Hey I'm Josh Hawkins and this is Episode 56 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 55 we journeyed down to Jerusalem in the fall of 27AD with Jesus for a feast of the Jews. This is recorded in John chapter 5. While He was there, on the Sabbath, He healed a paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, a place just outside the city wall. When the Jewish authorities saw the man had been healed and was carrying around his bed, they rebuked him. As we saw, this set up another moment of conflict between the Jewish authorities and Jesus. It had been less than 6 months since His last confrontation with them, and now here He is again asserting His authority by nullifying their traditions. Remember, nowhere in the Law does it say that you weren’t allowed to carry around your mat on the Sabbath. The scribes and Pharisees created traditions as a “fence” around the Law, which in their minds prevented them from even coming close to disobeying the Law. It was in this way that they claimed that they were perfectly righteous, because they never disobeyed the law. Jesus will confront this issue again many times throughout His ministry, because the authorities were essentially teaching that their traditions were just as important as the Law itself. These confrontations with the leadership are very significant and important for us to recognize. It wasn’t like the Jews just started hating Jesus and wanting to kill him right at the end of His ministry. Remember, Jesus’ very first appeal was to the leadership of Jerusalem in the Temple, asserting Himself as both the Messiah and more importantly as Yahweh. He’s appealing for the fruits of repentance again at this feast in the fall, and still does not find it.
In light of yet another rejection by the Jews in Jerusalem, Jesus leaves the feast and heads to Galilee to formally and permanently call His disciples. He begins with four, three of which would be in His “inner circle”. Before we look at how the Gospels record this event, I want make a point again that I’ve said before, because it's often misunderstood. Jesus did not begin His public ministry in Galilee. He started in Jerusalem with the Jewish leadership. This is so important to rightly understanding the meaning of His ministry and His whole first coming. Alright, let’s read from Mark 1:
"Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him."
(Mark 1:16–20 ESV)
Well here we are again up in Galilee, and Jesus sees two sets of brothers who are fishermen - Simon (or Peter) and Andrew, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Let’s look at our map for a second. Jesus is back up in Galilee, walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The Gospel of Luke calls this “the lake of Gennesaret”, which is just another name for the Sea of Galilee. Fishing is one of the biggest things going on up here. Now I want you to remember - this is not the first time Jesus has met these four guys. If we go back to early 27AD, we saw John the Baptist baptizing and gathering disciples in the Judean wilderness. As we saw in Episode 45, John chapter 2 shows us that these men had left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. They were with him at the wedding of Cana, for the Passover in Jerusalem in John 3, and for the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 as they are heading north back to Galilee. And when they got back, it seems like they had all returned to their hometowns and their jobs, and Jesus spent the summer ministering alone. So now here we are in the fall after the Feast of Wood Offering, and Jesus makes this formal call to them.
Do you see why chronology matters? Most of the time this passage is thought of in such a way that gives Jesus these super powers to put the disciples under a spell as they’re out in the water fishing, and they jump out and drop everything to follow him and their boats just wash out to sea. But of course now we can see that’s not at all what happened. These guys already had known Jesus from their time with him in Judea. They knew He was the Messiah, they saw Him demonstrate His power, and they were amazed at the things He had said and done. Now, Luke chapter 5 gives us more details on how this scene played out. Let’s read it:
"On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink."
(Luke 5:1–7 ESV)
So Luke tells us that Jesus is teaching by the sea, and the crowds were pressing in on Him. I just have to stop here for a second and highlight how crazy this is. Remember who it is we’re looking at - Jesus is Yahweh, the God of Israel, the maker of everything. And the crowds are just pressing in on Him. This is the One who dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, the One who the angels adore, the One who was before all things. And now He’s walking around a lake in Northern Israel with a bunch of crowds pressing about Him. Imagine being in a crowd and feeling everyone around you trying to get closer to you to see you and hear what you’re saying. I’m sure this more than just 10 or 20 people. We don’t know the exact number, but it was large enough for Jesus to have to get into a boat and go out to sea a little bit to manage the situation.
So Jesus gets in Simon Peter’s boat and teaches them. What He says, we’re not sure - but undoubtedly it would have been similar to the things He said on other occasions where He teaches about the coming kingdom and calls for the fruits of repentance from Israel. When he is done, He asked Peter to go out into the deeper area of the sea and put his nets down for a catch. Now they haven’t caught anything all night. These guys are experienced fishermen, and I’m sure that they must have been pretty discouraged after working all night and getting nothing. But Peter had seen Jesus do some pretty amazing things before and it wasn’t like he just had let a random guy into his boat and was now obeying him because he was being compelled to by some force. And we saw what happens - the nets go down and there are so many fish in the nets that they start breaking, and both Peter and Andrew’s boat and James and John’s boat begin to sink because there is so much fish. What a scene. Imagine you’re one of the people in the crowd back on shore. What would it have been like for you to see the expression on these guys’ faces as they are coming back with their boats filled with fish?
Now what we have right at the end of this portion of Scripture in Luke 5 is just so stunning. Let’s read it together:
"But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him."
(Luke 5:8–11 ESV)
Peter understands what has really happened - there’s no way those fish could have gone into the net unless Jesus had commanded them to. Peter had just witnessed a miracle, and he responds in a way that sounds so much like when people came near God in the Old Testament. He says: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. The only time when an individual has this reaction is when they are before God Himself. Think about Isaiah 6, a passage we’ve looked at a bit already in this series. Isaiah sees Jesus and says:
"And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”"
(Isaiah 6:5 ESV)
So I believe Peter is seeing Jesus’ sovereignty over creation here, and this awareness and dread hits him. He’s struck to the heart with the majesty of Christ. Though I’m not sure he had a fully formed understanding of "the divinity of Jesus” at this point, he definitely is realizing Jesus is not just an ordinary guy. There’s something unique, something not safe about Him. And that’s why he responds the way he does.
And it’s from this place and out of this event that Jesus issues the official call to the four of them. When He said “follow me”, they understood that as a call to a formal discipleship arrangement. These guys certainly had believed on Him and knew He was significant, but Jesus had never invited them into a formal rabbinic discipleship relationship. And this is just such a tiny summary of what happened - undoubtedly Jesus said more to them as they headed back to shore and left everything.
There is just so much to meditate on here. Take some time to pray and ponder this scene. Let your heart be stirred and let your mind be blown with the glory of Jesus. Here’s a couple of points for your meditation this week:
1) Put yourself in Zebedee’s shoes and think about what it would be like to have your two sons, James and John, be formally discipled by this guy everyone had heard was the Messiah. What was it like not having them around to help as much with fishing anymore?
2) Ponder the conversation between the four disciples a few hours after the miraculous catch of fish. Were these guys still tired from the night before? Was their heart pumping with excitement because of Jesus’ official call?
Well, if you’ve missed any of the episodes, you can see them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. In the next episode we will continue to look some significant miracles in Jesus’ early Galilean ministry. God bless, see you next time.