Andrew and his brother Peter are fishing on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus asks them to follow him (Mt. 4:18). Peter is also referred to as “Simon Zelotes” - one who is zealous for God (Lk. 6:15). The Lord calls him (Cephas) “a rock” (Jn. 1:42). This is an indication He is aware of Peter’s need for spiritual development. His raw material is eventually molded into a disciple who becomes steady as a stone.

In every list of apostles, he tops the list (Mt. 10:2; Mk. 3:16 & Lk. 6:14). Peter is referenced 250 times throughout the New Testament. His name appears second only to Jesus in these 27 books. When Peter is mentioned in the Gospels, he is always with Jesus. It is His daily influence on Peter, what Jesus does and says both in public and in private, that molds his character.


Many who examine the character of Peter mislabel him as an unstable individual. It is true he is complex. We often find him quick to speak or act before thinking. He is pictured as strong willed, aggressive, impulsive, hopeful, forthright, bold, confident, courageous, and energetic.

Throughout the four Gospels, we find it is Peter with whom Jesus converses most often. Peter asks far more questions than any other disciple. For example:

~ “Why cannot I follow you right now?” (Jn. 13:37)
~ “Lord, is it I who will betray you?”  (Mt. 26:22)
~ “Lord, is this parable just for us or is it for everyone?” (Lk. 12:41)
~ “To who else should be pay heed? You alone have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68)
~ “Lord, what does the future hold for John?” (Jn. 21:21)
~ “What is our reward for forsaking everything?” (Mt. 19:27)
~“Should I forgive my brother seven times?” (Mt. 18:21-22)

Were it not for Peter’s questions, we would not have the deep truths imbedded in Jesus’ responses.

Peter is observant. He notices the withered fig tree Jesus curses the day before (Mk. 11:21). Peter’s remarks prompt Jesus to teach on faith and forgiveness (v. 22-27). Simon Peter is also inquisitive. He asks for further clarification regarding the parable regarding stewardship (Lk. 12:41). He wants Jesus to further explain His remark concerning the blind leading the blind (Mt. 14:28).

After an unsuccessful night of fishing, Jesus instructs Peter to cast out his net and a multitude of fish were caught (Lk. 5:4-7). Jesus preaches to the people on the shore from Peter’s boat (Mt. 4:18 & Lk. 5:3). We know Peter is married, for Jesus heals his mother-in-law (Mt. 8:14-15). Paul affirms Peter has a wife (I Cor. 9:5).

FELLOWSHIPPING WITH THE SON OF GOD

Peter is corrected or rebuked by Jesus on more than one occasion. When Peter suggests Jesus’ sacrifice is not a good idea, He tells him his remark is demonic in origin (Mt. 16:23; Mk. 8:33 & Lk. 4:8). On the Mount of Transfiguration Peter is rebuffed by the Father’s voice from heaven when Peter suggests three monuments be built to memorialize the occasion (Lk. 9:28).

Jesus seeks to channel his zeal. Rather than allow Peter and the others to be spectators, the Lord gets them involved. When tax money is needed, Jesus instructs Peter to go fishing. He says the first fish you catch has a coin in its mouth sufficient to pay all our taxes. Peter is not told where to fish or what bait to use. No statement may seem less logical…but it is a test of obedience (Mt. 17:27). Few could imagine the expression on Peter’s face when he opens the mouth of that fish.

Toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus washes His disciple’s feet (Jn. 13:8). Peter protests and says it is he who should be washing Jesus’ feet. The Lord indicates He is simply exemplifying the direct involvement all Believers should have in the lives of others.

It is Peter to whom Jesus entrusts the “keys of the kingdom” (Mt. 16:19). This metaphor validates Jesus will build His kingdom on imperfect human beings such as Peter. The Lord takes time to develop each one of us.

WALKING ON THE WAVES

Perhaps the most famous of all the incidents in the life of Peter is his walk on the lake. Jesus gives the disciples a specific task - row to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (Mt. 14:22). Jesus then departs to a nearby mountain to pray (Mk. 6:48). In this perfect short story are elements of danger, fear, reassurance, doubt, salvation, and worship (Mk. 6 & Jn. 6). Although Christ knows the storm is coming, He does not tell them about it. Faith cannot be tested in a harbor: only in a storm.

Meanwhile, Jesus is still on the mountainside. This fact cannot be separated from the scene on the lake. “He sees them toiling as they are rowing” (Mk. 6:48). The Lord does not forget us when we encounter the storms of life. He is never estranged from our problems, but in His perfect timing arrives to build our faith. Contrary winds never bother Jesus.

John mentions they have rowed about halfway, meaning they are at least three miles from shore. Their boat is in the middle of the lake - the worse possible spot to be in a storm (Jn. 6:19). To make matters worse, this takes place “in the fourth watch of the night” between 3 and 6 AM.

Fearing the appearance of Jesus may be an apparition or evil spirit, the disciples cry out in fear. We often fail to recognize Jesus when we are in the middle of a crisis (v. 27). However, Jesus reassures them, “It is I, be not afraid” (v. 28). There is a radical contrast between the disciple’s apprehensions and the calmness of Christ.

Peter believes the individual they see is actually Jesus but wants definitive proof. He says, “Lord, if it’s really you, bid me come to you on the water” (Mt. 14:22). Peter steps out in faith on one word from Jesus: “Come” (v. 29).

Some translations imagine Peter is asking for verification it is really Christ. But the Greek renders it “because it is you allow me to come to you on the water.” Peter seems to comprehend that if Jesus can stand on the waves, he can too. Peter does not say, “Since it is you, I can walk to you on the water.” He respectfully asks permission to come and does not venture out until Jesus calls him. Before leaving the comparative safety of the boat, he awaits Jesus’ consent. The Lord knows Peter’s motives.

In this narrative, we are struck by Peter’s initial boldness and courage. His faith is strong enough to compel him to leave the boat but not strong enough to face the storm much longer. Jesus wants us to step out in faith only on His terms and in His timing. Peter walks on the waves because he has his eyes on Jesus rather than on the weather. When he takes note of the seemingly impossible circumstances surrounding him, he begins to sink.

Note how quickly Peter’s request, “Lord, allow me to come” changes to “Lord, save me!” It is possible to doubt even as miraculous things are happening around us (Mt. 14:28-30). Things may seem alright until we look at the storm instead of Jesus. Our safety depends upon keeping our eyes on Him rather than circumstances. Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, we find Jesus calming a storm while He is in a boat (Mt. 8:27). Here He calms a storm as He steps into a boat.

Jesus does not praise Peter for his faith, but rather rebukes him for his lack of it (Mt. 14:31). James tells us that “he who doubts is like a wind-tossed wave” (Jas. 1:6). Though Jesus may rescue an individual from troubled waters, correction may still be necessary. Jesus interacts with Peter as the storm continues to rage. “O man of little faith: why do you waver?” Jesus is in the business of building our faith. To do this, He helps resolve our doubts. Jesus’ words are directed to Peter rather than those in the boat, for the rest exercised even less faith. Jesus seeks to teach His disciples they are safe when they rely on Him.

A point often overlooked is not that Peter begins to sink but that they both walk back to boat together. Jesus saves Peter before they head for the ship because a man-made vessel offers no safety. It should be noted that the storm continues and does not cease until they are both on board (Mt. 8:32).

The Lord’s remarks are intended to allow Peter to see the flaws in his faith. Peter is saved because Jesus reaches out to him. This is a snapshot of God’s plan of salvation. It is at the point of desperation He hears our cry and extends His mercy to us.

The lesson here is more about what Jesus does and says rather than what Peter says and does. Whether Jesus is in your boat or outside of it, He can control any situation that threatens to overwhelm you. Jesus does not remain on the mountain but gets directly involved with the tempest you are facing. 

When Jesus and Peter reach the boat three things happen:

~ The disciples confess Jesus as the Son of God (v. 33). It is amazing how quickly our fears can turn to worship.
~ The storm completely abates. For Jesus to calm this tempest earlier would have served no purpose.
~They are immediately at the shore (Jn. 6:21). This is another aspect of the miracle: after rowing all night, they only make it halfway. Even though Jesus instructs them to row across the lake, all their best efforts do not get them to their destination. Only after Jesus steps on board can we arrive safely.

THE TRUSTWORTHY TRIO

Peter, James, and John seem to form the “inner-circle” of Jesus:

~ They are all with Jesus when He raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Lk. 8:51).
~ They are with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration (Lk. 9:2).
~ They go further than the others in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray with Jesus (Mk. 14:33).

It is interesting that of all the disciples, these are the three who write New Testament books.

On the night He is betrayed, Jesus moves deeper into the garden alone. When He returns to Peter, James, and John He finds them asleep. Of these three, He singles out Peter to ask, “Could you not even pray with me for an hour?” (Mt. 26:40).

THE DENIAL

Peter swears he will never deny the Lord and adds he is willing to go to prison and even die for Him (Lk. 22:33). Jesus tells him the rooster will not crow twice before he denies Him thrice. This is recorded in all four Gospels (Mt. 26:34; Mk. 14:30; Lk. 22:34; & Jn.18:25-27).

When Jesus is arrested, it is impetuous Peter who cuts off the ear of Malchus (Jn. 18:10). Though it seems he is ready to fight the entire Roman army singlehandedly, in a few hours he will not admit he knows Jesus. Later that night we find him hiding for his life with the other disciples (Lk. 22:33-34).

Three different individuals accuse Peter of being a follower of Jesus. He becomes increasingly angry and defensive (Lk. 22:57-60). The third time he denies he knows Him; Luke records the Lord “looks” (emblepo) at Peter. Emblepo is “to behold intently.” It means the Lord sees through Peter. That gaze must have broken his heart, for Peter’s response is to depart and weep profusely (Lk. 22:62). 

“Would I Deny Him?”   

He said I would deny Him,
But I knew this could not be;
He said I’d turn my back on Him
And from His presence flee.

I said I’d die before I’d do it:
On this point He must be wrong!
That I’d rather go to prison
Then join that cowardly throng.

But while He was mocked and spat upon
That night in the judgment hall;
I warmed my hands by the soldier’s fire
Because my faith was very small.

They accused me of being with Him –
That with Jesus I had walked!
But I said they were mistaken –
While inside my Lord was mocked.

At last a maiden came
To accuse me to my face;
But I could only vow and swear
To cover my disgrace.

They brought Him from the courtroom
And dragged Him into the night.
When He looked through me, it broke
    my heart,
For I knew He had been right.

In my hour of temptation
Will I, too, tremble and cower….
Or will I stand and proclaim His Name
In Pentecostal power? 
                        - Dr. John Knoles, 1991

Although Peter fears for his own life in the garden, he is the first man to see Christ after His resurrection. Peter and John run to the empty tomb after Mary Magdalene tells them He is alive (Lk. 24:12). Later she informs the other disciples, “The Lord has arisen and has appeared to Peter” (v. 34). This encounter is so private no details are recorded. It seems certain Jesus has this personal interview to restore and reassure Peter. Before His crucifixion, the Lord tells Peter He has prayed for him that his faith will not fail (Lk. 22:31). Though his courage did fail him during Jesus’ trial, the rest of his life verifies that his faith never does.

AFTER THE RESURRECTION

The disciples are in Peter’s boat and Jesus is on the shore. When Peter learns it is Jesus, he dives overboard and swims to greet Him (Jn. 21:7-13). There Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him (v.15). Peter is grieved (lypeo) - a word that means “to be distressed, grieved, and sorrowful” (v.17). In that moment, Peter may have been recalling that he had denied the Lord thrice.

PETER IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Peter experiences dynamic success in his ministry after he receives the Holy Spirit. He is specifically named as being present in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:13). He boldly preaches and verifies Joel’s prophecy concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (2:17). He boldly calls men to repentance (2:38). Three thousand are born again as a result (2:41).

As the Book of Acts unfolds, we find Peter involved in a number of miracles. He raises the lame man at the Beautiful Gate, then explains to the onlookers the real power behind this man’s healing is Jesus Christ (Acts 3:6). Just weeks after Peter denies the Lord, he is accusing the Pharisees of denying Jesus is the Messiah (3:14).

Peter suffers for Christ and is in prison more than once (Acts 4:3). This apostle may have been somewhat unrefined, but none can deny he has spent a lot of time with Jesus (v.13). It is Peter who rebukes Ananias for lying to the Holy Spirit (5:3-9) and chastises Simon the Sorcerer for attempting to purchase spiritual gifts (8:20). Peter raises Tabitha from the dead (9:40). Herod has Peter arrested, but he is miraculously freed from jail by angelic intervention (12:3-18).

Until Saul’s radical conversion in chapter nine, Peter appears to be the sole leader in the Church. It is Peter with whom Paul spends two weeks immediately following his conversion (Gal. 1:18). Although Peter continues to be active in the ministry, he tends to fade into obscurity as Paul rises to prominence.

Peter has some difficulty understanding how Gentiles fit into God’s plan of salvation (Acts 11:5-17). He is given a vision which helps him understand God loves every human being. Our final glimpse of Peter in Acts is his validation of the total equality of Jews and Gentiles in the sight of God (15:7-9). He is convinced of God’s inclusiveness because non-Jews are being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:9-46).

Peter continues to wrestle for awhile with racial equality. At some point during Paul’s ministry, Peter is found eating kosher foods with the Jews and non-kosher food with the Gentiles. While Paul acknowledges Peter is a leader in the Church, he rebukes him publically for this vacillation (Gal. 2:9-11). Because there is no record that Peter responds to Paul’s remarks, it must be assumed he accepts his correction. Peter later refers to Paul as “our beloved brother” (II Pet. 3:15).

HIS EPISTLES

The ambivalent and impetuous Simon Peter we saw in the Gospels grows into a stable individual who is qualified to write about love, holiness, wisdom, productivity, and self-control. In his two letters, he humbly refers to himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:1 & II Pet. 1:1).

The style of his epistles is vivid and energetic. In his first letter, He encourages the Church during an era of persecution. Central themes include our need for patience and hope amid adverse circumstances and the relationship of suffering to salvation. He teaches the proper response to unfair treatment - setting forth Jesus as our supreme example.

Dynamic doctrines such as soteriology, eschatology, and ecclesiology are laced with tenderness and empathy. Peter’s theology is flawless. He stresses submission to God’s will and unswerving loyalty to Christ. Since the day Peter receives the Holy Spirit, he never stops referring to Him:

~ “Holy living is produced by the Spirit” (I Pet. 1:2).
~ “Love for others is a work of the Spirit (I Pet. 1:22).
~ “Vibrant Christian living is generated by the Spirit” (I Pet. 3:18).


In his second letter, Peter teaches that a more complete knowledge of Christ is the only safeguard against the prevalent heresies promoted by false teachers. Such seductive men are greedy, egotistical, cynical, immoral, and insubordinate. Peter urges his readers to self-examination regarding perseverance, godliness, kindness, and steadfastness. He affirms the timeless truths of the Gospel are keys to perpetual spiritual growth. The apostle promotes hope by reminding them of Jesus’ eminent return.

HIS DEATH

At one point in Jesus’ ministry Peter tells Him he is willing to lay down his life for Him. In the end, he does just that. Peter is the only disciple specifically told about the circumstances of his death. “When you are old, you will be led where you do not want to go” (Jn. 20:18).

We have no record of Peter’s death except the traditional one found in church history. As He is departing the city of Rome at age 75, an angel appears to him. “Where are you going?” the angel asks. “I’m leaving for I fear for my life”, says Peter. “Now is the time,” the angel replies. Peter then walks back into Rome to be captured, condemned, and martyred. At his own request, he asks to be crucified upside down, for he deems himself unworthy to be crucified right-side up as his Lord was.

Jesus had nicknamed Peter “The Rock” (Petra) but becoming so is the result of a long process. The life of Peter is the story of a strong heart gradually being brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew from the beginning what Peter would finally become. He foresaw his latent qualities of faithfulness, courage, and humility.

If anyone would accuse Peter of having faults, he would confess it is true. Although he has a few imperfections, having cold heart is not one of them. He is the first disciple to adamantly declare Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Mt. 16:16 & Jn. 6:69).

As an aging apostle, Peter’s parting words in his last letter reflect his heart. “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in His steps” (I Pet. 2:21). His final exhortation is that we may continue to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18).

Had Peter not stepped out of his boat that day on the Sea of Galilee, no one would have blamed him. But if he had not taken the outstretched hand of Jesus, few would have remembered him.


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