Chapter 14.1 Four Fishermen
Autumn of A.D. 27 to spring of 29 (about a year and a half)
Christ and the Fishermen, Jesus Teaching Zebedee and His Two Sons James and John, original oil painting on canvas by Ernst Karl Zimmermann, 1852-1899
Christ and the Fishermen, Jesus Teaching Zebedee and His Two Sons James and John, original oil painting on canvas by Ernst Karl Zimmermann, 1852-1899 (CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)

Jesus arrived in Capernaum, a town of about six thousand people at the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where devoted friends and believing disciples welcomed him. Here on Sabbath days he taught in the synagogue built for the community by the Roman centurion Paulos. Jairus was the chief ruler. Also in Capernaum was the believing and devoted household of Chuza. His five earliest and closest disciples lived in the area and nearby Bethsaida Galilee. About eighty miles north of Jerusalem, Capernaum was located on a major trade route between Damascus and Alexandria, and it became Christ’s headquarters for the entire district.

Galilee was an entirely different lovely world. Nestled in a basin between the hills at 680 feet below sea level, the harp shaped Sea of Galilee was the world’s lowest freshwater lake, approximately thirteen miles long, eight miles wide, and one hundred fifty feet deep. From the north at the base of Mount Hermon in Lebanon, headwaters of the Jordan River gushed southward through the Huleh valley into the lake. At the opposite end, the Jordan continued to flow southward and emptied into the Dead Sea not far from Jerusalem. Galilee’s fresh water was sweet and clean with fish in abundance—giving food and water, rest to the eye, coolness in the heat, and escape from the crowd. It could be glassy smooth or suddenly storm tossed as winds often spilled down upon it, setting up storms.

The surrounding hills were filled with wildflowers and grasses. The extraordinarily fertile Plain of Gennesaret touched the northwest shore near Capernaum and Bethsaida Galilee; where palms, figs, walnuts, olives, vines heavy with grapes, citrons, and all manner of delicate fruits and vegetables flourished. Grain stalks were bowed almost to the ground at harvest time, and even during winter the shores were green and in spring roses could be picked on every hillside.

For three of the four seasons the climate was pleasant and mild. Only in summer was it hot, then all who were able retired to the hillsides for a season. On the western side of the lake were the towns of Gennesaret, Magdala, and Tiberias. On the eastern side the hills rose to a high plateau upon which stood Bethsaida Julias, tetrarch Philip’s capital city, several Greek cities belonging to the Decapolis, and further south the country of the Gaderenes.

Boats of every size with sails of every color sailed on the water while the occupants busied themselves transporting goods or fishing. Large nets were used by boats which usually fished in pairs at night. Some fishermen waded in the shallows near the shore with their robes tucked up while with skillful movements they threw out the broad circular nets used for shallow water fishing.

All along the western shore of the lake the pungent odor of drying fish rose from sheds built at the water’s edge. Many women worked in sheds, splitting, cleaning, and drying fish caught by the men who worked the boats on the lake or fished along the shore. The greatest single business in the lake region, drying of fish gave Galilee a product highly prized as far away even as Jerusalem.

When not teaching during the Sabbath and weekday services in the synagogue, Jesus taught along the shoreline. His favorite place soon came to be a small cove on the northwest shore near Capernaum and Bethsaida Galilee, where he could be heard not only by the crowds who followed him but by the fishermen on the lake. They were astonished at his doctrine, for his word was with power. For the first time they heard the Word of God, and they learned to love its sound. No wonder that the people pressed upon him to hear it.

Miraculous Catch

One day as Jesus walked along the northwest shore, an unusually large group of people followed him. In their eagerness to hear, they crowded around him, pushing him right up to the water’s edge.

Nearby were his first disciples Simon Peter and Andrew, with James and John, who had brought their boats into the shallows and were standing in the water washing out the nets, listening to the Lord while they worked. Peter was especially tired and frustrated; he had been fishing all night but caught nothing, and it showed in his face.

The multitude was becoming too great and Jesus stepped into Simon’s boat. He asked the big man to pull out a little way from the shore so he could continue speaking. Sitting there in the boat with the small waves lapping against it, he continued to teach the crowd.

When Christ finished speaking he turned to Peter, “Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets, and you will catch many fish.”

“Master,” the tired fisherman replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch anything.”

The Lord did not answer but continued to look at him, almost as if he were testing him. The two had not been together much since they had journeyed back to Galilee.

Whatever doubts Simon Peter felt, they now evaporated before the confident look in the Lord’s eyes. He spoke hopefully, “Nevertheless, at your word, I will try again.”

Andrew hauled the nets back into the boat and the two brothers began to row out on the lake with Jesus in the stern. Boat fishing was almost always carried on at night, and since it was already well into the day, they could not have much hope of a catch. But the men let their nets down into the water as the Lord directed, laying them out in the circular pattern used to trap the fish. Then they waited. Peter sat there staring at the empty net submerged in the water, not expecting anything to happen.

All of a sudden it began to fill with fish, first one, then another, and another—until it was churning whitewater full of large fish. When the two brothers tried to draw in the net, some of the leaping fish with flapping tails jumped into the boat and splashed them with water, insuring their understanding of the miracle. Fibers of the cords started to stretch under the weight of their catch and were about to break any second.

James and John were still in the shallows with the other boat. Peter shouted for help, “John! James! Come over here. We can’t pull in the net!”

Zebedee’s sons jumped into their boat and rowed hurriedly out to where their friends were struggling desperately to save both the net and their tremendous haul. Even with four men working and two boats, the catch was so large that both boats were soon in danger of sinking.

While trying to avoid stepping on the fish, Peter turned around and kneeled at Jesus’ feet. He was very afraid now, “Oh, Lord, please leave me, for I am a sinful man!”

Gesturing toward his four disciples, the Savior smiled and told them, “Do not be afraid! Come follow me, and I will teach you how to fish for people.”

Then they realized the Master had brought about this miracle and was in control of the situation. His disciples calmly worked together and brought their catch safely to shore. The phenomenon of a net filled in the daytime to bursting had already begun to attract attention and even more people gathered. But the two pairs of brothers paused only to help deliver the bounty to the fish house. This done, they left boats and nets and followed Jesus. As Zebedee watched them walk away, he knew his sons would never return to their family business.

Christ’s disciples had caught the fish and he had caught them. Together they would catch souls for God, so many that they would be past counting. Before, they were prepared to be his disciples in their free time; but now they were ready to forsake all they had—their homes, work, comfort, and security—to follow the Lamb of God wherever he might lead them.

Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law

Jesus taught in the synagogue to an overflowing crowd the next Sabbath. Afterwards with his four disciples, he went to Simon and Andrew’s Capernaum home on the edge of town near the lake. The commercial fishing business had been good to them, and the house was spacious enough for his extended family and a number of guests. The Master stayed there during his Galilean ministry.

But no festive meal awaited them on this day. When they entered, Peter’s mother-in-law Sarah was lying on her sleeping pallet, very ill with a sudden burning fever. His wife Rachel was unable to help her and was crying. As soon as she saw Jesus, she ran to him, “Please come and heal Sarah before she dies!”

Christ went immediately to her bedside. In his presence, disease and misery cannot continue. He stood for a moment, looking at Sarah; then with a gesture of compassion, he placed his hand on her forehead. To Peter’s amazement, he saw her face begin to cool and her delirium cease.

As Sarah’s eyes cleared, she looked up at her Healer as if she recognized him, though Peter was sure she had never seen him before. “Master,” she said, seeking to rise. “You are a guest. I must serve you.”

Peter put out his hand to keep his mother-in-law on the pallet, but let it drop when Jesus took her fingers in his and gently raised her from the bed. All signs of her illness vanished as quickly as they had come. Calling to the women who had been sitting with her to help, Sarah went into the kitchen and prepared a lavish Sabbath meal for family and guests.

He Carried Away Our Diseases

The sun was setting, and the Sabbath past. No scene is more characteristic of Christ than that on this autumn evening. One by one the stars shone out over the tranquil lake and the festive city, lighting up earth’s darkness with heaven’s soft brilliancy as they stood there witnesses that God had fulfilled his promise to Abraham.

A huge crowd from all over Capernaum gathered outside the tall fisherman’s house. There were many homes of sorrow, care, and sickness there and in the populous neighborhood around. From all parts they brought them: mothers, widows, wives, fathers, children, husbands, their loved ones—treasures they had almost lost. There they laid them on their beds, along the street up to the marketplace; or brought them with beseeching look and word. The whole city, a hushed, solemnized, expectant multitude, waited at Simon’s door.

To all, the door of hope now opened. Jesus went through that suffering throng, laying his hands in the blessing of healing on every one of them—whatever their affliction—and cast out many devils. No disease was too desperate. Never was he more truly the Christ; nor is he more truly such to us and to all time in the stillness of that evening under the starlit sky.

The next morning Jesus awoke long before daybreak and silently went out into the wilderness behind Peter’s house to be alone. The vast amount of healing that had gone out of him the night before made it necessary to get away to refresh his body and soul. He prayed to the Father until the sun broke above the horizon of the hills and cast long shadows over Galilee.

When the disciples discovered he was not in the house, they went out to search for him. News from the people who had been healed the previous evening spread like wildfire and another crowd was already gathering. Simon finally found him on a hill overlooking the lake. “Master, everyone is asking for you. Please come back with us.”

Jesus returned with his four companions and again he healed all who were there. Then it was time to move on. The people begged him not to leave.

“I must give the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also, for that is what I was sent to do. We will return soon,” he reassured them.

As they traveled throughout the region of Galilee, Christ’s four fishermen learned how to fish for people as they watched the Savior teach in the synagogues and preach the good news about the Kingdom of God. After he taught, he healed people who had every kind of sickness and disease, even those possessed by demons, or were epileptics, or were paralyzed. News about him spread far beyond the borders of Galilee so that the sick were soon coming to be healed from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, all over Judea, east of the Jordan River—even as far away as Syria. And on all ears fell his name with sweet softness of infinite promise like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth.

By his Incarnation and coming, by his taking our infirmities and bearing our sicknesses—for this is the truest and widest sense in the meaning of the Incarnation—did he become the Healer, the Consoler of humanity, its Savior in all ills of time and eternity.

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