Matt. 4:18-22, 9:9; John 1:43-50; Luke 6:12-16.
Called to Follow Jesus
American Journal of Biblical Theology June 13, 2004 Copyright © 2004, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
Most likely, anyone who is engaged in this Bible study is doing so out of a desire to know more about God's Word, and how to effectively apply it to their lives, growing closer to the Lord in relationship and in obedience to his calling. What is the nature of that call? What has God called you out of this sinful world for? God calls people to a relationship with Him, and to ministry to others. God has called us to a holy vocation, one that typically provides no financial income, but rather, lays up treasures in heaven both in our own lives and in the lives of those whom God touch touches through us.
The world's method for vocation is quite the opposite of God's. How does an individual become part of a worldly vocation? During the formative years of life, many people discover interests that could be developed into a career. In pursuing those interests, they will apply for admission to training, usually through formal education or apprenticeships, and then upon completion of an initial educational exercise, apply for a job. The ideal is to be employed in a job that both meets the financial needs of the individual and is a task that is enjoyable and rewarding to the individual's emotional needs.
Becoming involved in God's work does not generally work successfully using this model, though many have tried. Many students who are engaged in seminary or other theological training discover that this is not what they want to do, and drop out. Others move into ministry positions with plenty of education and desire, but lack the one part of the process that leaves them without power, and ultimately in frustration. God calls people to His work. Most people have heard of the testimony of people who are engaged in ministry as a result of a "calling" by God to do so. It is this call from God, resulting from an existing relationship with Him, that empowers the individual for ministry. One can easily accept the lack of worldly profit when one is working side-by-side with the God of Creation, in a relationship with Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Though the Bible carries the theme of God's call throughout its pages, this lesson will look at the call of the twelve apostles to ministry. Jesus called many disciples and believers during His ministry. However, He also had a special personal call for thirteen individuals (including Paul) who would be given the specific task of building the church after His ascension.
And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 19And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
Jesus started and maintained most of his ministry in the area west of Galilee in the northern area of Israel, separated by about a four to five day journey (90 miles) from Jerusalem. The very context of Jesus' ministry and message was consistent with the teachings of the Old Testament patriarchs, law, and prophets. However, in the previous 400 years, the Jerusalem Jews had wandered far from those roots, and replaced the gospel of faith with a religion of law-based works, works that were based on thousands upon thousands of oral and traditional laws that no person could keep. The Jerusalem Jews despised anyone who did not keep to those laws, and so, they came to despise Jesus.
Prior to His ascension back to Eternity, it was necessary that Jesus, in addition to presenting the good news to a lost people, call disciples to continue that ministry. Had he stayed in the area around Jerusalem, the conflict with the religious leaders would have diminished his ability to train the apostles and disciples. So, Jesus centered his ministry in the north where there was less of the legalistic influence of the Jerusalem Jews, and a more mixed culture that included sincere and godly Samaritans and travelers from all around the region who would pass through this land-bridge between continents and visit its only large fresh-water lake. Consequently, it was from this region that Jesus called his twelve apostles.
While waking on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he came upon the two brothers, Simon and Andrew, fishermen from Bethsaida who were now living in Capernaum. When he came upon them, they were casting nets into the sea, obviously wading into the lake from the shoreline. The image is easy to visualize. What did Jesus say to these two men? (Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.) Andrew and Simon already knew of Jesus through the ministry of John, and John specifically had told Andrew to follow Jesus (John 1:36). However, such a following would have been Andrew's choice. Andrew has had time to consider who Jesus is, and both his curiosity and interest were aroused. Andrew was ready to follow Jesus. All that was needed was the calling. Andrew also introduced his brother to this man that John proclaimed as the Messiah, so the two of them had probably been talking about Jesus and were excited about his presence in the region.
So, how did Simon and Andrew respond when Jesus called them to continue their career of fishing, but to do so with Him as he was fishing for men? Without even cleaning up the tools of their trade, they simply dropped their nets and left with him. Other scriptures reveal that the boats that were used by Simon held many men, so his fishing enterprise was not a small one. There were probably others who would have continued the business for Simon and Andrew, a business they shortly returned to after Jesus' crucifixion. However, without any promises of reward, payment, or support, they immediately followed Jesus offer to "Follow behind me."
We see a similar spontaneity of commitment as Jesus encounters the brothers, James and John.
And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. 22And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
Though there would be many fishing "companies" working on the Sea of Galilee, many scholars believe that Andrew and Simon worked on the same crew with, or for, Zebedee. James and John were sons of Zebedee, and if not partners with Simon and Andrew, certainly knew them well. They had also had opportunity to hear about Jesus who was proclaimed as the Messiah. Simon and Andrew left behind their fishing career. James and John would be leaving both their career and the father who depended upon them in the business, and represented its future. When Jesus made them the same offer he made to Simon and Andrew, they also dropped their nets to follow Him. One can only imagine the response of Zebedee to what, to him could only have been a small disaster. What little we know of Zebedee comes from his son's description as "sons of thunder." Zebedee means thunder. It is likely that the parting of the four fishermen was not met with silence from this strong and hard-working man.
As we see these four leaving their fishing careers, let us consider the cost of our own discipleship. What have we left behind to follow Jesus? Is Jesus calling to us only to be ignored because of our unwillingness to leave behind the fishing nets? Are we unwilling to leave family behind and travel to another place where God wants us to serve Him? Are we willing to give up, or change careers to be in a position to serve God better? What keeps us from making these decisions for Christ?
Jesus continued in ministry with the four fishermen close by. One can only imagine the experiences of these four at this time. They may have had doubts that John's testimony of Jesus' Messiahship was true, but they were quickly addressed when Jesus was healing those he met along the way. Then, probably to the astonishment of the four, Jesus walks up to the booth of a tax collector.
And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
Matthew, or Levi (in Mark's account), was the tax collector. The oral and traditional laws of the Jerusalem Jews proclaimed anyone who did not adhere to them as unclean, creating a sub-culture that despised all other people. Among those who were the most despised were the Romans who had political control of the region. Rome maintained this control in other lands using a small number of Roman soldiers, and administrators who were recruited from the local people. For the Jerusalem Jews, anyone who would cooperate with these heathen Romans was considered even more vile than the Romans. Consequently, Jesus' call of Matthew clearly identified Jesus' ministry as one that did not ascribe to the oral and traditional laws, but was more in line with that of the Old Testament prophets and their teachings.
Making matters worse, the pay that tax collectors received was not overseen by the Romans. All Rome wanted was the tax. Anything extra that the collectors could collect would be their pay. Consequently, tax collectors tended to be very rich as they demanded more tax than was due Rome and necessary to meet their needs. Not only was Matthew considered a traitor to the Romans, he was openly considered a thief, preying on his own people. Unlike the four fishermen who had previous contact with Jesus, Matthew probably only heard of him from those who passed is office. One can imagine the thoughts that would arise in Matthew's mind. Why would this man, if He is indeed the Messiah, call such a despised sinner?
The call of Matthew is encouragement to all who are drawn to faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus' call to faith and ministry is open to all people, without regard to the sins of their life prior to that calling. Jesus offers complete and permanent forgiveness for sins, and empowers the faithful to overcome those sins that remain in their lives.
The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. 44Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Just as every individual that God created is wonderfully unique, Jesus' call is just as unique as it addresses the needs of each individual, and the expression of that call utilizes each person's unique set of gifts, talents, and interests. Following a brief ministry in Judea, Jesus returned to the region of Galilee where he encountered Philip. Of course, Jesus knew the hearts of those whom he called, and also was aware of who they would become after they committed their lives to godly service. Philip was indeed a unique person of integrity with powerful confidence, and uncompromised loyalty to God, rare in this culture. This is the same Philip who would later become an evangelist in the area of Samaria and left that ministry because a direct call from God to travel to the Negev and minister to the Ethiopian eunich (the accountant of the Candice of Egypt.)
The scripture does not indicate that Philip dropped everything and followed like the other five had done. A few events took place prior to his following, events that are consistent with Philip's nature.
Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 46And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. 49Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. 50Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. 51And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
Just as Andrew had proclaimed the Christ to his brother Simon, Philip declared the identification of the Messiah to Nathaniel. Though Nathaniel is not listed among the twelve by this name, many scholars believe that this is Bartholomew. As we have already seen, men in ancient Israel often had multiple names, often a surname that identified their family or tribe, and another that was more of a "nickname" that described their nature. Bar-Tholomew refers to a family name, "Son of Tholomew", whereas Nathaniel means "God has given", "Nathan-El".
Unlike the response of the six we have met, Nathaniel's response was one of skepticism. Nazareth had a reputation as a worthless place, and Nathaniel's statement concerning the place was literally a quote from local lore. Upon meeting Jesus, Jesus described him as an Israelite, but one without guile. Obviously a true statement, this foreknowledge impressed Nathaniel. Jesus further described the meeting that Nathaniel had with Philip, including the location where it took place. If this Israelite had "no guile", he was looking for the Messiah, and for the One who is described by the Old Testament prophets. Jesus openly revealed himself to Nathaniel, who upon recognizing Jesus, proclaimed his agreement that he was standing before the Son of God. Jesus congratulated Nathaniel on his faith, but with the reservation that his decision required evidence of Jesus' identity. This is what Nathaniel needed. Jesus is prepared to meet people in the center of their need, whether it is in a stature turned away from Him, or like Nathaniel, one that is seeking Him but has doubts. One can imagine the smile on Jesus face, and the excitement that Nathaniel would feel when Jesus told Nathaniel that he would still see far greater manifestations of His glory.
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; 14Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, 15Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, 16And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.
Up to this point, the number of disciples following Jesus was probably over one hundred. Some references place this number around 120. Jesus was encountering more resistance from the Jerusalem Jews as his ministry continued, and he often sought quiet places to rest and pray. After such a time of isolation and prayer, Jesus met with his disciples, and specifically drew to himself twelve of those whom He had personally called. We know that Jesus individually called many others to follow him. Some followed Him, and others denied Him. Yet, out of this group of disciples Jesus would draw to himself twelve, numbering the same as each of the tribes of Israel. And, just as one tribe was landless and failed in its called ministry, one of these apostles would also fail to inherit the ministry to which Jesus called him: Judas Iscariot.
We see a wide variety of personalities and backgrounds represented by those who followed Jesus, and in those twelve whom Jesus called to his side for a more personal relationship. In addition to Andrew and Simon, James and John, Matthew, Philip, and Bartholomew whose call we have observed, were Thomas who is best known for his doubts, James (or Thaddeus) son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot who is observed to some from a radical and violent anti-Roman group, Judas the son of James, and Judas of Iscariot who was the only non-Galilean.
Jesus ended the call of his apostles with the call of Paul as a missionary to the Gentiles, and one who would bring the number of apostles back to twelve, following the death of Judas of Iscariot. As a radical and violent Pharisee, Paul would by his unique differences from the other apostles fit the general variety of the types that Jesus would call. This very well-trained and respected Jewish leader would lead a ministry to the Gentiles that would fully eclipse that of the other apostles as he would build on the work of the other eleven apostles a church that would spread to the whole world.
All people come to Christ, not by their own choosing, but by Jesus' call upon them. Furthermore, Jesus calls the faithful to ministry in His mission. As we consider the call of the twelve, let us consider God's call upon ourselves. What are we willing to leave behind in order to follow God's call? Even if God calls us to service within the context of our current career, there is still the sacrifice of time and effort that ministry requires. Are we willing to make the sacrifice of the things of this world in order to gain the treasures to be laid up in heaven? Are we ready to receive the blessings that come from the knowledge of obedience and the evidence of lives changed through that obedience? The cost of discipleship is merely to set aside the things of this world so that we can invest in the things of the next. However for many that cost is too great. Many cannot surrender the things of this world to God. Let us let go completely of those things that keep us from running the race to which we are called, so that we can run unencumbered by their weight, focused entirely on the goal line where the prize awaits.