I have always believed with all the disciples of Jesus Christ I could most identify with is Peter. I can relate to him simply because he not only was an ordinary man called to ministry, but he was a man who often did some extraordinary things and then in the next moment did something and messed up so badly or said some bone-headed thing that he received a rebuke or chastisement. Yeah, I can relate.
Today we are going to look at the life of the Apostle Peter as we continue our series Ordinary Rebels. We will look at the many aspects of Peters life that made him one of the most memorable, in my opinion, of all the disciples and Apostles. We will look at where he came from, his call to ministry, his successes, his failures, and his influence in the Church and Christianity in general.
Peter the man
Let us begin with looking at Peter the man. He was born in a fishing village in Galilee named Bethsaida. His given birth name was Simon Bar Jonah, which means Simon son of John. He is also known as Cephas or Petros (Rock) He was the brother of Andrew who was a disciple of John the Baptist and he is the one who introduced Peter to Jesus. He and his brother were fishermen by trade and according to Mark 1:29-31 he was married. We are told when Jesus came to Peter’s home (which some have suggested Jesus lived with him) Peter’s mother-in-law was sick and Jesus healed her. “And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” We are also told in 1 Corinthians 9:5 that Peter’s wife accompanied him on multiple mission trips. “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” Extrabiblical traditions speak of him having children and that he was present when his wife was martyred.
Peter’s Conversion & Call
Simon/Peter comes to faith in Christ when his brother Andrew introduces Him to Jesus. (Read John 1:42) In his encounter with Jesus, he calls him, to come and follow and become one of his disciples and immediately they left everything and followed him. In his meeting with Simon Jesus changes his name to Cephas (Petros, Peter or rock). This is significant because from the moment Jesus meets and calls Peter, he has a plan for his life. Fast forward to the Gospel of Matthew 16 and Jesus is talking to his disciples and asks them, “Who do people say I am?” they replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then he asks more specifically, “Who do you say I am?” to which Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” We read Jesus’ response in verse 17, “And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This is God’s plan and purpose for Peter, he will become the foundation of the Church that Jesus will establish through him, and the gates of hell cannot and will not prevail against this foundation.
Peter the Zealot
Now, one would think that since Peter is Jesus’ chosen guy for establishing His Church that he chose him because he was a man who was self-controlled, bold in his faith, and confident in who he was in Christ. This was not the case. He had some issues with his self-control. I often think of Peter as a person who was more of a “Ready, fire, aim” than he was a “Ready, aim, fire” kind of person. There were times when Peter’s enthusiasm or zeal for the Lord was so hot that he did some outrageous things. One example is in Matthew 26:47 – 56 Jesus is betrayed by Judas and a crowd of people from the chief priests and elders came with swords and clubs. When the crowd proceeded to take Jesus into custody Peter lashes out and cuts of the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus rebukes Peter and says, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
Peter in his zeal for the Lord reacts out of instinct to protect the Savior, who does not need protecting. In his lack of self-control, he does not respond in a manner that is becoming of a follower of Christ and injures someone because of this lack of control. After Jesus rebukes him, the disciples flee out of fear.
How can we forget the fact that Peter walked on water??? (Matthew 14:22 – 33) We often read this story and think “poor overzealous Peter… he didn’t have enough faith to walk on water.” Think about it though when Jesus tells Peter to get out of the boat and walk towards him on water, he doesn’t hesitate, he jumps out and starts walking on water… If only for a moment. Eventually Peter realizes what he is doing, and fear overtakes him, and he begins to sink in the water. But can we really criticize Peter for his momentary lapse of faith? There are only two people we know who have walked on water… Jesus and Peter. You may think, yeah but he didn’t have enough faith to stay afloat. My response is, “have you ever walked on water?” I didn’t think so.
In as much as Peter was overzealous and enthusiastic for Jesus, he was also ashamed of and afraid to associate with Him at the trial and execution of Jesus as he denies any relation with Jesus Christ… He denies not once, not twice, but three times! And the third time he fervently denies as he says, “A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed.” It is hard to believe that a man so zealous for his savior only a mere few hours previous is now denying his savior so vigorously. Again, we can look down our noses in disgust at what Peter did and how he had the audacity to do what he did, but we do forget, this denial had to happen in so that the prophecy Jesus made earlier that evening would come to pass. “Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
The life of Peter, however, does not end on this sour note of denial. After the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection He appears to Peter and asks him a pointed question… “Do you love me?” (Read John 21:15 – 19) This threefold challenge to Peter seems to be designed to parallel Peter’s three denials. This post resurrection meeting is often viewed as Jesus’ restoration of Peter to ministry and in his faith.
In verse 15 Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” The question we can ask is Who/what are ‘These’? Does Peter love Jesus more than the fishing nets, boats, fish (occupation). If in fact Peter did abandon his commission (which I personally don’t think) is his love for Jesus more than his love/need for his occupation?
Is he referring to the other disciples? Is Peter’s love for Jesus more than the disciples? Is his love for these men he would consider his brothers more than his love for Jesus?
Is he saying is your lover for me greater than the other disciples assuming they were present? This is the most likely meaning behind the question
The command of Jesus is simple and straight forward… he says, “If you love me, then feed my sheep.” This is a command and commission for believers today. If we love Jesus, then we will not only share the Gospel, but we will continually help one another grow in our faith and to disciple those who are growing in their faith.
In verses 18 & 19 Jesus brings to light the solemn prophecy of Peter’s death. Ancient tradition goes that Peter was martyred years later by being tied to a cross and crucified upside down. John tells us that in Peter’s death he would glorify God. “Follow me” These are the same words Jesus uses to call Peter and thus by speaking to Peter it is believed he is fully restored to his place as an apostle.
“The fact that Peter was clearly forgiven by Jesus and given new responsibilities, amounting to apostleship, despite his total denial of his Lord, can give genuine hope to Christians today who feel that they have denied Jesus and that this is unforgiveable. He calls only for our repentance and our love.”
Peter the Apostle
Regardless of his successes and flaws in life Peter goes on to be an influential Apostle of the Church. He was one of the first disciples to witness the empty tomb. He met with Jesus post resurrection to be forgiven and commissioned to go out make disciples. He was present at Pentecost, and he was the one who delivered the message describing what was happening and preaching the Gospel that resulted in thousands of people becoming believers that very day. He was one of the first people to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. Peter received his vision from the Lord letting him know that Gentiles were not the unclean, unredeemable, and fodder for the fires of hell. He paved the road for the Apostle Paul regarding Gentile conversions who in turn took the Gospel to the Gentiles
Peter’s letters are essential documents in talking about salvation, the church, and Christian living. Author and commentator Scot McKnight writes, “Peter’s letter is an exhortation (5:12) to socially disenfranchised Christians to live steadfastly before God with faithfulness, holiness, and love. This steadfastness may lead to suffering, but a genuine understanding of persecution permits them to face it head-on and go forward faithfully. But the foundation of their faithfulness is an understanding of their salvation that Peter paints graphically at the beginning of his letter.
Peter’s life and ministry is an inspiration to me, and it should be to all Christians. In Peter we see, once again, how God uses an ordinary person like him to accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God. We also see the truth that we all know, but need reminding, that we are all seriously flawed as individuals. We all have issues in our lives, none of us are perfect, only Jesus is. But we see that Jesus is not content in allowing us to use the excuse of our flaws to continue living in our flawed and sinful ways. He calls us, like Peter, to own up to our sins, repent, and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives. God does not expect us to be perfect, that’s his job. What he does expect from us is to be men and women who are available to work in and through us. Peter was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things for the sake of the Gospel and in establishing the Church. If God can use a simple man like Peter to accomplish his plans, He can certainly use you and me as well.
 McKnight, S. (1996). 1 Peter (p. 29). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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