redeemed us from sin and death and hell by his precious blood?
18If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. John 15:18-21
Most churches today want to be accepted by the world. They desire to appear well in the sight of men—in the sight of unrepentant sinners in enmity against God and his word. This world has only temporal concerns so a social gospel and churches as just more social welfare agencies giving indiscriminate aid without reference to religious principles is what the world accepts. The churches are not prepared to serve Christ without the camp and to suffer for his name’s sake. By God’s grace may we be ready to serve Christ at whatever cost, for he has redeemed us from sin, and death, and hell at great cost, by his sacrificial death on the cross.
Conclusion: Only the Lord knows the end from the beginning. Only the Lord knows how he will use the testimony of the American Presbyterian Church. All we can do is do our duty. All we can do is be faithful. All we can do is to be ready to be his instrument. All we can do is to be prepared to serve him even in trying times, knowing that even as he may judge our nation for its sins, he will work it all out for his own glory, the good of his elect, and the good of his church. May we be found faithful in that day, and by his grace be profitable servants. AMEN!