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Calling of the First Disciples – Making Fishers of Men

Written by Michael Roehl

To read with detachment the accounts of the calling of Jesus’ apostles is a mistake. Christians today rob themselves when they read those Bible accounts as idle spectators rather than intimate participants. How sobering for Jesus’ apostles to recognize that they had been chosen by God Himself, long before they were ever born, to be those special men with whom and upon whom God would build His New Testament Church! Yet we today need to recognize our part in those dramatic events. Every Christian that followed, including every Christian today, had and has an intimate connection or bond with those chosen individuals. The Holy Spirit through Paul identified that connection in his letter to the church in Ephesus: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV) It is then with heightened, personal interest that we revisit the calling of the first apostles.

Several of these men began as disciples of John the Baptist, who first pointed them to Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29 ESV) He repeated the same words the following day, and this time two of John’s men left him to follow Jesus (one of whom was Andrew, and the other very likely John—who never names himself in his Gospel). Recall the rather confusing exchange that followed, Jesus asking them “What are you seeking?” to which they responded, “Where are you staying?” The reality was that they did not yet know exactly what they were looking for, but they had been directed to the one Who would show them. Andrew found his brother Peter and introduced him to his Savior. The next day Jesus found Phillip, who in turn introduced his brother Nathanael to Jesus. That’s exactly what our mission work is supposed to look like—introducing lost, uncertain souls to their Savior, beginning with our own family members.

Interestingly enough, although these men had been introduced to Jesus, they hadn’t yet forsaken all to become fulltime followers. A separate event is recorded in Matthew 4 where Jesus again sought out Peter, Andrew, James, and John—all four having returned to their occupation as fishermen. This time Jesus issued His direct call: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19 ESV) Abandoning all, they began their training and work as Jesus’ apostles. Later, Jesus gathered the rest of His chosen men: Philip, Bartholomew , Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. He would later replace Judas with Matthias and add Paul.

Take another look at that list—several fishermen, a man who collected taxes for Rome, a member of the sect of the Zealots (which advocated the violent overthrow of Roman rule), a man who would later betray Jesus, and a man who for a time violently persecuted the very Savior he later came to serve. Not exactly an outwardly impressive collection, and yet Jesus knew His men. Do we? Do we recognize both our bond and our debt? These men spent their lives establishing the Church of which we are now members. Through them, God the Holy Spirit provided the vast majority of our beloved New Testament. They were jars of clay that carried to the world the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ. We are descendants and heirs of their work. Every Christian is therefore intimately connected to these men even now, and each of us will be infinitely more connected to them for all eternity.

Michael Roehl is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota.