The Repeated “Call” of Peter
© 2021 C. O. Bishop
John 1:40-42; Matthew 4:18-22 (Mark 1:16-22); Luke 5:1-11; John 21:3-19
Introduction: The Call of God
We have been studying in the book of John, lately, and there is a rather peculiar passage here, in chapter one, regarding the early “call” of some of the disciples, including Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael for sure, and evidently John is the unnamed disciple in 1:35. There are several noteworthy things, here, but the one I want to focus on, today, is the “Call of Peter.”
Usually, when we hear about “the Call” of somebody, say, Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Saul of Tarsus, we see it as a one-time call, and the person involved responded in faith and obedience, dropped whatever they were doing and went where God told them to go…and did what He told them to do!
Avoiding the Call
There were a few exceptions: Jonah, for example, was called and immediately ran the other way, and booked passage by ship to somewhere far away. Somehow “running away from God” doesn’t strike me as a very smart thing to do: where are you going to go? Even the Psalmist posed the question, 200 years before Jonah’s time: Psalm 139:7 says, “Whither shall I flee from thy presence?” He went on to point out that wherever he could go, God was already there.
In Jonah’s case, of course, we know what happened: God stopped the ship by means of a storm, and gave Jonah a free ride back to land on a specially-prepared “water-taxi.” He even got to ride “under cover” the whole way! He wasn’t happy with the accommodations, however, so, after three days and three nights, Jonah changed his mind about who was in charge (that is called repentance) and the ride ended as the sea-creature deposited him unceremoniously on the beach. Then he headed off to do God’s bidding… but not with a great attitude.
Forgetting the Call
There have been others who were reluctant as well. But Peter seems to be a great picture of the average believer, in that he seems to have frequently forgotten his calling: Jesus kept having to call him again! The rest of the disciples had the same issue, to varying degrees, but Peter seems to have been a prime offender, and the ringleader, of sorts.
First Call: (John 1:40-42)
In John 1:40-42, the call seems fairly informal, and perhaps not so “binding” as, for example, that of the Apostle Paul. Peter was invited by his brother, Andrew, and was renamed by Jesus. Some of the disciples Jesus called seem to have left everything and immediately followed Him, but all had to be called again, later, it seems.
In this text, they are in Bethabara, which is about 13 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, and on the east side of Jordan (See verse 28.) This in itself is a little confusing, as in the Matthew account, where Jesus was baptized, they were in the Jordan river, but closer to Jerusalem. (The closest point is about 20 miles east of Jerusalem…not far from Jericho.) But this exchange is much later, as, we see in the Matthew account, that Jesus left immediately after His baptism and headed off into the desert for a 40-day fast and a time of testing.
So, the next time John the Baptist saw Jesus (and said, “Behold the Lamb of God…”) was at least six weeks later, and John had moved north in the interim, not far from Galilee, across the river, in the province of Peraea, at Beth-abara. (“Peraea” means “beyond,” and “Beth-abara” means the “house of the crossing.” This was part of the land where Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh had settled “beyond” the Jordan, hence the name. The town was named “Bethabara” because there was a ford there, where people crossed the Jordan on a regular basis.)
Jesus was approached there, by the two disciples of John the Baptist (Andrew and John) who were also partners in their work as commercial fishermen, on the sea of Galilee. (This is in both the Matthew and Mark accounts, that they were commercial fishermen, and in the Luke account, that they were partners at it.) Andrew went and found Simon (later called Peter.) Jesus renamed Simon “Cephas,” meaning, a stone. It seems fairly clear that all of these men were deliberately choosing to follow Jesus.
Second Call: Matthew 4:18-22 (Mark 1:16-22)
In the Matthew and Mark accounts, the location is not made so clear, but the original area where John the Baptist was preaching was named…and it was not the same. It was down near Jericho, somewhere. But, as we said earlier, Jesus had left there immediately, and had disappeared for six weeks.
But what is interesting is that Matthew 4:12-17 seems to match John 2:1-12. In both passages, Jesus ended up in Capernaum (in Galilee) with His disciples. But in Matthew, right after that, we see Him again calling the fishermen to follow Him (Simon-Peter, Andrew, James and John.) So, what had those particular disciples been doing in the meanwhile? Evidently, they had all “gone back to work!” Jesus offered no rebuke, but simply invited them again (possibly this time it was more “formal?”) Whatever the difference, this time He clearly stated that He would make them “fishers of men.”
The Mark account differs only in that it specifies that they went with Jesus back into Capernaum. So we know from Matthew and Mark that Jesus had been in Capernaum of Galilee and that after that, He had walked by the sea of Galilee and called the fishermen…again.
Third Call: Luke 5:1-11
The Luke account is different, as, for one thing, in Luke 4:14-37 it begins to tell us what Jesus preached in Galilee, including His message at Nazareth, His hometown…and the fact that the townspeople attempted to kill Him! It also included (Luke 4:38-39) the fact that he entered into the home of Simon, and healed his mother-in-law (See Mark 1:29-31.) Then He proceeded to heal everyone who came to Him, casting out demons, and preaching in the synagogues. (Luke 4:40-44) No problem, there…but, in the Mark 1:29-31 account, we can see that she was healed some time after SimonPeter’s second call! (His second call was in Mark 1:17.)
So, Peter and the others had gone back to fishing again, while Jesus had been preaching all over the area, and healing sick people, and casting out demons. (But, hey! Ya gotta make a living, right?) So, all of his disciples who were commercial fishermen had gone back to the boats and the fish! Again, Jesus made no rebuke, but met them where they were, and found them on the beach, washing their nets.
A large group of people were evidently following Jesus, and crowding Him. He asked Simon Peter to row Him out a little way from the beach, so He could preach from the security of the boat, with a water-barrier between Himself and the crowd. Simon Peter did so, but when Jesus finished teaching, He told Simon-Peter to row out into deep water, and “let down your nets” for a “draught:” a draw, or a pull.
Different Nets for Different purposes:
This was a type of “purse-seine” net, called a “trammel” net. It is still used today, in the Sea of Galilee, and it is still used only at night, just as during Jesus’s time. The net was quietly paid out behind a boat, and let down in a semi-circular path, with a weighted line holding the bottom edge down, and a float line holding the upper edge at the surface. They waited a while, after which they pulled the ends of the net together and then began drawing in the bottom line, so as to trap all the fish within the enclosure. This usually took a team effort. Andrew and Simon Peter were working a boat together. James and John were working another such vessel.
The kind of net we saw over in Matthew 4:18 was a “cast-net,” which is a circular net with weighted edges, and a long lanyard. It is thrown so as to land in a circular pattern, and drop down to the bottom, like a giant umbrella, hopefully trapping fish within the net. The fisherman then pulls the net to shore, or into a boat, with whatever fish are inside the “umbrella” of the net. This is usually a one-man job. It can be cast out from a beach, or a dock, or a boat, but it is usually for smaller fish which travel in schools.
So, what Jesus told Peter, here in Luke, was to “let down a trammel net in daylight.” Peter said, “Master, we have worked all night, and caught nothing: but, because You say so, I will let down the net!” And, of course, the miraculous daytime catch took two boats to bring them in, and both crews to handle the bountiful catch. In fact, there were so many fish, that, the net was tearing, and when they tried to load all of them into their two boats, both boats were in danger of sinking! (This would be very entertaining to watch, but a total panic to experience.)
Simon Peter was shocked to the point of fear, and he fell at Jesus’s feet, begging Him to leave! He was terrified, because he knew that he himself was unworthy to receive God’s attention. He said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” The other fishing partners felt the same way, but Jesus answered, “Fear not; from henceforth ye shall catch Men!” And verse eleven says, that when they had brought the fish to shore, they left it all behind and followed Jesus. (What happened to the fish? There were other fishermen there, according to the Matthew account, so they probably jumped right in there and took the fish…in case it really matters.)
So, was this the end of the calling of the twelve? No, there were at least eight more men Jesus called. Two (Philip and Nathanael) were named in John 1:44-51. The remaining six were picked up later. But my real question was whether this was the last time Jesus had to “call” His disciples. And, again, sadly, the answer is “No!”
Fourth Call: John 21:1-22
We have talked about this passage before, because this is where we clearly see the distinction between the Agapé love and the Philéo love. This is also where we see that there were two kinds of “feeding” or “care,” that Jesus required of Peter.
But this is also where Jesus has to confront Peter about his constant “relapsing to the fish!” The commercial fishing was Peter’s life! He yearned to return to his work. Fishing was his comfort zone, and his area of expertise. This was all he really knew!
But bear in mind, as we look at John 21, that the Resurrection of Jesus was in the previous chapter! Jesus already had risen from the dead, and already had been seen by every single one of His disciples. He had spent time teaching them and giving final affirmation to them as His proteges. And, yet: here they were, headed back to the boats…and the ringleader was Peter.
Peter was with six other disciples: he said, “I’m going fishing!” and they all said, “We are going, too!” Remember that this was not a “recreational” thing for them: it was an occupational choice! But Jesus had already assigned a new “occupation!” He had told them that they were to henceforth be fishers of men…not fish!
Fleshly choices, Fleshly results
So, they worked all night, and again, they had come up empty, lowering those nets and hauling them back in, over and over. Things were not going well, but all of them had experienced such things before…and most of them had experienced something nearly identical, with Jesus.
So, in verses 4-6, Jesus appears on the shore, in the dawn’s light, and called to them, “Did you get anything? Do you have any food?” They answered, “No!” and He replied, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.” They did so, with whatever kind of net they were using (seems to be a cast-net, now,) and they were not able to pull the net into the boat. John told Peter, “It’s the Lord!” Peter, impetuous as ever, grabbed his fisher’s coat, put it on and proceeded to swim to shore. The other six fellows simply rowed to shore, dragging the overfull net. It turned out that Jesus already had fish and bread, cooked on the coals, ready to eat.
But the question Jesus asked Peter, after they had all eaten, in verses 15-17, was pretty direct:
A Personal confrontation
“Simon, Son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?” What did Jesus mean by “these?” He meant the fish! Peter kept going back to the fish! And what Love? The agapé love: the committed love that pours itself out for its recipient without regard to the effect on the giver. Peter skirted the real issue and replied with the philéo love… “I really like you! I love you like a brother!” And Jesus answered, “Feed my lambs.” (The word is “boske” from bosko “to feed.”)
But Jesus asked the question again, still using the agapé love. And Peter answered again, still using the phileo love! Jesus didn’t argue, but just answered again, “tend my sheep.” (KJV says “feed”, but the Greek is poimaine…shepherd my sheep! Take care of the flock!)
Jesus asked a third time, but this time He changed His own wording to match what Peter had been saying; He said, “Peter, do you even like me? Do you even care?” Peter was grieved because Jesus asked the third time, using the philéo love. He answered, “Lord, you know all things! You know that I (philéo) love you!” Peter would not claim the full commitment that he had boasted before the crucifixion. Peter had denied the Lord after vowing that “though all others leave you, I will stay!” He just couldn’t bear to repeat his earlier claims.
I think Jesus understood: Jesus simply said, then, “Feed my sheep!” You see, this is the fourth time Peter had been called! It was the third time he had specifically been called away from the fish, and had been given a new assignment! And Jesus was telling him, “If you have any feeling for me at all, get on with the job I gave you! Fulfill the gifts I have given you! Be the man I have called you to be!”
What about us?
It is interesting to see that in Matthew 28:18-20 (which we call the “Great Commission”, Jesus actually set in motion a “spiritual chain-reaction.” The command he gave His disciples included the command that they make disciples and that they should teach them to observe all that He had commanded those original disciples! So…what Jesus told Peter goes for us, as well!
Jesus has called every single believer (Romans 8:28-30) and He still is pleading, “If you have any feeling for me at all, get on with the job! Every one of you knows what the job is: not every one of you knows how you can fit in to that job. We have among us some people who are gifted soulwinners. That is marvelous! We have people among us who are gifted prayer-warriors! That is also a wonderful thing!
But, the fact is, I am neither! I am easily distracted during prayer, and though I have faithfully shared the Gospel with possibly hundreds of people, very few have responded in faith…at least not while I was there. Am I then “released” from the responsibility of prayer and evangelism because I am not richly gifted in either one? Resoundingly, NO!
I still am called to share the good news of salvation with anyone who will listen. Evangelism is nothing more or less than one beggar telling another beggar where to find free food! I can do that! If they refuse it, at least they will know where to find it, if they later change their minds. (This does require that I actually know where it is, of course! If I give incorrect, or incomplete information, they will not be able to claim the living bread and living water that Jesus offers.) With practice, I can be more effective! But I still have the job, regardless of how I feel about it.
The same goes for prayer: Every single believer has that command, over and over.
My primary gifts are in teaching: I can feed the flock. There are some parts of the job regarding which I feel pretty inadequate. But, just like you, I am called to use the gifts God has given in such a way as to edify the other believers and strengthen the church.
God says He has already called you! The question now, is, “How many times will He have to repeat that call, before you respond in obedience?” I am not “pointing this question at anyone:” It applies to me just as much as it does to anyone else. But we do need to take this personally, because the fact is; the call is to us!
Lord Jesus, let us hear Your call, once again, and heed the call, daily, to learn to walk with You and serve as Your hands and feet, shining Your light in this dark world.