Peter: An Unlikely Hero of Faith
He was a relatively successful businessman — a tradesman, heartily plying his craft with a small fleet of fishing boats that he shared with his brother and his friends. He knew the sea, his boats, his friends, his family — and as a God-fearing Jewish man, he knew his religion. But religion was more for the formative years. It was for his wife and his children. It’s not that he didn’t believe, but he was a busy man, trying to earn an honest living and put bread on the table.
He was well-respected among his peers. He was tough. He was wise to the ways of the world. He was no nonsense. He called it the way he saw it — no frills, no pretense, no foolishness. He was the kind of man who would fish all night to bring in a catch.
So when this man called Jesus arrived in his hometown of Capernaum on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, Peter paid little attention to all the chatter about the young religious teacher.
But that all changed when Jesus decided to teach the multitude at the edge of the sea.
It had been another difficult, exhausting night for Peter, his brother Andrew, and their friends James and John. Even with all of the years of experience, and the tricks of the trade, sometimes you come up empty-handed. Peter was tired and frustrated, and the crowd pressing around them as they cleaned their nets was making him furious. The nets needed to be stowed away, and he wanted to hurry home to get some sleep.
Suddenly Jesus called to him, “Simon, I’m going to jump into your boat. Push me out a little way so that I can speak to the crowd.”
“Oh great,” Simon thought, “I’m going to have to wait until he’s done preaching before I can go home.” Now he was boiling with frustration. But he had no choice. The entire town had gathered to hear this rabbi. How would he look to his friends if he refused? Reluctantly he pushed the boat out into deeper water.
Jesus stood up in the boat and began teaching the crowd. Peter tried to ignore him as he continued tidying up the boat, but even through his frustration the words spoken by this young man captured his attention. His teaching was not pompous and full of religious pleasantries like other teachers of the law. The words of Jesus were simple, straight to the point, and practical.
Simon kept working on the nets, but Jesus now had his ear.
Jesus had captured Peter’s attention, but now he was ready to capture his heart. When he finished his sermon he called to Peter, “Simon, take your boat out into the deeper water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Peter had just finished stowing away his neatly-folded nets. The impromptu religious service was over. The boat was tidy. It was time to go home for a few hours of sleep. Who did this teacher think he was talking to, anyway? The fish weren’t cooperating.
Standing chest-deep in the water next to his boat Simon paused for a moment to asses the situation. He didn’t want to be rude. After all, this was an impressive teacher of the law. Looking up at Jesus he responded with a slight laugh, “Master, we have fished all night and caught nothing.”
He paused and waited for Jesus to respond. Surely he would yield to the wisdom of a seasoned fisherman. But Jesus didn’t bat an eye. He simply smiled and waited for Peter to enter the world of wonder that lay before him.
The seafarer looked around for support from his partners, but their raised eyebrows and puzzled looks provided no way of escape for him. The whole town stood on the muddy shoreline waiting for his response. Again he laughed and turned his face toward Jesus. Slowly the words slipped passed his lips, “But at your word, we’ll let down our nets.”
Though they were exhausted, the small band smiled as they climbed into the boats and pushed out to sea — destined to begin an adventure of faith that would take them beyond their wildest dreams.
Peter knew exactly where he wanted to go; just out far enough to be in the deep water, but not so far that they couldn’t get back to shore quickly when they proved to Jesus who knew more about fishing.
The young rabbi sat silently in the bow of the vessel — a slight smile raised the corners of his mouth as he watched the men methodically carry out their assignments. Peter was particularly gruff as he barked out orders to the other men. He was used to being in charge, and he didn’t like being led where he didn’t want to go, especially when he was tired. “Come on, John, pay attention. Keep the lines tight,” he snarled at the youngest, and most impressionable of the group.
At the count of three they heaved the nets into the turquoise-colored water. Immediately the nets churned with activity. Across the surface of the sea, silver-bellied fish slithered over each other in a frenzied dance. Instinct took over and Peter hollered, “Bring it in, bring it in.” The men snapped into action, the muscles in their arms and legs straining as they pulled thousands of glimmering fish into the boats. The weight of the catch was so massive that the nets themselves began to break.
Jesus joined in the laughter as he watched the men fill both of the vessels so full of fish that they began sinking. “Bail some of the catch, quickly,” Peter hollered to his mates.
As the fish writhed and hopped in the bottom of the boat Jesus stood and grabbed hold of the mainsail. Suddenly the reality of the situation struck Peter and he shuddered. This was certainly not a normal catch, and this man now standing above him, his long hair whipping in the Galilean wind was no ordinary man. Peter stopped and looked up at Jesus. It was as if this teacher could see right through him. He felt almost naked before him, like Jesus was able to read his thoughts and see every wicked thing he had ever done.
This Jesus was truly a man sent from God.
Peter lost the strength in his legs and fell down to his knees among the fish at Jesus’ feet. Unable to raise his eyes to meet the gaze of this man of power Peter declared in a quivering voice, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” The others stopped their activity and watched the drama unfold. With a look of gentleness and compassion Jesus leaned over and put his hand on the back of Peter’s neck. Trembling, the fisherman looked up into his eyes through tears as Jesus declared, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be a fisher of men.”
Peter didn’t know exactly what he meant by this, but he did know that his life would never be the same. When Jesus gave him the command to follow him he did so without hesitation. It was the beginning of an odyssey with Christ that would challenge and perplex him; that would take him to the dizzying heights of transfiguration and miraculous power, and the grinding depths of betrayal and bewilderment.
And along the way, Jesus would provide one opportunity after another for this outspoken born-leader to be tested, and tried, and to be sifted like wheat. But in the end, Jesus would establish Peter as an Apostle of Faith. And on the day of Pentecost, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter would shake himself loose from the coils of his ordinary life, and live an extraordinary existence that would turn the ancient world upside down!
Peter and the Revelation
We find this passage in Matthew 16:13-20 (NASB):
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’
“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?'”
“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'”
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.'”
“Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.”
We see here that Jesus had led his disciples north from the predominantly Jewish territory, more than likely to escape the crowds and to spend time privately with his disciples. They have journeyed some twenty-five miles (and seventeen hundred feet uphill) from the Lake of Galilee to the source of the Jordan River near the ancient city of Dan. This was the northern boundary of ancient Israel.
The area had only recently been renamed Caesarea Philippi, and it was the most paganized territory in Israel. It was famous for its grotto where people worshiped the Greek god Pan.
Jesus is not swayed by the paganism of the territory — in fact, he doesn’t even mention it. By leading his disciples to this place, we can see the theme of Jesus’ universal mission in his Gospel. This fits in to the overall message behind this interaction with Simon Peter: that Jesus is the Christ and the time had come for Him to be revealed to the world outside of Judaism – first by His death and resurrection. Then, as the Great Commission of Matthew 28 declares, He is to be revealed by the witness of these followers going into the whole world to make other disciples.
The Matthew 16 passage is a kind of “final test” for the disciples under Jesus’ tutelage. Like all students, the disciples had to pass the final exam before they were sent out into the world. Jesus had trained his followers to teach others, and therefore it was highly important that they should understand the truth themselves.
Jesus gathers his disciples on the side of this small mountain and asks the key question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Peter once again takes his role as the spokesman for the group: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Since the early part of his ministry, Jesus had avoided the word Messiah or Christ because of its political meaning to the people. But now Peter plainly calls Jesus the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Son of the God, the Living One.
This great confession of Peter shows that he and the other disciples believe in Jesus as the Messiah and are still true to him in spite of the defection of many of the other disciples. The inner circle of disciples express their conviction in the Messiahship or Christhood of Jesus as opposed to the divided opinions of the populace.
Far from correcting or rebuking Peter for his declaration, Jesus blesses him and accepts the confession as true. Thereby Jesus solemnly claims to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God — He reveals His deity at this crucial moment.
Jesus declares to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church…” (verses 17-18)
The question that is raised from this passage is, “Who is the rock that Jesus is referring to?”
Theologians provide three main interpretations:
- Peter is the rock;
- Jesus is the rock;
- The revelation that Peter receives is the rock
From the Greek we can see the meaning behind the verse. Jesus declares, “You are Petros,” which means ‘small pebble,’ “and on this Petra,” which means ‘rock’ or ‘boulder,’ “I will build my Church.”
Jesus is not saying that Peter is “the rock.” He calls him the “small pebble.” And He is not pointing to Himself in this passage, though in other parts of the Bible we see Jesus referred to as “the rock.” But in this passage, Jesus is declaring that His church will be built on “the rock of revelation” from above; that is, the revelation from God in heaven about the true identity of Jesus as the Christ.
It is by revelation through the Holy Spirit that we come to know that Jesus is, in fact, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This brings us to the point of repentance and opens the doors for us to become born again as children of God. It is through this divine interaction that each of us become Christians — and thus we are part of the Church that Jesus is building.
Later the Apostle Peter would write to the Church, “…you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 NASB)
It is likely that Peter was looking back on this intimate moment with Jesus when he declared that every believer is “small stone” that is being fit together into the Church that Christ is building!
In his commentary, Matthew Henry notes that ministers must be examined before they be sent forth, especially concerning their sentiments toward Christ, and who they say that he is; for how can they be owned as ministers of Christ, that are either ignorant or erroneous concerning Christ? “This is a question every one of us should be putting to ourselves, “Who do we say, what kind of one do we say, that the Lord Jesus is?”
Henry also points out that Christ reveals his mind to his people gradually – another element of his leadership style. “From that time, when the apostles had made the full confession of Christ, that he was the Son of God, he began to show them of his sufferings. He spoke this to set right the mistakes of his disciples about the outward pomp and power of his kingdom. Those that follow Christ, must not expect great or high things in this world. Peter would have Christ to dread suffering as much as he did; but we mistake, if we measure Christ’s love and patience by our own.”
This discourse provides a major turning point in the Gospel of Matthew. The confession and rebuke of Peter is placed just before the transfiguration of Jesus in chapter 17, indicating the end of Jesus’ Galilean Ministry and beginning of His journey to Jerusalem, and the march to his death and resurrection — the gateway to the birth of the Church!
Streams in the Desert – July 27
Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t
Prove me now (Malachi 3:10).
What is God saying here but this: “My child, I still have windows in Heaven. They are yet in service. The bolts slide as easily as of old. The hinges have not grown rusty. I would rather fling them open, and pour forth, than keep them shut, and hold back. I opened them for Moses, and the sea parted. I opened them for Joshua, and Jordan rolled back. I opened them for Gideon, and hosts fled. I will open them for you–if you will only let Me.
On this side of the windows, Heaven is the same rich storehouse as of old. The fountains and streams still overflow. The treasure rooms are still bursting with gifts. The lack is not on my side. It is on yours. I am waiting. Prove Me now. Fulfill the conditions, on your part. Bring in the tithes. Give Me a chance.
I can never forget my mother’s very brief paraphrase of Malachi 3:10. The verse begins, “Bring ye the whole tithe in,” and it ends up with “I will pour” the blessing out till you’ll be embarrassed for space. Her paraphrase was this: Give all He asks; take all He promises.”
–S. D. Gordon
The ability of God is beyond our prayers, beyond our largest prayers! I have been thinking of some of the petitions that have entered into my supplication innumerable times. What have I asked for? I have asked for a cupful, and the ocean remains! I have asked for a sunbeam, and the sun abides! My best asking falls immeasurably short of my Father’s giving: it is beyond that we can ask.
–J. H. Jowett