The Disciples Called

Fishers of Men (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11)

            It is apparent that the disciples did not follow Jesus constantly while he was touring Galilee. While Matthew and Mark records the calling of the first four apostles, only Luke tells us the events that lead up to the calling.

            A large crowd followed Jesus to hear his teachings as he walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is also known as Gennesaret or Chinnereth and Tiberias. Seeing two empty boats, he found Simon Peter and his brother Andrew nearby, washing their nets after a night of fishing.

            Nearby, Jesus found James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were sitting with their father and hired servants mending their nets. Luke mentions that they were partners in the fishing business with Peter (Luke 5:10). Like Peter and Andrew, we know that John had already met with Jesus (John 1:35-40) and traveled with him for a time because of the events recorded in John chapters 1-4.

            Jesus climbs into the boat that belongs to Peter and from this platform he begins to teach the multitude that is following him. When he finished, he asked Peter to row out into deeper water and throw out the nets for a catch. Fishing on the Sea of Galilee is usually done at night. Fishermen carry lanterns or torches and the light attracts fish near the boats. Nets are then thrown to gather up the near by fish. Peter pointed out that the fishing wasn’t very good at the moment. They had been out all the night prior and hadn’t caught any fish. However, because Jesus asked he would put out the nets at the place Jesus pointed out.

            The resulting catch was so large that the net threatened to break, so they signaled to James and John, their partners to bring out their boat as well (they were too far out to call). So many fish were hauled into the boats that both boats were overfilled that they came near to sinking.

            As if Peter had not in the past had amble evidence of Jesus’ power, this miracles stuns him more than the others. This miracle involved the trade in which he was greatly familiar. He knew how impossible it was for this to happen. And so he fell down before Jesus and declared his unworthiness to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus tells him and the other three not to be afraid, for they would now be fishing for men; that is, they were to catch men for the Lord (I Corinthians 9:20-22; II Corinthians 12:16). The implication is that the Lord would see to it that they would have similar results in this new trade as they had just observed.

            Once their boats were brought back in, they left everything to follow Jesus. Thus, not only did they leave their equipment, but they also left the largest catch they ever saw behind. Everything was probably left in the care of Zebedee, James and John’s father. 

Healing of the Leper (Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16)

            Matthew tells us that Jesus had climbed a mountain and as he was descending it along with a multitude of people following him, a leper approached him. Luke just mentions that it was near an unspecified town, but Matthew’s account mentions he later enters Capernaum (Matthew 8:5), so many commentators assume the town was Capernaum. Unfortunately, Matthew’s account is not in order and the events which start in verse 5 parallel Luke 7. Thus, we cannot say for certain which town Jesus was near.

            The man had heard of Jesus’ miracles and bowing before him he declared that if Jesus was willing, he could be made clean. Jesus replied that he was willing. He touched him, something that a Jew would not do because the man was unclean. But at Jesus’ touch he immediately became clean.

            Jesus told him not to tell anyone, but to go straight to the priests, tell them, and make the offerings for cleansing (Leviticus 14:2-20). Despite the order, word traveled quickly because the man could not contain his news (Mark 1:45). It could have been that Jesus did not want the man to tell of his healing until it was verified by the priests. Without the testimony of the priest, it was only one man’s word. With the truth verified, news of what happened would make a more powerful impact. But we also see the result of the man’s proclamation. Crowds gathered in such numbers that Jesus could not enter a town with out being mobbed. People came to both hear Jesus’ teachings and to have people healed of their diseases. Thus Jesus had to spend more time in deserted places to cut down on the number of people following him.

Healing of the Paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)

            At some point, after many days, Jesus travels by boat across the Sea of Galilee and returns to Capernaum. Word goes out that Jesus had returned and soon the house in which he was staying was so crowded there was no room within or even nearby outside. Luke tells us that people had come from Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. There were Pharisees and teachers of the Law present to see this wonder of a man.

            While there a paralytic man is brought to Jesus by four men. They were unable to get to Jesus because of the crowd, so they went up on the roof, made a hole and lowered the man on his bed down before Jesus.

            Jesus, seeing the faith of the men who bore the bed, told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. This immediately angered the scribes in the crowd because they knew that you can only forgive those whom offend you. The only person who could forgive sin (an offense against God) is God Himself. Therefore, the scribes saw Jesus’ statement as blasphemous because it implied he was equal to God.

            Jesus responds with two unquestionable proofs that he had the right to forgive sins; that is, that he was God. First, notice that no one said anything against Jesus verbally, but he responds to their thoughts as if they had spoken out loud. Only God can know the thoughts of a man (Psalm 44:21; 139:2; Jeremiah 17:10; Micah 7:18).

            Next, Jesus offers another proof. Which is easier, Jesus asks, to forgive sin or to perform a miracle so that a paralyzed man can rise up and walk? From man’s view point, words are easier that altering the course of the world. Jesus then tells the man to rise up, pick up his bed, and go home.

            All acknowledge that the miracles Jesus was performing were down by the power of God. But Jesus connected that power to the claim that he could forgive sins. If this was false, then God would not allow him to perform a miracle in order to support a lie. Yet, the miracle took place, implying that God agreed that Jesus had the right to forgive sins. Thus God Himself is testifying through miracles that Jesus was God (Hebrews 2:3-4).

            The crowd marveled at the power granted to Jesus, but they failed to understand the implications. They only saw Jesus as a man to whom God had granted power unheard of in the past. They glorified God along with the man who was healed, but they trembled at the implications of what they saw that day.

Matthew is Called (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32)

            As Jesus left town for the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he passed the tax office and saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting there. Jesus invited him to follow and he immediately followed the Lord, leaving all behind. Levi was also called Matthew. It is likely that Matthew had heard of Jesus in the past, thus explaining his willingness to follow when called.

            That evening Jesus and his disciples dined at Matthew’s home. Notice that as do the other gospel writers, when something personal is mentioned, the writer omits naming himself. Matthew’s account doesn’t mention that the dinner as at his house. We learn this from Luke’s account. Similarly, Luke mentions that Matthew left all to follow Jesus; a small fact that Matthew skips in his own account. Likely Matthew invited those he knew to the dinner. Other tax collectors and people whom the Jews viewed as sinners came to the dinner.

            The Pharisees took note of who attended the party and asked Jesus’ disciples why their teacher associated with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus overheard the question and pointed out that it is sick people, not healthy people who need a doctor. Jesus’ goal was to save people from their sins; to do this he would have to associate with sinners.

            It is a mistake that people commonly make both in the past and continuing through modern times. Because people tend to spend time with people with whom they share things in common, people assume that anyone you associate with must have share your beliefs and values.

            Jesus challenges these Pharisees who believed they well understood the Law to explain the meaning of a passage from Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” By this Jesus is pointing out that the Pharisees were focusing on the physical, showy parts of the law while ignoring the spiritual implications found there in. Mercies are acts of kindness done for others, not because there was an obligation, but because the giver of mercy wanted to give them. Thus they were personal sacrifices given to benefit others. Sacrifices were obligations a person was required to give to God because of his own sins. Sacrifices focused on self. Mercy focuses on others. Jesus is not saying that God doesn’t want sacrifices made, but that mercy is the greater gift. In the Pharisee’s approach to religion they lost touch with their fellow man in their zeal to remain personally “clean.” No external sacrifice could make up for this internal character flaw.

Disciples Defended (Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39)

            The Pharisees did not like the implication that they were not adequately following God’s law. As often happens, they sought to turn the tables by pointing out a less than stellar example in Jesus’ disciples. “Why,” they asked, “do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink?” (Luke 5:33). Since this is being brought up at a dinner party, they are implying that the disciples are too frivolous for serious religious life.

            Jesus puts the issue back into proper perspective. Fasting had a purpose in expressing sorrow. There would be in upcoming days a time when he would no longer be around and the sorrow of those days would lead to fasting. But at the moment, Jesus, the bridegroom, is with them and it is a time for joy. Fasting is not a ritual obligation, but an expression of feeling. Thus once again the Pharisees showed an emphasis on the form and not the meaning of the law.

            To illustrate his point, Jesus used three examples:

1.         You don’t repair an old garment with new cloth. Cloth shrinks when washed and the new patch will tear the old garment when it is washed. Also cloth fades over time, so you won’t be able to match the material.

2.         Old wineskins harden over time and grape juice ferments (out gasses) as it sours, thus it is foolish to put grape juice in an old wine skin. The skin will end up splitting leaving you with nothing – no drink and no container.

3.         When a person develops a taste for old wine, they reject fresher drinks because it is different. The familiar is perceived to be better than the new.

The religion of the Jews had become old, solidified, and ridged in its implementation. Any deviation, even if it is better was rejected. More, the existence of the change damaged the old because it is unable to adapt.

            The Pharisees had fixed rules regarding fasting, rules that went beyond what God had required, but rules that had existed for so long that they had become ingrained in Jewish society. Any deviation became a point of contention even though nothing that Jesus or his disciples did violated the laws of Moses. It was different and so it was rejected. What the disciples did showed a better way existed, but in doing so it exposed the uselessness and fragileness of the ridged traditions the Jews were keeping.

            The Jews saw the Messiah as a reformer of Judaism, patching up the old system. But Jesus is illustrating the folly of using the new laws to patch up the old traditions. To do so would destroy both and besides people would tend to stay with the old because it was familiar. Judaism could not be patched. It had to be replaced (Galatians 5:1-4).

Questions for this Lesson