The people of Galilee, where Jesus was born and lived, were the most religious Jews in the world during the 1st Century. They also interacted with the world because one of the major trade routes, the “Way of the Sea,” ran through Israel. The Galilean people were also more biblically educated in the scripture and its application to life than most other Jewish communities. They were passionate about their faith, which led to religiously solid communities and strong families whose synagogues supported keeping the Torah. More famous Jewish teachers came from Galilee than anywhere else in the world.
God prepared this environment carefully so that Jesus would have precisely the context he needed to present his message of repentance and salvation. Jesus grew up and was educated like all bright Jewish boys in his neighborhood. He went through the same steps as the other students. Many religious leaders came to know Jesus and respected and honored his brilliance and insight into the scriptures.
When a Jewish student turned twelve, it was determined whether or not they would be chosen to continue their education to be a rabbi. Those gifted would have at least memorized the first five books of the Old Testament and many other religious documents. If one couldn’t recite the texts accurately, they would leave schooling to follow their father’s trade.
Jesus was born and educated through the system. When he was 12, He was no doubt top of His class and people began to pay attention to this most gifted student.
“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; 43 and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it, 44 but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him. 46 Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Luke 2:41).
Few students were able to complete their studies. Those that did, hoped to be chosen by a rabbi to “follow me” and become like him. The word rabbi means “great one” or “my master” and was used as a term of respect for one’s teacher. Jesus eventually became a rabbi through the educational system. Then His job was to find disciples to follow Him.
The rabbi would consider whether or not the student could make the commitment necessary to leave his family and work and follow the rabbi. For a student to be chosen was a remarkable vote of confidence the teacher had in the student. Jesus also, when he completed his schooling, was to select those whom he thought would make good disciples. They were to be with him, follow him, live by his teaching, imitate his actions, and make everything else secondary to their learning from the rabbi.
The religious educational system judged the worthiness of a person by how smart he was, especially at memorizing. Jesus, however, did not look at someone’s school resume’ to make his selection of followers. Jesus looked on the heart. He knew those who had the heart to know the truth, to love and obey. Those He invited to be his disciples weren’t the brightest, most well-spoken, or leaders in their communities. They were people like you and me who wanted to respond well to Jesus’ call to follow Him, but struggle many times along the way.
“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:16-22).
For 3 1/2 years Jesus taught his disciples as they traveled, talked, asked questions, and witnessed many miracles performed by their rabbi. They came to know Him not only as their teacher and friend, but also as the Son of the Living God, their Savior. When the time was right, knowing that His disciples were prepared to be like Him, he commissioned them to go and become disciple makers. Then Jesus ascended into Heaven.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:25-30)