Jesus never intended that his mission to the world be one of solitude. If he had been independent and worked by himself, what would have happened when he was executed? The intention was to always have others working with him. To that end we find him gathering a group of men to train after returning to Galilee from the time spent in the Judean wilderness after being tempted for forty days by the devil following his baptism.
“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-22 NIV)
It might seem strange to us Jesus would simply call four men to follow him and they immediately left their livelihood to do so. As this is the first mention of these men in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life it would seem that these four were leaving everything to follow a total stranger. But such was not the case.
John, in his biography of Jesus (chapter 1), lets us know that Jesus met these brothers very soon after his being tempted in the wilderness. Andrew and (it would seem) John were disciples of John (the one who was immersing) – perhaps Peter and James were, too. When Jesus was pointed out to them as “the Lamb of God” by John, these two went and spent the day with Jesus. We are told that Andrew went to get his brother and there is a possible implication that John did the same.
So when Jesus called them to leave their fishing business for a different type of fishing – for people – they already knew Jesus and had spent some time with him. They knew who he was and were interested in his message and being his disciple.
The word ‘disciple’ is one we find frequently in the accounts of Jesus’ life as well as the book of Acts. It would have been a word in common usage in the first century Roman world. The Greek word would mean more literally in English a ‘pupil’ or ‘student’. Teachers at this time would have their students who travelled with them to learn from what they said. Jesus did the same.
As the growing group of disciples travelled with Jesus they were able to observe what he did. They heard his teaching about “the good news of the kingdom” and they saw him “healing every disease and illness among the people” – including “all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed” (Matthew 4:23-25). Undoubtedly this impressed them as they began to realize that he was the promised Messiah.
What about us? Have we made a commitment to follow Jesus and be his disciple? Are we willing to leave anything behind that would hinder our serving our Teacher? As disciples, do we spend time learning from Jesus, listening to his teaching as well as reading about all that he did?
If we are truly Jesus’ disciples, if we are to follow him, then we need to know what he did and what he taught. Spending time with God’s word isn’t an optional extra for Christians – it is the very heart of who we are.
Photo of the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum by Jon Galloway, November 2019.
Readings for next week: Romans 15-16; Matthew 1-6