Peter is often mocked from the pulpit today. Preachers like to make fun of him and present him as a stupid, bumbling fisherman who always got it wrong. But Jesus saw enormous potential in Peter and turned him into an incredible leader. There is much we ought to respect him for and much we can learn from him. Peter sets an example for us and shows us just how much Jesus can change a person’s life.
In the Gospels
Peter’s original name was Simon, but Jesus changed it to Peter (or Cephas) which means “rock.” From then on he is called Simon, Simon Peter, Peter, or Cephas. He and his brother Andrew were fishing on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called them to be His disciples. Along with James and John, he was part of Jesus’ “inner circle” and had special access to Him. He declared that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah when others were confused about Him.
Despite his faith, Peter succumbed to fear during Jesus’ trial and execution. He abandoned Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and denied Him in the high priest’s courtyard. He even returned to fishing after Jesus’ death! Yet Jesus appeared to him after His resurrection and graciously restored him by affirming his calling.
In the Book of Acts
Peter dominates the first half of the book of Acts. From as early as the first chapter, it is obvious that the believers recognized him as their leader. He preached about Jesus to a vast crowd of Jews in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost with tremendous effect. He continued to preach and perform miracles and refused to be silenced by the Jewish leaders. He responded to Cornelius’ request for a visit and preached the gospel to Gentiles, which made him a key witness at the Jerusalem Council.
Paul speaks of Peter in Galatians 2. It seems he was prone to inconsistency and needed to be corrected for his “hypocrisy” (verses 11-14), but Paul still respected him as “an apostle to the Jews” and a “pillar” of the church (verses 8-9). He was the primary source for the Gospel of Mark and wrote two letters of the New Testament (1 and 2 Peter). Church history tells us he was crucified in Rome by Emperor Nero about A.D. 64.
The Difference Jesus Makes
How did Peter change? What made such a drastic difference in his life? How did he go from denying Jesus before a few to preaching Him before thousands? Acts 4:13 says, “When the Sanhedrin saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus used Peter to lead the church and change the world.
Jesus has given us the same Spirit, and He wants to change our lives just as drastically. And I think Peter shows us some qualities Jesus looks for when He raises up church leaders. First, Peter was bold. When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” he instantly answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And he walked out to Jesus on the water while the rest of the disciples sat terrified in the boat. Second, Peter was willing to look dumb. He often spoke out and didn’t care what the other disciples thought. Sometimes he put his foot in his mouth, but at least he was willing to speak up!
Although we like to pick on Peter, he was one of the most important Christians who ever lived. Let us stop making fun of him and follow his example by changing the world for Jesus.
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