From The Outset

But Shifting Gears for a Moment

Immediately after the record of his temptation, we come to a turning point in the life of Christ—and in Matthew’s record—from Jesus’ preparation to his public ministry.

When Jesus learned that John the Baptist has been jailed, he returned to the region of Galilee. Galilee in Jesus’ day was contemptuously known as Galilee of the Gentiles because of its ethnic diversity—there was no shortage of distaste and distrust between Jews and Gentiles. Matthew connects Jesus’ return to this region with an Old Testament prophecy, suggesting that his arrival there wasn’t an afterthought. That passage from Isaiah 9 reads: In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles. That but separates past from future. The rest of that passage promised, people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. With Jesus’ birth and the beginning of his ministry here, that promise of old was being fulfilled. Out of a downtrodden community and a people living in darkness—light!

Not only was the place inauspicious, those Jesus called to follow him were as well. The brightest Jewish boys in those days would have been invited to follow after well-known rabbis in the community. Those who weren’t chosen, instead, found their way into the family business. And that’s where Jesus found Simon, Andrew, James and John.

The gospel writers offer us different vantage points. Andrew seems to have heard of Jesus first from John the Baptist. Perhaps he was among those with John when he pointed at Jesus and declared him to be the Lamb of God. He told his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah!”

Simon had his own encounter. One day he was washing his nets after a long night of fishing when Jesus stepped into his boat—a growing crowd was pressing in to listen to him share the word of God. Jesus asked Simon to put the boat out a little way from shore. You’ve no doubt experienced how voices carry over water. This would have created a natural amphitheater effect, allowing the crowd to better see and hear him. It was when Jesus finished speaking, however, that Simon had his epiphany. Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets. You don’t have to be a fisherman to imagine how trying that instruction was. Simon’s workday was done. He’d cleaned his nets—likely he had finished cleaning them as Jesus spoke to the crowd from his boat. He’s ready to go home. Now—an admonition to put out and again lower the nets—it would mean all the work he had just done was for not. It was a leap of faith for Simon to do as Jesus asked. The result was a miraculous catch. Simon called to his partners to launch their boat and help him—both boats were so filled with fish that they nearly sunk.

Simon saw this and fell to his knees, pleading with Jesus, “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man!” Jesus replied, “Don’t be afraid.” You know what that means: God was about to mess with Simon’s life.