Theology and Politics from a Conservative, Biblical Perspective
It’s not unusual for fishermen to talk about the fish they caught or even about the ones that got away. But when all is said and done, there not only has to be something attractive about the bait that’s used by fishermen in the hopes of catching a fish, but there’s another component that is actually part of the fishing process and is just as important. The fish must want the bait in order to strike at what you’re offering it.
You’ve heard the expression, “The fish weren’t biting today,” and there’s a good amount of truth in that. If the fisherman never goes to the lake or river, never puts any bait on his or her line, and never casts that line into that body of water with fish, there is virtually no chance that any fish will bite at all. They cannot bite on what is not put near them as enticement, can they?
I spent many of Saturdays growing up as a young boy fishing in the Delaware River in a small town in New York State. It was very picturesque and peaceful. There were all sorts of fish in the river as it meandered through town. I enjoyed those days quite a bit because it was just me, nature, and fish.
There were many times I’d come home empty handed but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I normally added a live worm to the hook, a few sinkers above the hook and then cast it out into the river, where it would sink to the bottom. Once the line had settled in, I’d put the fishing pole down near me and just wait. If, after a while there was no response, I’d reel it in and cast it out again. This would go on for hours. Even though I would often not catch anything, I’d pretend in my head there were plenty of fish out there in the middle and they were all circling around the hook and worm, trying to decide if it was something they wanted; something that appealed to them. Were they hungry for what I was offering? Too often, they weren’t, but that didn’t deter me. I’d keep on fishing.
I recall one particular Saturday, I went to the same spot and did the same routine with no results. After a while, I reeled in my line and put my pole down next to me. The hook and bait simply extended a few feet below the end of the rod and was just a few inches under water, but right near the shore. I was getting ready to eat some lunch and wasn’t deliberately doing any fishing. I was taking a break.
As I was eating, a reflection of the sun off the side of a fish caught my eye. The fish was on the far side of the river and seemed to be swimming lazily. Then I noticed it began moving my way, then did something I never expected. It swam quickly all the way over to my side of the river, right near the bank and with one gulp, swallowed the worm attached to my hook!
I barely had time to grab my fishing pole and started reeling it in to learn that I had caught a beautiful rainbow trout! I was totally surprised because in reality, I hadn’t even been fishing! I wasn’t even trying to catch a fish at all. The fish apparently saw the worm wiggling across the river and decided that it would go for it so it did.
Why did the fish go after the bait? For the simple reason it was hungry enough to do so. If the fish had not been hungry, there would have been nothing I could have done to entice the fish to bite. I learned that day that when a fish is ready to bite, it will bite.
Is it any wonder that Jesus turned the disciples into apostles who literally fished for people? Any good fishermen will tell you that there is only so much that he/she can do to actually catch fish with a rod and reel. The hook should be baited with something that those particular fish like and needs to be covered so that no part of the hook is visible to the fish. The other thing the fisherman needs to do is try to be as quiet as possible because water tends to increase the sound waves, scaring away the fish.
When all is said and done though, even when everything is done perfectly by the fisherman, the fish still have to want to bite. They must be interested or they will simply pass by the bait. I’ve seen fish come within an inch of the bait, look at it, and swim away.
It is the exact same thing with people. We Christians are supposed to bear testimony to the fact that we are saved and that the Holy Spirit lives within us. I’m certainly not trying to sound disrespectful here, but our testimony – in words, life, or both – is the “bait” that can “hook” other people and hopefully draws them to Christ.
But in reality, even if we lived perfect lives in the here and now (impossible), as Jesus did, this does not automatically mean that people will come to Jesus for salvation every time. If we look only at the gospels, we learn that as many received Him, many more rejected Him. Isn’t that sad? Here was God in the flesh, living as Jesus, the God-Man. He was perfect in every way, always and forever without sin. His love was always on display (even in His anger). In other words, if anyone lived the perfect life, Jesus did, and yet, many rejected Him. Why is that?
It is due to the fact that at the time they rejected Him, they were simply not “hungry” enough for the gospel. They were not ready to “eat” what Jesus was offering. Maybe later on they might have had a change of heart, just as the thief on the cross did, but at that point when they rejected Jesus, they did so because they were not hungry enough.
Yesterday, my wife and I went to a funeral. The funeral was for the older brother of my brother-in-law. I still call him my brother-in-law because he was married to my sister for many years until her death in 2008. About six years later, he met and then married a lovely Christian woman and has begun life anew with her. But even though we are no longer connected as in-laws, I still see him that way. His brother and I even went to school together in a small town in upstate New York so he was not unknown to me.
During the memorial service, the officiating pastor gave a powerful, loving, bold, and encouraging gospel presentation because, as he said, the deceased would want us to know about the Lord who saved him. The pastor told us how he had lost his own 14-year-old son in an auto accident a number of years prior. He talked about how extremely difficult that was to experience but he knows beyond doubt that he is with the Lord. Beyond this, he (the pastor) knows he and his son will be reunited one day in heaven.
The pastor’s presentation brought me to tears because it reminded me of how great God’s love is for all of us. The pastor reminded us that God gave His only Son and he (the pastor) could relate to that because he understood how difficult it was to experience the sorrow of losing his own son and how if he was asked to do so willingly would not be able to do it. Yet, God loved the people of this world that He created so much that He gave His only Son willingly that we might have life eternal. How many reject that though?
I’ve lost both of my parents and my only sibling, my older sister. These were difficult and by far, losing my sister was the most difficult. It cut deeply, yet, I too know she is with the Lord and one day she and I will be reunited in a place where sin never darkens the doorway, where pain and suffering are never part of the picture, where we will bring glory to our God with every thought, word, action, and breath forever and ever.
This could be you as well. It could be everyone who heard the pastor’s message at the funeral yesterday. The message he gave was certainly on point. He gave a clear presentation of the gospel. He used vivid and truthful illustrations to make the gospel come alive. He spoke plainly and quoted Scripture to underscore his points. I believe God spoke through the pastor and the Bible tells us that God’s Word will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).
I’m trusting that the spoken word yesterday impacted those hearing for their sake and for eternity. I’m praying that the gospel, having gone out to people at a time when death and the afterlife are being discussed reached people who were – at that time – very hungry for something that only God can provide.
Receiving salvation is a relatively simple yet eternally profound undertaking. It starts and ends with faith in who Jesus is and what He accomplished on our behalf. The apostle Paul puts it simply enough several times in his letters. Here is one example from Romans 10:9-10.
…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (NKJV)
We must thoroughly believe that Jesus is Lord, that He died for our sins and in our place so that we don’t have to, and that He actually raised Himself from the dead because death could not hold Him (Acts 2:24). Those who believe in Him receive salvation, which is eternal. He will never let go of us (Romans 8). Moreover, once we trust in Him, God imputes to our account the righteousness of His Son. He no longer sees our filthy rags, but His Son’s righteousness. This is not “easy-believism.” It is this faith that God sees and allows Him to cancel our sin and establish us with Christ’s righteousness. It is being “born again,” or “born from above” as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3. It starts and ends with faith. It is the spiritual transaction that is eternal.
I wonder how many at yesterday’s funeral were moved to trust Jesus for salvation, to place their faith in what He has accomplished for them? The pastor’s words were beautifully put, heartfelt, and sincere. He presented the truth of the gospel, but you know what? He could not force anyone to “bite” or to receive what he was presenting anymore than the best fisherman cannot force a fish to lunge at the hook dangling in the water.
We do not know who will be “hungry” for the gospel so we must always preach it in word and deed. Who knows how many received salvation after they heard the words of Jesus or one of the apostles and it may not have happened right then and there, but some time later.
Our job is to preach the gospel. We cannot to force anyone to receive salvation. The Holy Spirit convicts and attempts to convince.
He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (John 16:8-11; NASB).
We are fishers of men. We must preach the gospel.