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The Life of Jesus - Series 3: Episode 6

The formal calling of the first disciples

| Martin Charlesworth
Luke 5:1-11
Matthew 4:18-22
Mark 1:16-20

Jesus calls fishermen to fish for men. They experience a miraculous catch of fish. Some are called to be more than followers - they are called to lead. Teamwork is important.

Jesus calls fishermen to fish for men. They experience a miraculous catch of fish. Some are called to be more than followers - they are called to lead. Teamwork is important.


Hello and welcome to Series 3 and Episode 6, where we look at 'The formal calling of the first Disciples'. The passage we're going to study, shortly, is in Luke 5: 1 - 11.

Introduction and Recap

Before we get to that, let's remind ourselves of what's actually happened in this remarkable period of Jesus' life where he's established himself in Galilee. He's started his public ministry - it's been pretty dramatic and, if you've been following the last few episodes, you'll remember some of the dramatic things that have happened. Having come back to Galilee, after his baptism and all the events surrounding it, he started preaching, teaching, healing, casting out evil spirits and creating a considerable sensation amongst the residents of Galilee. A particularly significant incident was his return to Nazareth (which we looked at in episode 3 of this series), when he returned to his home-town and spoke in the synagogue and identified Isaiah 61:1-3 as a passage which prophesied about his ministry. We discussed that in detail in Episode 3. He identified his ministry as involving preaching, releasing people from their sins, healing sickness, driving out evil power and bringing relief to those who were in economic need - bringing help to the poor through his ministry and the ministry of his followers.That was the so-called ‘Nazareth Manifesto’ which we looked at.

In the next episode, probably a week later on a Sabbath in Capernaum, (which was his new home and new base), Jesus conducted a couple of remarkable miracles: one in the synagogue, where he cast a demon - an impure spirit - out of a man and then he raised Simon Peter's mother-in-law from a severe fever so she could get up straight away. Then many people came after sunset and there were numerous miracles. That was a very dramatic event which we saw in Episode 4.

In the last episode (Episode 5), we discovered something very interesting: having established himself in Capernaum and had a very successful ministry there, he decided, after prayer, that he wasn't going to stay in one place but he was going to travel around. Jesus becomes itinerant, travelling from place to place throughout Galilee. As we saw in the last episode, in Matthew 4: 23 - 25 describing this period of time, crowds of people are coming to him from long distances - from outside Galilee. Already, he's attracting a huge amount of interest from people far and wide and I mentioned before that some of the journeys taken by people to come and hear him preach and receive his prayer for healing could have been up to 150 kilometres (which is a very long distance if you're on foot, or you're on a camel, or riding on another animal - particularly if you're sick or bringing somebody who is sick). This is the series of events that immediately precedes the story we're going to talk about today.

Jesus' Disciples

One thing that isn't yet clear in Jesus' ministry which begins to clarify in this episode is concerning his followers. Who's following him? What does it mean to be his follower, or his disciple, (to use the New Testament word) - someone who's been taught by Jesus? We've already encountered one or two people who've decided to follow Jesus and that took place - not in Galilee, but down by the River Jordan - when Jesus was being baptised, much further south. We're going to see how that process develops. By way of introduction, let me mention two people out of those who are already described by John as following Jesus. To go back a little in the story, John describes quite a few things that happened around the time of Jesus being baptised in a place called Bethany beyond the Jordan, much further south. John points out that John the Baptist had his own followers and disciples, and when Jesus came and started relating to John (got baptised, spent some time in that area), some of them began to transfer their loyalty to Jesus realising that he was the Son of God and the Messiah. Two of those people, who are prominent in our story today, are brothers Peter and Andrew - or Simon Peter, to give him his full name. They're brothers; they're fishermen and they come from the Capernaum area which we've mentioned is Jesus' headquarters and his base, and they've already decided, in general, to follow Jesus. They're already interested, already - probably travelling with him from time to time but they are still doing their jobs; they're still fishing. There's a number of others who've been described as followers of Jesus by John.

But now something more specific happens and that following of Jesus takes a more specific form. We see the beginning of the development of the inner circle of disciples, who then became the Apostles later on. We are going to read the text which is from Luke 5: 1 - 11. There are parallel passages in Matthew and Mark, but Luke tells the account much more fully than the others. Luke 5:1,

‘One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret(that's the Sea of Galilee), the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don't be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.’

Luke 5:1-11, NIV

This is a really fascinating incident. Jesus, at the height of his popularity, is drawing crowds wherever he goes. He's probably somewhere near Capernaum, on the shore, and he's teaching people. Crowds are gathering and a very familiar sight is taking place alongside this big crowd and that's a typical fishing scene. As we've mentioned already, the Sea of Galilee was a place of immense capacity in terms of fishing - a freshwater lake, in the middle of Galilee, with abundant stocks of fish - and so all the villages nearby had a small fishing industry and fishermen going out on the lake. Characteristically, they would fish at night, hoping for a better catch, and this is exactly what had happened here. We've got Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John in partnership. They've got separate boats but they'd been out together fishing the previous night and it's been a particularly unsuccessful night. That's what happens in fishing; sometimes you have more success than others - but this one hasn't been a good night and so they're pulling their boats up and attending to their nets (cleaning them, checking them) as fishermen always do.

This was the circumstance in which Jesus started relating to them and the crowd was pushing, pressing him, so he came up with the idea that he would speak to the crowd from Simon Peter's boat. Perhaps there was an inlet so that he could have access to the crowds - there are a few inlets in that area that suggest that that may have been what happened. The crowd was happy to listen to Jesus and Simon Peter allowed him to use his boat - somewhat interrupting the process of washing their nets and everything else - because the crowd was getting in the way. You can imagine some of the emotions that Simon Peter may have felt. He was very drawn to Jesus - remember he'd already decided to follow him. He would have been familiar with what Jesus' ministry had meant in Capernaum and he would have heard about what Jesus had done in other villages. He's very positive towards Jesus and yet he's challenged by what happens here because Jesus not only borrows his boat, which was an inconvenience, but then suggests to him something completely problematic. He says, “Put into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” Well, fishermen in the morning, having been up all night, the first thing they're thinking of is sleep! They're resting, they want to go home and want to get to their beds over there in Capernaum. If they go out and try and get another catch of fish then they've got hours and hours on the water and not enough rest. Peter wasn't in a particularly good mood, I would imagine, when faced with this request and there's a kind of ambivalence in his answer because he's got two things going on in his mind. “Master we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything.” That's the negative part. Why should it be any different in the morning, particularly as night fishing is usually better than daytime fishing anyway? “But because (he) says so I'll let down the nets.” So there's the faith element. There's the process of beginning to trust Jesus.

What happened next really can't be explained in any natural way. Why should there be such an enormous number of fish that they threatened to break the nets of the boat when in exactly the same area the night before there was almost nothing? There was an enormous catch of fish and so Simon Peter and Andrew called to their partners to help them and, even with another boat alongside, there were so many fish they could hardly take them on board. I imagine this had never, happened to Peter before. Their boats were big enough for any type of catch of fish that they were likely to have because they had generations of experience on the lake. They knew what to expect. This was unexpected; this exceeded any previous experience in circumstances where you think, “Well, why should this happen?” There was nothing special about the circumstances. It was a very dramatic event and a very dramatic moment for Peter that made him really think more about who Jesus was. He felt so ashamed of his hesitation to have to go out into the waters again. He said, “Go away from me, Lord; I'm a sinful man!” He was falling down on his knees at Jesus' feet; he was humbling himself and saying, “Lord, I just can't cope with this, I can't understand how you can show me this and how I could be so ambivalent about what you were saying - how I didn't actually really believe what you said would work.” He and all the others were astonished. They'd never experienced anything quite like it.

Call to Fish for Men

That's the event and Jesus uses the event to imprint on the minds of Peter and Andrew, James and John, something very fundamental about what was going to happen to them because he was just about to call them away from fishing to another form of what we might call ‘fishing.’ The statement in Luke 5: 10 is the one that is really important “Don't be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” Matthew 4: 19, a parallel passage which doesn't tell the story in so much detail, does give a slightly fuller version of this statement. I'm going to take it from Matthew 4: 19, which has three parts of the statement which I want to comment on briefly.

“Come, follow me … and I will send you out to fish for people.” “Come, follow me … and I will send you out to fish for people.”

Matthew 4:19, NIV

Here is Jesus' very specific call to them. First of all, “Follow me.” That means a literal following of him at this particular point in his ministry. As I've stated in previous episodes, and at the beginning of this episode, he's travelling from place to place; so following Jesus means moving around from place to place. He wasn't just based in Capernaum, where they could go fishing part of the time and be with him for a bit of the time. No, he was on the move - going a long way away from the lake. He's calling them to give up their employment and security to be with him and to follow him. That's the first thing and then, secondly, “ … and I will send you out.” “You follow me and then, later on, I'm going to send you out as my representatives.” In fact, Jesus later on called them ‘Apostles’ and the word 'apostle' means someone who is sent out on behalf of somebody else - rather like an ambassador in the government represents somebody else; they're sent out to represent them in another country. “I will send you out to fish for people.” “You can fish in the lake and you can catch fish but now you're going to fish for people, so that you're going to speak to them, reach them in such a way they're going to come into my Kingdom.” That's the calling, the mission to preach the Gospel. It's a wonderful saying: “Come, follow me ... and I'll send you out to fish for people.”

In Luke 5: 11, we find the final statement: ‘So they pulled (up) their boats … on shore, left everything and followed him.’ What a definitive statement! They still owned the boats; they could still come back in future - in fact we know an incident when they did during the time of Jesus' resurrection. We'll come to that much later on - but in all practical terms they've given up fishing in order to be with Jesus. Someone else in the family might be taking over the business of course, we don't know the details, but Peter, Andrew, James and John have given up their profession of fishing for the time being and they're with Jesus. This is a really dramatic moment and it shows Jesus building up some momentum in his mission. He's not only going out travelling to all sorts of different places, he's now taking people with him in a formal way, saying, “Come with me, I'm going to send you out in due course and you're going to fish for people - you're going to bring them into the Kingdom.”


A few reflections on this remarkable story. First of all, it tells us something significant about the very large extent of the harvest of the Gospel. You see, Peter and Andrew and James and John would always have in their minds the picture of their own boats overflowing with fish - probably so many fish that they were just falling over the edge of the boat and they probably had to push some of fish over the edge of the boat to prevent it actually sinking. So many fish - they'd never seen so many before! Jesus said, “You're going to fish for people” and the implication is many of those people will come to faith. If we move forward about three years from this moment, to the day of Pentecost described in Acts 2, the very same Peter who's the subject of this story, is the first preacher on the day of Pentecost - when the Spirit came down on the Apostles and their associates and they started speaking in tongues and praising God and there was a miraculous sense of God being there; there was a sense of a wind and his power. A crowd gathered and the very first person to preach the Christian message after Jesus had been raised from the dead, was Peter. He preached (and you can look in Acts 2 to find the details of what he preached) but the interesting thing is that at the end of his sermon those listening were cut to the heart. They were convicted. They wanted to respond and they said, “What must we do to be saved?” Peter encouraged them to repent and to believe in Christ, to be baptised and to receive the Holy Spirit and it said that over 3000 were added to the Church on a single day. The numbers remained very large for the Jerusalem church that followed in subsequent chapters. Peter is fishing for men. Jesus has been raised from the dead and a very large number of people come into the Church on its very first day of real existence, when the Spirit came down and filled the Apostles and their associates - and that process has gone on ever since.

Here we are in the 21st century and can I suggest this process is still going on today. There are many countries in the world where people are believing in Jesus in large numbers and those numbers are growing. That might be your country and so I want you to be encouraged, because what Jesus called Peter to do becomes the calling of the Church in general, and many people who follow Peter and the Apostles: “Come follow me … and I will send you out to fish for people.”

My second reflection here is there are two types of calling that Jesus makes upon us. One is to become disciples, to follow him and learn from him and to grow in maturity as believers. That's the calling of every single person. This happened to Peter and Andrew down by the River Jordan, as described in John 1. They were already disciples of Jesus in that general sense, but here we have a discipleship related to leadership training. Some of the people listening to this will be called to Christian leadership in one form or another - maybe in your community, in your family or in your local church - and this is the second type of calling. Peter and Andrew were already disciples following Jesus, but now they're called to serve him in a particular way.

The next thing I want to say about this is that there is a principle of teamwork developing here. Teamwork is essential to the Christian Church. Every single aspect of the Christian Church should be effective and functioning through teams of one sort or another. Local churches should be led by teams of pastors (or elders, or ministers) according to the New Testament; the Holy Trinity of God is in you, we might call it a ‘team’ of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and Jesus forms a team here. This is the beginning stage of him forming a team because Peter, James and John, in particular, would be his inner circle - his core team - in his group of twelve. They would be the inner circle and, occasionally, he took Peter, James and John (three of the four mentioned here) away with him on his own. He trained them; he taught them; he spent time with them and he gave Peter the primary responsibility of coordinating the work of the Apostles later on. Jesus is building a team. You and I are called to be part of a team. This project is not about one person or about me; it's about a team of us working together to bring this material to serve you.

Teamwork is important and Jesus is leading these four, Peter, Andrew, James and John, on a leadership training programme which has a variety of different ingredients. There's some formal teaching: for example, the Sermon on the Mount, which we'll study in later episodes. But also they spent a lot of time watching Jesus perform miracles and just learning from him. They shared life together - it was an informal setting of being on the road together and they learnt things as they went along. For example, here's something that happened in Luke 11: 1, ‘One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”’ They saw Jesus praying and they said, “Teach us, we want to pray like you, we want to learn how to pray.” Sometimes they participated in Jesus' ministry. Do you remember the story of the feeding of the 5000, for example, in Matthew 14? Where Jesus says to them, “You give them something to eat.” All these people are gathering, they need food, there isn't enough food available and he said, “You give them something to eat.” They gathered five loaves and two fish and started distributing them. He calls them to participate in his ministry and then he sends them out - we see that in Matthew 10, Luke 9. We'll come to those passages in due course.

Let me complete this episode with one final comment. Has Jesus Christ called you to do something particular for him? These four men (Peter, Andrew, James and John) at this point in their lives, were called to do something particular for Jesus. It was a moment of decision; it was a moment of calling. My conviction is that almost every Christian has an inner sense of calling to serve God in a particular way. Sometimes we enact that very quickly and we get on with it; sometimes we don't quite know how we can do that and there's a time gap between the calling and the reality. What I'd like to invite you to do, as we bring this episode to conclusion, is to go back and think, “What am I called to do or to be for Christ? What has he called me to do particularly? What has he put in my heart to do?” It might be something very simple; it might be based in your home - as parents, or as children, or family members - it might be your job; it might be serving the Church in a very simple way; it might be something much bigger than that in terms of the scale of activity. It doesn't really matter. The question is: what has he called you to do and what are you doing about it? If you're not a believer yet in Jesus as you read this message, can I encourage you to take that first and vital step which is to put your faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord, Messiah, Son of God, who can take away your sins and give you the Holy Spirit and give you new life? If you are a believer, a disciple, I would encourage you to spend some moments after reading this, praying and reflecting, and if there's anything you feel called to do, which hasn't yet happened, to make a decision that you're going to make yourself available to the particular calling of Jesus. That's what Peter and Andrew, James and John, did on this occasion - they responded decisively, clearly, they said, “Yes,” to Jesus, “we're going to serve you.” There's nothing better that you or I can do with our lives than to follow them and to do the things we're called to do. Thank you.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. When Jesus calls his disciples he first calls them to follow and then he will send them out. What is your experience of this?
  • Discipleship
    1. What is God calling you to do? Are you doing it? Pray for each other to be ready to follow and be sent.
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. How important is team in a church? What part do you play?
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