4 The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Fishing Net
July 18, 2010
It seems strange to mix the sacred with the everyday, to describe the eternal with the ordinary, the infinite with the finite. And yet that is exactly what Jesus did when looking for a way to illustrate the Kingdom of Heaven, a treasure in a field, a merchant looking for a pearl the tiniest of seeds growing exponentially larger. And now he looked across the beach as the fisherman who called Galilee their home cast their nets artfully across the water.
“Look” he says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like fisherman.” Not! This is the first time that I’ve preached on this passage but I have read it time and time again. And I could have sworn that the Kingdom of Heaven was like a fisherman. Funny that, probably because I had been a fisherman it made perfect sense to me. But Jesus didn’t say “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fisherman” instead what he said was Matthew 13:47 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that is thrown into the water and gathers fish of every kind.”
This is week five of our summer series The Kingdom of Heaven is Like. . . And we are looking at the 8 times that Jesus begins a parable with the words the Kingdom of Heaven is like
A parable of course is a brief, succinct story that delivers a moral lesson. You might be thinking that sounds like a fable, true but if you pause and think about fables for a second you will realize the main difference between a parable and fable is that a parable usually uses people as an illustration whereas a fable often uses talking animals as the illustrative point, crows, foxes, hares and tortoises.
In their broadest form a parables have been called extended metaphors, which is completely different than a mixed metaphor where you start with one premise and end with a unrelated premise. For example those of you who are old enough might remember Zapp Brannigan from Futurama who once said “If we can hit that bull’s-eye then the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards… Checkmate.”
And if we combined the different instances where Christ began a statement with the words the Kingdom of Heaven is like . . . and tried to make sense of; a treasure being like a mustard seed or a pearl being like a fishing net we might think Christ is mixing his metaphors but instead he is drawing a much larger picture using parables that are not only metaphors but also similes. You remember what a simile is right? A comparison using “like” or “as”.
You have probably noticed the inuksuit around the property as well as on the banner over the worship centre door, on your bulletin and this wonderful creation on the platform. That is the very type of thing that Jesus would have tied in to his discussion of the Kingdom if he had been teaching in Nunavut instead of Palestine. In June we started our series with the statement, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like an Inukshuk.” And we looked at how the Inukshuk illustrates how we were to function as God’s Kingdom on earth, first it was used by the Inuit as a landmark in the Northern terrain that was devoid of landmarks.
It wasn’t possible to give directions by physical characteristics in a land that had very few physical characteristics, there was no oak tree to turn left by. So an inukshuk would be constructed at a point that was being marked. Travel until you come to the Inukshuk made of eight stones.
And so as we live out the Kingdom of Heaven here we are to be moral landmarks in a culture devoid of moral landmarks.
Don’t you hate getting directions from people who have been in an area a long time. “Just drive down til you come to the house the Miller’s used to live in and turn left, then drive past where the old oak tree was, the one that was hit by lightening and they had to cut it down a few years ago.” Unfortunately as the church compromises and believers look more and more like everyone else those moral landmarks are sometimes like the old oak tree that was cut down, what used to be.
And the Inukshuk was used to provide direction, when you get to the inukshuk made of eight stones follow the short arm until you come to a small inukshuk that looks like a seal. And the church, functioning as our part of the Kingdom is to provide direction to our culture. In the Old Testament we will find statements like Judges 21:25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. But the church is here to provide direction, to say this is the way to go if you are looking for God, and this Jesus is the way if you are seeking eternal life.
We are told that another function the inukshuk performed was to act as a warning, perhaps to warn the people that the ice was thin and dangerous or that polar bears frequented a particular area. And the church is here to warn people, about the consequences of their behaviour. Often times the church and Christians are seen as neigh Sayers and negative Nellies who want to ruin peoples fun, but the reality is that God’s rules were put in place to protect us and to protect others. And the present state of the family and society is simply us reaping what was sowed when it was decided that the church and Christianity was irrelevant and people began to do what was right in their own eyes.
And so Jesus tells us in Matthew 13:47-51 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that is thrown into the water and gathers fish of every kind. When the net is full, they drag it up onto the shore, sit down, sort the good fish into crates, and throw the bad ones away. That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the godly, throwing the wicked into the fire. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Do you understand?” “Yes,” they said, “we do.”
And so Jesus was telling those who heard him that day: look at how your everyday life points to the Kingdom of heaven. So what do we learn from the lesson of the net?
Matthew 13:47-51 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that is thrown into the water and gathers fish of every kind.” The first thing we discover about the net is that It Was A Purposeful Net It had a purpose, it wasn’t just any old net it was a fishing net. You ever wander down on a wharf and see piles of nets that are no longer used? Nets with no purpose, maybe someone will come and get them and use them to hold the peas up in the garden or as a back drop to practice golfing but at that particular point in time they have no purpose, they are just occupying space.
The kingdom of heaven is not simply like a net it is like a net with a purpose, and it’s purpose was to catch fish. There was no ambiguity about that, no doubt about what it was to do. It was designed for that purpose and it was used for that purpose. The shape of the net, the size of the mesh, the weights around the edge, the tether that held it to the fisherman were all there for a purpose, so it could catch fish. In a pinch perhaps you could use just a plain ordinary net to try and catch fish, but it would never be as effective and perhaps you could use the fishing net for other purpose, perhaps catching cats, but it would never be as effective at anything else as it was at catching fisth.
And that is the reality of life, you will never accomplish everything you are intended to accomplish without a purpose to your life. Thomas Carlyle wrote “The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder — a waif, a nothing, a no man. Have a purpose in life, and, having it, throw such strength of mind and muscle into your work as God has given you.”
And so we need to ask ourselves “What is our purpose? Why are we here? What do we want to accomplish in life?” You do have a purpose don’t you? A goal, as a parent, as a Christian, as a human being? I am a contributor to sermoncentral.com an online service that provides sermons to pastors as a resource. It is a place that depending on your scruples you can use it to research messages or to plagiarize messages. I use it for research, my commitment to you is that other people may preach my messages but I don’t preach other people’s messages. As I told one colleague, some of us have to keep writing them if the rest of you are going to keep stealing them, but I digress. When you are doing your contributor profile on sermon central one of the questions they ask is “What would you like written on your tombstone?” Good question, perhaps one we each need to ask ourselves.
It was Dwight L. Moody who said “Give me a man who says, “This one thing I do,” and not, “These fifty things, I dabble in.”” It is the athlete who has a purpose who ends up on the podium. Not in the past winter games but in the 2006 winter games I heard a Canadian athlete say “I don’t expect to finish in the top three but if I could place 11th or 12th I’d be happy.” And my thought was “Lady why are you even there? I hope my tax dollars didn’t pay for your trip.”
Life is changed by people with a purpose, and the Kingdom of Heaven has a purpose: To introduce people to Jesus. What is the purpose of Cornerstone? To help depopulate hell.
Do you know what your purpose is? Have you ever sat down to decide your purpose in life? Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica 1 Thessalonians 2:4 For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.
And if you asked others could they tell you what your purpose is? When Paul was writing to Timothy he makes this comment 2 Timothy 3:10 But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance.
And people will know our purpose not by what we say but by what we do. Author Leo Buscaglia wrote “Each of our acts makes a statement as to our purpose.” In other words it’s not what we say we will do that makes a difference, it’s what we do.
Matthew 13:47-51 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that is thrown into the water and gathers fish of every kind.”
It Was a Net Used for Its Purpose Not only was it a fishing net, it was a fishing net that was thrown into the water. Not only did the net have a purpose it was used to achieve that purpose. There are all kinds of people and institutions out there who if you asked them what their purpose was could tell you. My purpose is to make the world a better place, our church’s purpose is to reach people for Christ, our company’s purpose is to build a better widget, but they don’t actually do anything to accomplish the purpose. Washington Irving wrote “Great minds have purposes; others have wishes.” The difference I guess is whether you take the next step and actually do something to achieve your purpose.
I’ve talked to pastors about where they want to see their church in five years and they draw a great picture of what they would like to see their church accomplish, the live that are touched and a community that is impacted. And then I ask what they are doing to accomplish the purpose and they get that deer in the headlight look.
I know a man that talks passionately about the environment but the moment I ask him what he is doing to improve things the conversation stops. He has a purpose but he’s not all that useful.
Some people have no idea how to achieve their purpose have never connected the next dot, they are just content to talk about what should be without moving to the next step of what could be.
Often Robert Kennedy is quoted as saying “You see things: and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why Not?'” Actually it was his brother Ted Kennedy who remarked in the eulogy he delivered at Bobby’s funeral “Some saw things the way they were and asked ‘why?” Bobby saw things the way they could be and asked ‘why not?'”
But it was actually first said by George Bernard Shaw who said almost fifty years earlier “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
But it’s not enough to dream unless you are willing to take the next steps. A purpose in life is wonderful but if you aren’t willing to do something to achieve that purpose you will just be frustrated. Again to quote the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle “The purpose of man is in action not thought.”
And we don’t know how the net was thrown; the story doesn’t tell us what technique the fisherman used. Was the net thrown underhand or overhand, was it drawn up quickly or slowly?
We are told that this would have been a familiar scene along the shores of Galilee, where fishermen cast their nets from the shores into the shallow water or from their small vessels into the deeper waters but the goal was the same in both instances, to catch fish.
Sometimes in the church we get so caught up in how things are done we miss out on why things are done. We stand back and say, “Well we’ve never cast the net from a boat before, we’ve always done it from the shore, if we start using boats it’s a hard to say where it will end up, it’s a slippery slope” Or “I don’t think it is proper to throw the net underhand, it should always be thrown overhand.” But to quote Chinese revolutionary Deng Xiaoping said “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.” Let’s never get so caught up in technique at Cornerstone that we miss out on what we are supposed to be doing. And that is casting our net and being fishers of men.
Let’s make sure we not only have a purpose but that we actually do something, anything to achieve that purpose.
Matthew 13:47-51 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that is thrown into the water and gathers fish of every kind.”
It was a net that accomplished something. It Was a Productive Net. We have the net, it is a fishing net, then the fishing net is thrown into the water and now we see it doing what it was designed to do, It’s catching fish. We could have the first two but without the conclusion of the verse it is all in vain, it was merely an exercise in futility.
If a net isn’t productive, if it doesn’t achieve its purpose then you need to find out why not. Are there holes in the net? Are the weights in the wrong place? Is the mesh too large or perhaps too small? Perhaps it isn’t the net’s fault but the fisherman’s fault. Maybe they don’t know how to throw it or once they have thrown it don’t know how to pull it back. You’ve all heard Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Or the great statement “If you always do what you’ve always done you will always get what you’ve always got.”
The year I graduated from high school I went fishing with my Dad and his twin brother and seven other guys on the Rali 2 out of Paspébiac Quebec. We started off mid water trawling but soon the boat went into dry dock and was converted into the largest herring seiner on the east coast. We had a purpose, to catch lots of fish and make lots of money. It might not have been a high and noble purpose but it was what it was. And we had the tools and equipment to do it, and we were diligent in doing what we had to do. Night after night we would be out with the fleet, we would find the school of fish on the fish finder, we would set our net and we would pull them back full of nothing. What we called water sets. It was a little frustrating; actually it was a lot frustrating. And we started analyzing what was happening, why weren’t we achieving our purpose? And we discovered that when the sonar, the fish finder had been installed the sensor had been put in backwards. Seriously, I kid you not, tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment pointing the wrong way.
And so when we were getting ready to set our nets on the fish that we thought were in front of us they were actually behind us. Now we could have left it as it was and continued to set our net in the wrong spot and grumbled about not catching any fish, instead so we fixed it, it was that simple and we started to achieve our purpose.
If we faithfully do our part then the Kingdom of Heaven will be productive, it will produce results and those results are better people who will in turn change the world. Ultimately if the church is not productive, if the church, not just Cornerstone, not just the Wesleyan Church, but the Church with a capital C doesn’t is not productive it will cease to exist. And if local churches aren’t productive, no matter how they justify it and rationalize their lack of growth they will cease to exist.
A couple of quick thoughts to finish
Neither the Net Nor The Fisherman Had Any Control Over The Fish That Entered The Net
We are not charged with determining who should or should not be reached for God, and really not all that sure we would be qualified to make that decision. Not sure I would have been seen as a great catch, matter of fact I showed up at the Bible College the day after I became a Christ follower and they weren’t sure what to do with me. There I was, right off the boat, literally right off the boat, less than a week before I was fishing herring in the Gulf of St. Lawrence had only been in a Wesleyan Church twice as an adult and now here I was with hair down to my shoulders wanting to enrol in Bible College. Sure am glad that President Mitchell at Bethany didn’t think he was in charge of deciding what fish should be kept and which should be tossed away.
And finally The Net Was Useless By Itself, It Needed The Fisherman. Each of us needs others to accomplish our goals and our purposes, unless your purpose is to be a hermit. And if Cornerstone is to accomplish its purpose it will only be as we all work together to accomplish that purpose. There is something that you can do to help us fulfill the purpose that God has set before us, the question is: Are you willing to do it? Will you be a part of the team or just one of the spectators? So let me finish this morning with Paul’s request for the church at Philippi and my request for the church at Cornerstone:
Philippians 2:2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.