We open the New Testament and start reading in Matthew. Okay, we skip the geneaology (but we shouldn’t!) After everything surrounding Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1-2), He’s suddenly a grown-up, and His cousin John is out in the wilderness preaching (Matthew 3). Jesus gets baptized by John, then He’s tested by Satan. Right after the testing, he starts preaching, and then, toward the end of Matthew 4, Jesus calls Simon (a.k.a. Peter), Andrew, James, and John to leave their fishing nets and follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22).
Pastors love this story. It looks like these two sets of brothers meet Jesus and just turn their lives upside down without a second thought, walking away like something from the Pied Piper. But that’s not the case. In fact, they had known Jesus for at least a few months. They had already seen Him in action and even talked to Him. Walk through this with me…
The First Encounter
Jesus gave Simon his
new name the first time
they met: The Rock.
Andrew and another guy left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. Andrew was so excited to have found the Messiah that he hunted down Simon and brought him to where Jesus hung out. It was here—at this first meeting—that Jesus renamed Simon, calling him Peter.
What happened then? Well, I guess Peter and Andrew went back to their day jobs…or night jobs, actually, because fishing took place at night.
Andrew and Simon/Peter were from Bethsaida (John 1:44), which is a town in Galilee, on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Philip, another of Jesus’ disciples, was also from there. We can assume he knew them and they knew him.
After Herod imprisoned John the Baptist, Jesus relocated into Galilee (Mark 1:14-15) and revved up his preaching ministry there. He soon got kicked out of the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30), so he wandered down to Capernaum, about twenty miles away. They liked him better in that town, standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Now from Capernaum to Bethsaida is only six miles—a pleasant walk around the north shore of the Sea. (Check the map in your study Bible.)
Andrew and Simon, along with James and John, were probably in the synagogue when Jesus preached in Capernaum. If it wasn’t their usual place of worship, they came to see Jesus, who was already well-known. While in the synagogue, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man. Word got around, and soon Jesus was beset with sick people (Luke 4:31-37).
Luke 4:38-44, Mark 1:29-39. Matthew 8:14-17 places this event later in Jesus ministry.
When He finally got out of the synagogue, Jesus took refuge in a nearby home. Guess whose it was: Simon/Peter’s! (Simon was from Bethsaida, but apparently he lived in Capernaum. Alternatively, Jesus and the rest of His crowd walked the six miles back to Bethsaida to Simon’s house there.) Simon’s mother-in-law was sick, so Jesus healed her. Then she “began to wait on them.” Her primary love language must have been “acts of service.”
The next day, the people tried to talk him into staying there, but Jesus wanted to move on.
Some time later—we don’t know how long—Jesus was back near the Sea of Galilee. (Luke calls it the Lake of Gennesaret…not sure where that comes from.) I’m guessing He was somewhere between Capernaum and Bethsaida. It was early morning as He taught, but the people were already crowding around Him so much that not everyone could hear. Or maybe they were forcing Him into the shallows and His sandals were getting wet. Anyway, He wanted a little distance between Himself and the crowd. Who should be nearby mending his nets but Simon!
Now Simon was probably tired and in a bad mood. They had fished all night without anything to show for it. He probably just wanted to finish washing the nets, go home, eat something, and go to bed.
That’s not what Jesus had in mind.
Jesus asked Simon to let him climb aboard, then Simon rowed them out a little way so everyone could see and hear Jesus while He sat down, which was traditional for teachers then. But Simon…oh, Simon…he had a front-row seat! He was right there beside Jesus for the whole message. Something tells me he didn’t doze off despite the long night he’d had.
When Jesus finished teaching, I think He looked over at Simon: at the weariness around his eyes but the spark within them, at the disappointed slump of his shoulders but the strong backbone holding him upright, at his enduring hopefulness despite his fruitless night. Then He did something incredibly practical and generous for Simon.
Now to him who is able to do
immeasurably more than all we
ask or imagine, according to his
power that is at work within us.
All Simon had to do was obey a simple, familiar command. He had to row out to the deep part of the lake and throw his nets over the side. It was something he did every day, except usually he did it at night. There’s a little uncommon sense at work here.
Understandably, Simon was skeptical. It’s one thing to heal your mother-in-law so you can get some food, but it’s quite another to fill an entire net full of fish out of a huge body of water, especially when they hadn’t caught anything just a couple of hours earlier. Nevertheless, Simon grabbed Andrew (because the narrative shifts to plural here), and they headed out toward the deep water. They put their nets in as usual, still a little doubtful, but before they could even get everything settled, the nets were bulging with fish and ready to break (Luke 5:6)! They “hollered at” James and John, who jumped into their boat and rowed out as fast as they could. The four fishermen filled both boats so full they almost sunk—from one boat’s nets.
Imagine the look on Jesus’ face here. He’s sitting back in the bow of the boat, I think, smiling with delight because He has blessed these four who will become so close to Him.
Simon, always the emotional one, finally understands Who Jesus is, and He’s afraid. Jesus offers a weird kind of comfort. He tells Simon and the others, “From now on you will fish for people” (Luke 5:11).
And that’s what did it. That’s when Simon, Andrew, James, and John all quit fishing to spend their days with Jesus. They’ll mistakenly go back to fishing for one night later, but their lives are about to change in ways I don’t even have words (much less space) to describe.
Now aren’t you glad you didn’t leave it at Matthew’s version? Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20.
When these four men walked away from their families, they left behind the biggest catch of fish in their lives. You can be sure there wasn’t a rotten fish or any by-catch in there either. I think the families were financially set for a long time.
They had watched Him, talked
to Him, experienced Him
before they followed Him.
The men had watched Jesus, talked to Jesus, experienced Jesus’ miracles before they followed him. But Jesus had also watched the men. He knew their hearts, and He knew they could fulfill what would be required of them in the next three years and beyond.
Something to think about… It’s rare when someone hears about Jesus for the first time and immediately, authentically begins to follow Him. For most people, it takes some wooing, some teaching, some experience, and some good timing. Was that your story? Will it be the story of someone you know? Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while. It took Peter a while, too.
Had you previously thought about the chronology of this time period? What surprises you? What comforts you? I’d love to hear anything you have to contribute. Just put it in the comments below!