Simon Peter, how can we help but love him? Delightful in his spontaneity. Likable in his gregariousness. Transparent and enthusiastic. Quick to act, and react. So sure of himself, yet at times timid and even cowardly. There is something genuine and endearing about Peter and his ways.
Simon Peter, with his transparent humanity, is the disciple with whom many of us most identify. Full of contradictions, he was ready to serve, yet often presumptuous. So quick to defend and jump to the rescue. And to get himself into fixes.
We know little apart from the Gospel accounts, but he has generally been presented as a tallish, thick-set man with weatherd complexion and thick dark curly hair and beard. As the typical fisherman of humble origins that he was. Born in Bethsaida (the house of fish), his father Jonah fished for a living, as did his brother Andrew. And together with their partners, Zebedee and his sons James and John, they fished the sea of Galilee.
Simon answers the call.
When we read of Simon, Andrew, James, and John leaving everything to follow Christ, in Matthew 4, it can seem as though they followed nearly sight unseen. But upon closer examination we see that they had already spent time with Christ, walking along and learning. And even attended the wedding of Cana together in John 2.
The cost of following, though high, was a calculated one. They knew what they were doing, and even more importantly, who they were following.
Christ was already their rabbi and teacher, and as such held great influence over their lives, a fact manifested by Peter’s name change. In biblical culture, changing someone’s name meant that person held a position of influence in the other’s life. Think of God changing Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Daniel becoming Belteshazzar.
From Simon the reed to Peter the rock.
The names Simon and Peter both reveal a lot about the man, and the plan Christ envisioned for his life. A plan to change him from a wavy vacillating reed of a man to a strong disciple with a rock solid faith.
But the apostle, at first, seemed anything but rock-like.
He needed to grow beyond the underlying character which matched his birth name. For in many ways Simon personified that name. Like a reed, he stood straight and tall, ready to fight for his beliefs or defend those he loved. Yet he was also vacillating, unsteady, and quick to change, like a reed waving in the wind.
He had great faith, but often applied it impulsively.
- Impetuously stepping out on the water, only to quickly doubt, Matthew 14.
- Earning the Lord’s praise by declaring that he was the Christ. Only to be censured for rebuking the Lord for foretelling his own suffering and death, Matthew 16.
- Bravely vowing to die before he would deny Christ, even cutting a man’s ear off in his defence his Lord. Then cowardly running off during the arrest, and denying him during the trial, John 18, Matthew 26.
Yet Peter was also tenderhearted and affectionate.
As quick to repent as he was to impulsively jump in or presume.
- Refusing to let the Lord wash his feet at the last supper – then repenting and begging to have his hands and head washed too! John 13.
- And after betraying Christ he went out and wept bitterly, Luke 22.
All in all, he was a man of strange contradictions.
- Self-sacrificing, he left all to follow Christ, Mark 1.
- Yet inclined to be self-seeking, he wondered what his reward would be for having done so, Matthew 19.
But it wasn’t until his baptism at Pentecost that he became the rock Christ intended him to become.
With newfound wisdom and maturity, he wisely took the lead in finding a replacement for Judas. And by Acts 2 he had become a strong and mighty preacher with a powerful message. And one who refused to stop preaching the Good News, even when threatened. Acts 4.
From a wavering reed, the lowly fisherman had become a rock solid and influential apostle.
A solid pillar of the church and leader of the apostles, strong and immovably declaring, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard,” and “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:28-29.
Historians tell us that by the time of Peter’s death almost all the apostles had been martyred. And they also state that in fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy in John 21:18, Peter was indeed was stretched out by his hands, dressed in prison garb, and taken where no one wanted to go. It is said that he requested to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same way that the Lord had been.
The vacillating reed had become a rock strong apostle. One who rejoiced at being counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s name. And who never stopped teaching and preaching that name until the day of his death.
The lowly fisherman who became a great fisher of men.
And if Christ could change Peter that much, then he can also help us become strong in him too!