In addition to these public lessons and ideas posted below, our Writing Team has created an extra creative set of lessons on this story for our supporting members: Jesus Calls the Disciples ...and You!  The set's lesson summaries and Bible background are open to all.

Note:  Moved here by Luanne, I am not the author...see end of post for team of authors.


Jesus Calls Disciples

Bible Background


Scripture

Matthew 4:18-22 (Jesus calls Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John)
Matthew 9:9-13 (Jesus calls Matthew)
John 1:43-50 (Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael)
Mark 3:13-19 (Jesus calls the 12)

Additional Scripture

Luke 5:1-11 (the miraculous catch of fish and Jesus calls Simon Peter, James and John)

 Key/Memory Verse

“And he said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.'” Matthew 4:19 (NRSV)


 

Bible Background

The word “disciple” means devoted follower, a person who adheres to, and helps spread the teachings of a master. As Christians we equate the word disciple with the early followers of Jesus, one of the twelve original “Disciples of Christ.” But the word disciple has also come to mean anyone who follows Jesus. In this Bible story on the selection (or “calling" of Jesus’ disciples, we (and hopefully the children in our workshops) will come to understand what it means to be a disciple. We will see how this call applies to each one of us today. Jesus calls us to be his disciples. [1]

Being a "disciple" in Jesus’ day

In Jesus’ time all Jewish boys spent a lot of time studying the scriptures.  Some who were more gifted went on to become scholars. After years of study, these boys would often spend a lot of time with a particular teacher; they would become “disciples” of that teacher. The word disciple means “student” or “learner.” Often Jewish teachers would call talented students to come and study with them. But Jesus was different. The disciples Jesus picked were very different from the types of disciples that other teachers usually picked. Jesus picked ordinary people, not very wealthy, and not very educated.  [2]

Story Setting

The Sea of Galilee, also known as Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias, is the largest freshwater lake in Israel. About 30 fishing towns surrounded the Sea of Galilee during Jesus' time, the largest town being Capernaum, visible on the right in the picture below. It is a fresh water lake and it is from this "sea" that Israel's homes have water.

The Sea of Galilee is the location of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. It is here Jesus begins the proclamation of the Good News we can share today.  Let us explore what happened near this lake.

Israel Tiberias taken in 2012 by tango7174 shared under a CreativeCommons licence

The calling of Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John

 Jesus’ calling of his first disciples is one of the most remembered stories of the Bible.  The event is recorded in all four gospels, although it is described slightly differently in each of them.  The first four disciples called were two pairs of brothers -- Simon Peter  and Andrew and James and John, the sons of Zebedee. [3]

Jesus tells two disciples, Peter and Andrew, to leave what they are doing to help others find God. Jesus called them away from what they were doing (fishing) to a life of service to him. Jesus wanted Peter and Andrew to practice living like Jesus lived. Jesus had talked to Peter and Andrew previously when he had been preaching in the area. These men knew Jesus and realized that following him would change their lives.

James and John were also fishermen who were called by Jesus to help others find God. None of these four men made excuses but left what they were doing or had planned for the day to follow Jesus -- to mend peoples' lives instead of mending their nets. Each one of us is called to leave what we are doing and to follow Jesus.

About our four disciple fishermen

As fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John had to have patience. At times they fished all night to not catch a single fish! They had to have the ability to persevere in all climates and even when success wasn't evident. This training would pay off in that they needed the ability to do the work they were called to do but to also allow God to work in the lives of the people they would lead to God.

Peter's name was changed to Peter from Cephas by Jesus. Cephas (which means rock) was a common Jewish name in the New Testament. Peter was brought to Jesus by his younger brother Andrew. As time went on the name progresses to Peter. What is interesting is that the Lord Jesus always except at the name change continues to call Peter, Simon.

Andrew had first been a disciple of John the Baptist. At the point that John the Baptist points out Jesus, saying "Behold the Lamb" Andrew begins to follow Jesus. One of the first people Andrew was called to bring to Christ was his brother Peter. Then Andrew was required to take a back seat and allow his older brother to be the lead disciple!

James, son of Zebedee was the older brother to John. James was in partnership with Peter and Andrew. He and his brother were bold and energetic probably why they are nicknamed "Sons of Thunder." Of the two "James" that were Jesus' disciples he was known as James the Greater. His father may have been a man of wealth.

John, also a son of Zebedee, was the younger brother to James. Had heard John the Baptist say "Behold the Lamb" and became willing to be a disciple. Time passes -- we are uncertain as to the amount (maybe some of the patience required for disciples) -- before Jesus calls them to follow him.

The calling of Matthew (Levi)

One of Jesus’ disciples was a shocking choice. Matthew was a despised tax collector. In calling Matthew, Jesus made a symbolic gesture -- God’s love is available for all, even for one so hated as this. Tax collectors in Jesus’ time were considered contemptible and corrupt. These Jews were hired by the Romans to collect taxes from their fellow Jewish neighbors.  They received their salaries by extorting more taxes than the Roman government required, pocketing the excess for themselves. The more they demanded, the more rich they became. Tax collectors were considered by other Jews to be both traitors and thieves. Getting rich was probably at the top of Matthew’s list, yet Jesus obviously saw something in Matthew that others did not. We learn from this that God does not judge by the same standards man does.

The gospels differ on the name of this tax collector. In Matthew 9 he is referred to as "Matthew" and in Mark 2:14 and in Luke 5:27 he is called "Levi." Most Biblical scholars think these two men are the same person. It is interesting to note that the name Levi does not appear in any gospel list of Jesus' disciples!

The calling of Philip and Nathanael (Bartholomew)

In the gospel of John 1:43-51, Jesus also calls Philip and Nathanael (also called Bartholomew) to be disciples. Nathanael at first responds to his friend Philip’s exuberance about discovering the Messiah with scorn . . . “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). But Jesus sees Nathanael sitting under a fig tree and declares him to be a “true Israelite.” This demonstration of Jesus opens the eyes of Nathanael who declares Jesus to be “ the Son of God . . . the King of Israel.” [4]

What about the others?

In the gospel accounts, little is written about the remaining disciples:

  • Simon, the zealot is thought to have been connected with a fanatical nationalist group whose guerrilla activities were designed to drive out the Roman occupation forces. In reality, they often provoked many bloody reprisals.
  • Judas Iscariot is known to have been the treasurer of Jesus’ band of followers. Judas is notorious for his betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. The gospel accounts do not attempt to analyze the motive of Judas’ actions. This has been the object of much speculation and discussion among Biblical scholars: Judas was the only disciple not from Galilee thus he always seemed to be the “odd man out,” Judas was a Zealot, the most strident of the group and that he misinterpreted Jesus’ Messiahship and gradually grew disillusioned with Jesus’ perceived “inaction” thus deciding to take matters into his own hands and believing he would force Jesus to declare his Messiahship during Passover when the support and crowds were greatest. Judas’ conception of the Messiah did not include Jesus being put to death. Once the plot was set in motion, however, there was not stopping it.
  • Thomas is perhaps best known for his pessimistic and doubting response to the story of the resurrected Jesus which he did not at first witness. Even today those who are skeptical are referred to as “Doubting Thomases.”
  • Thaddaeus (also called Judas, not Iscariot, son of James): possibly the grandson of Zebedee.
  • James, Son of Alphaeus, or James the Less: possibly related to Matthew and Thaddaeus.

Calling stories… a similar pattern

Those who are called are in the midst of everyday activities. Their response to Jesus’ call is immediate. They make a personal commitment to follow Jesus. Surely the men knew that by following Jesus they would be required to leave all they had. James and John even left behind their father Zebedee! Their allegiance was to be to Jesus alone. They would be dependent on the gifts and hospitality of others for all their needs. Their lives are changed.

Later life as disciples

James and John, together with Peter were Jesus’ closest disciples, his inner circle,  and on several occasions were taken off with him apart from the rest. John is believed to be the author of the gospel of John and many scholars also attribute the book of Revelation to him. He is also referred to as the “disciple Jesus loved.”  [5]

As we progress through the Bible in more stories we find that the disciples were not strong men of faith. They had their doubts and questions. They needed time to grow and understand what they were required to do. Just like when we go to church and Sunday School; we take the time to learn and grow!

Are we Big D Disciples?

[Remainder of this material by Neil MacQueen]

Jesus' call to these fellows to be his Disciples is a special call. However, often it is taught as a general appeal to everyone to "be a disciple" when that is not what the story suggests at all.

My understanding of this story is that Jesus selected specific individuals to come spend extra time with him. These disciples were called to special training so they could go out and spread the Good News to others. This sounds like Sunday School!

Sunday School students are the “BIG D.” They are "called away from" all the other things they could be doing. Sunday School students are kids making a commitment to follow Jesus in a special way. Sunday school kids are in training to be "BIG D" Disciples.

Some details...

Jesus calls a few to lead the many. Jesus is calling individual students to spend special time with him to become BIG D Disciples -- students who can become the teachers. And indeed, the Book of Acts is the story of his disciples becoming the teachers.

The call to be a Disciple should be greeted without hesitation. But what are some of our natural hesitations? How do we overcome them? What might Jesus be asking YOU to give up?

 Jesus is not calling everyone to leave their jobs. They leave their nets "immediately" as a sign of enthusiastic response. They were ready. They had their priorities straight.

The call has a price. When you come to Sunday School to learn about Jesus, you are being called out of your boat/bed/other activities, to be special Disciples.

How is it that a Sunday School student "HEARS" Jesus' voice?

  • We hear a clear message that seems right to us -- coming from a Bible story, a parent, or pastor or teacher.
  • We feel in our heart and head that God is asking us to make this commitment.
  • We feel inside that it is the right thing to do, even if it is not always the most entertaining.
  • Things happen in Sunday School or while being at church that give us a sense of well-being or conviction.
  • We feel supported and good about the experience. Many express a sense of peace and good will that accompanies them when they leave church.
  • We "feel more like a Christian" during the week, and find ourselves thinking more about Jesus. We find ourselves making an effort to be a better friend, child, and Disciple.
  • We have increased feelings about the importance of reading the Bible.

Endnotes:

[1] This paragraph borrowed from Story Background material written by Carol Hulbert.
[2] This paragraph borrowed from Background information written by Jaymie Derden.
[3] ibid.
[4] Above two paragraphs: ibid.
[5] ibid.


SOURCES

  • Comay, Joan and Ronald Brownrigg. Who’s Who in the Bible. New York: Bonanza Books, 1980. Print.
  • Derden, Jaymie. "Background Information: Fishing and Following - Jesus Calls the Disciples." 2002. Print.
  • Hulbert, Carol. "Story Background for Jesus Calls Disciples." 2008. Print.
  • Life Application Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996. Print.
  • Mays, James L. ed. Harper’s Bible Commentary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.
  • Wezeman, Phyllis Vos and Judith Harris Chase. Disciples Then! Disciples Now! Prescott, AZ: Educational Ministries, 1995. Print.
  • Water, Mark. The Big Book of Bible People. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996. Print.

 

 Written by Carol Hulbert, Jaymie Derden, Neil MacQueen, and Wendy Sempf

Copyright 2003.  Permission to copy materials granted for non-commercial use provided credit is given and all cited references remain with this material.

Photograph of Lake Tiberias, Israel; panoramic view near Capernaum, 2012, is offered by Tango7174 under a Creative Commons 3.0 License via Wikimedia Commons.

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 A representative of Rotation.org reformatted this post to improve readability.

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