THE CALL OF THE DISCIPLES
Texts: Mat 4:18-21, Mar 1:16-20, Joh 1:35-51, Luke 5:1-11, Mat 9:9, Mar 2:13-17, Mat 10:2-3, Mar 3:13-19, Luk 6:16
The task before Jesus at the commencement of His ministry must have been an enormous one considering the beliefs the children of Israel had held over the years. These people had in years past direct contact with God and knew their priests who were speaking with God on their behalf. So, to them who was Jesus? How would His message be accepted by the same people God described as stiff-necked people; who were constantly disobeying God at every opportunity? Christ must have recognised the enormous work ahead when in Luke 10:2 He said: “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few.” The work is still much even till today.
It is obvious that Jesus needed committed people to work with Him in His ministry, consequently He started His ministry by choosing the disciples to work with. This was the beginning of a new ministry. Only loyal and committed hands would be required to get the message to spread. There were obstacles, persecutions and uncertainty but the Good News had to be carried to the ends of the earth. God desired that all should not perish.
Who is a Disciple?
A disciple is an apprentice or student who learns how to do something from another person. A disciple observes how the master behaves, works or produces something in order to do exactly what the master does. He is obedient and willing to learn. Christ’s disciples were committed to following Jesus and becoming like Him. Being a disciple is more than merely going to church or being religious. It is a commitment to being transformed to be like Jesus. Therefore being a disciple is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus. It is important that we have this concept of discipleship in mind as we examine the call of Christ’s disciples.
Twelve men responded to the call. They were Jews, uneducated commoners, and simple men of faith who gave up everything to be followers of Christ. Matthew 10:2-3, Mark 3:13-17 and Luke 6:12-16 provide a list of the followers of Jesus who were the 12 disciples: Simon (called Peter), his brother Andrew, James (the son of Zebedee), his brother John, Philip, Bartholomew/Nathanael, Matthew, Thomas, James (the son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot) Judas/Thaddaeus (son of James), and Judas Iscariot. We shall now examine how some of these disciples were called by Jesus.
- Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John
Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20 give same account of how these disciples were called. They were all called while fishing but had to abandon their work and follow Christ. They were fishermen. Christ had another and better job for them: fishing for people. This call of Andrew and Simon was peculiar because they were told what their new career would be.
John’s account of this call is slightly different from what is recorded in the other Gospels. John 1:35-42 records the call of Andrew and Simon Peter. These two brothers were disciples of John the Baptist. “Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” It is interesting to note that Andrew performed his first task of connecting Simon to Christ; “He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone). (Joh 1:41-42) John unlike Matthew and Mark did not immediately record the call of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, instead he went on to report on the call of Philip and Nathanael.
The account of the call of these disciples with a miracle by Jesus is only recorded in Luke 5:1-11. Jesus had finished speaking to the multitude and turned to Simon and directed him to sail deeper into the sea and throw in the net. “Master, we have toiled all night without catch of any fish but on Your word I would do as you say.” Obedience. The result- the catch was astonishing. Nobody needed to remind Simon that he was dealing with the Lord. v8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”. The report of the call ended with Jesus reassuring Simon not to be afraid because the new job of catching men was ready for him. From the previous gospel passages we know that Andrew was with him and so all four forsook all including the fish and parents and followed Jesus.
- Philip, Nathanael and Matthew
In John 1:43-51 we are told of how Philip and Nathanael were called by Jesus. “Follow Me” Jesus said to Philip and like Andrew (John 1:37) Philip first task was to connect Nathanael to Jesus. Remember this; when you see the Lord and our Saviour our important task is to connect others to Him. Do not keep such wonderful opportunity to yourself. The little exchange between Nathanael and Jesus in John 1:47-51 set the tone for Nathanael that his new link with Jesus was well worth it.
Matthew 9:9-13 and Mark 2:13-17 describe the call of Matthew the tax collector. His call follows the same pattern: “Follow Me and he arose and followed Him.” The event that followed this call gave Jesus an opportunity to present a very strong sermon to the audience. Following Christ should excite anyone because of the freedom that comes from doing so. The dinning in Matthew’s house following the call made other tax collectors, sinners and the Pharisees to meet Christ and even dine with Him. We see that the Pharisees would not miss an opportunity to display their doubts and disdain for Jesus. Jesus is Lord, He had a response to their question: “When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mar 2:17)
An apostle is someone sent forth or out for a mission. Mark 3:14, 15 Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons”. Jesus spent three years training these men to be leaders. Jesus’ plan was to eventually have the disciples take over and carry on the work He had started. The ministry had started well with many disciples following Jesus. In Luke 6:13 we read that Jesus choose from among them twelve apostles whom He would send out to continue with His work. In the meantime, these twelve continued to be addressed as disciples because they were still undergoing the apprenticeship work (Luke 6:17, 20).
Lessons we learn from the calls
This study of the call of the disciples of Jesus reveals so many issues to Christians today. I am very convinced that our Christian life would be richer and better today if we emulate and follow Christ as His disciples did. A few points to note and ponder upon from this study are listed below:
- There were many people with unbelief then just as we have in our society today
- Christ chose ordinary people for His work just as it is easier to convert ordinary people in the society today to follow Christ
- Jesus trained His disciples for nearly three years before commissioning them to carry on with the work at hand
- Training was a necessity in order to properly equip them for the task ahead. This training is available today in congregational programmes
- Training took various forms of teaching and miracles by Jesus as can be seen from events that followed each call
- Instant obedience to the calls is noteworthy. This is what is expected of us today, we listen and obey
- The disciples of Christ were with Him always and this is important for Christians today; we do not need to walk with our Lord on a part-time basis
- Starting a new career can be a daunting task and full of uncertainty. Christ assured the prospective disciples that He cares and would provide for them as recorded in the miracle in Luke 5:9. Workers in His vineyard today should have no reason to be afraid because of this and many other assurances Christ has given to all.
Matthew 28:16-20 is the most appropriate conclusion of this study. “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” It would be great if we are not only Christians but also disciples who are committed to the mission of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your kind attention and the opportunity to lead in this study.