There seems to be a long gap between Matthew 4:11 and 4:12. In John’s gospel we read that Jesus’ disciples baptised people at the same time as John the Baptist, and the author comments that this was before John was put in prison. From John’s gospel we gather that Andrew and Simon Peter already knew Jesus, and we can speculate that James and John knew him too. The incident Matthew relates is one of two occasions when Jesus called the same disciples – Luke 5 relates the other. Putting everything together from Simon Peter’s point of view, he was first introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew early in Jesus’ ministry, and was probably involved with him in baptising the crowds while John the Baptist was still around. Later, when John was put in prison, Jesus’ ministry took on a more urgent tone; he moved base away from Nazareth in the hills to the more populous Capernaum by the lake, and he called Simon Peter away from his fishing as Matthew recounts. While at Capernaum Jesus visited and healed his mother-in-law (according to Mark and Luke); but Simon still kept up his business and in Luke was called once again, this time leaving all to follow Jesus. (The twelve apostles were chosen only after Jesus had a sizeable number of disciples to choose from.)
What did the disciples learn? Jesus spent his time teaching in the synagogues and preaching in all sorts of place, and healing. The healing demonstrated both Jesus’ authority from God and the love of God for people in need; Jesus’ deeds backed his words. What Jesus talked about was the Kingdom of God – good news which required a response (repentance). The kingdom of God means the kingship of God, the control of God. There is a sense in which God has always been in control, working out his purposes through the bad and good of history. However, human free will and the devil’s schemes have brought evil into this world, so that God’s will has been ignored and his kingdom disregarded.
That has brought trouble: God’s rule is perfect, a rule of peace and justice and harmony and fulfilment, so to ignore God is to invite imperfection into one’s world. The good news of the Old Testament was that one day God would reclaim his own, and reintroduce his perfect reign. The good news of Jesus was that this was already beginning to happen – the kingdom was at hand! It is impossible to be a citizen of God’s kingdom if we choose to go our own way rather than to trust and obey our rightful king. The call to follow him is a call to enter the kingdom – to let the King call the tune. Repentance is all about stopping, turning around, and putting Jesus in charge of our lives. That is the only way to perfect fulfilment. To become a follower of Jesus is to become a citizen of the kingdom of God – more than that, a beloved son or daughter of God. It is an immense privilege. But it is also an immense responsibility: we join Jesus in his mission!
What do we learn from following Jesus? How do we learn it?