Jesus Calls His First Disciples
[Luke chapter 5, verses 1-16]
For this week’s study, we’ll be moving on to Luke chapter five. Here we chronicle the ministry of Jesus during a time when he was just beginning to call his first disciples. We also will find as we go along that Jesus not only continued his healing ministry that he began in the previous chapter, he took it up a notch as well. By this time he had developed quite a following, some praising him while others, the religious establishment of that time, began actively looking for ways to discredit Jesus out of jealousy. With this as our backdrop, then, let’s get right into Luke’s gospel chapter five.
“One day as Jesus was standing beside the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the Word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fisherman, as they were washing their nets. He got onto one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to pull out a little bit from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Pull out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch’. Simon answered, ‘Master, we have 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 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 his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 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 catch men.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5, verses 1-11)
There were a few times in the Gospels when Jesus could be a bit of a pragmatist, and this was one of those times. Jesus apparently had quite a large crowd. In fact, even at this early point in his ministry, there were so many people following Him around to hear a Word or to obtain healing that those furthest away from him had trouble hearing him. So Jesus simply borrows Simon’s boat, goes out about 25 feet away from the shore and teaches from there. No podium, no microphone, no problem! Then our Savior turns right around and solves another problem – Simon and his partners had worked all night and had caught nothing. Their little fishing enterprise wasn’t doing very well. Jesus knew that if he asked those first apostles to follow him while they were still empty-handed, they may have turned him down. And Jesus, being a man who was always thinking one step ahead, decided that this would be a good time to show a little something to these men. Remember that prior to this, Jesus and his future disciples didn’t know each other.
The next thing that happens is that Simon Peter, with Jesus still on board, catches so many fish that it takes two boats to haul them in, and even then the large payload nearly sinks both boats. After they finally get them brought to shore, Simon Peter falls to his knees before the Lord and begs him to leave. “Don’t be afraid of me”, Jesus told him. “From now on you’ll catch men instead of fish”. Jesus made sure that they had a large enough catch to the point that none of them would need to catch another fish for a very long time. And so now that the finances of Jesus’ first apostle were straight, they eagerly agreed to follow Jesus. Jesus never demands that people follow him without giving something in return. He always prefers motivation to obligation. So, in order that Simon, James and John could follow Jesus, he made it easy for them by seeing to it that they had enough spending money to last them for a long while. Let’s hold that thought as we take up where we left off at verse 12.
“While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean’. And immediately the leprosy left him. The Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’ Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5, verses 12-16)
As you can see, the circumstances here are rather exceptional. Those with leprosy, a common disease back then which disfigures the human body and which was highly contagious, lived in leper colonies. They were kept separated from society due to the virulent nature of leprosy, and this was required by law as well. When they did have to go out in public – to buy food, for example – they were required by law to warn people in an audible voice by saying, “Unclean! Unclean!” as they made their way to and from. So now you know why the man asked Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” “I am willing”, Jesus told the man. “Be clean”. People with leprosy were reviled as outcasts in those days, similar to people today who are HIV positive, or who suffer from mental illness. Yet this sickly man was so motivated and so determined to seek Christ and his healing that he risked arrest, being assaulted or even killed just so he could hear the words, “I am willing, be made clean”.
Another thing that stands out here is that Jesus’ healing of this gentleman was complete and instantaneous. The healing alone was unheard of during Jesus’ lifetime, but immediate healing was and still is miraculous! Next, Jesus tells the man, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” What did Jesus mean here? He was referring to the Law of Moses, otherwise known in modern times as the first five books of the Old Testament. Specifically, he was referring to the Levitical law and what was known as a “fellowship offering” (see Leviticus chapter 7, verses 11-15). A “fellowship offering” is one that is made as a token of public gratitude and thankfulness for being restored to the synagogue so that one could come and worship there and offer sacrifices for their sins. People with leprosy were forbidden from attending Sabbath services at the Temple or synagogue. The Bible doesn’t tell us how long this gentleman had been afflicted, but it had been for a long time, that much is certain.
“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Evidently the man kept the true nature of his healing to himself unless he was asked. But in spite of doing everything Jesus told him, news of Jesus’ healing abilities continued to spread like wildfire. The only way this could have happened is by word of mouth for obvious reasons. People are sometimes smarter than they’re given credit for. One thing humans are usually pretty good at is spotting liars, cheats, phonies and crooks. They knew authenticity when they saw it, and Jesus was and always will be the real deal!
Yet by the same token, even Jesus needed to be replenished by his Father in heaven from time to time, so he would go to pray where he would not be interrupted. One thing I know about Jesus, he prayed a lot. His healing ministry was like an engine – from time to time our Savior had to stop and refuel in order to keep going. Even the Son of God knew when he needed to take a break. And, his breaks were always prayerful ones, of that we can all be sure! “Apart from me you can do nothing”, Jesus told his apostles (John 15: 5). As it was with the apostles and Jesus, so it was with Christ and the Father. By extension, then, so it is with ourselves and Jesus Christ. Apart from Him, we can’t do anything that amounts to anything, but “all things are possible with God”. Let’s spend this week continually maintaining that attitude as we all continue to draw ourselves closer and closer to our Lord and Savior, so that he in turn can draw closer to us. And, next week we’ll be completing Luke chapter 5, God willing.