Becoming a Fisher of Men

Acts 2:14-4:22, 1 Peter 4:11

19 August 2007

Blenheim Free Church, Maidenhead

Morning service


About three years earlier Peter had been fishing in the Sea of Galilee when Jesus had said to him and his brother Andrew, Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of menref. And we're told that At once they left their nets and followed himref.

So this was the start of Peter's discipleship, three years earlier. We're now at the beginning of the book of Acts and it's a fair question to ask: how is Peter getting on? How is his ministry of man-fishing going?

Well, I think it's fair to say that it has not really been terribly spectacular. In the three or so years since his call, Peter has apparently converted precisely no-one. The band of Jesus' followers numbers about 120, but we're not told that any of them are there because of the ministry of Peter. I looks like the fisher of men has not caught a single soul.

But in our passage today from the book of Acts, with extraordinary suddenness, everything changes. In Acts 2:41 we read that after a single sermon about three thousand added to their number that dayref. A little later in Acts 4:4 we are told that many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.ref

This is just simply awesome, isn't it? Overnight Peter has been transformed into a kind of super Billy Graham. Do you want to be a fisher of men and women? Do you want to grow this church? Do you want to be the cause of great rejoicing in heaven? Well, keep listening as we learn from Peter.

Peter's ministry is totally Spirit Powered

Let's look more closely at how Peter has changed.

First, when have we ever heard Peter quoting Scripture before? Well, in Acts chapter one he quotes from a couple of Psalms, but what we see in chapter 2 and following is just astonishing. Peter is quoting the Old Testament all over the place.

But it's not just that Peter can quote Scripture, it's his depth of understanding that amazes the people. We're told in chapter 4 that when the rulers and elders realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonishedref. Peter and John had no theological degree; they had no rabbinic training, but their understanding astonished the professionals.

Obviously Peter and John had learnt a great deal from Jesus over three years, and at the end of his earthly ministry he opened their minds so that they could understand the Scripturesref, but Peter's use of the Old Testament in the speeches he gives here is like nothing we've seen before. This is not the slightly clueless, foot-in-mouth Peter that we know from the gospels. What has happened to him?

Second, Peter now understands the gospel; he finally understands Jesus' work. During Jesus' time on earth, Peter never really grasped this. We see this in the famous passage in Mark chapter 8 where Peter rebukes Jesus for saying he must suffer and be killed. Jesus replies Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.ref

On another occasion we find Jesus washing the disciples' feet as an illustration of how he would later cleanse them from all sin, but again Peter just doesn't understand. No, you shall never wash my feetref, he says, missing the point entirely.

But now, in these chapters of Acts we see Peter clearly explaining the forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith in Jesus. He's got it at last. What has happened to him?

And third, Peter is now bold to proclaim Jesus. It's not that long since he denied that even knew Jesus, but now we find him standing up with the eleven and being bold [the first mention of cricket in the Bible]. Now we find him being put in prison, being questioned by the authorities and still refusing to stop talking about Jesus. What has happened to him?

Well, this is what's happened. At the end of Jesus' earthly ministry he told his disciples to stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on highref, and that is exactly what we see happening here. In Acts chapter 2 verse 4 we're told that all of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spiritref, and in Acts 4 verse 8 Peter is again filled with the Holy Spirit as he speaks to the rulers and elders.

The difference between Peter before and Peter now is Pentecost. Before Peter had Jesus with him, but now he has the Holy Spirit within him, and what a difference he makes!

The Holy Spirit gives Peter insight into the Bible. Of course he's read these texts many times, but he's never really understood them before. And the Holy Spirit enables Peter to understand the Gospel. In fact, in 1 Corinthians chapter 2 the Apostle Paul argues that we cannot understand the gospel without the Holy Spirit, which is just what Peter has found here.

And the Holy Spirit makes Peter bold. He makes Peter bold to speak in Jesus' name, and bold to heal in Jesus' name.

We can't imagine old-Peter doing any of things we hear about in these chapters, can we? But that's the difference between a human effort and the Spirit's power. It's only when Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit that he truly becomes a fisher of men: and what a fisherman!

Think of two cars, one full of petrol, one with an empty tank. What's the difference?

Think of two mobile phones, one freshly charged, the other with a flat battery. What's the difference?

Think of two power-drills, one plugged into the mains, the other with no connection. What's the difference?

In each of these cases a source of power turns something useless into something useful. And that's how it is for our ministries.

Think of a two Christians, one filled with the Holy Spirit, one relying on his own strength. What's the difference?

All our resources, training, natural abilities, are pointless unless we are filled with the Holy Spirit for ministry. So, how do we become filled with the Holy Spirit?

Well, according to Peter here every Christian has received the Holy Spirit. He says, Repent and be baptised... And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spiritref. However, not all Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit. Actually, some are running with very low batteries indeed: do you feel like that?

Well, the secret of being filled with the Spirit is simply to do what I'm going to say in the next two points: be totally Jesus centred, and do everything for the praise and glory of God. There's no mystery, and no magic involved. If you are totally focused on Jesus; if all you care about is the glory of God, then he will clothe you with power from on high. That's what will make you an effective fisher of men.

Peter's message is totally Jesus Centred

If the first thing we notice about Peter in these chapters is that his ministry is totally Spirit powered, the second thing we notice is that his message is totally Jesus centred. Everything he says revolves around the life, death, resurrection, Lordship and Messiah-ship of Jesus.

The whole content of Peter's famous Pentecost sermon is Jesus. Then, when the beggar is healed Peter says In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.ref Two more speeches of Peter's are recorded in these chapters, neither of which really start with Jesus, but both of which he quickly brings round to Jesus. And when the authorities want to shut him up, it's the name of Jesusref they're told not to talk about.

Some people have only one topic of conversation, don't they? I knew a fellow once who was obsessed with kites. He would talk for hours and hours and hours about kites. You have no idea how much there is to say on the subject of kites. He could bore for England about kites!

Peter is even more obsessed than that: he has one topic of conversation and every conversation must be brought round to it. But what a topic it is: the most fascinating, the most wonderful, the most important topic in the world. Jesus Christ of Nazareth! And nothing will shut him up about it!

Brothers and sisters, if we desire to have effective ministries, to be good disciples and fishers of men, then we need to be obsessed with Jesus as well. We know him and we love him, but how much do we talk about him?

Sometimes I fear that Christians these days are almost obsessed with not talking about him. We barely talk about Jesus amongst ourselves, never mind those outside the church. If we do get a spark of interest in our faith from someone, we so often get drawn into talking about side issues like church and church life, homosexual priests, Islamic fundamentalism and the rest. This will get us nowhere; we need to be talking about Jesus!

So the first thing we need to do is to start talking about him between ourselves. We need to develop the habit of talking about Jesus when we are together: reminding each other of his teaching, of his life and death and resurrection. Of his Lordship. If we get into good habits between ourselves then we will be better equipped to talk about him in the world.

Perhaps it's hard to talk about him when we are among people for whom "Jesus Christ" is a mild expletive, but it can't be harder for us than it was for Peter, can it? Surely we're not going to be thrown in jail for mentioning the resurrection.

More and more I'm enjoying in my conversations with pagan colleagues dropping into discussion when we discuss moral or social issues the question "What Would Jesus Do?" They're surprised, but so what? Sometimes it can lead in interesting ways.

In any case, unless we're talking about Jesus, we are never going to be effective disciples. All of us who are Christians know him. Any of us can talk about him. Remember that Peter and John were simply unschooled, ordinary menref. We don't need a theological degree to do it. We can find out everything we need to know from reading our Bibles.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Peter says an awful lot about Jesus here, far too much to look at now. But thankfully he's given us a summary verse in chapter 2 verse 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.ref

Everything Peter says about Jesus revolves around these two things: God has made him Lord and Christ. And these are the truths we need to communicate to our families, friends and neighbours.

To his Jewish audience in Jerusalem Peter proves that Jesus is Lord and Christ directly from the Old Testament, specifically from Psalms 16 and 110.

In Peter's argument it is the coming of the promised Holy Spirit that proves Jesus is Lord. It proves that Jesus has risen to sit at God's right hand; he has power and authority to rule and to judge.

It is the resurrection of Jesus that proves that Jesus is the Christ, that is the long awaited messiah or saviour. Only a man who was not abandoned to the grave could fulfil the Old Testament prophecies about the messiah.

We might choose to use different arguments depending on whom we are talking to, but these are the key elements of a gospel conversation:

First there is a Lord to whom we are answerable. One day he will judge us. Jesus is that Lord.

Second there is a Saviour, a Christ, whom we need. Jesus is that Saviour.

Why do we need that saviour? Because we have rejected Jesus as Lord. Peter's audience were clearly guilty of rejecting the Lord: they had killed him; blood was on their hands. God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christref.

When Peter's audience heard this, can you imagine how they felt? They had crucified the Lord! They had killed the Messiah! No wonder they were cut to the heart; no wonder they asked Brothers, what shall we do?ref.

And can you imagine their joy when they learnt that it was not too late, that they could Repent and be baptised... in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sinsref. And three thousand of them responded.

But we are no less guilty than they were. We too would have killed him had we been there. And we reject his Lordship over our lives every day. We need a saviour every bit as much as they did.

We need to persuade people that they need saving because Jesus is Lord, and we need to show them that they can be saved because Jesus is the Christ. As Peter says Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be savedref.

Peter's life was all for the Praise of God

So, Peter had become a spectacularly effective fisher of men because his ministry was totally Spirit powered, and because his message was totally Jesus centred.

The third striking thing we notice in these chapters is that Peter's life was all for the Praise of God.

Everything Peter does in these chapters results in people praising God. At the end of chapter 2 we find all the new converts gathering together and praising Godref. When the lame man is healed the first thing he did was leap up and praise God: all the people saw him walking and praising Godref. And after Peter and John are imprisoned and questioned we hear that After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.ref

Peter's life was all for the praise of God. There's no hint of him trying to take any of the glory for himself. His ministry is spectacular — 3000 converts on one occasion; 2000 on another; a man lame from birth healed — but any credit, any praise he is keen to deflect away from himself and up to God.

We see that in chapter 3 verses 11 and 12. After the healing, when the people start to gather round he says to them Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?ref, and then he points them straight to God.

As long as what people think of you is more important to you than what they think of God, you will never be an effective fisher of men. Examine your heart: do you truly care about God's glory more than your own?

Personally, I struggle with this constantly. It is probably the single greatest impediment to my ministry. I simply care more about what people think of me than what they think of God. And it's wrong! But slowly I'm learning not to care what you think of me; what you think of God is all that matters.


Peter truly understood this. He wrote about it years later in one of his letters, which is where I would like to finish this morning. Please turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 4 verse 11 if you can.

This is a summary verse of everything we have talked about this morning: it captures the Spirit-powered ministry, the Jesus-centred message, and the God-glorifying life. It shows us that what Peter learnt at Pentecost stayed with him throughout his life as a fisher of men. And it is his advice to us today.

If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.ref

If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of Godref. How do we do that? Well, we make sure that we are speaking about Jesus. He is the Word of God! Read your Bible and tell people what it says.

If anyone serves he should do it with the strength God providesref. This is Spirit powered ministry. When we witness to Jesus, whether in our words or in our service, God will give us the power to do it by the Holy Spirit.

Our goal is So that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ our Lord.ref. If I'm doing the work, I get the praise, but if God is doing the work through me then he gets the praise. If you are witnessing in your words and life to Jesus and not yourself, then God is praised and glorified.

So this is how Peter truly became a fisher of men throughout his life, he was Spirit-powered, Jesus-centred, and God-glorifying. What's stopping us from being the same?