A lot of Christians I know say that the disciple with whom they most identify is Peter. They talk about his failures, as well as how much they can relate to those short-comings.
I get it. And I’m grateful that Scripture not only reveals its characters’ greatest exploits (like David slaying Goliath), but that it also reveals the characters’ biggest blunders (i.e., his affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband).
The Bible does this with Peter. We see his high points, and we see his low points. The problem is, well, we identify with the lows— all of which come from a “pre-saved” version of this disciple. In other words, we wrongly identify with the pre-redeemed version of this hero of faith.
Let me explain…
To understand Peter, you can’t just look at Gospels, you’ve got to look at what happens to him after the Cross. It’s the Cross— and the Resurrection— that changes everything.
Think about it. When we present the Message to unbelievers, we don’t point them to the birth of Christ (the beginning of the Gospels), we point them to His death on our behalf. We show them the Cross.
In this chapter, we’ll take a look at Peter in the Gospels, but we’ll also look at Acts and his epistles. In this end you’re going to see the two-fold reality of—
That means my goal for you is that you, too, will, like Peter-
That said, let’s bring our graphic back. Take a look at the new addition to it. Notice the arrow from Jesus towards us. Not only does He reveal who the Father is (like we learned in chapter 1); He reveals our identity, too (which is what we’re about to learn in chapter 2).
Throughout the Bible we see that names mean something, that names declare who people are and what they actually do. The problem is that, well, sometimes people have the wrong name. Their name doesn’t accurately reflect who they’re designed to be. (And, as you’ll discover later in this book when we discuss Ephesians 2:8-10, that destiny was imparted to you before time began!)
Take Abraham, for instance. The first time we meet him he’s referred to as Abram (see Genesis 11:10f.). It’s a great name; it means “exalted father.”
But God has called this man to more. So, He adjusts his name to Abraham, which means “exalted father of a numerous people” (see Genesis 17:1f.).
Sarai, his wife, is another person whose name was changed to reflect the destiny God prepared for her. Again, she had a fantastic name: “Princess, lady.”
But, God had a greater purpose for her, too. Having carried the stigma of childlessness through her entire life, in her nineties God began to refer to her as Sarah— a similar name which also means “laughter.” Or, “joy.” Through the birth of her own son, Isaac, the stigma of barrenness would be gone and she would experience a happiness she hadn’t yet known.
See how this works?
Well, Jesus meets Peter early in His ministry. And, true to form, Jesus completely changes this man’s name, too. Here’s the snip from John 1:42 where we see it happen (ESV):
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
That’s it. It’s the first time Jesus encounters the fisherman, according to John. And, it seems completely insignificant until you get more info.
Here’s the “more” that you need to know…
The name Simon literally means “reed, twig, shifting sand.” In other words, if this man behaves in any way related to what he’s been named by his parents, it means that he is:
Jesus affirms that this is exactly what Peter has been like: “You are Simon…”
Yet Simon is not who this disciple is destined to be, so Jesus re-labels him. He gives the man a new title.
Turns out, the name Jesus gives him is the exact opposite of his given name. Jesus calls him Peter, that is “rock.” Whereas you can’t build anything on quicksand, rock is stable and steady. It’s what you desperately want.
Remember, Jesus gives Peter this new name the first time He meets him, long before there’s any evidence that Jesus has accurately labelled him. Jesus literally speaks destiny into him when he does.
The problem is that, well, Peter is anything but a rock for the next several pages of Scripture. It’s not like he’s “all bad.” He’s shifty— like sand. He bends— like a twig.
For instance, Peter is the first guy to walk on water (Matthew 14:22f.). Jesus approaches him and the disciples, striding across the waves during a storm. They all think He’s a ghost, even though He suggests He’s their Master.
“If it’s you,” Peter says, “tell me to walk on water and I’ll do it.”
Sounds like great faith, right? Looks like he’s about to live up to that “rock” identity, eh?
Well, Peter takes a few steps on the water and sinks!
“Save me,” be begs, “I’m drowning!”
Alas, he’s back to shifting sand…
He gets another chance, though. One day, Jesus asks the disciples who people say that He is. The rumors immediately come to the light:
By the way, if we look throughout the Bible we learn that Jesus’ identity was always questioned:
Amidst this backdrop, Peter— looking very much like a rock— proposes the correct answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).
This is remarkable when we consider that the only others to get the answer correct were demons— the ones who knew Jesus was going to destroy them and their works (see Mark 1:24). In other words, Peter communicates spiritual insight during this moment— spiritual insight that, according to Jesus, can only be revealed by the Father (see Matthew 16:17). Sounds like he’s moving in the right direction!
But, no! Just a few sentences later Jesus outlines His plan— how He’ll travel to Jerusalem, how the religious elite will betray Him, and how He’ll be executed (see Matthew 16:21).
I know, you and I know the end of the story. We know that Jesus tells them He’ll also rise from the dead (Matthew 16:21). And, of course, we know that’s what He does. But, remember, they’ve never seen a Resurrection up to this point. They have no way of understanding what Jesus even means.
So what does Peter do?
He goes into shifting-sand, twiggy mode. He actually rebukes Jesus for suggesting He's about to die (Matthew 16:22)! He’s so adamant that Jesus has to tell him, “Get behind me, Satan!”
There are other examples of this shifty behavior, too. You probably remember, for instance, that Peter was the singular disciple who told Jesus that he wouldn’t abandon Him as He faced the cross.
“Even if everyone else leaves and I have to die with you, I’ll stay,” he declared (see Matthew 26:33,35).
He appeared to live like the rock Jesus declared he was…
Until he fell asleep while Jesus asked him to stay awake and “keep watch” so that He could pray. He did this not once or twice but three times (Mark 14:37-41).
When the soldiers came with Judas to capture Jesus, everyone— including Peter— fled for their lives (Mark 14:50).
Now, to Peter’s credit, he later returned to the courtyard where Jesus was being mocked and beaten. We don’t know how long it took, but it appeared that his fortitude might emerge.
Until people began questioning him, that is. Time after time, he denied he knew Jesus. In fact, when a young teenage girl approached him about their relationship, he adamantly called curses down upon himself in order to suggest he had no connection to the Messiah whatsoever (Matthew 26:69-74).
We could go on—
It all makes you wonder what Jesus saw at their first encounter, doesn’t it?
What did Jesus see in people that no one else saw?
After all, in every instance throughout the Gospels he appears to be more like a “Simon” than a “Peter.”
After Jesus ascends to His throne, something shifts for Peter. He begins living as the person he actually is rather than the person we’ve seen.
For instance, in Acts 1:15 Peter stands during a prayer meeting. He suggests everyone select a replacement for Judas. It’s a small step, but he clearly begins walking in a leadership capacity. He anchors the fledgling group during what could be a confusing time for them.
Just one chapter later, the Holy Spirit descends upon the band of Jesus-followers and a crowd comes near them to learn what is happening. Peter stands and delivers a sermon. The result is that 3,000 people come to faith (see Acts 2:14f.). This is all the more remarkable because the people didn’t come to hear his preach— they came because they saw the Spirit moving upon the disciples and wrongly supposed that they were drunk (Acts 2:13,15). In other words, his speech began from a point of contention and correction with a crowd that wasn’t necessarily “for” him or his message.
In the next chapter, Peter continues walking in his actual identity as a rock. As he and John approach the temple to pray, a lame beggar looks to them, hoping for a donation.
Peter speaks the famous line, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give you.” Then— “In the name of Jesus, rise and walk!”
With that, and without even praying, Peter heals a man (Acts 3:6).
This causes such a commotion that the religious elitists arrest Peter and John. They command them to stop preaching (which a sandy, twiggy Simon would have likely conceded to). However, Peter uses his trial as a platform to speak even more about Jesus (see Acts 4:8,19). Yes, he preaches during their trial.
By Acts 5, people recognize the power Peter exudes. And they know his daily routine. They begin positioning anyone who needs to be healed in a place where he will pass, simply so that his shadow might fall upon them and heal their broken bodies (Acts 5:15). Incredibly, this is something we never saw Jesus do!
(Remember, Jesus promised that His followers would do greater things than He did in John 14:12, didn’t He?)
In short order, the Sanhedrin (the religious committee in Jerusalem) tosses a few of the apostles in jail. It’s all driven from jealousy, as you might imagine (Acts 5:17-18). In the middle of the night, an angel appears in prison, opens the doors, and sends the disciples back to the temple courts to preach.
Of course, Peter leads the way.
When questioned as to why he preaches when specifically ordered not to do so, Peter begins preaching again. This garners him a flogging (Acts 5:40), which he rejoices to receive, expressing honor to be counted worthy of suffering for Jesus (Acts 5:41).
Incredibly, Peter even later raises a woman from the dead. I love this story, because there’s a subtle nuance that most people hardly notice. Let me show you the scene and then I’ll point it out (Acts 9:40-41 ESV):
But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.
Notice that he first put all the mourners outside. Back then it was common to show families how much they were loved by bringing more people in to “cry out” on behalf of the deceased. I’m sure it made people feel loved, but it could be loudly distracting. This is likely why Jesus once emptied a room in this same way (Mark 5:40).
Peter removes the distraction. He invites everyone to stop mourning for a moment as they file out of the room. He’s determined to live like a rock instead of shifting like sand.
Then he kneels to pray in order to build his faith before he calls her forth to life. Notice, though, he seems to pray facing away from her- almost as if he knows he can’t look at the obstacle in front of him (Acts 9:40). Then, when his faith rises, he turns towards her, and he declares that she should come alive!
I love it!
So what do we make of all of this?
Well, we know that Jesus came to show us with the Father is like. That’s why He tells us things like:
Like we discussed in the previous chapter, Jesus reveals what God is like. He’s the exact representation of God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3), and the fullness of the deity literally dwells in Him (Colossians 2:9).
And, here’s what I really want you to see…
Think about that exchange between Peter and Jesus. Here’s what actually happened:
“Hey, Simon, let me tell you who I am. My name is Jesus… I’m here to show you what the Father is really like.”
Then, before Peter can grasp what that actually means, Jesus continues. “By the way, I’m here to show you who you really are, too. And, with that, let’s just start right here… you’re not the wavering, waffling guy that you seem to be… you’re not your past, no matter how present that past seems to be… I’ve designed you for greatness. And when you look at me, you’re going to not only see who the Father is, you’re going to see who you are, too.”
Sounds strange, doesn’t it?
Paul penned it like this (2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV, emphasis added):
…we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Did you catch it?
Paul said that looking at Jesus is just like looking at yourself in a mirror.
In fact, John (one of the disciples who spent a lot of time with Peter), wrote it like this (1 John 4:17, emphasis mine):
We will have confidence in the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him.
I love what John says— a lot of people are afraid of approaching God because of their sin issues. Because they’ve waffled like Simon. They’ve had some great moments and some “nonsense” moments.
Yet, even in that, John says there’s no fear of judgment, that we’re not “like that,” because we’re like Jesus.
And Paul says we’re so much like Jesus that when we look at Jesus it’s like we’re seeing our own reflection in the mirror.
I know. Mind-blown.
What does that mean?
For starters, it means that I’m enough. You are, too. You’re enough.
I mean, Jesus doesn’t lack anything, does He?
And everything’s going His way, isn’t it?
It’s important to begin our study on spiritual gifts and supernatural empowerment here— at the subject of identity— because we don’t pursue the gifts or our purpose in order to discover our value or worth as individuals. Rather, the things we do are simply an overflow of that value spilling forth. And that value is found in our identity, in who we are, not anything we do.
When God calls people to something great, He most often begins by doing a work of renovation to them, so that He might then do something infinitely more incredible through them. One of His deepest works in us is to enable us to see us as He sees us— not as we or others might have viewed us because of the past (or even the present).
Not only does Jesus reveal who we are, but- since we look like Him— we reveal Him to others (see the double arrow in the graphic above). Here’s the catch: unless your identity is secure in who you are- as the man or woman in that mirror— you’ll continually look for other things to prop up that identity.
You see, apart from a deep revelation of our true identity, we’ll look everywhere else to find something that we already have. Let me show you what I mean. This verse comes from James (Jesus’ little brother).
Read it— but don’t read it like a legalist, OK?
Here you go (James 1:23-24 NKJV):
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
Let’s unpack that verse.
First, let’s discuss the “doing the word” thing that James mentions in the first part of the verse. At first glance it sounds like James beckons you back “into the field,” to live as a hired servant, rather than staying in the house to thrive as a son or daughter.
(This is one of the “go to” verses for people who want to “older brother” their way through Christianity— a topic we’ll discuss in a few chapters.)
Jesus was clear that "This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29 NLT).
The work you need to do is to believe that when Jesus says you’re a Peter that you’re actually a Peter instead of a Simon. That is, you’re actually a rock and not a sliver of sand.
Pastor Kris Vallaton says, “You were saved when you believed in Jesus, but you were transformed when you realized He believes in you.”
He says exactly what we need to see with this first point.
Second, let’s discuss the mirror part. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Let me ask you this: I bet if I showed you a picture of yourself you would recognize your own face, wouldn’t you?
Sure, you could.
Because you’ve seen yourself in a mirror. You know what you actually look like.
(Yeah, even little kids recognize themselves in family pictures or on the camera reel of your smartphone! They are the first person they look for in any pic! In fact, most of us adults do this, too! We know exactly what we look like!)
There’s no way you’d be confused about you, correct?
Yet James says this is what we’re prone to do. Spiritually, anyway.
He says it’s exactly the same. In the same way that we don’t forget who we are physically, we shouldn’t forget who we are in Christ— as new creations, as His image bearers, as people for whom He’s called forth greatness.
It means we don’t get “tripped up” over our mess-ups. Like Peter, we’ll have episodes in which the evidence seems to suggest that we’re not who Jesus says we are. In time, though, Jesus is right- 100% of the time.
Furthermore, we don’t get side-swiped when others don’t live up to who they really are, either. We continue, like Christ, calling forth the image in the mirror. That means that, sometimes, we even see that image in them before they do.
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