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John MacArthur on our Lord’s various calls of the Apostles

Those who have been following the Year A Lectionary readings during the season of Epiphany have good reason to be confused.

On the Second Sunday of Epiphany (January 15, 2023), the Gospel reading was John 1:29-42. The following Sunday, the Gospel was Matthew 4:12-23. Both tell how Jesus called John the Gospel writer, who goes unnamed in his own account, and brothers Simon Peter and Andrew to follow Him.

Why are they so different?

This is why.

John’s account relates how John the Baptist told his followers that Jesus is the Lamb of God and that they should follow Him. From this, we can see that John the Gospel writer, Andrew and Simon Peter became disciples of John the Baptist. John and Andrew spent several hours, probably an overnight stay, with Jesus learning from Him. The following day, Andrew told his brother Peter (John 1:41):

He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).

It was at this point that Jesus named Simon Peter Cephas, meaning ‘rock’ (John 1:42). The name Peter also means ‘rock’. Cephas is pronounced ‘KEFF-us’, by the way:

He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

In John 1:43-51, Jesus calls two more of His initial disciples, Philip and Nathanael.

Because John was with Jesus from the beginning, his Gospel has accounts that the other three — Matthew, Mark and Luke — do not have. John 2 has the miracle of the wedding in Cana and our Lord’s first cleansing of the temple courts. John 3 recounts His first encounter with Nicodemus and the brief simultaneous ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist along the Jordan. John the Baptist says (John 2:30):

He must become greater; I must become less.”[h]

In John 4, we have the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Thanks to her testimony, many other Samaritans from her town believed in Jesus and asked Him to spend more time with them. John begins his account of our Lord’s Galilean ministry in verse 43:

After the two days he left for Galilee.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospels because they have the same episodes from our Lord’s ministry, with slight variations. Of those three writers, only Matthew was an Apostle.

Matthew lived in Galilee, in Capernaum. Therefore, he knew Jesus only when He began His public ministry there. His account in Matthew 4 is our Lord’s second calling to the same men. It is an escalated call, one designating apostleship, although it is the first in a series of apostolic calls. Each of these calls took the men higher up the rungs of evangelism.

Consider that when a person receives a call to become a priest or a pastor, he goes to seminary. He has received what we know as a divine calling, one to a vocation. However, at that point, the seminarian has not been ordained nor does he go out to preach and to teach until later in his studies. After ordination, he is assigned a church and its flock. He may move on to another church, perhaps a larger one. In some denominations, he might become a bishop or, again where applicable, an archbishop. Those are examples of escalated divine callings, each carrying with it greater responsibilities.

John MacArthur explains our Lord’s calls to His first disciples, who later became Apostles, in his 1978 sermon, ‘Fishing for Men’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

In the first instance, we go back to John, Andrew and Peter in John 1 and Matthew 4, two different calls, Matthew’s being the second:

Now, this is their call, but I want you to notice something.  This is phase two of their call.  I’m going to give you a little technical thing that’ll help you in your study of the gospels.  We have several different calls of the disciples in the gospel. Each gospel writer, for his own purposes, chooses one or the other.  There was a sequence of things.  In other words, there were at least five different times when Jesus sort of called them; each one taking them to a different level, kind of like you.  Once you were called to salvation, right?  Then, maybe there was a time in your life when you were called to a new level of commitment.  Then, maybe there was a time in your life, like in my life, when you were called to serve Jesus Christ in a specific way.  Then, maybe there was a time in your life when you were called to a specific place, to Grace Church, or some other specific ministry.  In other words, the way God directs us may have phases, and that is true in the case of the disciples.

The first call is in John chapter 1 ... This was their call to salvation.  Andrew, John, Simon, Phillip, Nathaniel and James called to salvation.  This was the initial call, and you remember it was when John the Baptist said, “Don’t follow me anymore.  Follow Him.”  They took off after Jesus Christ, and it was the call to salvation. 

Now, this is phase two in Matthew 4:18.  This is the call to be fishers of men.  They’re now going to follow Jesus, but it was only a kind of a momentary thing here.  It isn’t the full final departing from everything. For now, they followed Him. For this moment, for this day, for this time, they were called to win souls.  They were called to fish for men.  They were called to come after Him.

Before I continue with MacArthur’s train of thought, another question popped up at the service I attended on Sunday. We had a guest vicar preach who pointed out Matthew 4:21 and 4:22:

4:21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.

4:22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

The guest preacher wondered how they could leave their father Zebedee behind.

I suspect that John, having followed John the Baptist and being with Andrew in spending many hours with Jesus once being told that He was the Lamb of God, went home and told his brother James as well as his parents Zebedee and Salome what he had experienced.

In my post ‘John MacArthur on the synagogues of our Lord’s era’, there are several citations from the Gospels on the power of our Lord’s words when He taught and proclaimed the Good News. Imagine you and a friend are sitting alone with Jesus as He discourses on the kingdom of God. It’s just the three of you and He would answer any questions you put to Him. It must have been the most life-changing experience ever for Andrew and John.

No doubt Zebedee and Salome gave their blessing to John to follow Jesus.

In my post on Matthew 4’s account, I cited Matthew Henry’s commentary, which has a follow-up on them:

James and John left their father: it is not said what became of him; their mother Salome was a constant follower of Christ; no doubt, their father Zebedee was a believer, but the call to follow Christ fastened on the young ones. Youth is the learning age, and the labouring age. The priests ministered in the prime of their life.

Returning to MacArthur, Jesus made further calls to His first disciples. The third occurs in Luke 5:1-11 with the bursting fishing nets. This took place in the daytime, which is even more extraordinary as big hauls are caught at night:

Jesus Calls His First Disciples

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a]the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the 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.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

MacArthur says:

There’s a third call.  Luke records it in chapter 5.  This comes after the one in Matthew; it’s different.  There are some similarities, but there are some distinct differences.  As you look at Luke chapter 5 for a moment, you’ll see them.  I’ll show you the level of call here.  In Luke 5, He comes along, and the situation is a little different.  They’re still fishing, which indicates that the second phase, they did not leave their profession permanently.  They simply followed Him for that moment, and now it’s going to be a little more firm.  He’s not going to say, “I want you to just be fishers of men,” generally.  He’s going to say, “I want you to be fishers of men only.”  This is the next step, and this time He stood by the Lake of Genessaret, which is another name for the Sea of Galilee.  Of course, Luke calls it a lake, as I said, because he’s been around.  He’s seen some big stuff, and that doesn’t rank with it.

He saw two boats standing by the lake, and the fishermen were gone out of them and so forth.  He entered into one of the boats, Simon’s, and now there’s a difference here.  All of a sudden, we’re in a boat.  Different than the situation in Matthew.  He says, “Launch out, let down your nets,” and there’s a whole fishing miracle that occurs here.  This is a completely different account.  What it is, is a time for them to come to grips with a real commitment, and Jesus reiterates it in verse 10 There were, “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, partners with Simon, and Jesus said to Simon, ‘Fear not from henceforth,’” doesn’t matter you can’t catch fish anymore.  You remember the story?  They couldn’t catch fish on their own, not without the Lord.  He was going to control the fish. 

He said, “You want fish?  Put it down where I say, and you’ll get fish.  Without me, you won’t get anything.  Don’t worry about whether you’re going to be able to catch them without me. From now on you shall,” what? “catch men.  When they had brought their boats to land they forsook,” what? “all and followed Him.”  You see this is another level of commitment.

I guess this is a part of our life, isn’t it?  At some point in time you come to Christ, and it isn’t long after that somebody says to you, “You are to fish for men.”  But maybe it’s a long time after that, and maybe it’s never for a lot of folks, that you forsake all to catch men.

The next call comes in Mark 3. Why so early in that Gospel? Because Mark’s is the shortest of the four. He wrote in a journalistic style and for the people of Rome that they might know Christ. Every Gospel has a different theme. Mark focuses on Christ’s miracles. In my 2012 post on Mark, I wrote:

Mark’s Gospel focusses on Jesus’s divinity as He expressed it through His miracles. Many men have profited greatly from reading Mark. Some fell on their knees and embraced Christianity as a result …

Mark’s Gospel also ends suddenly. Some translations provide a smoother conclusion in an attempt to tie up loose ends. I read somewhere that the last part of Mark’s scroll might have gone missing, which may account for this.

In the 1930s, a playwright or theatre critic — I don’t recall — fell to his knees one night in New York after having read Mark’s Gospel into the early hours of the morning. I no longer have the link, but, one evening, a Christian friend of his stopped by to chat. Their conversation developed and the friend brought up Christianity. The theatre chap said that he was an atheist. His friend suggested reading Mark’s Gospel. The man said he’d think about it. After his friend left, he couldn’t get to sleep. So he pulled out a Bible — again, I don’t remember if his friend left him a copy or if he had one already — and read through Mark. He read it in its entirety then fell to his knees in awe. He still couldn’t get to sleep, so he walked the streets of Manhattan until early in the morning. That was his conversion story. He never looked back.

But I digress.

This is what Mark 3 says about the calling of the Apostles:

Jesus Appoints the Twelve

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve[a] that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

MacArthur says this was the official apostolic calling:

In Mark 3, there was another call.  They were not just going to catch men.  They were going to be official apostles.  In verse 14, “He appointed twelve,” Mark 3:14, “that they should be with Him, that He might send them forth to preach, and to cast out demons.”  Boy, now they’ve got miraculous power, and they were given the power also to heal diseases.  So they went from salvation to a general call, to a specific total commitment, and now to a miraculous power.

He says that the fullest calling came in Matthew 10, when Jesus sent the Apostles out to teach, preach (proclaim) and heal:

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

10 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

The rest of the chapter gives our Lord’s full instructions on what the Apostles were to do and not do. It is the blueprint of Christian ministry to this day. Admittedly, not all clergy follow it.

MacArthur says:

Then finally, the fifth phase is recorded in the tenth chapter of Matthew in the first verse. “And when He had called to Him those twelve, He gave them power against unclean spirits to cast them out, to heal all manner of sickness and diseases.”   He said, “Go,” in verse 7, and He told them all how to go, and He sent them out, verse 16, “As sheep in the midst of wolves,” and they went to preach

Now, do you see the progression here, beloved?  It is to be so with us.  It all begins at some point in time when we meet Jesus Christ, and we accept Him as Savior.  Then a little later the prodding of the Spirit of God, fish for men.  Then, hopefully later, you forsake all and your life is geared for that.  Then the time comes when, in the midst of that, you sense the power of God, and you move out, an official sent one to do His work.

As students of the Gospels know, it took Jesus three years to smooth the Apostles’ rough edges. Sadly, among them was His betrayer, Judas Iscariot. The process did not finish until the Holy Spirit appeared upon them at the first Pentecost, by which time Matthias had replaced Judas. Then the Church took off in leaps and bounds. The powers that Jesus gave them to teach, preach and heal in His name lasted during the Apostolic Era, or Apostolic Age, which lasted until around AD 100. The Book of Acts chronicles some of those events, including those of Saul of Tarsus who became Paul, arguably the greatest of the Apostles, also personally instructed by Christ in his three days of blindness on the way to Damascus and later in an African desert, after which Paul evangelised everywhere he could possibly travel.

One might ask how it works in our time, if all of us, like the everyday men Jesus called, are to do likewise.

Here, too, MacArthur has an answer. He tells the story of a man on the Grace Community Church staff who trained other church members to evangelise:

Several years ago, we brought – I guess all of you know Jim George on our staff.  We could have hired a man to do visitation, to go out and evangelize.  You know what we did?  We decided to support a man, who would train others to evangelize.  If we had just hired a man to evangelize, you know what we’d have now five years later?  We’d have a man evangelizing, but instead we’ve got between 200 and 300 people trained to catch men.  That’s what Jesus did.

As to how we evangelise effectively, MacArthur begins by talking about the Apostles then tells us that obeying the Gospel commands is the surest way:

You say, “Well did they have a great passion for souls?”  I doubt it, seriously doubt it.  I’m quite confident they didn’t have a passion for anything.  So what they’d do it for?  Listen, you want to know something? You want to know how to get a passion for souls?  Try obeying to start with.  That’s where it all begins.  Just be obedient.  I put it this way; obedience is the spark that lights the fire of passion.  The way to gain a passion for souls, the way to have your heart burn for the lost is to obey God and move out, and watch God take the pilot light of obedience and fan it into a forest fire.

Amazing.

Does Jesus want us to evangelise? Yes, He does.

Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20:

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

MacArthur reminds us:

Listen, God’s greatest concern is to win people to Himself; Christ’s greatest concern, the Spirit’s greatest concern, the greatest concern of the apostles, and it was the greatest concern of the early church.  When they were scattered in Acts chapter 8, they went everywhere preaching Jesus Christ, endeavoring to win people to Him.

Even in the Old Testament, it was no different.  In the Old Testament God’s great heart was a concerned heart, and it was concerned for those that were lost.  In fact, in Proverbs 11:30, we have this great statement, “He that winneth souls is,” what? “is wise.”  If you know anything about the term “wise” in the book of Proverbs, you know that the term wise is a synonym really for righteous living.  The truly righteous person, the person who really lives with understanding, the person who doesn’t just know but lives it out, is the one who wins souls.  He is truly wise.

MacArthur’s closing words on evangelising are useful:

You say, “Can I do that?”  Yeah.  You say, “How?”  Listen, number one, be a believer.  You can’t be on the team unless you are.

Number two, be available.  Learn how to win people to Christ.  If that means getting involved in an evangelism ministry, then get involved.  If that means reading the New Testament and underlining everything about evangelism and cataloging it and learning it, do it.  Be a believer and be available.

Three, be concerned, be concerned.  Maybe that means reading some books.  Surely, it means meeting some unsaved people.  It all starts with obedience, so be obedient.  Go out and do it.  Even if the passion isn’t there, do it.  Reach out to that neighbor.  Speak the words you’ve always wanted to speak and never have.  Then, realize Jesus is your pattern. Study how He did it.  Then, find somebody else you can follow, and let them be your model.

Be a believer, be available, be concerned, be obedient, be following Jesus, and be taught by an example.  So, Jesus began at the right point, in the right place, with the right proclamation, and the right partners.  The light dawned, beloved, and we’re to carry it to the rest of the world. 

The easiest way to evangelise is to lead by example, wherever we are in life. Combine that with studying Scripture and praying regularly. Our good Lord will take it from there.



This post first appeared on Churchmouse Campanologist | Ringing The Bells For, please read the originial post: here

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John MacArthur on our Lord’s various calls of the Apostles

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