Return to Sermon Archives



Presenting the Fly

January 27, 2002

Matthew 4:12-23


Tony Grant



Gospel Fly

The moment Jesus begins preaching repentance, he also calls some fishermen to be his disciples, saying, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Jesus casts the line, presents the fly, and sets the hook. Ever since then, from that time along the shores of the Sea of Galilee to today, discipleship, evangelism, and fishing have often been spun from the same reel and rod.

We are each fishers for Christ, evangelists who are invited by God to fish for souls. We share the beautiful rhythm of a life lived in Christ, immersed in the river of God, while standing sure-footed on the river's rounded, rocky bottom, alone in the river, yet with the company of others, within its flow, enjoying the fresh force of its surge. It is here, in the river itself, in our life full of chances, that God calls us, through Christ, to call others to Christ, to fish for souls, to present the fly of faith.

Now I know that some folks take Christian fishing and hunting metaphors too far. A magazine titled:: The Christian Sportsman Magazine ... Taking Adventure to a Higher Level! Had the following Headlines: "Special Youth Challenge Deer Hunts; Order FREE Booklet on tips for hosting Wild Game Banquets." You wonder whether the "wild game" is the unchurched folks who are coming to the banquet or the food that is on the table.

The difference between hunting and fishing is that in hunting, you aim at an animal and shoot it, while in fishing, you "present the fly" and wait for the fish to bite.

Let us talk about fly fishing. Let me give you an example of fly fishing humor:

A diner says, "Waiter! There is a fly in my soup!"

The waiter comes over, picks the fly out of the soup, carefully looks it over. Then he calmly says to the diner, "Sir, your fly is a size 14 iron blue dun. May I recommend it with the broiled rainbow trout?"

I guess you have to be a fly fisherman to appreciate that.

Fly fishermen say that the most difficult aspect of fly fishing is "the presentation of the fly." To catch fish, you must animate an artificial fly so it appears to be alive - or let it float "dead drift."

Applying this to evangelism, we note that Jesus did not shoot people down with his message. He offered bait, the bait of the gospel, and allowed them to choose.

Often the most difficult part of evangelism is the actual presentation of, or sharing of, your faith. Long before you reach a racing river's edge to present the fly to the trout, or your faith to persons, there are fishing forms and techniques to master, that make the presentation effective enough to hook a trout, or to catch a soul. In evangelism, as in fishing, practiced forms can make success.


After acquiring fishing equipment and familiarizing yourself with it enough to know a rod from a reel, a line from a fly, it's time to start to practice.

Experts say, "To propel a fly line, your forearm and hand move backward and forward. The movement looks like a V with your elbow at the bottom of it. That is the basic casting stroke. It is exactly like the motion you use to throw a chunk of potato off the tines of a dinner fork."

You want to try fly fishing. Never mind the neighbors. Go outside, aim away from the house, and try throwing a chunk of raw potato off a dinner fork. "First," say those in the know, "throw a potato chunk behind you, up and over your shoulder. Still relaxed but with your wrist rigid, throw another piece of potato forward, up and away from you. If you try the potato exercise, you will see that the chunk takes off when you snap and STOP the stroke. The potato flies where the tip of the fork is pointing at the snap - stop. That's exactly how the fly-casting stroke works: The line flies where the rod tip is pointing when you snap - stop the stroke."

[NOTE: Give it a shot with either a fork and a potato or a reel. Avoid aiming toward the stained glass windows.]

As with many new things, it helps to practice before you try it for real. If you want to share your faith, first try chucking a potato - no, first practice on someone you know, someone you trust, someone who will not think you are weird. Have you ever sat down to think about what precisely are the core elements of your faith? What do you believe? What is it about your faith you want to cast out there in the stream of life?

Wade Wisely

After you master the practice, it is time to get your feet wet, to wade in toward the real thing. There are few sights more frightening than clumsy Christians stomping, slipping and sloshing their way toward speaking about their faith. Wade wisely. That is the advice of fly-fishing experts.

Know what you believe. We might begin by knowing something about today’s lesson from Matthew, which recounts the start of Jesus' public ministry. That ministry began with Jesus' relocation from his hometown, the calling of his first disciples and preaching and healing. It appears in Matthew's gospel just after the temptation of Jesus (4:1-11), and just before the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29).


Verse 17 contains, in summary statement, the whole of Jesus' message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

This is the bait that jesus used in fishing for disciples, the bait of repentance. Although John and Jesus and their disciples preached repentance throughout their careers, the term has acquired a narrowed moral meaning that does not reflect its full meaning in its biblical context.

The Greek verb metanoeo means to turn oneself from one direction to another, not only one's values and religious sensibilities, but one's entire sense of identity. To repent is to acquire a new identity, with both new relationships and the restoration of existing relationships to their rightful condition. One of the clearest and best known examples of such a turning preached by Jesus is the example of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). After the prodigal had wasted his inheritance and wasted part of his life, Jesus uses the key the phrase "But when he came to himself." That was his repentance. He returned to his true self, to his communion with God. To repent, in Jesus' understanding of the term (which was consistent with its understanding in the OT), meant not only to turn to God, but to return to one's essential and natural nature, which is the image of God (Genesis 1:26).

Repentance begins with self-loathing. With the aid of the Holy Spirit, we come to despise our sinful condition and to turn away from it and to look toward God. true repentance lifts us up in great confidence to God and affords us great security. From repentance comes a spiritual joy that lifts the soul up out of all sorrow and lamentation and makes the soul secure in God.

All people need repentance but it seems obvious that those who are guilty of greater misdeeds have more cause for repentance and more reason to bind themselves to God with an undivided love. But for all of us, the best path, the only path, up to God is the path of a godly repentance.

And the heavier our sins are, the readier God is to forgive them, and to come to our soul, and to drive our sins out. We all do our utmost to get rid of what most irritates us. Sin irritates God. And the greater and the more the sins are, still immeasurably more is God glad and ready to forgive them, because they are irksome to God. And then, as godly repentance lifts itself up to God, sins vanish into God’s abyss, faster than the blink of an eye, and so our sins become utterly nothing, as if they had never happened.

Many people think that they ought to perform great works—such as building hospitals, joining churches, giving all their money to the church--as part of their repentance. And certainly Christian people should do those things, but the best repentance—repentance that actually improves us and raises us to a higher level--is for us to have a great aversion for everything in ourselves and in others that is not of God. The up-side of repentance is that we develop a great love for God. Repentance is not just turning away from what is not God; It is turning toward God. This movement away from sin toward God is made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit in us, and we can, in a short time, with great resolution, turn in disgust and revulsion from sin and with equal resolution betake ourselves to God. Even if we had committed all the sins that have ever been done since the days of Adam and will ever be done, all that is completely forgive us and s punishment remitted, so that if we were to die this moment we would come into the presence of God.

This is true repentance and it is made possible by what our Lord Jesus Christ suffered on the cross. The more that we form ourselves on Christ, the more do all sins and pains of sin fall away from us. Thus, it ought to be our habit at all times and in all our works to model ourselves after Jesus. Everything he does and refrains from doing , that is what we should do and refrain from doing. We should think constantly of our Lord, as our Lord thought constantly of us.

This repentance is a complete lifting up of the mind away from all things to God. Now as a practical matter, if doing some things increases our devotion to God, then we ought to do those things. I mean things like going to church, praying, helping our fellow human beings. Doing things will not save us, but they can be part of our repentance. By the same token, if any practice or work or habit impedes our repentance, then however much we have enjoy that practice or work or habit, we must put it aside.

God works in this world, and God works in us, but God does not judge us so much by our works as by our intention in our works. If we have repented and turned from our sinful nature, and do a certain work solely for love of god, then God accepts that work.

Ultimately it does not matter whether people know about our works for God, or whether they misjudge our works, or misjudge our intentions. All our works will be rewarded by God, and God always knows our intention. We ought to be content with that, and when we are motivated solely by the love of God, we will be content with that, and we will be prepared to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

Kingdom of Heaven

The expression "kingdom of heaven" is Matthew's preferred term for the much more common "kingdom of God," that occurs throughout the New Testament. It is possible that the gospel of Matthew was written primarily for believers of Jewish background who wished to avoid an expression that involved the divine name--"God"; and so the substitution of "heaven" for "God" was made. Jesus' proclamation of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven dominates much of his teaching, preaching and miraculous ministry in the gospel of Matthew. The "curing every disease and every sickness among the people," mentioned in v23 is an example of what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like. In that Kingdom, there will be nor more sickness, nor disease, nor death.


But let us return to fishing. Let us talk about wading as we fish. The experts say, "Fish usually are closer than you think; if you cast from the bank, you probably will catch as many or more fish than you will by wading across a stream. If you must wade into flowing water, shuffle into the current sideways so the water has less surface to push against."

Probably a person near to you wants to hear your faith story. Chances are they already know you go to church. There is no need to go out on a street corner with an artificial smile and a Bible in your tackle box to preach to the heathen trout. All you need to do is cautiously wade toward the edge of your life, not too far from shore, and you'll find folks who are spiritually hungry, looking for faith-flies to bite.

Presenting the Fly

As I said earlier, presenting the fly is the most difficult task of successful fly fishing. "To catch fish, you must animate an artificial fly. Sometimes, you make a fly appear as though it is swimming or crawling or fleeing. When you're fishing a floating mayfly imitation, however, it has to behave like all the other mayflies caught in the current, drifting with no unusual movement."

When faith-fishing, try to land your faith-fly in the heart of the hearer. Avoid the eye, for there is nothing as obnoxious as an overbearing Christian who chucks potato faith in your face.

Some people prefer to see animated faith in action. They may need to see you do more than soul fishing; they may need to see you caring for faith fish, for souls, for children, for the elderly. They may need to observe your behavior, how you talk, how you treat others - if they are to swallow the fly. Other seekers need an intellectual discourse; still others may need a simple explanation of the reasons you are a Christian, or how Christ has affected your life. In the same way a fly fisherman would never use a Sulfur Nymph when the fish are biting Quick Site Beetles, you too must understand how to present your fly to a seeker in the river where she swims.

Landing and Releasing

"Reacting too quickly is probably the main reason fly fishers lose fish on floating flies. Seeing a trout rise to your dry fly or a bass attack your popper is so exciting that you may lift the rod tip and pull the fly right out of the fish's mouth."

Don't get over-excited when faith-fishing; don't jerk the faith out of their heart by going off the deep end, or jumping into a theological water hole that's over your head. Just relax and talk about what you know. Fish from the heart; after all, it is an art of grace.

These days most fly fishermen and women practice "catch and release" instead of catch and consume. This is a good idea for us too. Do not faith-fish with a pledge card in your tackle box, or ask the person to join a committee. Being overanxious and trying to convince them they are the perfect seventh grade Sunday School teacher is the surest way to scare them off.

So here we are, ready to faith fish. Remember the process.

Familiarize yourself with your faith equipment: your Bible, your heart, your prayer life.

Practice chucking it out there with people you love.

Wade into the river of life. Be sure of your faith footing. Enjoy the river's flow. Be in the beauty of God's surroundings.

Present your faith-fly, and if God is willing, you'll catch a trout for Christ.

And be real, always be real, when you reel in your faith-fly. Amen.

Source: Basic Techniques.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

HOME About YARPC Webmaster Links Sermons What's New Prayer Center

Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

Last modified, 3/4/02