Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 2, 2014
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
— Matthew 13:47-52, ESV
The final voyage of the Andrea Gail was no ordinary fishing trip. It was marked by extremes, both low and high. The men couldn’t get along, then they worked seamlessly as a team. They hardly caught any fish, then they caught more than the boat could handle. It was up and down, figuratively and literally.
But the greatest extremes, during those fateful days off the coast of New England in October 1991, were reserved for the weather. Cold air blowing in from Canada combined with the latent warm waters of the Atlantic. Low pressure collided with high pressure. A new storm from the north teamed with the southern remnants of Hurricane Grace. The Andrea Gail was caught in “The Perfect Storm,” the title chosen by novelist Sebastian Junger in 1997. You may remember the movie of the same name starring George Clooney that came out in 2000. The Andrea Gail rose and fell in a forty foot wave, when life as those six men knew it came to a sudden end.
The aftermath of this perfect storm formed a perfect eye. But since so much attention was paid to its outbreak and the damage that was incurred, meteorologists and journalists never got around to assigning a name to the hurricane. To this day this perfect storm is known as the unnamed hurricane.
Another unnamed storm is coming. It will be more extreme, more catastrophic, and more final. Jesus tells a story about it, invoking images of the sea and fisherman, speaking of matters of life and death, in the seventh of the seven parables found in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
Parables are fictional stories that tell us the truth about the kingdom of God. With the ones we have looked at in this chapter, we learn to detect who is in the kingdom and who it out with farmers and bakers of bread. We have discovered the way into the kingdom by finding treasure and searching for pearls. Finally, we realize what will happen when the door to the kingdom of God is slammed shut forever. It is a story told with nets and the sea, a tale of fish and fishermen. It describes one final, perfect storm.
What do you see when you look at the sea? All the human eye can do is skim the surface. The vast multitude of life underneath is invisible. We know there are all kinds of fish down there, and with the exception of a few that jump out at us, we cannot see them.
The kingdom of God is like the sea. It is like looking at the whole wide world from outer space. We know there are people, Christian people, down there, but we cannot exactly identify them. We know there are houses of worship everywhere, but all we can see is the outline of continents and countries.
The true kingdom of God is invisible to everyone but God. Though it exists in every person and within every church in which Jesus Christ is Lord, it is an entity that cannot be accurately and completely measured with the human eye.
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (ref. 1 Samuel 16:7). I think Billy Graham is a Christian. He kind of jumps out of the sea. So did Mother Theresa. But I know a lot of TV preachers are faking it for money, a lot of otherwise good people are depending own their own good works rather than the merits of Christ for salvation. You may tell me that Jesus is in your heart, but I can’t see Him with either eye or x-ray machine. Only God can see the heart, and only God knows the true membership of the true kingdom of God.
But I think you can know, if you are in or out, from the parables we have already studied and the study of the other pages of God’s word. You usually know if you are good soil or bad dirt, wheat or weed, treasure or trash, a genuine pearl or a fake. And there is an important clue that lets you and others know, too. It is the net cast into the sea.
The net makes the invisible visible. What is the visible expression of the invisible kingdom of God? It is the church, the church visible, local, assembled, baptized, sharing communion with Christ and one another. It is the body of professing believers in Jesus Christ who gather for worship and scatter for works of service in Jesus’ name.
Those who by choice or ignorance remain outside the church are just drowning in the sea. We hope and pray and do our part to rescue them. But the biblical fact remains that there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ and no proof of salvation outside the boundaries of the church of Christ. Augustine reminds us, “No one has God as Father who does not have the church as mother.” So, all those inside the visible church will be safe, right? Not exactly, for the net is a little more complex than that.
Usually when Jesus spoke of fishermen casting nets He was speaking of the spreading of the gospel. The gospel of grace that presents the person and work of Jesus Christ for salvation, requiring repentance and faith to be effectual, is the casting of the net. The catch of the net includes all people of all races and all places who make a profession of faith in Christ through baptism, communion, and participation in the church. One day the net will be full, the last church member will join, and the net will be drawn.
However, just being in the net will not necessarily save you. While church membership is visible, remember that the true presence of Christ is not. Your real and eternal place in the kingdom of God, or outside of it, will be weighed and judged according to what kind of fish in the net you turn out to be.
The fish are those who fill up the net, the visible members of God’s visible church. If you cast a real fishing net into the sea of Galilee, you could draw up at least twenty-five varieties of fish. If you caught up every church member in the world, there would be only two kinds: good and bad.
What constitutes a good or bad church member? Some have good attendance, some bad. Some show up with a good attitude, some bad. Some sound good, some bad, but by all means all should sing and make a joyful noise. But what really separates the good members from the bad is one thing: righteousness. The good are righteous, according to God’s word, and without righteousness, the bad are evil. While the difference is obvious, some theological explanation is necessary.
The righteous (some translations use the word just) are made that way by God; therefore, they tend to do things God’s way. These found their way into the net because they were found and chosen by God, received Christ by grace through genuine faith and repentance, and work at being good church members for the glory of God and good of other people. They are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, interested in the Holy Bible, and have nothing to worry about when the net is finally full and drawn.
The evil (some translations use the word wicked) lack the imputed righteousness and saving faith God gives; so, they tend to do things their own way. They came into the net out of pride and vainglory, and tend to think they are doing God and others a favor by being in the church. They are not primarily interested in the Bible and want the church run by other means. When they don’t get their way the either quit showing up for worship and meetings or, worse, do show up to create dissension and division. They will be in the net when it is drawn, but they won’t stay there, much to their shock and horror.
This is where the fishermen come in. Jesus chose fishermen to be among His first followers, and made them fishers of men. But they are not the fishermen in this parable. The literal characters represented by this parabolic fish tale are angels of Almighty God.
Angels are depicted in various and sundry ways in the movies. Clarence was the bungling, beloved guardian angel watching over Jimmy Steward in It’s a Wonderful life. John Travolta was a rather profane but powerful archangel in the movie Michael. The angels who rescued Lot in the latest Hollywood version of the Bible were acrobatic ninja warriors. So what are real angels really like?
I am not sure. I only know that virtually every time an angel appears in Scripture they have to tell the person or persons who see them not to be afraid. However, one should be awfully afraid to be a bad, unregenerate church member when the net is drawn at the end of the age. An angel will touch them in a way they don’t want to be touched and place them in a place they don’t want to be placed. The worst judgment of God seems to be reserved for the hypocrite.
The sea, the giant net, the fishermen and the catch of fish, deliverance and judgement, all of these things will converge at the time of the perfect storm.
The Perfect Storm
The perfect storm in this parable is clearly “The end of the age.” Christ came the first time for salvation. He will come the second time, at the end of time, for judgment. It will not be secret, there will be no second chances, and the sea will rise up to relinquish the dead.
Remember the perfect storm that sunk the Andrea Gail was marked by extremes, then the end. We live in a day of extremes. There are great churches and there are gatherings now for atheists, on Sundays, to confess their disdain and unbelief in God. There is extreme kindness and courage being shown by doctors and nurses treating Ebola, and extreme terrorism with jihadists cutting off people’s heads. There is extreme wealth being gained by a tiny percentage of people in the world while the middle class evaporates and some live in extreme poverty. Even the weather has become extreme, with some claiming the sky is falling from global warming and others reporting the coldest temperatures on record. I think the time is ripe for the perfect storm.
The sea will rise. The net will fall. The Lord will come again and appear in the sky with angels all around. Jesus Christ is Lord, the true Savior, and the only shelter in the perfect storm.