It was a warm Saturday morning a number of years ago and I was meeting some buddies at a bass pond to do a little fishing. It was one of those ponds where the water is clear enough to actually see the bass. On top of that, there was hardly a bass in there less than 3 pounds. It was one of those mornings where the anticipation of fishing was all joy…was all laughter…and was just ‘good’. A couple of us were standing under a shade tree deciding between top water lures and crank bait when ‘he’ showed up. ‘He’ was a friend of ours, but, nobody had anticipated…this. ‘He’ stepped from his jeep wearing about $1500 in fishing outdoorsman clothes, carrying a fly-rod with different types of fly’s attached to the chest of his custom fishing vest. He wore a wide brimmed hat to shade his face, which also had a digital readout of temperature, wind direction, and barometric pressure under the brim. His waterproof boots came with built in temperature gauges, in the toe, to ascertain water temperature, which sent a signal up to his under brim display. The water temperature, the air temperature, barometric pressure and time of day were all factored together before his under brim display would make a suggestion as to what type of ‘fly’ to use, based on the type of fish desired.
We were dumbfounded…
Our shock wore off quickly when we realized that ‘he’ had no idea how to cast that fly-rod and it didn’t really matter what ‘his’ under brim display said. After releasing my fourth or fifth fish, ‘he’ finally got that fly to hit the water and not the grass behind him or the tree above him. Sure enough, a swirl in the water signaled the rising of a large mouth bass to the fly…problem was…’he’ had to much slack in his line…couldn’t set the hook with 10 extra feet of line lying in the water. This man…could not fish. He looked good, but ‘he’ was a poser.
Mark 1:16-17 says, “As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
I love this passage, it’s simple, it’s direct, and it’s often ignored. We sometimes forget that the disciples were called with this invitation. They understood what it meant to fish for fish, but they had no idea what it meant to fish for men. Jesus, however, knew. The hard work it takes to ready the boat, to mend the nets, to freshen the bait, to live, work, and commune together sequestered on a boat for days at a time. It takes teamwork, grit, determination, sweat, and a whole lot of perseverance to bring in the catch…and it’s no different with fish. I’ve got to believe that this is why the early church used the ‘fish’ symbol to identify themselves.
The 1st century church was under heavy persecution from both the Romans and the Jews. They were under threat of arrest and even death…and the Church thrived and grew. Often times, the followers of Jesus would meet underground in the tunnels under Rome called the catacombs. In Jerusalem, they would meet in private homes and rotate their meetings from home to home to avoid discovery and persecution. Although discretion was used when early Christians met in mass, their evangelistic activities continued in their daily lives. The ‘fish’ symbol became a secret symbol, it became the double secret introductory handshake between two strangers who suspected the other was a follower of Jesus, it became the innocuous mark scratched into a door that identified that place as a safe haven for followers. When men met in the marketplace to trade goods and conversation, when one felt the Spirit’s nudging about the other, he would draw the top arc of the ‘fish’ symbol in the sand…if the other drew the bottom arc…they were united in fellowship. If the other didn’t recognize the arc, he was witnessed to about Jesus Christ. Homes of meeting and the catacombs of congregations were often marked with the ‘fish’ symbol to help followers unfamiliar with the new location to find their way.
The Bible recounts three wonderful passages about Jesus and fish. In two of them, the disciples were told by Jesus wear to cast their nets. The first instance of this is in Luke 5:4-6. At this time, Jesus was teaching from their boat and hadn’t officially called them yet to follow Him. The other instance is in John 21:1-7, which was after His resurrection. When the disciples followed the command of Jesus, their nets were overflowing with fish. The third passage is found in Matthew 14:15-21, “When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.”
In all three of these passages we see a direct correlation between obedience and provision. The ‘fish’ represent provision. The Lord will provide. When we think about the ‘fish’ paradoxically, or spiritually, we see that obedience to the Lord will result in opportunity, means, and success in fishing for men. The early church understood that the Lord will provide, the Spirit will prevail, the kingdom will increase…no matter the odds. They adopted the ‘fish’ symbol as a symbol of ‘provision’…the Lord will provide. It didn’t matter what they looked like, it only mattered if they surrendered enough to effectively ‘fish’. This symbol is still our symbol…we are called to fish for men, and the Lord will provide.
Do we believe this? Will it take some persecution by our own government to grow the Church, to separate the fisherman from the posers? Are we obedient to the original call? Are we today, drawing arcs in the dirt, to identify who needs the right hand of fellowship and who needs the gospel?