(9) Friends, Brothers and Fishermen
If Jesus’ baptism and time in the desert both take place near Jerusalem, it seems likely that Jesus’ ministry will start there too, but Matthew, Mark and Luke go straight from baptism and temptation to Jesus’ Galilean ministry. If this surprises us, perhaps we’re just being Western geographically minded, instead of Eastern topic-centered. But John’s gospel follows Jesus from Jerusalem to Galilee, and starts with the calling of the first disciples.
Read John 1:35-39
1. What makes this sound like a first-person account?
2. Where does Jesus find his first disciples, and why does that seem particularly appropriate?
Read John 1:40-42
1. If Simon was fishing in Galilee, that “straight away” or “first thing” must have taken a long time. Where do you suppose Simon was, and why might he have been so eager to follow his brother?
2. Is this the only time Simon gets his name changed? (Read Matthew 16:16-18)
3. Simon is Hebrew and means “he listens.” Cephas is Aramaic and means rock. Peter is Greek and means rock. And Simon, in Greek, means subnosed and sweet! Do you think Peter was a baptismal (or confirmation) name or a nickname among the disciples?
4. Who else gets a famous name change in the New Testament? Is there any similarity in Peter and Paul’s stories?
5. Different Christian traditions encompass name changes, star gifts and more. What “name” is God giving you?
At this point, Jesus has collected John and Andrew from John the Baptist’s followers, plus Simon who was probably close by, maybe heading north in dismay because John said he wasn’t “the one.”
1. Where is James (brother of John)? He becomes very important in the New Testament (Read Acts 12:2-3). Might he have been upset to miss all this? Does this change your image of the “sons of Thunder” (Read Mark 3:17)
2. Why is John, a fisherman, near Jerusalem?
3. We learn later that John has influence in Jerusalem. Read John 18:15. What image are you getting of who John might be? Would a fisherman’s youngest son have more time to pursue religious dreams?
Read John 1:43-44. Bethsaida is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, so Philip is probably another fisherman. Perhaps a team of fishermen are near Jerusalem, checking out John the Baptism, during the off season.
1. Do you think these disciples are strangers to each other, or maybe childhood friends?
2. How much might they know about Jesus at this point? (Read verse 35, 39)
Read John 1:45-51
1. What’s wrong with Nazareth? (Remembering Mary’s priestly relative, and Joseph’s Bethlehem roots, it’s possible Nazareth was viewed as an enclave of government-approved Jewishness among Galileans).
2. What’s so special about fig trees? (Read Genesis 3:7, 1 Kings 4:25, Hosea 2:12, Micah 4:4, Zechariah 3:10, Matthew 21:19)
3. Is Jesus demonstrating magical sight or maybe joking at Nathaniel’s expense? (And why mention Joseph?)
4. Which angels ascended and descended? (Read Genesis 28:12)
5. Which disciples are present and which are missing at this point?
The next named “disciple” in John is Nicodemus. After meeting Nicodemus, Jesus runs a ministry of baptism rivaling that of John the Baptist (Read John 3:22-24). In between, John’s gospel describes the marriage feast at Cana and the cleansing of the Temple (Galilee followed by Jerusalem). How important are geography and timing to you?