by Mike Ratliff
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.” (Matthew 13:47 ESV)
The thirteenth chapter of the book of Matthew is a treasure vault of truth about the true nature of the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke a great deal in parables. Why? The parables were, for the most part, analogies that used every day, common objects and events that Jesus utilized to present eternal truths in a way that the Holy Spirit used to cement those truths into the hearts of God’s people. On the other hand, those without the Spirit of God were perplexed and could not grasp those truths. For those reading this who are still resistant to the truth that God is Sovereign over ALL things I suggest a very deep study of the book of Exodus. Moses makes sure that the reader understands who calls the shots, who draws people to Himself while pushing others away. He puts His words in the mouths of His messengers and into their minds and hearts to be written down for the Holy Spirit to use to break hearts and enlighten minds.
Probably the most neglected parable from Matthew 13 is the Parable of the Net. I cannot remember hearing one sermon on this parable until a couple of years ago from John MacArthur. When I heard his exposition of this passage I was stunned. Remember, at that time I was just beginning to come to terms with the Sovereignty of God. I was still holding onto my old theology based entirely in my Southern Baptist upbringing which never focused very much on getting into the details of passages like this. In fact, in the mid-1990’s, at a former church in another state, we got a new pastor who was one the first to implement a seeker-sensitive based church model in our state. He took our entire staff out to California to sit at the feet of Rick Warren and to Chicago to learn all about the Willow Creek Association. As a result of this, most of my very close church friends left our church. In fact, even though our church size actually grew some, most of those in my age group and older left. We stayed because I was given a lot of responsibility and there were very few mature Christians left to teach classes and mentor all of the thirty-something people who suddenly appeared in our pews.
After a couple of years of this, I ran into some of our friends who used to be members at our church. Each of them expressed concern that I was still there. To be honest, I was not convicted to leave at all. I was too busy to think about things like that. I was in such demand to teach and disciple that those thoughts were just not there. The last year we were there I was teaching a Sunday School class to couples, a discipleship class to the Deacons on Sunday afternoon and leading a small group on Sunday evenings which met in our home. It wasn’t until we had been gone from that church for several years that God allowed me to see what had really been going on. I could not see it when I was immersed in it. In fact, until we left our last church as they started implementing the Purpose Driven Church Model I could not see clearly how God had moved us away from that city to remove us from the circus. Then he moved us to an area that is not dominated by Southern Baptist churches at all. This caused me to see things very differently. It was as if God made me look back at the treadmill that I had been on for about ten years and see how most of it was not for His glory at all. All that work was more for my glory or to make my pastor happy.
The intense revival that God took me through in 2004-2005 was eye-opening beyond belief. As I looked back at the PDC and Willow Creek influences in the churches we had been a part of I was heartbroken. I remember clearly rejoicing back then that all those young couples were coming to our church who wouldn’t go to a traditional church if you put a gun to their head. They came because there was no preaching about the wrath of God. Instead, the preaching was pragmatic in nature. It all had to do with how to get through life better, to make better decisions. Then God showed me that the reason I was in such high demand in that church was that there were very few people there who could teach or knew their Bible and was a leader. Then God showed me the mass of people in churches like that who are being deceived into thinking that going to church and trying Jesus was the same thing as being saved. It was heartbreaking. It also made me angry. However, that anger is now channeled into writing pieces like this one instead of blasting those who are being used by Satan to deceive multitudes of people. We must rebuke as lead by the Spirit, but always with a gentle spirit.
What has this got to do with the Parable of the Net? Remember, I came from a theological background that did not question the veracity of people’s salvation. Why? All that was called for was for people to be persuaded to pray a sinner’s prayer. They were then declared to be saved. A huge emphasis was placed on remembering the exact day and time they did that so they would have “assurance.” Now I look back on that and am appalled. Assuredly there are some who are genuinely saved in these churches, but the vast majority of professing Christians in them are not. Let’s look at Jesus’ words.
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:47-50 ESV)
The kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God, calls multitudes of people. The net in this parable was a dragnet with one end attached to a fixed place on the shore of a lake. Boats would then take the other end of the weighted net out into the water to its length. At the right time, they would row their boats so that a fan-like movement of the net would rotate around on the fixed point so that the free end of the net would end up 180 degrees in the opposite position from where it started. This would drag the net through the water drawing all fish in its path towards the shore where the net would be drawn out of the water. The process was slow. It took a long time. The fish in the net did not realize their danger until it was too late to get out. If they could have seen that the net moving them one direction was forcing them to the shore they could have easily swam around it to escape, but the slow, yet precise movement of the net eventually finishes its journey. In it are two kinds of fish. There are good fish which are kept and bad fish which are discarded.
In this analogy we can easily see that the “Christian Religion” is made up of genuine believers and also disingenuous believers. All were caught in the dragnet of the visible church, the net. However, only the genuine believers are truly saved and, therefore, are part of the invisible Church or the genuine Church. Who are the fishermen who separate the fish? They are the angels who separate the sheep from the goats, the good from the evil. Yet, all were professing Christians. Very sobering thoughts!
The moving of the dragnet in this parable is used by our Lord to show us the inevitability of the coming end of this age. It is coming folks. Time is short. We must examine ourselves. Are we relying on religious experiences to blind us into thinking that in them we have assurance of eternal life? Or, do we know the Saviour as Lord? Is our assurance based in what we have done, or what He has done? Are we trusting in church works or in the work our Saviour did on the cross? Are we believing those false prophets filling our pulpits who tell us that our salvation is up to us or do we trust that Jesus, being the Good Shepherd, never loses any of His flock?
I pray that none reading this will hesitate to share their faith with the lost people in their lives. It is the preaching or presenting of the Gospel that the Holy Spirit uses to draw God’s people to repent and believe. That Gospel presentation must be complete though. It must show the wrath of God against all sin and the only way out it. Yes the real Gospel shows us the coming Judgment of God against all sin and how to escape his wrath by turning to Christ, believing on Him, repenting of our sin, then living for the glory of God from that moment on. Pray for the lost people all around you to be saved. Be the one God uses to draw others to Him by your witness of your suffering while being full of the Joy of Lord.
Oh Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for you to use those reading this for your Glory. I pray that they will devote the rest of their lives to your glory, to do your Will by obeying you in all things. Draw us into purity Lord and keep us from the evil one. Give us the words to speak when tested and persecuted. Come Soon Lord Jesus- Amen!
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