16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. – Mark 1:16-20 ESV
After 40 days of fasting and being tested by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus took no time off but went straight to work. But Mark alludes to something very significant that happened before Jesus began His earthly ministry: John the Baptist was arrested.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV
John, the one who had been chosen by God to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming, had been removed from the scene. And Luke provides further details about what happened.
John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others. – Luke 3:19-20 NLT
In a sense, John’s work had been completed. He had done what God had commissioned Him to do. The Messiah had come and there was no more need for John to “prepare the way.” So, God sovereignly arranged for John’s ministry to come to an abrupt and final end. While we might find God’s method for terminating John’s employment to be a bit heavy-handed, it is essential that we recognize His sovereign orchestration and timing of this event.
John’s removal from the scene was essential to God’s plan. It was important that John not detract from the ministry and mission of Jesus. His job had been to announce the coming of “the light.”
God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. – John1:6-8 NLT
But in the time John had spent preaching and baptizing in the wilderness, he had amassed quite a following.
People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. – Matthew 3:5 NLT
And there were all kinds of rumors circulating about John. So much so, that the Jewish religious leaders had sent a delegation into the Judean wilderness in order to determine who he was and what he was doing.
This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.”
“Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?”
“No,” he replied.
“Are you the Prophet we are expecting?”[i]
“Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” – John 1:19-22 NLT
John was being bombarded with questions concerning who he was. And it seems apparent that there were some who believed him to be the Messiah. As long as John was on the scene, he would continue to draw crowds and create confusion. So, God brought his ministry to an end, removing any further suspicion that he might be the Messiah.
Luke records that Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all” (Luke 4:14-15 ESV).
But before recounting one of those synagogue sermons, Mark inserts the story of Jesus calling His first four disciples. He was walking along the Sea of Galilee when He spotted Simon and Andrew, two brothers who were standing along the shoreline casting their nets into the sea. Mark indicates that Jesus called to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17 ESV), and the two men immediately left their nets and followed him. At first glance, it would appear that Jesus had walked up to two complete strangers, issued them a strange and rather cryptic invitation, and they had dropped what they were doing and robotically got in line behind Him.
But John adds some important details that the Synoptic gospels left out. It appears that this was not the first time that Jesus had met these two men. In his gospel account, John records that Jesus spent some time in Judea in the days following His baptism.
The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.
Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.
They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
“Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).
Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”). – John 1:35-42 NLT
So, this was not the first time that Simon and Andrew had met Jesus. It would seem that they had traveled from Galilee to Judea because of the rumors they had heard about John the Baptist, and Andrew had become one of his disciples. When Andrew had heard John the Baptist refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” he had immediately followed Jesus and had later brought his brother to meet the one who he referred to as “the Messiah.”
It is likely that Andrews and Simon returned to Galilee sometime during the 40-day period that Jesus was in the wilderness and after John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned. With these two men out of the picture, the two brothers had returned home and did what they had always done: fish.
But Jesus found them and made His calling of them official. So, their rather abrupt decision to follow Jesus becomes a bit more understandable when all the facts are considered. And with Andrew and Simon in tow, Jesus made His way further up the shoreline until he saw two more brothers who were busy mending their nets. Luke reveals that these two men, James and John, were actually business partners with Andrew and Simon (Luke 5:10). And this was not their first encounter with Jesus either. Luke provides yet another detail concerning Jesus’ previous interactions with all four men.
One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.
When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.
Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus. – Luke 5:1-11 NLT
All four of these men were familiar with Jesus and had even heard Him speak and teach. But they had not yet decided to become His disciples. The very fact that Jesus found them casting and mending nets indicates that they were not yet fully committed to His cause. But when He extended the invitation, they immediately responded by leaving everything behind. Jesus would later tell His disciples, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you” (John 15:16 NLT). Their calling had been up to Jesus and even He would later admit that everyone of His disciples had been given to Him by God (John 17:6, 9).
Jesus was beginning His earthly ministry by calling a group of unexpected and unqualified men who would become His disciples and, later, would become His apostles and ambassadors of the good news. In time, these four fishermen would be transformed into fishers of men. But that transformation would take more than three years and require the coming of the Holy Spirit before it was fully complete.
tEnglish Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.