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Matthew 04.18

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February 18, 2007 at FBC, Comanche; Expositional studies: Matthew

Text: Matthew 4:18-22

18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  19 And He said* to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.  21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.  22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

“Will You Follow Jesus?”

Introduction: By comparing the gospel accounts we discover that there were at least five different phases of Jesus’ calling of the twelve. Each gospel writer emphasized those phases which best suited his particular purpose. As would be expected, the first call was to salvation, to faith in the Messiah (see John 1:35–51; 2:11). The calling that Matthew mentions here was the second calling, the calling to witness. After neither the first nor the second call did the disciples permanently leave their occupations. At the time of the third call (Luke 5:1–11), Peter, James, and John were again back fishing. Jesus repeated the call to be fishers of men, and the disciples then realized the call was permanent and “they left everything and followed Him” (v. 11).

In Luke’s account, Simon and the others are still fishermen, and the Lord is teaching the crowd on shore from Simon’s boat (v. 3). After the teaching, He instructed the disciples to go out to the deep water and let down their nets for a catch. Simon protested that a full night of fishing had yielded nothing, but said that he would obey nonetheless. When the fish came into the net to the point of breaking it, and the catch filled both boats so that they almost sank with the weight of the fish, Simon knew who Jesus was-the presence of the holy God. His reaction, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (v. 8), reveals the same attitude Isaiah had when he saw God (Isa. 6:1–5)-an overwhelming sense of sinfulness. The sinner in the presence of God sees only his sin, and shrinks back in fear of judgment. But instead of consuming fire, Peter received a call to discipleship and evangelism. When the call came he responded with the other three men in total commitment to follow the Lord.

Mark tells us of the fourth level, or phase, of the call. “And He went up to the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons” (Mark 3:13–15). The fifth phase, anticipated in the previous one, is recorded in Matthew 10:1-“And having summoned His twelve disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.”

God calls all believers in a similar way. First He calls us to salvation, apart from which no other call could be effective. He then calls us progressively to more specific and ever-expanding service.


Matthew 4:18-22

18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  19 And He said* to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.  21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.  22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

“Will You Follow Jesus?”

1.                  Call to Salvation [John 1:12-13; 35–51; 2:11]

@  How do you know if you’re truly saved: Matthew 5:3-12; Hebrews 12:14-15; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 John 3:21; James 2:14-17

2.                  Call to Submission [Acts 412; Romans 10:13]

@  How do you know if you’re truly submitting [not subverting] God’s Word and God’s will? 1 Tim 2:1-5; 1 Peter 2:15; 1 Thes 4-5

3.                  Call that is Specific [Matt 4:18-22] – to speak, to evangelism

@  How do you know what God wants you to do? Ephesians 2:10

4.                  Call to Separation [Luke 5:1-11] – while they were still fishing; they left everything

@  Luke 14:26-33

5.                  Call to Service [Mark 3:13-15] to be with Him and that He might send them out [missions emphasis];

@  What are you supposed to do? Learning, training, going, doing, speaking

6.                  Call to Sacrifice [Mark 10:28-31; 44-45]

@  What are you supposed to give or give up? [Luke 21:1-3; Romans 12:1-5]

7.                  Call to Surrender [Matthew 16:34; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23]

@  When have you “arrived?” 2 Peter 1:1-11

b. Calling the first disciples (4:18-22)

Since no temporal expression links this pericope with the last one, there may have been some time lapse. Bultmann's skepticism (Synoptic Tradition, p. 28) about the historical worth of these verses is unwarranted (cf. Hill, Matthew).

The relation of the various "callings" of the disciples in the Gospel records is obscure. If we take John 1:35-51 as historical, Simon, Andrew, Philip, and Nathaniel first followed Jesus at an earlier date. On returning to Galilee, they again took up their normal work. This is inherently plausible. The disciples' commitment and understanding advanced by degrees; even after the Resurrection, they returned once more to their fishing (John 21). Here (Mt 4:20) an earlier commitment may explain their haste in following Jesus. If the miracle of Luke 5:1-11 occurred the night before Matthew 4:18-22 (Mark 1:16-20), that would be another reason for their immediate response to Jesus. In this connection the meaning of katartizontas ("preparing," Mt 4:21; cf. below) is significant. See further 9:9-13; 10:1-4.

18 In Hebrew "sea," like the German See, can refer to lakes. Classical Greek prefers not to use thalassa (or thalatta—"sea") for lakes; and Luke follows the same pattern by using limne ("lake"), though Matthew, Mark, and John prefer "sea." The Sea of Galilee (named from the district), otherwise known as the "Lake of Gennesaret" (the name "Kinnereth" [Num 34:11; Josh 12:3] comes from a plain on its north west shore; cf. Matt 14:34), or the "Sea of Tiberias" (a city Herod built on the southwest shore: John 6:1; 21:1), is 12 1/4 by 8 3/4 miles at the longest and broadest points respectively. Its surface is 682 feet below sea level. It is subject to violent squalls. In Jesus' day it supported flourishing fisheries; on its west shore were nine towns, and "Bethsaida" may be freely translated "Fishtown." Simon and his brother Andrew came from Bethsaida (John 1:44), though Capernaum was now their home (Mark 1:21, 29).

Simon, Matthew says, was "called Peter"; but he does not tell us how Peter received this name (cf. 10:2; 16:18; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14). While uncertainties remain, what is quite certain is that kepa ("rock," "stone"), the Aramaic equivalent of "Peter," was already an accepted name in Jesus' day (cf. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, "Aramaic Kepha" and "Peter's Name in the New Testament," in Best and Wilson, pp. 121-32)—a fact that has an important bearing on the interpretation of Mt 16:17-18.

Simon and Andrew were casting a "net" (amphiblestron, a NT hapax legomenon [found only once], with a cognate at Mark 1:16). It refers to a circular "casting-net" and is not to be confused with the more generic term diktua in Mt 4:20.

19-20 Greek has several expressions for "follow me" (v. 19; cf. at 10:38; Luke 9:23; 14:27), but they all presuppose a physical "following" during Jesus' ministry. His "followers" were not just "hearers"; they actually followed their Master around (as students then did) and became, as it were, trainees. The metaphor "fishers of men" glances back to the work of the two being called. It may also be reminiscent of Jeremiah 16:16. There Yahweh sends "fishermen" to gather his people for the Exile here Jesus sends "fishermen" to announce the end of the Exile (cf. on 1:11-12-2:17-18) and the beginning of the messianic reign. But this allusion is uncertain; the danger of "parallelomania" (coined by S. Sandmel, "Parallelomania," JBL 81 [1962]: 2-13) is evident when E.C.B. MacLaurin ("The Divine Fishermen," St. Mark's Review 94 [1978]: 26-28) works out many parallels and then opts for Ugaritic mythology a millennium and a half old. In any case there is a straight line from this commission to the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). Jesus' followers are indeed to catch men.

On the prompt obedience of Simon and Andrew (v. 20), see the comments at the introduction to this section. Peter later used this obedience almost as a bartering point (19:27).

21-22 This second pair of brothers were "preparing their nets" (v. 21), which sounds as if they were just setting out. The verb katartizo, however, connotes "mend" or "restore to a former condition." So James and John may have been making repairs after a night's fishing (cf. Luke 5:1-11 and its possible place in the chronology). Fenton notes that Paul uses katartizo for perfecting the church (1Cor 1:10; 2Cor 13:11) and sees here an allusion to pastoral ministry. But this is fanciful because the verb is not a technical term. The boat (ploion was used of all kinds of boats) was big enough for several men (Mark 1:20). Mark's remark that hired men were left with Zebedee when his sons followed Jesus reminds us that we must not exaggerate the ignorance and poverty of Jesus' first followers. While they were not trained scribes or rabbis, they were not illiterate, stupid, or destitute. Indeed, Peter's protest in 19:27 implies that many or all of the Twelve had given up much to follow Jesus.

Jesus took the initiative and "called" James and John. In the Synoptics, unlike Paul's epistles, Jesus call is not necessarily effectual. But in this instance it was immediately obeyed.


c. Spreading the news of the kingdom (4:23-25)

Summaries are common to narrative literature; but the one before us, with its parallel in 9:35-38, has distinctive features.

1. It does not just summarize what has gone before but shows the geographical extent and varied activity of Jesus' ministry.

2. It therefore sets the stage for the particular discourses and stories that follow and implies that the material presented is but a representative sampling of what was available.

3. It is not a mere chronicle but conveys theological substance. Thus it is easy to detect different emphases between this summary and 9:35-38 (see comments in loc.).

Older commentators see in vv. 23-25 a first circuit of Galilee and in 9:35-38 a second one. This is possible, but both pericopes may refer to the constant ministry of Jesus rather than to tightly defined circuits.

23 Jesus' ministry included teaching, preaching, and healing. Galilee, the district covered, is small (approximately seventy by forty miles); but according to Josephus (Life 235 [45]; War III, 41-43 [iii.2]), writing one generation later, Galilee had 204 cities and villages, each with no fewer than fifteen thousand persons. Even if this figure refers only to the walled cities and not to the villages (which is not what Josephus says), a most conservative estimate points to a large population, even if less than Josephus's three million. At the rate of two villages or towns per day, three months would be required to visit all of them, with no time off for the Sabbath. Jesus "went around doing good" (Acts 10:38; cf. Mark 1:39; 6:6). The sheer physical drain must have been enormous. Above all we must recognize that Jesus was an itinerant preacher and teacher who necessarily repeated approximately the same material again and again and faced the same problems, illnesses, and needs again and again.

The connection between "teaching" and "synagogue" recurs at 9:35; 13:54. A visiting Jew might well be asked to teach in the local synagogue (on which cf. Moore, Judaism, 1:281-307; Douglas, Illustrated Dictionary, 3:1499-503) as part of regular worship (e.g., Luke 4:16). The word "their" may indicate a time when the synagogue and the church had divided. On the other hand, it may simply indicate that the author and his readers viewed these events from outside Galilee (see further on 7:29; 9:35 et al.).

The message Jesus preaches is the "good news [euangelion, "gospel"] of the kingdom." The term recurs in 9:35; 24:14, and becomes "this gospel" in 26:13. "Of the kingdom" is an objective genitive: the "good news" concerns the kingdom (cf. Notes), whose "nearness" has already been announced (3:2; 4:17) and which is the central subject of the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7). Mark prefers "the gospel" or "the gospel of Christ" or "the gospel of God" (Mark 1:1, 14; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10); but the difference between these expressions and "gospel of the kingdom" is purely linguistic, since the "good news" concerns God and the in-breaking of his saving reign in the person of his Son the Messiah.

The healings of various diseases among the people further attest the kingdom's presence and advance (cf. 11:2-6; Isa 35:5-6). Walvoord (p. 39) relegates these "kingdom blessings … due for fulfillment in the future kingdom" to the status of mere "credentials of the King"; but if the kingdom blessings are present, then the kingdom too must have broken in, even if not yet in the splendor of its consummation (cf. Rev 21:3-5).

24 The geographical extent of "Syria" is uncertain. From the perspective of Jesus in Galilee, Syria was to the north. From the Roman viewpoint Syria was a Roman province embracing all Palestine (cf. Luke 2:2; Acts 15:23, 41; Gal 1:21), Galilee excepted, since it was under the independent administration of Herod Antipas at this time. The term "Syria" reflects the extent of the excitement aroused by Jesus' ministry; if the Roman use of the term is here presumed, it shows his effect on people far beyond the borders of Israel. Those "ill with various diseases" and "those suffering severe" pain are divided into three overlapping categories: (1) the demon possessed (cf. Mt 8:28-34; 12:22-29); (2) those having seizures—viz., any kind of insanity or irrational behavior whether or not related to demon possession (17:14-18; on seleniazomenous ["epileptics"], which etymologically refers to the "moonstruck" [i.e., "lunatic"], cf. DNTT, 3:734; J.M. Ross, "Epileptic or Moonstruck?" BTh 29 [1978]: 126-28)—and (3) the paralyzed, whose condition also had various causes.

In the NT sickness may result directly from a particular sin (e.g., John 5:14; 1Cor 11:30) or may not (e.g., John 9:2-3). But both Scripture and Jewish tradition take sickness as resulting directly or indirectly from living in a fallen world (cf. on 8:17). The Messianic Age would end such grief (Isa 11:1-5; 35:5-6). Therefore Jesus miracles, dealing with every kind of ailment, not only herald the kingdom but show that God has pledged himself to deal with sin at a basic level (cf. Mt 1:21; 8:17).

25 Jesus' reputation at this point extended far beyond Galilee, even though that is where the light "dawned" (v. 16). Two of the named areas, the region across the Jordan (east bank? see on v. 15) and the Decapolis, were mostly made up of Gen tiles, a fact already emphasized (see on 1:3-5; 2:1-12, 22-23; 3:9; 4:8, 15-16). The Decapolis (lit., "Ten Cities") refers to a region east of Galilee extending from Damascus in the north to Philadelphia in the south, ten cities (under varied reckonings) making up the count (cf. S. Thomas Parker, "The Decapolis Reviewed," JBL 94 [1975]: 437-41). People from all these areas "followed" Jesus. Despite contrary arguments "follow" does not necessarily indicate solid discipleship. It may, as here, refer to those who at some particular time followed Jesus around in his itinerant ministry and thus were loosely considered his disciples.[2]

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks were frequent, a crude little life-saving station was built. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted crewmen kept a constant watch over the sea. With no thought for themselves, they went out day or night, tirelessly searching for any who might need help. Many lives were saved by their devoted efforts. After a while the station became famous. Some of those who were saved, as well as others in the surrounding area, wanted to become a part of the work. They gave time and money for its support. New boats were bought, additional crews were trained, and the station grew. Some of the members became unhappy that the building was so crude. They felt a larger, nicer place would be more appropriate as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with hospital beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Soon the station became a popular gathering place for its members to discuss the work and to visit with each other. They continued to remodel and decorate until the station more and more took on the look and character of a club. Fewer members were interested in going out on lifesaving missions, so they hired professional crews to do the work on their behalf. The lifesaving motif still prevailed on the club emblems and stationery, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club held its initiations. One day a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in many boatloads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty, bruised, and sick; and some had black or yellow skin. The beautiful new club was terribly messed up, and so the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside, where the shipwreck victims could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities altogether, as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted on keeping lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that, after all, they were still called a lifesaving station. But those members were voted down and told that if they wanted to save lives they could begin their own station down the coast somewhere. As the years went by, the new station gradually faced the same problems the other one had experienced. It, too, became a club, and its lifesaving work became less and less of a priority. The few members who remained dedicated to lifesaving began another station. History continued to repeat itself; and if you visit that coast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.[3]


v. verse

[1]MacArthur, J. (1989). Matthew (114). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Expositor’s Bible Commentary

[3]MacArthur, J. (1989). Matthew (111). Chicago: Moody Press.

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