By Julian Wells
“The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:41-42)
Of all the original disciples, Peter is perhaps my favorite. I see qualities in his personality that I often wish were more ingrained in my own. Those who know me and have interacted with me through the years would likely describe me as quiet, introverted, and contemplative – someone who often overanalyzes a situation before taking action. My wife informs me that her first impression was that I was “stuck up”.
Peter was none of those things. Peter was impulsive, often speaking or acting before fully thinking things through. He did not hesitate to say what was on his mind – a trait which sometimes made him the target of Jesus’ rebukes. During Jesus’ public ministry, Peter served as the de facto spokesman for the disciples.
When Jesus asked his disciples in Matt. 16:13 “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, it was Peter who proclaimed “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It was Peter who said what I’m sure the others were thinking when Christ told them of his impending crucifixion, “Lord, this shall never happen to you!” (Matt. 16:22), drawing a stinging rebuke from the Lord. It was Peter who confidently declared “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will. …Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Matt. 26:33 -35) But then it was also Peter who later lied when confronted at Christ’s trial, “I don’t know the man!” (Matt. 26:74)
But not only was Peter quick to speak, he was also a man of action. When Jesus called him to become a fisher of men, he didn’t hesitate – he took immediate action. When he saw Jesus walking on the water, Peter was the one who left the boat to walk with him. When the crowd came to take Jesus, it was Peter who drew his sword to prevent it. And it was Peter who arrived first at the tomb when the women reported to the disciples that Jesus’ body was missing.
John tells us that before Peter was Peter, he was Simon, brother of Andrew. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, but followed Jesus without hesitation when John pointed to Christ as the “Lamb of God”. The first thing Andrew did was find Simon and bring him to Jesus. According to John, Jesus’ first words to Simon were, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas.” (John 1:42)
Cephas is the Aramaic name for rock; Petros (or Peter) is the Greek equivalent. If our knowledge of Peter were limited to the gospel accounts, it would be hard to justify changing Simon’s name to be synonymous with rock. While he walked with Jesus, Peter was often anything but. He started to sink like a rock when he tried to walk on water. Peter talked a good game, but his actions didn’t always match his rhetoric.
So what did Jesus see that others didn’t? … He saw Peter’s future. God always sees our future. He knows our potential. Peter is perhaps the best Biblical illustration that God knows us better than we know ourselves. When Peter confidently proclaimed in the Upper Room on the night of Jesus’ arrest that he was ready to die with Christ, he likely believed that with all his heart. But Jesus knew that before that long night would be over, Peter would disown him three times. (John 13:37-38)
When God looks at us, he sees beyond our present to our potential and our future. He knows the plans he has for us (Jer. 29:11), and he’s always working things together to fulfill those plans. (Rom. 8:28) God had great plans for Peter, who would become known as a “pillar” of the early church. (Gal. 2:9) In that sense, he was that rock upon which Jesus said He would build His church. (Matt. 16:18) Jesus foresaw Peter preach that amazing message on the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, which resulted in an influx of 3,000 new believers.
He might have denied Christ after His arrest, but after he encountered the resurrected Lord, he never denied Him again. He was imprisoned numerous times for preaching the gospel and healing people in the name of Christ. When challenged by the Sanhedrin for those activities, Peter boldly replied “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29)
Did Peter continue to suffer failures? … Absolutely! … Don’t we all? But just as I’m glad that my wife’s first impression of me did not define our future together, I’m overjoyed that in spite of my long and often halting and erratic faith journey, God never lost sight of my potential. He continued to mold me more into the image of his Son and used me in ways I would never have imagined when he first called me to himself … especially considering how different he made me compared to a man called Peter.
“I may not be the man I want to be; I may not be the man I ought to be; I may not be the man I could be; I may not be the man I truly can be; but praise God, I’m not the man I once was!” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV).