17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
18 And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.
19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
When we read the Bible, we see all sorts of different men and women whom God has called. We see Abram living apparently peacefully in Haran after having grown up in Ur. We see Moses tending his father-in-law’s flocks near Midian. We see the boy Samuel tending to the Lord’s tabernacle with the last of the judges of Israel. We see David also tending flocks. And there’s Gideon and Samson and the prophets, each going about their own business until called by the Lord God. Each call was a little different, and yet they all had one thing in common: the voice of the Lord. Sometimes it came to them directly (as with Moses and Samuel), and sometimes indirectly (as with Samson and David), but that first call came and each of them answered. Each said, “Here I am” – and each one talked back to the Lord and pointed out how he was insufficient to the task. But the Lord encouraged these men and qualified them to do His will, and so many marvelous things happened through their work for the Lord God.
And then we get to Simon Peter. Simon-bar-Jonah (“Simon, son of Jonah”) was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, working days and nights with his brother Andrew to bring in enough to support their extended family. We know Simon was married, and that his mother-in-law lived with his family in or near Capernaum. And one day, just after Jesus began His ministry, He came to four fisherman on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and He said to them, “Follow Me.”
That first call is recorded a little differently in each of the four Gospels, but all show the same result: Simon, Andrew, James and John left their nets and their boats and struck out on the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea to follow Jesus. These men could not have been less qualified to serve the Lord! Jewish boys learned a little of the Torah (the Law and the first five books of the Bible) as children, up until their thirteenth year when they were either chosen to continue Torah studies or else they were apprenticed to their fathers or other men to begin learning a working trade. Simon and the others basically had no more than what we might call a “seventh-grade education.” They were rough and ready men, born to sail their small boats, to throw out and pull in nets, to handle fish and flotsam, to live a simple life on an inland sea where storms often came up suddenly and with great violence. That was Simon-bar-Jonah, the man called by the Son of God to be “Peter,” the Rock upon which He would build His church.
It’s that first call that always fascinates me, especially when I read about it in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. In the Gospel of Luke, we get a bit more detail, that Jesus had commandeered their boats for preaching to a multitude, and afterwards the Lord had told them to put out for deep water to fish some more. Jesus, the son of a carpenter, was able to direct the fisherman to a particularly bountiful catch, and that was enough to persuade Simon Peter to worship Jesus right there in the boat. (Luke 5:8) And there in Luke’s record, we see the same result.
So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.
Not every Christian is so called these days. We are not all called away from our livelihood to become itinerant preachers. We are not pulled from our lives as carpenters, fisherman, tradesmen, tax collectors, or housewives to follow the Lord on His personal journeys. We are not all called to be apostles, abandoning everything we know and love to become His “fishers of men.” But we ARE called.
“Follow me,” He says, not just to the sons of Jonah and the sons of Zebedee, but also to you and me and millions of others. The question is this: What is our response? We may think we’re not ready to take such a drastic step as that taken by Simon, Andrew, James and John. We may think we don’t have nearly the faith of Samuel, David, or Moses. And we may think that we don’t have that silent strength of those women named Mary – Jesus’ mother, Lazarus’ sister, and the woman of Magdala. But the fact is that none of them had their great faith right at the beginning. It was only after they were called that they found the strength to follow. Some complained more than others, and all of them faltered or doubted here and there, but they all still stand as pillars of our faith. Were it not for their examples recorded in the Bible, we might not ourselves believe so strongly.
Simon the fisherman didn’t start off as Peter the Rock, he BECAME that man. Peter went through periods of doubt, and some of his and the other disciples’ actions we may even view as downright stupid. But we must remember that these were simple men who were just learning the faith we take for granted. Simon was almost literally a fish out of water, a man more used to walking the ribs of his rocking boat than the dusty roads of Judea. For him to drop everything and follow Jesus was a huge change, and he didn’t make that change over night. Simon became Peter by answering the call, by allowing himself to believe just enough to start his transformation. He started down a road that led him all the way to Rome itself, but he didn’t get there right away. And when Simon Peter was crucified in Rome, he certainly wasn’t the same man who had left his boats and nets on the shores of Galilee.
We all start somewhere, and when Jesus called, Simon Peter answered with action. He started off small and learned as he went along. He stumbled and doubted. He had moments of utter clarity and times of troubled confusion. He stood tall and he cowered. He used a sword, and then he ran for his life. This fisherman who had little formal education, this man who dropped all to follow Jesus and three years later denied Him three times in one night, a few months after the Resurrection he stood in Jerusalem and declared, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36)
“Follow Me,” Jesus calls to all believers. His call is answered in many ways, as some are given to different ministries and different gifts of the Spirit. But we all must answer. Perhaps we are meant to drop our nets and become fishers of men, or perhaps we are meant to minister to the sick and poor, or we are meant to distribute alms, to feed the hungry, to pray for others, to preach or to teach or even, perhaps, to be the voice of God calling to others. We are all called, and we all must answer. Yes, like Simon Peter, we will have our weak moments, and we will be learning all our lives, but we must respond. Jesus is calling, “Follow Me.” How will we answer?
Lord God in heaven, we thank You for calling us out of our complacency, for selecting us to be Your sons and daughters. We hear Your Son calling, “Follow me,” and we are ready – but we are also fearful and doubting. As one man said to Jesus, “Help my unbelief!” Help me to believe in myself, to believe in the strength and wisdom You will give me. Help me to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and be Your servant throughout all my life. Teach me more as we travel together, dear Lord. You call, “Follow Me.” Here I am, Lord. Here I am. Amen.