Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee;…
I. THE OCCASION OF THE CALL. Driven from Nazareth, our Lord repaired to the busy western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Through this district ran the great caravan-roads; and several important towns gathered all kinds of tradesmen. Herod the tetrarch had his court in Tiberias. The valuable fishings in the lake gave employment to many. Courtiers, soldiers, tax-gatherers, watching the caravans and fisheries, fishermen, women reputable and disreputable, filled the shore with movement and life. Crowds were readily attracted by the new Teacher. And our Lord, seeing the fields thus white to harvest, recognized that the time was come for selecting labourers to reap.
II. OBJECT OF THE CALL. "I will make you fishers of men." The fishermen would not at once see what he meant by this. Knowing that he was founding a kingdom, they may have supposed he would make them a kind of recruiting officers to assist him in enlisting others, as he had enlisted them. But his purpose was clear to himself; and what he here did as if casually was carefully deliberated. He meant to form a society coextensive with humanity and lasting as the world. He meant to introduce into every nation a new religion. He meant to convert all men to his own way of looking at things. And he was resolved to accomplish this purpose, not by committing his ideas to a book which could be verified as his to all time, and from which each generation might receive unadulterated his very ideas, but by means of living men, who by word of mouth should tell men about himself and his kingdom, and by their life show what a Christian is. To accomplish this great object they were to cast their net and to angle. They were to study men's ways and habits, to circumvent and gently constrain them, to wile and attract them to their own good, to show the untiring patience, skill, and study of professional fishermen. God is the great Fisher of men, patiently accommodating himself to the suspicious, intractable ways of the sinner, playing him and humouring him, but ever drawing him onwards towards himself. Note our wild rushes back to freedom, our sullen retreat under the cold stone of doubt, our petulant refusal to be led on. Compare, too, the parable of the net.
III. THE PERSONS CALLED. Everywhere the world was preoccupied by religions rooted in centuries of tradition and national memories, by philosophies buttressed by great and cherished names, by venerable institutions and local prejudices. To what kind of men will Jesus commit the exceptionally arduous enterprise of establishing his own kingdom as supreme over all? Nicodemus, the Pharisee of position? The instructed scribe who sought to follow him? The grateful nobleman whose child he had saved from death? He turns for help to quite another class. One of the earliest called was a publican: as if some modern reformer should secure the help of an actor or a tavern-keeper. This choice at once brought on him a storm of indignation. But he had no misgivings. He knew these fishermen were ignorant, and would easily be foiled in argument by a clever scribe. But they had the one essential requisite of thorough attachment to him. He knew them also as disciples of John, sober, God-fearing men, who were waiting for the kingdom.
IV. IMMEDIATE RESULT OF THE CALL. "They immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him." They were to be fitted for their work of preaching Jesus by knowing him thoroughly. For this purpose they must live with him, and see how he works, and learn his mind and method. They must leave that glittering pile of fish they were already calculating the value of; they must leave their accustomed way of winning their daily bread; they must abandon their father, and go where Jesus went. The physical following of Jesus which was required of the apostles is not required of all Christians; but all Christians are required to love Christ above all, and to accept his will as supreme law.
V. ENCOURAGEMENT GIVEN TO THE CALLED. Luke relates that our Lord stimulated the faith of these fishermen by a miraculous draught of fishes (Luke 5:1-11). This helped them to take the step he invited them to take.
1. For it showed them he could provide for them. Does not our refusal to listen to the call of Christ, and unflinchingly follow where he leads, arise chiefly from the fear that by so doing worldly loss of one kind or other (pleasure, advancement, gain, comfort, renown) will be occasioned us? This miracle reminds us that Christ can easily give us more than all self-seeking toil of our own can achieve.
2. But the miracle encouraged them to believe he could make them fishers of men. If in their own calling he could give them successes they could not for themselves achieve, much more would he ensure their success in the calling which was peculiarly his own. He confirmed his promise by a symbol which spoke volumes to them. And when we shrink from duties to which we are plainly called, it is encouraging to remember that our Lord, who calls us to them, can give us success where all professional skill would avail us nothing. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee;