Sunday School Lesson – “Jesus Calls His Followers” Luke 5:1-11; 6:13-16

VERSE DISCOVERY: Luke 5:1-11; 6:13-16 (KJV, Public Domain)

Discipleship is more than just putting a title of disciple or follower on an individual.  To be a genuine disciple, one must adhere themselves to a particular teacher and/or teaching and mark their lives after them.

A disciple was one who was all in.  And, for Jesus’ disciples, that’s what His calling literally meant, both physically and spiritually.  Physically, during His three and half years of ministry, these men would follow Jesus everywhere.  As was custom for the disciples of the day, in order to gain a thorough understanding of a teacher and his teachings, a disciple would literally follow the teacher in order to properly learn of him.

Spiritually, no less a dedicated lifestyle and heart-style would be required.  For each of Jesus’ call to one of these chosen men to follow Him, there had to be a positive response on their part.  More than just answering the call physically was required.  There had to be more than just curiosity about this man and what He would do or say next.  There had to be a pull of heart to believe in Him and the words He spoke. 

Some of the names we will learn about are more familiar than others because their stories we have heard of over the years and there is plentiful information about them.  Whereas, some the information is scarce and there’s not that much to go on.  Some names will link us to events for their calling or for certain deeds done, for good or bad.  But all are an integral part of Jesus’ story and that of His followers.  And, all are important to biblical history as a whole.

Four Up-Front (Luke 5:1-11)

 1. “And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,

2. And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.

3. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.

4. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.

5. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.

6. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.

7. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.

8. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.

9. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:

10. And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.

11. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.”

If you grew up in a house with more than one sibling or you took rides with friends at times, before all ran to pile in the vehicle, you would often hear one word yelled out by someone: “Shotgun!”

Shotgun was called by someone who wanted to sit up front; by someone who wanted the more prominent seat.  They didn’t want to be in the back crammed together with the others.  They wanted to be where the driver was, the lead person.

Jesus had many disciples and followers, as you could see in the gathered crowds and in the sending out of the seventy (see Luke 10:1-23).  And then as our lesson points out, He had twelve close disciples.  But, even out of those twelve there were some who were always closer to Jesus and appear in more prominent positions and events than the others.  In this first section of this lesson, we are going to focus on those names of the men who Jesus called first (compare Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-21).

To get a better understanding of the story of the call of His followers, we are going to have to do some bouncing around with verses.  Some parts of the story will appear in one place, and some in other places with greater detail.  It is my hope to put together a complete picture of events and people before and during their call.

In Luke 6:12, we find out that before Jesus handpicked any of His disciples, He spent all night in prayer before God.  We need to grasp the importance of this.  Jesus Christ was the Word at the beginning (John 1:1) and He is that same Word made flesh in prayer before the same God whom He was with at the beginning (John 1:1, 14).  Grab hold of this – Jesus, God in the flesh (Matthew 1:23), conferred with God the Father all night in prayer, before choosing His twelve disciples.

As I stated before, while many followed Jesus, there would be twelve closer ones.  These men would move not only into full-on discipleship, but they would move into apostleship, meaning they were not just followers, but they were special messengers that would be sent.  Because of the importance of these men, the important roles they would play, the choice had to be keen and precise.

Please Note: Jesus put great emphasis on prayer and spending time before the Father.  I emphasized above that He was the Word at the beginning and God in the flesh.  If He, being all of that, felt such a strong need to constantly be in prayer, why do so many believe they can get on in life without doing the same things?  We may not have the same decisions and choices before us, but our connection to the Father is the same through Christ.  And, we should want to honor Him in prayer and seek His face with our daily life, with its decisions and choices.

With that, when the disciples met Jesus, each would have a choice to make.  Each one’s name would become recorded forever in the Word of the Living God for us to study and learn from.

From the beginning of His earthly ministry Jesus’ preaching and messages had a great impact on those who heard Him.  Just in the chapter before, Luke 4, Jesus had endured and overcome His forty days of temptation of the devil in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).  Immediately following, He returns to the Galilee area “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 414-15) and began teaching in the synagogues.  It is in these verses where Luke makes a special note on the immediate impact Jesus had.  He was “being glorified of all” (Luke 4:15).

Shortly after, when He declared He was the fulfiller of Isaiah’s prophecy, His words, though true that they were, caused others to question the validity of His proclamation, and yes, this early on in His ministry, they even tried to kill Him (Luke 4:16-30).

Nevertheless, Jesus was not deterred from His mission and all that it entailed before Him.  He went forth healing people both physically and spiritually (Luke 4:31-42), and He went forth preaching in the “synagogues of Galilee,” (Luke 4:43-44).

Now, it was time to gather those who would work the work with Him while He was here, and who would carry on with their parts at His earthly ending, and even after His ascension.

So, with Jesus’s ministry already being so impactful on the people in the region, on this day, as chapter 5 begins, “the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God,” (Luke 5:1).  An urgency stirred in the hearts and minds of the people when they heard about this man Jesus.  That urgency compelled them to press in for more.  And, the “more” that they wanted was the Word of God!

When was the last time when we’ve heard of crowds gathered in a genuine press in our day for God’s Word such as these were doing?  When was the last time you were compelled to press for more of Him?  Let that sink in for a minute.

Those in the synagogues may have tried to get rid of Him, but for this gathered crowd, all they wanted was to be near Jesus and to hear the Word of God.  They may not have immediately identified Him as the Son of God, but the way He spoke (Luke 4:22) drove them to want more.

Jesus had a thing for crowds.  Not for the reason many seek to have crowds around them today – for showmanship and such.  No, but Jesus would often look at the crowds with compassion (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34).  He knew they were missing something very important in their lives, and He has come to fill that void.

Therefore, when He speaks to this immediate crowd, He looks for a better vantage point to relay what He had to say there that day.  This would give everybody there more of a chance to see and hear Him without obstruction.

For that reason, when He saw “two ships standing by the lake,” He would use them to speak to the hearts gathered, and call others to come even closet to follow Him.

The “fishermen” were on the shore “washing their nets” (for this was a necessary chore in the maintenance of the equipment that fueled their livelihood), so Jesus boarded “Simon’s” ship and asked him to push off a little bit from land.  Now, not only was His physical position elevated some, but by pushing off it widens the view for more to see.

With that, He “sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.”  We are not given the details of this particular teaching or message, but this would not be the last time Jesus would use a ship as a pulpit to teach the multitudes (compare Matthew 13:2).  And, being that the crowds continued to follow Him even after the events in today’s lessons (compare Matthew 4:25; 8:1; Mark 3:7-8), and yet even to the point of His death (Luke 23:27), whatever He taught, it meant something to them.

After spending time teaching the multitude, now it was time to focus on those who would be called to go deeper with Him than the waters in the Sea of Galilee.  He turns to “Simon,” saying, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”  Jesus gives this long-time fisherman instructions on how to make a catch.

Now, we must make a special note here.  Before we reach this point in the lesson, and in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus had previously met Simon, who is Peter, and his brother Andrew (see John 1:40-42).  But it wasn’t until this point where they are called to leave their trade for good and become fishers of men.

Back to the catch of the day – these experienced fishermen have worked at it all night without success.  The frustration and tiredness had to be presently upon these men as they washed their nets and were ready to call it a day.

When Jesus tells Simon to get back at it, to try one more time, I can imagine the heaviness and the weariness he must have felt as he tried to explain to Jesus about the “nothing” they have caught.  Simply put, Simon didn’t negotiate or go back and forth in his effort to explain too much.  Looking at Jesus, he simply responded, “Nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”

“I will.”  Those two words hold the heart of faith and obedience.  Simon Peter already knew the reality of the fruitless catch they failed to bring in, but at this point, he also knew a little bit about Jesus.  Therefore, he said, “I will.”

What he felt and what he saw didn’t matter.  What did matter was Jesus who was before him, speaking to him to, “let down your nets.”  And, when he did, they were rewarded with nets that were so heavy with fish that they were breaking (vs. 6).  Calling for their companions to help, the catch proved to be even greater than they previously thought, for now, the load of fish is so heavy it “filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.”

Wow!  What started out as a disappointing night turned into a very fruitful day.  Disappointment gave way to what I am sure was rejoicing by most there.  But “Simon Peter” had a whole different perspective when he took his eyes off the fish and centered himself on the one who instructed him to let down the nets and fish again.

Simon Peter focused more on the miracle maker than the miracle itself and he came to one very realistic conclusion, Jesus was so much more.  He was more than the miracle.  He was more than what they previously believed.  He was just more, and this realization hit him like a ton of bricks.

“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees.”  He is humbled in His presence and realizes just how far off the mark he is in comparison to the One who is before him.  Thus, he speaks, “Depart from me: for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  To know one’s true state before the presence of the Lord is a good place for God to start doing some amazing things in that life.

If the draught of fish astonished them, Jesus’ next words would draw them and call them into something far more amazing.  Speaking not only to Peter and Andrew, but to “James, and John, the sons of Zebedee” who assisted them in the draught, Jesus said, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”

Their nets were breaking over the amount of fish they brought it, but these men, after Jesus was done teaching them, and would go back to heaven… these men were going to shake up the world for the glory of the Kingdom of God.

They have seen more than enough to know what they ought to do with their lives.  They were wholly convinced that where Jesus was is where they needed to be, and they responded positively to His call.  “They forsook all, and followed him.”  Anything the world had to offer couldn’t compare with doing what Jesus was calling them to do.

Twelve All Together (Luke 6:13-16)

13. “And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles;

14. Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew,

15. Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes,

16. And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.”

Having already covered the call of “Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John,” in the section above, I won’t expand on them further here.  Rather, I’ll focus on the other eight names that appear on the list of Jesus’ closest twelve followers; His disciples.  These “twelve” disciples would then be “named apostles” by the Lord.  The word “disciples” are ones that follow and learn.  But as “apostles,” these would not only be called to follow and learn, but they would be called to be “sent” as well, for that’s the meaning behind the word “apostle;” to be “sent.”

Having already stated that some of these names we know little about, we will try to look a little deeper behind the scenes of these men, regardless of who they are or what’s known or unknown about them, to gain a better understanding of those who walked closest to our Savior during His ministry.

The first two on the list of the remaining eight is “Philip and Bartholomew.”  When we go back and take a look at John 1, there it tells us the day after He met with Peter and Andrew, Jesus went “forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me,” (vs. 43).

The next verse explains that it was easy enough for Jesus to locate this man because he was actually from the same area as Andrea and Peter (John 1:44).

It was then “Philip” who went to find Nathanael (who many suppose is “Bartholomew” as he is called in Luke 6), and excitedly explained, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” (John 1:45).

Then, it was Nathanael’s (Bartholomew) turn to be amazed as he voiced his wonder of it all when he asked, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

And, if we thought he was in wonder before, when he met Jesus, Jesus greeted him in a way that took him by total surprise.  Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47).  Putting an exclamation point at the end gave even more credence to Jesus’ proclamation of Nathanael (Bartholomew).

In surprise, not even believing Jesus knew his name, let alone other details of his life, Nathanael asked Jesus, “Whence knowest thou me?” (john 1:48).  It was here and now that Jesus would prove that not only did He know his name, but He knew so much more.

Jesus explained, “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee,” (John 1:48).  Although Jesus was human, Jesus was also divine.  At this moment, a glimpse of His deity was showing.  In speaking words that reveal He not only knows, but He sees – Jesus is laying a groundwork of faith in this man’s heart, and in all those who read these words.  He is literally showing them that He is God in the flesh – He is showing them that beyond a shadow of a doubt, He is the Son of God.

To his credit, Nathanael (Bartholomew) picks up on it and expresses “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel,” (John 1:49).  He knew right then and there; this wasn’t an ordinary prophet or traveling preacher.  He recognized Jesus as the Son of God.

But Jesus assured him that in his calling to follow Him and to be one of His disciples/apostles, that he would “see greater things than these,” (John 1:50).  Jesus plainly stated, regarding His deity identity, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man,” (John 1:51).  Jesus, as the “Son of man” had a supernatural connection to heaven, and those nearest Him would be witnesses of that power.

What a call to follow!

After Jesus’ resurrection, Nathanael (Bartholomew) was with Peter and other disciples that decided to go back to fishing when Jesus met them for the third time before His ascension (see John 21:2).  Together, he along with the others, witness a post-resurrection miraculous catch of fish.

Going back a little to Philp, he too, being in Jesus’ close circle of twelve, witnessed many miracles, including the feeding of the five thousand.  At that time, it was to Philip Jesus asked, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5).  On that day, thousands were miraculously filled, and twelve baskets of fragments were left over from “five barley loaves, and two small fishes,” (John 6:9, 12-13).  Philip, along with the others that day, witnessed once again Jesus deity in action, and were left in awe and wonder, saying, “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world,” (John 6:14).

For other verses surrounding Philip, read John 12:20-21 and 14:8.  Outside of the several lists of these called twelve, both Philip and Bartholomew, along with the remaining eleven (for at that time Judas Iscariot was no longer with them – Acts 1:16-19), can be seen in the Book of Acts, gathered together in the upper room in prayer.

The next name on the list is “Matthew.”  The men that Jesus picked came from varied backgrounds.  Matthew, although a Jew, was in a position where he was despised by his own countrymen.

Matthew is also known as Levi (compare Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27-29).  After Jesus called some of His first disciples, He went about teaching and doing many miracles (see Matthew 4:23-8:34; Mark 1:21-45; Luke 5:12-26).

One of the miracles that all accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke have in common is the healing of the man with palsy (see Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:3-4; Luke 5:18-19).  This was the man who was lowered down through the roof by his friends.  This is also the man through whom Jesus showed another aspect of His deity: the power to forgive sins (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20).

Now, in my personal opinion, this was important because the very next disciple/apostle that Jesus would call would be a man that many probably thought was beyond the grace of God’s forgiveness.

Matthew was a “publican” (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27), which simply means he was a local tax collector.  This man was considered a traitor to his people.  Publicans were locals who were employed by the Romans to collect taxes.  People such as these were known for fleecing their own pockets at the expense of their countrymen.  They would collect what the Romans required and then added a little more for themselves, making it all that much harder on those who had to pay.

But there was something in this particular publican that Jesus could see.  While others only looked at him through the lens of his occupation, Jesus saw someone who would be a more than dedicated follower and would write the first gospel of the New Testament.

In Matthew 9:10-13, Mark 2:15-17, and Luke 5:29-32 we see that Matthew (Levi) made a great feast where not only Jesus attended, but others he knew, people whom the world had considered to be of ill repute.

Shocked, the scribes and Pharisees couldn’t believe what they were seeing, and questioned, “Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?” (Luke 5:30; see also Matthew 9:11 and Mark 2:16).  It is here Jesus explains His mission.  He says, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” (Luke 5:31-32; see also Matthew 9:12-13 and Mark 2:17).

I imagine Matthew was well aware of who he was and who Jesus was, and he was grateful for the call of a changed life.  Jesus took him from “despised” to “disciple” when He called him to “Follow me,” (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27).

The next name on the list of disciples according to Luke’s account is “Thomas.”  Yes, this is the same Thomas who has been dubbed as “doubting Thomas.”

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to some of His disciples, and at that time Thomas (also called Didymus) was not present (see John 20:24), and said he would not believe that Jesus rose unless he was able to see and examine by touch the “print of the nails” and “thrust my hand into his side,” (John 20:25).

But people forget that Thomas had another side to his story.  When news came that Lazarus had died and Jesus was going back to “Judaea where the Jews have sought to stone” Him (John 11:7-8), it was Thomas (not Peter, Andrew, James or John) who boldly spoke up and said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” (John 11:16).  He loved Jesus, and at this point, he was ready to follow Him to the grave.

Then, we have “James the son of Alphaeus.”  While there is much speculation about this particular James, the Bible only gives us a few details about who he actually is.  He was referred to in Mark 15:40 as “James the less,” probably called such because of his younger age or for being shorter in size in comparison to the other James, John’s brother.  This James also had a mother whose name was Mary.

“Simon called Zelotes” is the next name on the lists of the twelve as recorded by Luke.  In Matthew 10:4 and Mark 3:18 he is referred to as “Simon the Canaanite.”  It is unsure if his name is associated with a radical group who was against the Romans, or if the wording of “Zealots” is referring to his personal character of being very zealous for the Lord.

Nearing the end of this list, we have two Judas’ to deal with.  The first is “Judas the brother of James.”  It is supposed by many that this Judas is also referred to as “Thaddaeus” in Matthew 10:3 and Mark 3:18.

Lastly, the name that always appears in the last position of the lists in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and doesn’t appear at all in the Acts 1:13 list is that of “Judas Iscariot.”  For his acts against Christ in selling Him out to the authorities of the day, Judas’ name is identified by his heinous actions.  He is called “traitor” here in Luke 6.  In both Matthew 10:4 and Mark 3:19, he is known as the man who “betrayed” Jesus.

It was he that went to the chief priests, and asked, “What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?” (Matthew 26:15).  It was he that betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Matthew 26:47-49).  And, it was he that received “thirty pieces of silver” for his deed against Christ (26:15; 27:3).

Acts 1:16-19 tells of his death.

There we have them.  Twelve men.  Twelve personalities, whose backgrounds varied among them.  Nevertheless, these twelve were called by Jesus to “Follow Me,” and each did just that.  Whatever their life was identified before they became a disciple/apostle, now that they have experienced walking with Jesus during these years of His earthly ministry, their lives will never be the same.

Jesus is still calling for people to follow Him today.  Have you?  If not, will you?

PDF Printable Sunday School Lesson Pack (With easy to read instructions following the P.E.A.R.L. format on how to conduct each lesson with areas for adding personal notes): Sunday School Lesson – Jesus Calls His Followers

Suggested Activities:

Fishing Craft Game: Draw and cut out on construction paper shapes of fish. Glue a metal paper clip on the back of each one.  Use a wooden dowel or a stick from outside and tie a string to it.  Glue a magnet to the bottom of the string.  Use a timer and see how many fish your students can catch.  Use this analogy to describe that’s how enthusiastic we, as disciples of Christ, should be when reaching people or “fishing for people” for Jesus.  We should want to hurry and “catch” as many as we can.  (You can even break off into teams and make it a friendly competition.)

Adult Journal Page: Adult Journal Page – Jesus Calls His Followers

Kids Journal Page: Kids Journal Page – Jesus Calls His Followers

Disciple Acrostic: Disciple Acrostic

Draw the Scene: Jesus Calls His Followers Draw the Scene

Word Search: Jesus Calls His Followers Word Search  Answers: Jesus Calls His Followers Word Search Answers

Crossword: Jesus Calls His Followers Crossword  Answers: Jesus Calls His Followers Crossword Answers

Word Scramble: Jesus Calls His Followers Word Scramble  Answers: Jesus Calls His Followers Word Scramble Answers



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