Peter’s story contained moments that shook him out of self-confidence and deep conviction and into emotional episodes of fear and indecision. You can compare his life to a seismic graph that shows times of relative stability marked by occasional quakes and tremors that helped to define his life and bring him into a deeper awareness of his spiritual need.
The Man and the Messiah
Peter’s spiritual journey began, or at least changed dramatically when he was introduced to the long-awaited Messiah.
John the Baptist had been preaching his message of repentance and had gathered a number of followers. But then he began to turn their focus away from himself to Jesus of Nazareth. He wanted to make it clear that Jesus, not John, was the promised Messiah.
Then the day came when John saw Jesus walking toward him, and he proclaimed “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The day after that, one of John’s disciples a Galilean fisherman by the name of Andrew, heard John the Baptist refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God”. Andrew began to follow Jesus, and then he brought his brother Simon to meet the teacher he believed to be the Messiah.
“One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas'” (John 1: 40-42)
Cephas is Aramaic for the Greek name Petros, which literally means “rock” or “stone”. In this announcement, Jesus did more than giving Simon a nickname, He changed his name in anticipation of what He would later do with Peter.
A stone or a rock is a picture of stability. But the name Jesus gave Simon seems to conflict not only with his personality but also with some of the events of Peter’s life over the next three years. In comparing Peter to fireworks, one writer said that Peter was not like a sparkler or a smoke bomb, he was like a rocket with a faulty fuse. He was too rough, too outspoken, and too underqualified.
That didn’t stop Jesus and Jesus called him. Simon was not a man who would be quietly tucked in on the fringes of Jesus’s followers. He was high maintenance. Which sounds a lot like us today as followers of Christ. Though unpolished, untrained, and uneducated, he would become the spokesman of a group that would turn the world upside down.
With all his faults, Peter may be the easiest disciple for us to relate to. The Scriptures make his life an open book by describing not only his strengths and successes but also his unexpected failures that rocked him to the core.
Simon Peter was erratic, impulsive, and brash. Whenever he entered the scene, it was with a crash and a thud. Something that should give us all hope.
Reflection – Jesus saw something in Peter that others may have missed. What could Jesus be seeing in each of us that we need to bring out in our lives so we can serve Him better?
Shaken by the Power of Christ
In Luke 5 we find Simon Peter so shaken by a new encounter with Jesus that it led to a seismic shift in his thinking. This is a fish story of monumental proportions, and it would awaken in Simon Peter a new appreciation for who this Man was, the One he had begun to follow.
A Call for Peter’s Involvement
“So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; But the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon Peter’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.” (Luke 5: 1-3)
The scene is the “Lake of Gennesarer” or the Sea of Galilee. The crowds were gathering to hear Jesus teach, and a small group of fishermen were also there cleaning their nets after a long night of fishing.
Fishing today is for sport and relaxation mainly, but for a lot in first-century Galilee, fishing was about survival. On this occasion, the boats and nets had been empty all night. In that setting, Jesus focused on one of the boats and its owner, Simon Peter.
This was not the Teacher’s first contact with Peter. Prior to this, Peter had become a nominal follower of Jesus. But now the Messia was laying claim on all that Pete was, and He began by using what little Peter had.
Jesus sat down to teach, using Simon’s boat as a pulpit, and for Simon, what was about to happen would so shake his world that Luke would later record, “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!'”
What was it that would bring Peter to this point? The events leading up to that moment deserve some thoughtful attention.
An Indication of Jesus’s Identity
“When Jesus had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ But Simon answered and said to Him, ‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nvertheless at Your word I will let down the net.’ And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.”
Jesus finished His teaching, then turned to Simon, who was a captive audience at the time. His instructions to Simon to launch out into the deep and let down your nets come across more like an order than a suggestion. And those instructions ran contrary to everything Simon knew about fishing, In the Sea of Galilee, fishing was done at night near the shore, not in the daytime out in the deep. So it’s understandable that Simon would respond with an argument. For Jesus to expect such an action after a long, frustrating night must have seemed unreasonable. However, Jesus doesn’t give impossible commands, a truth Peter discovered after he finally obeyed.
This is an important step in Peter’s growth. It seems he initially questioned Christ’s commands when he said what he said. But then the text shows him finally obeying the commands. He did what he was told, even though all his professional skills told him it was a royal waste of time. Notice here Peter calls Jesus, “Master” this shows that Peter knew who was in charge, so he responded to the word of Christ and obeyed, even though he couldn’t comprehend how it would make a difference.
An Awareness of Personal Frailty
“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ For he and all who were with him wereastonished at the catch of fish which they had taken.” (Luke 5: 8-9)
Simon’s immediate response was not about all the fish he had just caught but about the One who had accomplished it. He realized that he was in the presence of the Creator. Certainly the Christ who spoke the universe into existence had no trouble in getting a few fish together to display His majesty to this poor, overwhelmed fisherman. So Peter recognized that he was in the presence of God, and he was astonished because what had transpired was beyond reason, description, or explanation. Only God could have done it.
Peter’s response was his way of saying “I’m not worth it, LOord. Give up on me. I failed You when You called me before, and I will fail You again. Call someone worth Your time and trouble. Call someone You can trust. Give me up. I’m a sinful man.”
But Christ’s love would not let him go. He was prepared to do whatever it took to make Simon Peter into a rock. Jesus invited Simon Peter on an adventure of faith that would radically transform his entire life.
Peter’s journey had begun. He had been shaken by the power of Christ. He had felt his weakness. And he had sensed his need for One so much greater than himself. He had met the One to whom later generations would sing about.
Reflection – Peter’s powerful statement. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” should resonate with us as well. How does our recognition of our sinfulness help us in our desire to serve Christ?
Shaken by Distraction
Peter would slowly learn to follow Christ, he would discover what it means to be shaken by distractions. Matthew gave us the details in chapter 14. Jesus and His men had been engaged in a long and wearying day of ministry. As the night drew near, Christ let His disciples know that He needed some time alone.
As Jesus used the moments of solitude to commune with His Father, His men began making their way across the Sea of Galilee by boat. That’s when another amazing event happened.
“In the fourth watch of the night Jews went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid'” (Matthew 14: 25-27)
The disciples were terrified by the dim, hard to see the appearance of someone on the water, so they began to cry out. At the very least, they were disturbed to see something as bizarre as this, and they may have even feared for their own safety.
These may not have been well-educated men but they were experienced fishermen and they knew the water. And they knew that people just aren’t capable of walking on water. It’s not just improbable; it’s impossible.
Yet there He was, calling out to them not to be afraid. At this point, Peter acted true to form. Impulsively, he took Jesus’s reassuring words not only literally but also to the extreme. He let Jesus know that he wanted to experience walking on the water for himself!
Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But we all know the story, even though Peter stepped out of the boat boldly, Peter would soon sink like a rock. Even though he did sink, we can’t ignore the amazing reality of that moment, for just a moment, Peter did walk on water. That moment was Peter at his best, trusting totally in Christ and then acting on that trust. Unlike Moses who walked through the water, Peter actually walked on water. He was able to do this because he gave himself completely to his Creator for a moment. Peter was fine until he started wondering whether he should be doing something like this in the middle of a storm.
Once Peter allowed a little bit of doubt into the picture, he was suddenly shaken by the realization that he was walking on the water in the middle of a storm. He suddenly became distracted and then stopped looking at his Lord. Once he lost his focus, he began to sink like a rock under the waves of the sea.
There is a leson here for all of us. It shows that if we get distracted and lose our focus on Jesus, our lives can become disjointed and filled with confusion. Peter failed to focus on the Savior because he was distracted by his circumstance, the same way we often handle things in our lives. We try to handle it on our own taking our focus off of Christ and we drown under the waves of the sea of life.
Reflection – What can take us from being known for having little faith to being known for having great faith?