In The Boat With Their Father

                                                                Matthew 4:18-22



1.         Did you know that today is the one hundredth Father’s Day?

a.         In 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, WA went to church on Sunday.  It was Mother’s Day and her preacher had some things to say on that theme.

b.         On her way out, she said to him, “I liked everything you said about motherhood.  However, don’t you think fathers deserve a place in the sun, too?”

c.         Her dad was a widowed Civil War Veteran who raised six children, kept his family in tact, and did not bring up any slackers.

d.         It took Mrs. Dodd just a year to convince Spokane’s mayor and Washington’s governor to issue proclamations recognizing a Sunday in June, 1910, as Father’s Day.

e.         The idea spread quickly, but it wasn’t until 1972, when Sonora Smart Dodd was ninety years old, the President officially designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.


2.         Our text is more about a landmark event in the ministry of Jesus (and thus in the unfolding or our faith) than it is a lesson on fatherhood, but it does involve a father and his boys.

a.         The Lord, having begun to teach publicly, called the first four disciples who would accompany him full-time to learn of him.

b.         They were two sets of brothers, all in the fishing business, whom he saw as he walked by the Sea of Galilee.  They appear to have come to regard him as the Messiah some months earlier (Jn. 1:35f), and they may have had some off-and-on involvement as fisherman for some time afterward (Lk. 5:1f).

c.         “Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  It was an invitation that made clear two things about our faith that have never changed:

i.          Our faith in the Lord makes us care most about people.

ii.         Our faith requires the commitment of ourselves to following Jesus all the time.


3.         But that is where the text also takes us to a more personal level: what happens here is a thought-provoking window into what a father means in the life of his children.

a.         James and John were “in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets” when the Lord called them.

b.         In order to follow him as he said, they “immediately...left the boat and their father.”

c.         We ought to think on what this tells us about the kind of man their father was, and about the place he had in their life.




1.         About Zebedee

a.         He was the father of two of the most prominent disciples of the Lord.

i.          This is how he appears in all four gospels: James and John are “the sons of Zebedee.”

ii.         Along with Peter, they were the only ones privileged to witness the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1f), the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Lk. 8:51), and the private agony of Jesus in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:37).

iii.        Zebedee, therefore, is known not because of any recorded words or deeds of his own, but because his two boys loved Jesus and were loyal to him.


b.         He was in the fishing business on the Sea of Galilee, apparently with some success.

i.          Mark says that James and John “left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants” (Mk. 1:20).  The Lord did not have James and John walk off and leave their dad without and alone.

ii.         The evidence is that he was doing OK. 

(1)        In 1986 near the northwestern shore of the Sea, the remains of a boat dating from the first century were found. 

(2)        It is considered to be the type of boat that Jesus and his disciples knew.

(3)        It is 26 and a half feet long, 7 and a half wide, and 4 and a half deep, and it could hold 15 men.  (Two of these are present in Lk. 5:7.)

iii.        Some think that the reason John was known to the high priest in Jerusalem (Jn. 18:15) is because of his father’s means and influence.


c.         He was married to a woman who courageously ministered to Jesus.

i.          “The mother of the sons of Zebedee” highly valued places of honor in the Lord’s kingdom (Matt. 20:20), had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, ministering to him, and was still with him at the cross (Matt. 27:55-56).

ii.         By comparing this statement with Mark 15:40, we conclude that her name was Salome, and by comparing with it with John 18:25 are led to think that she was the sister of the Lord’s mother.

iii.        She was one of those who bought spices intending to complete the burial process (Mk. 16:1).


d.         He is never said to have been, or not to have been, a disciple of Jesus.

i.          There is no indication of his raising any objection to his sons and his wife following Jesus.

ii.         In fact, we wonder whether they would be so often identified as his family in the gospels if he had not become known to the church, or whether they could have done what they did for Jesus without his support.

iii.        There is reason to believe that he continued the fishing business (cf. Jn. 21:3), and it is possible that his work furnished some of the financial support for the ministry of Jesus.

2.         About Fatherhood


a.         James and John must have learned a sense of belonging from their father.

i.          Zebedee was a man who had enough of himself invested in them for them to know who they were and where they came from.

ii.         They were “James the son of Zebedee and John his brother.”  They were “in the boat with” him.  Their mom was “the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”  They knew what love and loyalty meant.

iii.        Is this why the Lord could have such confidence in them?  Is it why he could accept their weaknesses?  Is this why they were with Jesus at the crucial times?


b.         James and John learned manhood from their father.

i.          Mark tells us that Jesus gave them the nickname “Boanerges” which, he explains, means “Sons of Thunder” (Mk. 3:17). 

ii.         We know they were men who wanted to excel and had confidence that they would be able to do whatever was necessary (Mk. 10:37, 39), and men who were inclined to “deal with” the opposition, but who could take it when they were rightly corrected (Lk. 9:38, 54). 

iii.        They were men of strength, action, and courage.  How much of this had rubbed off on them from having been “with their father?”


c.         James and John learned to work and to be responsible from their father.

i.          They were in the boat, possibly having worked through the night, but “mending their nets” when Jesus called them.

ii.         Washing, mending, and hanging the nets up to dry was detail work–the tiresome, dirty daily chore that was preparation for the next day’s work.

iii.        Using them was a task that would have required them to learn to work in cooperation with another man, and to face the fact that someone else was counting on them.  They were men of dependable character.


d.         James and John learned to put first things first from their father.

i.          Notice that when they set off to follow Jesus there is no indication that Zebedee protested their forsaking a profitable business that would one day be theirs.

ii.         The call of Christ was his claim to be worthy of first place.

iii.        The sons of Zebedee could not have responded as they did unless they had been taught to choose the valuable over the urgent.



1.         “The sons of Zebedee.”  One of them was the first of the Twelve to be killed for the name of Christ (Acts 12:2).  The other seems to have been the last to die (cf. Jn. 12:23).


2.         They were “fishermen” because they went with the father; they are “fishers of men” because they, without hesitating or faltering, followed Jesus.