These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Matthew 4:12-25 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary
Where is this prophecy (15-16) from? What does it teach us about Jesus’ ministry?
What was the core teaching of Jesus’ message?
Seeing that John the Baptist and Jesus both focused on repentance, what can you learn from this?
What does this tell us about what a follower of Christ really does?
How can we follow their examples when we share the gospel?
What can we learn from Jesus’ calling of these four disciples?
Did they suddenly decide to follow a stranger? If not, why would they follow Jesus?
What can we learn about Jesus from this exchange?
What can we learn from the disciples?
What applications can we make in order to be a better follower of Jesus?
What do we learn about Jesus’ ministry in verses 23-24?
Do we learn anything from this about how we should do ministry or the types of things we should pay attention to?
Verses on Following God –
Matthew 10:38 – Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Deuteronomy 5:33 – Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.
John 8:12 – When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Deuteronomy 13:4 – It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.
Mark 8:34 – Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Isaiah 9:1-12 – The quotes in Matthew 4:15-16 are from here.
- Jesus Leads Us–
Follow Me. Jesus is the ultimate authority. The command reflects His divine right to command, to lead. I would not dare to tell someone “follow me” because I am not worth following. But Jesus did because He is the only one worth following. Jesus has the authority to command the wind and the water to obey His voice. He has the authority to command demons. And He himself was not under any authority as he told Pilate “you would have no authority over me if it were not given you from above.” He had the authority to command the disciples to follow Him, just as He has the authority to command us to follow Him.
But not everyone obeys it. Not everyone heeds his call. Jesus has the power to command, but we also have the responsibility to obey. This command is so simple. And yet it shows us the entire essence of being a disciple of Jesus. This is what a disciple does. He follows. It is the core responsibility of being a disciple. Jesus did not say, “Go to church and I will make you a fisher of men.” He did not say, “Study theological books and I will make you a fisher of men.” He did not say, “Adhere to a set of doctrinal beliefs and I will make you a fisher of men.” He did not even say, “Read the Scriptures and I will make you a fisher of men.” He did not say those things because those things are not an essence of what a disciple is. None of those things is guaranteed to change somebody. But following Jesus no matter the cost did change them and will change us. There are two sides to following Jesus.
- Firstly, following Jesus meant forsaking something. They had to give up and renounce everything else. Jesus must be the first priority. What exactly did they have to renounce?
- Sin – A lot of people like to try to put one foot in God’s kingdom and one foot in this world. They like to feel the peace of being part of God’s family and joining church and the safety of thinking they have eternal life. At the same time, they like to keep their own lifestyle. Some things in their lives they don’t want to give up. They are enjoying the world too much. Some so called churches have no problem with this. These churches proclaim tolerance and welcome for all. Should we welcome all kinds of people to join? Does Jesus welcome all kinds of people? The answer is “yes,” Jesus does welcome all kinds of people. No matter what kind of sinner you are, Jesus will welcome you. No matter what sin you have done, Jesus is happy to have you as His follower. He let the tax-collectors, the prostitutes, and all the lowest sinners in society become his followers. But (and this word is very important!), He did not welcome their sin or allow them to follow Him without changing their lives. He told the adulteress who was about to be stoned to go her way and SIN NO MORE!! Also when Zaccheus became a follower of Jesus he first went back to the people he had cheated and paid them back what he had stolen and even more. To follow Jesus we must forsake our sin!
- Their way of life (job) – All the disciples had known was fishing. It was their job. It was their livlihood. They grew up next to the Sea of Galilee. It is likely that they learned fishing from their own fathers. They were good at it. Fishing was the way that they took care of their families. I lived near the ocean in the US and knew a family of fishermen there. The father was a captain of a boat and took people out to fish. He loved it. And his sons grew up loving it. Both of them also became captains of their own boats. Fishing on the vast sea is peaceful and calm. It is a beautiful experience. You are immersed in nature without a building in sight. His family were like “people of the sea.” For them to give up fishing and pursue a different career would be unimaginable. Fishing was part of their identity. But the disciples were willing to give it up to follow Jesus. Following Jesus changed their identity, the very direction of their lives. It meant being surrounded by people instead of being surrounded by water and nature. It meant giving up their source of income and their security. How could they make money following Jesus? How could they take care of their families? They probably didn’t have the answers, but they believed in Jesus and followed Him anyway. Application: If Jesus called you, would you give up your job for Him? Would you give up your career for Him? Jesus has already called us to put Him in first place. Does your job take first place instead? If you allow yourselves to become so busy in your careers that you are distracted from serving the Lord, then you have chosen to follow your jobs instead of following Jesus. Following Jesus means putting Him first over your job!
- Himself – See Matthew 16:24. Following Jesus meant denying themselves. Here is a possible job advert describing the job the disciples were going to do: LONG HOURS! LOTS OF OVERTIME! MUST BE WILLING TO WORK ON WEEKENDS! MUST BE ABLE TO TRAVEL OFTEN! MUST BE WILLING TO ACCEPT THE CHEAPEST MODES OF TRAVEL, GENERALLY BY FOOT, FOR LONG DISTANCES! DANGEROUS! POTENTIAL THREATS FROM THIEVES AND SOLDIERS! WILL NOT PAY FOR HOTELS! SLEEP WHERE AND HOW YOU CAN, SOMETIMES OUTSIDE IN THE ELEMENTS! POLITICAL CLIMATE IN COUNTRY IS DANGEROUS! PERFORMING JOB WILL PUT YOUR LIFE IN DANGER! YOU WILL BE EXPOSED TO PUBLIC RIDICULE AND PERSECUTION! COMPENSATION: NO PAY! NO INSURANCE! NO PENSION! NO HOUSING FUND! NO PAID VACATION! QUALIFICATIONS NEEDED: COMPLETE OBEDIENCE. DENY YOURSELVES AND OBEY THE BOSS COMPLETELY IN EVERY AREA! How does this job sound to you? You are all in a hurry to line up and apply? The last part of the job advertisement goes like this: Benefits: Learn face to face from the Creator of the world. Become friends with the King of Kings. Discover real joy. Gain a new purpose in life. Eternal life. The costs of this job are high, but the benefits are worth it. Will you deny yourself and follow the Lord?
- Other authorities – Jesus was the new ultimate authority in their life. Read Matthew 6:24.
- Relationships – Jesus demanded their highest allegiance. They were to put Jesus’ interests first over anyone else. They were to listen to and follow His instructions instead of others’. Read Luke 14:26. Your first loyalty should not be to your parents or your spouse, or your boss or your girlfriend or your children. It should be to Jesus.
- Secondly, following Jesus meant a new direction. Read John 14:6. And Ephesians 4:22-24 (old self and new). See also John 6:66-68(many disciples turned away from Him, but Peter said Jesus had the words of life.) In a few minutes we will learn more about this new direction.
Application: Who or what are you following? Are you chasing after money? Are you seeking popularity? Are you pursuing pleasure? Do you follow the opinions of your peers, your parents, your bosses, or do you follow Jesus? There will be many times that you have to make a choice in your life. Jesus wants you to in one direction, but your parents or peers or bosses want you to go in another direction. Maybe your parents want you to pursue a certain career to get married to a certain person or to attend a certain school. But you know it is not what Jesus wants you to do. Who will you follow? Maybe your peers want you to join in with them in an unwholesome activity. You know Jesus wouldn’t want you to join. Who will you follow? Maybe you find that your company is demanding more and more of your time. They give you projects. They give you paperwork. They tell you that as an employee you must show more loyalty to the company. It is taking so much time it distracts you from serving the Lord fully. But it is like you are in a stream with all the current pushing you in that direction. Will you get out of the stream and follow Jesus or just let the current push you where it will?
Being a disciple doesn’t mean that you are perfect. We can think of many examples of foolish things they did. They did ask dumb questions. They did doubt sometimes when they should have had faith. Peter told Jesus that He should not die on the cross. And he also denied Jesus three times. It is easy to read the gospels and look at the disciple’s faults. But this passage should remind us that the disciples did what almost no one else did. Refer to verse we just read in: John 6:66-68. They followed Jesus when others turned away. They gave up their fishing nets when others would not give up their treasures. They endured the scorn of the social elite. They lived like Jesus traveling here and there with no place to lay their heads. They gave up everything to follow Jesus. The disciples were loyal. The disciples were committed. The disciples were faithful. Why did they follow Jesus? Because He had the words of life. They believed in His message. And therefore it was worth it for them to give up everything for Him. Matthew 13:44
These days I prefer to tell people “I am a follower of Jesus” than to tell them “I am a Christian.” I prefer to say that because following Jesus is the essence of a disciple’s responsibility. There are many people who claim to be Christians. These are people who go to church sometimes. They pray occasionally. Probably they believe in God. In China, they are people who say “I have been baptized. I am a Christian now.” But many of them do not follow Jesus. There has been no change of direction in their lives. They have not forsaken anything. They don’t follow Jesus’ commands. So are you a follower of Jesus? Show of hands please! Ok, so we claim to be followers of Jesus. That’s good. That means we are identifying publicly as Jesus’ disciples. But imagine for a minute that somebody examines your life. He compares how you live with Jesus’ commands. Would he conclude that you are a follower of Jesus in practice or in name only? Perhaps we should think about this question ourselves. I am going to quickly list out a number of Jesus’ commands. I will list the reference, but not read it for times’ sake. Think if you are following these commands or not.
- Repent – Matthew 4:17
- Rejoice – Matthew 5:11-12
- Let your lite shine – Matthew 5:16
- Be reconciled with your brother – Matthew 5:23-26
- Do not lust – Matthew 5:28-30
- Keep your word – Matthew 5:37
- Go the second mile – Matthew 5:38-42
- Love your enemies – Matthew 5:44-46
- Be perfect – Matthew 5:46-48
- Judge not – Matthew 7:1-3
- Do unto others what you would have them do to you – Matthew 7:12
- Pray for more workers in the harvest – Matthew 9:37-38
- Don’t fear people, but fear God – Matthew 10:28
- Deny yourself – Luke 9:23-25
- Forgive – Matthew 18:21-22
- Pay taxes – Matthew 22:19-21
- Love the Lord and your neighbor – Matthew 22:37-40
- Await His return – Matthew 24:42-44
- Baptize others – Matthew 28:19-20
- Make disciples – Matthew 28:19-20
- Jesus Changes Us
He says, “I will make you fisher’s of men.” Before they were fishermen. Now they would be fishers of men. Perhaps this is the first pun. This is the new direction their life would take. It is not a stretch to say that they were cowards. These were men who (except for John) all ran away and deserted Jesus when He was sacrificed. And yet these same men later (except for John) all gave their lives for Christ. Jesus changed them from being cowards into being bold. These were men who were uneducated. And yet later they preached to thousands and amazed scholars with their answers and understanding of the Scriptures. Jesus changed them. These were men who struggled to have faith even with Jesus right in front of them. But with Jesus gone, they had such faith to follow Jesus’ mission to take the gospel to all the world, no matter what the cost for themselves. Jesus changed them from the inside out.
Application: In John 15:5, Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” We can do nothing that has any spiritual significance without Christ. We can do nothing to please God without a relationship with Christ first. What do you want in life? What are your goals? Perhaps you have some goals in your career or perhaps you have financial goals. Or maybe you have health goals. Maybe some of you hope to lose weight this year and maybe some of you hope to gain weight this year or perhaps some of you hope to stop eating so much sugar or strop drinking so much soda. Those kinds of goals are fine. But I hope you have bigger and better goals. I hope you have spiritual goals. I hope you have goals relating to your own character. You should desire to grow spiritually. You should desire to be more humable, faithful, loving, compassionate, diligent, patient, and forgiving. You should desire to be more zealous to share the gospel. You should want to be a light, a godly testimony to your neighbors and friends. You should hunger and thirst for righteousness. You should look in the spiritual mirror of the Bible every day and go away dissatisfied, with a clear understanding you have not arrived at God’s destination for you yet. In short, you should have a desperate desire welling up deep within you to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Do you have these types of goals? I hope so. But if you do, how will you attain them? You might find a five step plan on how to lose weight, but you can not fulfill your spiritual goals on your own. But Jesus can make you into what He wants you to be. He did it with the disciples and He can do it with you. What is the secret? You must have a willing heart to follow Him. Do you? If you have a willing heart, let us tell the Lord. Let us take a moment in silent prayer and ask the Lord to change us. Let us ask Him to make us into the person He wants us to be. Let us ask Him to give us that humility, love, patience, and righteousness. Silent Prayer.
- Jesus Gives our Lives Meaning
Jesus said that He would make the disciples “fishers of men.” Their new job would be a lot more important than their old one. Men are a lot more valuable than fish are. Therefore their lives would be much more significant and meaningful than before. Fish brought temporal value in the money they could sell them for, but this passed quickly. Catching men was a mission with eternal value.
About 300 million people lived at the time of Jesus. How many of these 300 million people are remembered? How many of these 300 million people can you remember the names of? If all of us together wrote a list of the people who lived during this time in history we might come up with 50-100 names. But the disciples’ names are remembered. They were peasants, but following Jesus made their lives meaningful and changed the course of their future and the world’s.
If evolution is true, life has no meaning. We are just the result of a random chance occurrence. There is no plan, no design, no greater purpose. We are an accident, a freak of nature. What you see is all you get. All of the terrible things we see happening in the world, are just that, terrible, without any deeper purpose or plan. Chaos rules the day. The only meaning in life is found in what yourself give it. Every person struggles through life trying to enjoy it as much as they can until they die painfully and are forgotten. All would truly be like Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “vanity, and striving after the wind.” It’s a bleak picture.
But there is a Creator. He does have a plan. He created us with a higher purpose. And He sent His son to tell us what that purpose is. One large part of the answer is seen here. Our lives have purpose when we become fishers of men instead of fishers of fish or makers of money. Men have souls. Death is not the end. The bones of billions lie dead and forgotten beneath us.
Here is a quote that really struck me from a sermon, “The Vikings of northern Europe; the Indians in the Amazon rainforest; the eskimoes in northern Canada; the bushmen of southern Africa; the well-educated professors at Harvard and Princeton; the Roman soldiers who marched with Julius Ceasar to France. All people past, present and future have all inherited this fallen condition. And sin leads to death without exception. Regardless of how high or low your IQ is the result will be the same. Regardless of how educated you are or illiterate you are the result will be the same. If you are a movie star like Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks the result will be the same. If you are a pop singer like KatyPperry or Beyonce or Madonna the result will be the same. Perhaps you are sports icon in baseball or basketball or football the result will be the same. The low and mighty; the rich and poor; the most famous and the most obscure person the result will be the same. The earth beneath us is full of the history of dead men. Their bones for most long forgotten lie beneath us. The king that wore a crown now lies beneath. The servant that served that king equally lies beneath us. Saxons and Romans. Chinese and barbarians. Since the creation of Adam untold billions lie smouldering under the earth. Whatever muscle or strength or strategy they used to extend their lives they did but just for a little. For most people in history most died one by one unseen and unnoticed by most. But in
times in history vast numbers perished. In earthquakes; in tsunamis; in plagues or war. And there they lie to this present day. The kings and queens; the wise and the foolish; the rich and the poor; the slave and the free; the billionaires and the poorest; the great conquerors of times past and the conquered.”
These people are dead. And the world has forgotten almost all of them. They tried to extend their lives. Some of them like the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang sent ambassadors around the world seeking immortality through medicine. Others simply tried to prolong their lives through health and fitness. Maybe they could prolong their lives for several years. And yet death came in the end.
Perhaps you think you have another 50 or 60 years. Perhaps you think your relatives have decades more. But life is not certain. Many people will woke up this morning eating breakfast thinking everything will keep going on fine, but they will not eat dinner tonight. You see, we have our soul. We don’t live an aimless life like others in the world. We have a purpose. What we do here and now effects our eternity, but it not only effects our eternity, we can also effect the eternity of those around us. Those people who have lived for past generations may be forgotten by us, but God has not forgotten. Nor has He forgotten what they have done for Him. All of them will be resurrected. See John 5:28-29. Is your eternity safe? Are you following Jesus? And if it is, what about all of those people around you? What will you do about them? Will you live your life catching and eating fish? Will you live your life making and using money? Or will you be a fisher of men?
Application: Fishing for fish is not easy. Give an illustration of fishing from my childhood. It takes lots of time. It takes patience. It takes tools. Fishing for men can be even harder… It takes lots of time. It takes lots of patience. It takes tools. But if you obey God will bring the fish.
More to come soon
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