I admire many bible characters, but identify most with the apostle Simon Peter. Why? Because he was headstrong, brash and impulsive, and I possess those traits. He ran with his impulsive heart and, like Peter did, I have much to learn about disciplining my own impulsiveness! Looking at the life of this ordinary man who became an extraordinary disciple, I marvel: what an adventure!
Who Was Peter?
So, what do we know about this brash man? Luke, author of one of the Gospels and the book of Acts, says Peter became one of the boldest witnesses for the faith, though his beginnings were humble in origin. Let’s start with the day Simon met Jesus — a day that changed his life forever! He was working in their family’s boat, fishing with his brother Andrew. It was just another normal day, until he encountered God!
Fishermen at that time were generally unschooled, gruff, and unkempt. But an admirable thing you could say about Simon is that when Jesus told him to “follow me,” he and his brother walked away, seemingly without a second thought (see Mark 1:16-18; Luke 5:9-11 NIV). How many today would be willing to leave their businesses, their primary source of income to follow Jesus? But as Jesus said, now they were to become ‘fishers of men’!
Peter the Disciple
After Jesus called these twelve ordinary men, they traveled the countryside introducing people to the kingdom of God. Jesus gave these followers first-hand knowledge of His powers by performing miracle after miracle, even bringing the dead back to life! After seeing all of these with their own eyes, I’ve questioned: how could any of the disciples doubt Him? But, then, how can I judge them? They were so very human. Like me.
Matthew 14:25-32 records that Jesus went to a quiet place to pray and later in the evening, while they were fishing, Jesus walked across the Sea of Galilee to the disciples. What a frightening sight! In fact, the disciples believed He was a ghost. After recognizing Him, brash, impulsive Peter, whose flip-flop enthusiasm is so much like mine, says, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” Jesus responds, “Come” and immediately, Peter climbs out of the boat and walks on water toward Jesus!
But alas, seeing the fierce waves blowing, Peter became frightened and taking his eyes off Jesus he began to sink. And if I am honest, that’s exactly what I do at times. When life’s storms come, I look away from Jesus and fear sets in and I sink under the waves of my trials and tribulations. Luckily, we serve a gracious God. For what did our Lord do when Peter began to sink? He reached out His hand pulling Peter safely from the waves.
Peter the Companion
When Jesus took Peter, James and John to a mountain where He was transfigured before them, Elijah and Moses appeared. (Matthew 17:3; Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33). Immediately, Peter wanted to build tabernacles for the Old Testament prophets, at that very location. (Here again, impulsive!) “And a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!’” Now, hearing God’s voice would stop my heart! But Jesus was there to calm the nerves of Peter, James, and John. And also reassure them, that such action was not necessary.
Still, after the glory he witnessed, Peter remained unstructured. No sooner than after getting his new name (Petros – “Rock”) did Peter begin rebuking Jesus for saying He must suffer. Peter didn’t yet understand why the love of Jesus was to reach its culmination in the passion. And when Jesus told them He would be betrayed, arrested and condemned, Peter vehemently rejected the notion exclaiming: “I am ready to die for you!”
When the soldiers surrounded Jesus at Gethsemane, one of Jesus’s companions drew his sword, cutting off the ear of a servant of the High Priest. This act causes Peter to be named the swordsman in John 18:10. Jesus rebuked Peter admonishing him not to use violence. Peter seemed confused! I can imagine myself, thinking: “Lord, I’m willing to fight for you and you’re tying my hands!” When Peter perceived that his attempts are useless, he fled. Although the emotional turmoil churning inside this disciple must have been frightening and frustrating, Peter was still not yet ready to let go.
Peter the Betrayer
Peter stealthily followed his arrested teacher, insinuating himself into the courtyard near where his master was being interrogated. Why? Perhaps to see if he could still help Him at some point? We will never know, but Peter was anxious for his beloved master. He took the chance of being arrested, going as far as he did. And while the Gospels suggest that Peter was not near the crucifixion, they do tell us that after his denial Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:69-75).
I cannot watch movie scenes with the crucifixion of our Lord, so I understand why Peter could go no further. Whatever his humanness and his faithlessness, Peter deeply loved Jesus. And we know that the Lord’s plan didn’t include Peter rescuing Him.
While Jesus rested, a group of women went to the tomb to lovingly cover Jesus with fragrant spices. Now, women in these times often had little credibility, but after hearing them exclaim “the Lord has risen!” Peter immediately went running to the tomb! (Luke 24:1-12) Such an action shows us that Peter wanted to believe! And his life as a witness and writer for Christ exemplifies that even doubting disciples can become devoted apostles.
Peter the Witness
Although unschooled, Peter added an important part of the New Testament, dictating two letters to the church, “with the help of Silas” (I Peter 5:12). In his second letter, (2 Peter 1:13-15) he says: “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure, you will always be able to remember these things.” In other words, Peter left encouragement for us, while also acknowledging the prophesy of his own death.
Peter lived his life in reckless witness for Christ, and scholars of early church tradition say he died in a similar way to Jesus, likely by crucifixion at the time of the great fire of Rome in the year 64. From a headstrong, brash man, the apostle Peter became an obedient servant of the Lord rejoicing in the day he would be reunited with his beloved Savior. The lowly fisherman became a mighty fisher of men – one that helped shape the world forever.
I too, am Peter
I honestly don’t know whether I would have the strength for martyrdom because I’ve never faced anything of that magnitude. I pray our Lord gives me strength to rise should I ever come face to face with such a call. But ‘taking up our cross’ doesn’t always mean a martyr’s death. Jesus also calls us to crucify “self” and teach the Good News of salvation to others. Even this is a struggle, but God knows that I love Him and I hope, when I see Him, He will open His arms and say: “Come to Me, My child.” What a prize to look forward to – eternity with Jesus!
In no way am I attempting to glorify Peter. Jesus is ‘the beginning and the end’! Lord of all Lords! My prayer is that in highlighting the story of Peter we all might reflect on our own spiritual weaknesses. Yes, I identify with Peter — rash, reckless, impulsive, devoted Peter. I am like Peter — not to brag of his strengths, but rather to brag on his weaknesses! So that just like him the strength of God can be made perfect in them. Thank you for grace, Lord!