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The Fishermen Who Were Caught

Matthew 4:18-22

Jesus said: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

I don’t think that verse had its full impact upon my life until one day when, with members of my family, I was fishing out in the Gulf of Mexico. It was one of those glorious days in summer when the sun was melting like butter on white popcorn clouds, when the sea was rolling gently and when the gulls were soaring silently overhead. It was there that day, sitting in a boat, dreaming and thinking and doing some fishing, that those words—”Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”—first began to charm me with their magic and their truth.

Jesus said: “Follow me and I will make you…”

There are many things which go into the making of a woman or a man. Family is one of them. A distinguished psychologist a few years back decided to prove the point that the family has a great influence in shaping an individual’s life. In order to make his point, he decided to trace the development of two families in the state of New York. One was the family of Mr. and Mrs. Max Jukes. Now Max Jukes and his wife were not Christians. As a matter of fact they led lives which were anything but Christian. The psychologist managed to trace 1,026 descendents from Mr. and Mrs. Max Jukes. Of that number, 300 spent time in state prison, 190 of them were prostitutes, 120 of them were chronic alcoholics, not a very distinguished record. Now the other family the psychologist traced was that of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Edwards. He was one of the most brilliant minds America has yet produced. He was a great Christian man married to an equally great Christian woman. The psychologist managed to trace 792 descendents of Jonathan Edwards. Of that number, 300 were ministers, 65 were college or university professors and presidents, 125 were physicians, 60 were authors, 3 were elected to Congress, one served as Vice-President of the United States. So the point is made beyond argument. The family tree from which we spring has a lot to do with the making of our individual lives.

But also I think that we have to admit that the nation in which we live has something to do with the making of us and what we are. Think for example of the impact of this country upon the lives of individuals who live in it. I mean, there is something about the spirit of this nation, something about its emphasis upon freedom and fortitude, something about its raw independence of the land which can cause an individual life to be forged of stronger stuff if that individual is sensitive to it. One of my great distresses about contemporary American education is the fact that we seem to have taken out of our schools much of the lore and the lure of early American history. We’ve compressed it. We’ve sterilized it. We’ve reduced it down to those items which can be proved to be actual historical fact—and we’ve eliminated the rest. I think that is tragic. You see, I want to suggest to you that some of the greatest truths which arose in the beginning days of this nation are better represented in legend than they are in factual narrative. And those truths are truths which we need to plant in the minds and hearts of our children so that something of the spirit of this new, young land might be born in their spirits as well. For I believe it to be true that this nation has something to do with the making of a man or a woman.

And, of course, we have to add that the individual, to some extent, has something to do with his or her own making. Let’s be clear—there is no such thing as a “self-made man.” Everything we have, all that we are, every talent, every skill, every ability—all of it has come directly from God. But it is also true, isn’t it, that how we weave the thread of the talent and the skill God has given us into our own lives is pretty much left up to us. A rose can grow on an ash-heap. That is to say, a beautiful life can arise out of that which is essentially ugly. There are any number of individuals who in spite of the ugliness of background or environment have managed somehow to live splendid lives. So, yes, to a certain degree at least, we contribute to our own making.

But having said all of that, I have no alternative but to take it a step further—and the weight of the evidence of history stands in support. I declare to you that the master-maker of men and women is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Turn it around and it comes out like this: history proves that those men and women and young people who sincerely commit themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour are destined to become everything God intends them to be. That’s a glorious promise and that’s something of what Jesus had in mind when He said:

“Follow me, and I will make you…”

But now Jesus gets more specific. He says: “I will make you fishers of men.”

He began by saying that in following Him in life we can become all we were meant to be. Now He is saying that in following Him we can have a great work to do. And in order to understand what He was driving at, we have to understand what it was to be a fisherman in Jesus’ day. Let’s try to do just that.

Notice, first, that fishermen in Jesus’ day always worked together. Don’t get the picture of a lonely fisherman sitting down at the end of the dock with his line in the water. That’s not the way they fished in Jesus’ day. They fished in small boats and those boats were always manned by at least three people—and the people on board that boat always worked together as a team. Fishing in Jesus’ day was not an individual effort—it was always an effort which involved other people. The message is clear. When Jesus Christ makes men and women for His service, He makes them ready, willing and able to work together with other people. There is no such thing as a Christian “going it alone” in this world. The true Christian always works as part of a team.

I don’t know why and I don’t know what it all means, but over these last weeks, I have encountered so many sad stories about churches—churches which are struggling to survive in economically-depressed areas of the country, churches which are experiencing serious divisions among members, churches which are unhappy with their ministers, churches which are losing their sense of focus and purpose. Yet here in this church we have just completed one of the most amazing years in the church’s history. As I have reflected on that, I have wondered if we have some of the same problems and I am just too naive to see it, or if for some reason, which He alone knows, God is choosing to do a great work through this church. I have come to the conclusion that whichever may be the case, I am tremendously blessed to be able to serve with my partners in ministry in this church. For there is a sense of unity in this place whether it is real or imagined, which is a joy to experience. That’s what the church is supposed to be. When Jesus set out to make men and women, He said that He would make them fishermen—and fishermen in Jesus’ day always worked together. Christians, my beloved people, ought never to be divided one from another. Christians ought always to be united together in the love and in the service of Jesus Christ.

Notice, next, that fishermen in Jesus’ day always were patient and persevering. The fishing on the Sea of Galilee was reasonably good in Jesus’ day. But we need to remember that that single body of water, about fourteen miles long and five to eight miles wide, had to support the commercial fishing interests for the whole country. That meant that fishermen on the Sea of Galilee had to have an extra measure of patience and perseverance.

I’m reminded here of the little girl who fished with growing impatience for about 20 minutes and then threw her pole down and said: “I just can’t seem to get waited on.” Some people fish like that—and some Christians live like that. Some Christians seem to think that the results of their service to the Lord ought to be instantaneous, they ought to be immediate. But usually it doesn’t work that way. It certainly didn’t for Jesus. Remember please, that He worked for three years with twelve men—and in the end one of them betrayed Him, another denied Him, and the rest deserted Him. Yet still Jesus was patient and persevering. You see it on the beach at the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection when He comes to Peter, the one who denied Him and says to him: “Do you love me? If you do, then feed my sheep.” Jesus never gave up on the people He called to His service.

Holman Hunt, the great artist, was on one occasion teaching a series of art classes at the University of London. In the course of one of his lectures, he walked over to the board, picked up a piece of chalk, and freehanded, proceeded to draw a perfect circle. The students were astounded. They said: “That’s amazing. What’s the trick of it?” Holman Hunt said: “I’ll tell you the trick of it. You work at it eight hours every day, every week, every month, every year for forty years. That’s the trick of it.”

And that’s the trick of doing the Lord’s work in the world. That’s the trick of fishing for people in the Master’s name. It takes determination. It takes patience. It takes perseverance. That’s what it took to be a fisherman in Jesus’ day. And that’s what it takes to be one of the Master’s men and women today.

Notice, then, that fishermen in Jesus’ day were always courageous. The Sea of Galilee was a treacherous body of water, because on one side of the sea are very high mountains and on the other side are low hills which give way to a broad, flat plateau. The wind sometimes brings the cold air from the mountaintops down to meet the warm breezes from the plateau—and the cold meeting the warm causes turbulence, creating storms which blow up on Galilee rapidly and with little or no warning. It took courage to sail a small boat out onto that body of water. It took courage to be a fisherman in Jesus’ day.

When Jesus calls men and women to follow Him, He calls them to courage. Wilbur Grenfell, the great missionary to Labrador, had carved into the wheel of his ship what words? “Jesus, Savior, pilot me?” No. “Thou art a sure and steadfast anchor for my soul?” No. Rather he had carved into the wheel of his ship these words: “I will make you fishers of men.” He understood that to be a call to courage in living the Christian life.

One of the joys of my growing up in a preacher’s home was the fact that when distinguished, well-known ministers or missionaries would visit in the church where my father was pastor, they would always spend time at our house, enabling me to know them better. I remember one man, a missionary to North Africa, who had on the back of his hand three noticeable circular scars. The story he told of how he got those scars has remained with me ever since. It seems that in the Moroccan town where he was serving, the policemen were all Moslems and motivated by their hatred for Christianity, they were systematically brutalizing the handful of Christians who lived in that town. Finally in protest, this missionary went to confront the Chief of Police. The response of the Chief was to take the burning cigarette from his mouth and stub it out on the back of this missionary’s hand. Several days later the missionary went back to the Chief’s office. The same thing happened. He went back a third time—the same thing. The fourth time the Chief gave in. That kind of endurance, that kind of tenacity, that kind of going back again and again, that kind of courage, that’s what Christ calls forth in us. His call to us is a call to courage.

In London during the Second World War, young boys were frequently used as messenger boys. On one occasion, one of them was fatally wounded by shrapnel from a falling Nazi bomb. Before he died, he said: “Please tell them that my name is Derrick Balfour and tell them that I delivered the message.” That’s courage. That’s the kind of courage the Church of Jesus Christ needs in our time. We need men and women and young people who are willing to stand for Jesus Christ in the face of the opposition of this world. We need men and women and young people who aren’t afraid of the obstacles, and who refuse to give up no matter what. For Jesus is calling us to have the courage to deliver His message to the world and to keep at it until that message gets across.

So…

Jesus says: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

You know what I wish? I wish that I would find hanging on the heart of every person who is a part of this great church a sign which reads:

“Gone fishing”

That’s what I wish—and I think that’s what Jesus wishes, too…

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