Explore the Bible Series
October 3, 2004
Background Passage: Luke 5:1-39
Lesson Passage: Luke 5:4-11 and 27-32
Introduction: The Gospels present three perspectives on the call of the fishermen to follow Christ. The Gospel of John recounts the importance of John’s ministry as it related to the call of these first disciples (See John 1:35f.). Andrew and an unnamed companion were introduced to Jesus by the Baptist’s striking words, “Behold the Lamb of God…”, and immediately Andrew found his brother Peter and brought him to Jesus. This occurred shortly after the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (Notice John’s characteristic method of sequencing events here, “…The next day…”). In some sense, Andrew, Peter, and the unnamed disciple (perhaps the Apostle John) became followers of Christ from that time forward.
Matthew and Mark give helpful insight into the apparent evolution of the fishermen’s call to discipleship (See Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20). Sometime after their initial encounter with Jesus, the four fishermen received a clear call to follow after the Savior and become fishers of men. These men, perhaps unaware of the radical, life-changing nature of Jesus’ call, did not completely abandon their fishing business. They understood that Christ called them to some special responsibility, but perhaps they did not fully comprehend the full implication of Christ’s call to discipleship.
Luke recorded the final phase of the call to discipleship for the fishermen. Finally, in the context of the miraculous draught of fishes, these men realized more fully the breadth and depth of Christ’s call to service. No halfway measures would do. He demanded full compliance and obedience to his command to follow him.
In the case of these men the call to discipleship had a physical dimension; that is, they were to walk away from their vocation and possessions so that they might tangibly follow Jesus. Christ demanded that they make a radical break with their former lives and begin anew as visible followers of Christ. How does this demand inform contemporary Christians concerning the call to follow Jesus? Since contemporary believers cannot physically walk with Jesus in Galilee and Judea, what does discipleship mean? Did Jesus call these first disciples to a more radical form of discipleship than he demands of modern followers?
This lesson will center on the nature of discipleship. In particular, the lesson will focus on the aspects of discipleship that are common to all who follow Christ. No person may rightly believe that he will enjoy the blessings of heaven if he has not become a sincere follower of Christ. There is no salvation apart from a faith that issues in real, substantive discipleship; indeed, the terms “Christian” and “disciple” are synonyms. Acts 11:26 recounts, “…the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” This text certainly indicates that the early church used these words interchangeably. Christians must examine the Scriptures to discover the nature biblical discipleship.
I. The Occasion of the Fishermen’s Call to Discipleship (Luke 5:1-3)
A. The location of this event (v.1): The Lord had traveled through the villages of Galilee to preach in the synagogues of the region (See Luke 4:44). Every small hamlet of Galilee had a synagogue that served as the religious center of each community. Jesus had visited the synagogue in Nazareth (4:16f.), and he had met with considerable opposition from the religious leaders of the city; nevertheless, the reader encounters one story after another of Jesus’ ministry in these religious centers. The Jews allowed men to address the gathered congregation, and this practice afforded the Lord an opportunity to expound the Scriptures to his countrymen. Jesus’ travels had taken him to the vicinity of Lake Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee), and it is in this region that he did his first recorded open-air preaching.
B. The time and circumstance of this event (vv. 2-3): The text does not reveal how much time lapsed between the beginning of Jesus’ public preaching and the call of the disciples, but this surely occurred very early in his work. The crowds flocked to hear him teach, and the throng pressed him to such a degree that he asked for the use of Simon Peter’s boat to address the multitude. Peter’s comments in verse five indicate that these things happened in the early morning. Apparently, Peter willingly complied with the Lord’s request. Jesus sat in the boat, as was his custom (See Matthew 5:1; John 8:2) and taught the multitudes.
A. Jesus, having grown up in this region, certainly knew that the early morning hours were not the best time for fishing. The fishermen had already washed their nets for the day (See v 2), and Jesus’ request imposed considerable inconvenience on these weary men.
B. Peter’s mild objection to the Master’s request (v. 5): Perhaps Peter felt some professional slight at Jesus’ demand. After all, Peter was the professional fisherman, and Jesus was a carpenter and itinerate preacher. Peter reminded the Lord that the men had labored, without success, all night. No doubt, fatigue and discouragement gripped the fisherman, but Peter reluctantly obeyed the Lord’s directive.
C. The miraculous draught of fishes (vv.6-7): The verb tense used here reveals that the nets began to tear because of the tremendous catch of fish. Peter’s business partners, James and John Bar Zebedee, came quickly to help with the load of fish, and two boats nearly sank because of the extreme weight.
D. The response of the people to the miraculous catch of fish (vv. 8-11): The display of the Lord’s sovereign power provoked a deep response in Simon Peter. Interestingly, the Lord’s power heightened Peter’s awareness of his sinfulness before the Christ. Geldenhuys suggests that Peter was expressing shame that he had returned to his ships and nets after Jesus had called him to discipleship the first time. This interpretation may shed some light on the post-Resurrection experience of Peter’s return to his nets (John 21). Apparently, this dear brother struggled with leaving his livelihood. Peter prayed, “Depart from me…” What a glorious and comforting mercy that the Lord does not answer all of our prayers.
Peter’s astonishment spread quickly to other witnesses to this miraculous event. In particular, James and John share in Peter’s amazement at the Lord’s power. Their amazement provided an opportunity for the Lord to specify the nature of the work he had for these men. They would become fishers of men. Surely, generations of preachers have seen this text accurately when they understood this phrase to refer to the work of evangelism.
III. The Call to Discipleship of Matthew the Publican (Luke 5:27-32)
A. The call of an unlikely disciple (vv. 27-28): Levi (Matthew) served as a duty collector for Herod Antipas. He assessed taxes on goods that were transported on the important trade routes that came through this area. The Jews hated these publicans. Often these tax officials cheated the people, and the Galileans viewed them as traitors and thieves. The NASV says that Jesus noticed this man. How often do Christians fail to notice those who seem unattractive and undesirable? Many citizens must have passed this man every day without the slightest warmth or acknowledgement. Jesus noticed the man and his need for salvation. The Savior’s invitation came to Matthew with simplicity and clarity, “Follow me.” The former tax collector left his thriving business concerns and obeyed the Lord.
B. The joy of a sinner saved by grace (vv. 29-32): No doubt, much had been forgiven in Matthew’s life, and his first impulse was to introduce other desperate sinners to the Savior. The former tax collector arranged a festive banquet for his publican associates to interact with Jesus. The seemingly ever-present Pharisees caught wind of the celebration and sharply criticized Jesus for eating with sinners. Jesus did not avoid sinners; rather, he sought them out. Indeed, the only persons, in this story, who met with Jesus’ disapproval were the self-righteous, separatistic religious crowd.
1. Discuss with the class the nature of discipleship. How were the experiences of the fishermen and Matthew unique to their time situation? What universal principles of discipleship does this chapter teach?
2. What can Christians learn from the persistence of Jesus’ call on Peter’s life? Why, in your judgment, did Peter seem to follow Jesus in incremental steps? What factors may have rendered him reluctant to follow Jesus? What issues may hinder people from following Christ?
3. What does the story of Matthew reveal about the appropriate relationship between believers and unbelievers? What safeguards should believers exercise in their relationships with unbelievers?