Happy Father's Day Zebedee!

Bible Book: Matthew  4 : 21-22
Subject: Fathers; Parenting; Men

[Editor's Note: This is a Father's Day sermon but can easily be adopted for a message on men.]

Happy Father’s Day Zebedee! These words are belated, but well deserved. The celebration of Father’s Day began on June 19, 1910. Sonora Smart Dodd began this celebration to honor her dad, William Jackson Smart, an Arkansas veteran of the Civil War. Mr. Smart raised one daughter and five sons by himself, after his wife died giving birth to their sixth child.

Zebedee means “God (Jah) gives”.[1] He was the father of James and John, and the husband of Salome. He was a fisherman living in Bethsaida / Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Interestingly, we know less about Zebedee than we do about his wife, Salome. Using the Scripture to perform a background check on Zebedee, we find no problem in his reputation or character recorded. The Scripture portrays men and women with their faults and foibles.

Former United States Secretary of State, and three time candidate for President of the United States, William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), explains, “The Bible not only gives us history, and that, too, written in many cases long after the events transpired, but it gives us prophecy which was fulfilled centuries later. The language of the Bible cannot be explained by environment, for environment, in most instances, was entirely antagonistic. It cannot be explained by genius of the writers, for they were largely among the unlettered. The Bible could not have lived because of favouritism shown to it, because it has been more bitterly attacked than any other book ever written. The attacks upon it probably outnumbered the attacks made upon all other books combined, because it condemns man to his face, charges him with being a sinner in need of a Saviour, indicts him as no other book does, holds up before him the highest standard ever conceived, and threatens him as he is threatened nowhere else.”[2]

Solomon writes about the integrity of a righteous man in Proverbs 11:3-11, 18 and 31, “The integrity of the upright will guide them, / But the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, / But righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way aright, / But the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, / But the unfaithful will be caught by their lust. When a wicked man dies, his expectation will perish, / And the hope of the unjust perishes. The righteous is delivered from trouble, / And it comes to the wicked instead. The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor, / But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered. When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; / And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation. By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, / But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. . . . The wicked man does deceptive work, / But he who sows righteousness will have a sure reward. . . . If the righteous will be recompensed on the earth, / How much more the ungodly and the sinner.”

Solomon also shares in Proverbs 20:6-7, “Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, / But who can find a faithful man? The righteous man walks in his integrity; / His children are blessed after him.”

Maybe you remember the lyrics to a popular song, “Papa was a rollin’ stone. Wherever he laid his hat was his home. (And when he died) All he left us was ALONE." [3]

What a legacy! In contrast, Solomon’s father, David, writes about the inheritance from a righteous man in Psalm 37:1-40, “Do not fret because of evildoers, / Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, / And wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; / Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, / And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, / Trust also in Him, / And He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, / And your justice as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; / Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, / Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; / Do not fret—it only causes harm. For evildoers shall be cut off; / But those who wait on the Lord, / They shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; / Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, / But it shall be no more. But the meek shall inherit the earth, / And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. The wicked plots against the just, / And gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord laughs at him, / For He sees that his day is coming. The wicked have drawn the sword / And have bent their bow, / To cast down the poor and needy, / To slay those who are of upright conduct. Their sword shall enter their own heart, / And their bows shall be broken. A little that a righteous man has / Is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, / But the Lord upholds the righteous. The Lord knows the days of the upright, / And their inheritance shall be forever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, / And in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. But the wicked shall perish; / And the enemies of the Lord, / Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away. The wicked borrows and does not repay, / But the righteous shows mercy and gives. For those blessed by Him shall inherit the earth, / But those cursed by Him shall be cut off. The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, / And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; / For the Lord upholds him with His hand. I have been young, and now am old; / Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, / Nor his descendants begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lends; / And his descendants are blessed. Depart from evil, and do good; / And dwell forevermore. For the Lord loves justice, / And does not forsake His saints; / They are preserved forever, / But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land, / And dwell in it forever. The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, / And his tongue talks of justice. The law of his God is in his heart; / None of his steps shall slide. The wicked watches the righteous, / And seeks to slay him. The Lord will not leave him in his hand, / Nor condemn him when he is judged. Wait on the Lord, / And keep His way, / And He shall exalt you to inherit the land; / When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it. I have seen the wicked in great power, / And spreading himself like a native green tree. Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more; / Indeed I sought him, but he could not be found. Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; / For the future of that man is peace. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; / The future of the wicked shall be cut off. But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; / He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them and deliver them; / He shall deliver them from the wicked, / And save them, / Because they trust in Him.”

We read in Matthew 4:21-22 and Mark 1:19-20, “Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. . . . When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.”

Please allow me to share four portraits of Zebedee.

I. First, we find Zebedee mending his nets.

We read in Matthew 4:21-22, “Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.” This is part of mundane manual labor but we must remember also that Zebedee had “hired servants” in the family business.

Rev. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) shares some of the benefits James and John received from working with their father, Zebedee, “They were men of business, who had been bred up to labour. Note, Diligence in an honest calling is pleasing to Christ, and no hindrance to a holy life. Moses was called from keeping sheep, and David from following the ewes, to eminent employments. Idle people lie more open to the temptations of Satan than to the calls of God.”

Rev. Henry further shares, “They were men that were accustomed to hardships and hazards; the fisher's trade, more than any other, is laborious and perilous; fishermen must be often wet and cold; they must watch, and wait, and toil, and be often in perils by waters. Note, Those who have learned to bear hardships, and run hazards, are best prepared for the fellowship and discipleship of Jesus Christ. Good soldiers of Christ must endure hardness.”[4]

II. Second, we discover Zebedee lending his sons.

From the Holman Bible Dictionary we read, “The Bible does not say if Zebedee ever became a believer, but he did not stand in the way of his sons or wife becoming Jesus’ disciples.”[5] Thinking about this situation reminds me in some ways of Hannah, who lent her son, Samuel, to the Lord. We read in 1 Samuel 1:28, “Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord.”

Dr. J. D. (James Dixon) Douglas (1922-2003), Christian scholar, editor and author, explains, "James, John, and Simon Peter, who were part of a fishing partnership that included Andrew, Simon's brother (Luke 5:10), were a trio who attained in some sense a place of primacy among the disciples. They are found at the center of things—for example, when Jairus's daughter was raised (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28), on the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:3), and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:37; Mark 14:33). It was James and John, moreover, who had earlier accompanied Jesus to the home of Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:29)."[6]

Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe explains in Prayer 101: Experiencing the Heart of God, “James was the first of the apostles to be martyred (see Acts 12:1-2). John was the last to die, but before he died, he suffered persecution and exile for the name of Christ.”[7]

III. Third, we imagine Zebedee tending his family.

Dr. Herbert Lockyer writes, “Reading between the lines, it is not difficult to detect the harmony in that Capernaum family, concerning the call and claims of Jesus (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19-20). Salome and Zebedee were the Lord’s and both of their sons became His followers and died for His cause. Happy and grateful are those Christian parents who live to see their offspring wholly dedicated to the service of the Lord.”[8]

Philip Comfort and Walter A. Elwell explain, “Zebedee was in the fishing business and may have been wealthy, considering that he had servants and apparent connections with the high priest (Jn 18:15).”[9] We read in John 18:15, “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.”

IV. Fourth, we anticipate Zebedee bending his knees.

One day Zebedee will bend his knees to the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. The same is true for you and me, and everyone who has ever lived. From Philippians 2:5-11, we read, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In John’s first epistle we find specific mention of God the Father. Allow me to share the following scriptural medley from 1 John 1:3; 2:1, 13, 15, 16, 22, 23, 24; 3:1; 4:14; and 5:7, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. . . . My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. . . . I write to you, fathers, / Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, / Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, / Because you have known the Father. . . . Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. . . . Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. . . . Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. . . . And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. . . . For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.”


Dr. Howard Hendricks, longtime professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, shared a message titled “Three Models of Integrity” the Moody Bible Institute Annual Men’s Conference on March 6, 1993, titled “Three Models of Integrity”. He confessed, “I had a pagan father. But he was a man of incredible integrity.” He recounted his father frequently saying, “Son that is beneath you.” Thankfully, Dr. Hendricks shared that his father “came to faith four months before he died.”[10]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, defines the term “integrity”, as “Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.”[11]

Sadly, unbelievers often demonstrate more integrity than believers. However, we must remember the real Christian life involves being controlled by the Holy Spirit under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

[1]John Phillips, Bible Explorer's Guide: How to Understand and Interpret the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2002) [originally published (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1987)], Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.

[2]William Jennings Bryan, “The Inspiration of the Bible,” in Seven Questions in Dispute (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1924), pp. 16-17

 [3]Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, 1972

 [4]Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), Database WORDsearch Corp.

 [5]Holman Bible Dictionary, ed. Trent C. Butler, "'ZEBEDEE'", (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), Available from: http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T6544 , Accessed: 04/21/12

 [6]Who's Who In Christian History, eds. J. D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, assoc. ed. Donald Mitchell, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992), Database © 2005 WORDsearch Corp.

 [7]Warren W. Wiersbe, Prayer 101: Experiencing the Heart of God (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor ® is an imprint of Cook Communications Ministries, 2006), Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

 [8]Herbert Lockyer, The Women of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1967), pp. 150-152

 [9]Philip Comfort and Walter A. Elwell, The Complete Book of Who's Who in the Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004), Database © 2006 WORDsearch Corp.

 [10]Howard Hendricks, “Three Models of Integrity”, Sermon Notes, (Selected Scriptures)

 [11]The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, “Integrity”, (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000, 2009), Available from: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/integrity Accessed: 06/17/12

 By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on Amazon.com and WORDsearchbible.com



e-mail: fkirksey@bellsouth.net / (251) 626-6210 © June 17, 2012 All Rights Reserved