Peter was one of those guys who got his name changed in the Bible.
It came out of a change of identification. He was a disciple, just like us! I thought it would be fun today to spend some time thinking through his life because there is much about Peter with whom we can identify.
Peter was a regular guy with a regular life. (Actually, his name was Simon, son of Jonah, until Jesus gave him his name change.) He was one of many fishermen on the Lake of Gennersaret, but his life was radically changed one day when Jesus asked to borrow his boat so that he would teach from the water—the beach had obviously gotten too crowded!
After Jesus finished speaking, he told Simon to put his nets down deep for a catch. Peter thought he was crazy, of course, no one did this in the middle of the day, the fish were at the bottom of the sea. But, he submitted to Jesus and was overwhelmed when their nets pulled up 153 fish, more than any haul of fish ever!
Simon fell to his knees in acknowledgement of his sinful status. He recognized the holiness of Jesus in that moment. Wait, it only gets better. When Jesus was checking out who the crowds thought he was, he heard lots of answers, but when he asked his disciples, Simon son of Jonah answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
It was at this moment of revelation that Jesus told Simon that he had a new identity as his follower. His new identity started with the name change: “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church.”
Imagine it. Being told that you are the one on which Jesus is going to build his Church. Pretty big stuff, and perhaps Peter didn’t quite have the character he needed for the call. Right after this passage in Matthew 16, Jesus begins to tell his disciples that his true call is to go to Jerusalem and die. In order to understand how this was NOT the disciples dream come true, we hear Peter say, “No Lord, that must never happen.” (They are all thinking, we thought we were going to rule on the throne with you over Rome.)
Jesus lets him know, even if you are called to build my church, you are off on this one Peter! He tells Peter he has now become a stumbling block because he has man’s purposes in mind, not Gods.
You know what I love about this? How much it takes the pressure off of us. We have new names as Jesus’ disciples. We have a call to build Christ’s Church, just like Peter. But, we are given permission to screw it up once in awhile. We don’t have to always get it. . . in fact, we can count on not getting it pretty often.
Peter did it again right before Jesus was arrested. He told Jesus in front of all his friends that he was willing to die with Jesus. Just hours later, he denies even knowing him to mere servants 3 times! Boldness, followed by cowardness.
I think this is why Jesus gave Peter the call. When Peter screwed things up, he didn’t retreat from Jesus, he ran to him. After denying Jesus three times, when he came to the tomb where supposedly Jesus was buried, he ran into it after hearing Jesus wasn’t in it.
When Jesus was making breakfast on the beach after he resurrected and Peter was on the boat, when he realized it was Jesus, he tore off his clothes, jumped into the water and ran to Jesus (of course, once again leaving his friends to haul in a major load of fish!)
We can learn something valuable from Simon, son of Jonah, turned Peter. When we screw up as Jesus’ disciples, and we will, our response doesn’t need to be turning away in shame, but running to Jesus as fast we can. We know from Jesus’ interaction with Peter in John 21 that he will not only give us complete forgiveness, but also a chance to do a do-over until we can make it right.
That morning on the beach Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Peter answered “Yes, Lord” every time. Each time, Jesus told Peter to feed, love and care for the sheep (of his Church.)
That’s our challenge too. We are to feed, love and care for the sheep around us and to build up God’s kingdom as we are re-named and in our new name is “New Creation.” We are the just like new followers of Jesus.
Here is our invitation: don’t run away when we screw up. Hear the words of Hebrews 4:14-16 as evidence of our invitation:
14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
This is our good news! Let’s run to Jesus as fast as we can as hear the invitation in his words.