PETER: A TESTIMONY OF GOD’S GRACE
Peter, one of the most important apostles in the New Testament, is very easy to relate to for most people. He provides examples both of a man of faith working mighty miracles of God and a man who sins denying his Savior. Peter provides one with a view into the life of a man who accomplished much for Christ, and a man whose human nature was evident. God allowed us to the frailty of his flesh, and his strength as God used him to accomplish His work.
The life of Peter is a comfort to believers for two reasons. The first is because one realizes that restoration is possible after sinning even something as “big” as denying his Lord. God’s grace in restoration is never an excuse to sin. One should not rationalize that just because someone else sinned and God restored them then it is okay if I do it. The second reason is like the first one in that God can take a broken vessel and use it mightily for His ministry. One must be willing to let God use him in spite of his frailty.
God called Peter to be one of his disciples through the ministry of Andrew who was Peter’s brother. The gospel of John tells us that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. John the Baptist announced that Jesus Christ was the Lamb of God. This caused Andrew to follow Christ who taught him for the remainder of the day. Andrew was so excited about Christ that he brought his bother Peter to the Master.
Jesus tells Simon that his name will be Cephas, which is the Aramaic form of the Greek name Petros meaning rock. The name Peter would eventually become the name by which he would be known for centuries to come. This name is symbolic of the important part that Peter will play in the church. The Lord called him by Simon throughout his ministry, and it was not until the book of Acts when Simon is consistently called Peter.
The calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John occurred on the Sea of Galilee; Jesus called them to follow Him and become fishers of men. This they did for a time, but it appears they went back to their trade. In Luke 5:1-11, Jesus is going to call Simon to greater commitment. Simon (Peter) and his partners James and John had spent all night toiling upon the Sea of Galilee, and they did not catch anything.
Jesus comes along while they were cleaning their nets, and because the crowd was so great, He had to use Simon’s boat as a floating lectern. After the message, Jesus told Simon to cast his boat out into the deep and let down his nets (plural). This would have been very unusual because as Wiersbe points out in his commentary, “It was a well-known fact that, in the Sea of Galilee, you caught fish at night in the shallow water, not in the daytime in the deep water. What Jesus asked Peter to do was contrary to all of his training and experience, but Peter obeyed.”
Peter does obey, but it is only partial obedience because he lets down one net. This results in his net breaking because of the large number of fish they catch. His partial obedience kept him from being able to enjoy the full blessings of God, and if he had not obeyed at all then he may never have been used of God. Christians cannot afford to obey partially. In his epistle, Peter encourages believers to be obedient children (I Peter 1:14), and a few verses later (22) he encourages them to obey the truth. The truth is the Word of God, and he knows from experience just how much God can bless when one obeys His words.
Peter, James, and John answered Jesus’ call to become fishers of men and they “forsook all, and followed him.” Peter often encourages believers as in I Peter 1:21, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” He states that all believers are called to follow Christ’s perfect example. Peter does not mention in this verse forsaking all, but it is understood that Christ forsake all for the believer. Therefore, the believer should forsake all for Christ.
Peter is given a position of leadership among the apostles. Matthew in chapter ten verse two tells us, “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter …” In the New Testament, every list of the disciples names begins with the apostle Peter. It is important to note that he is an apostle who has been sent out by Christ as Henry Ironside asserts, “Peter had been commissioned by the risen Christ to feed and shepherd the sheep and lambs of His flock (John 21:15-17).” Peter received this commission three times from the lips of Christ “lovest thou me more than these … then feed my lambs.” I and II Peter testify of the fact that he took that commission seriously. He also claims his God given authority as an apostle for the basis of his writing both I and II Peter.
Early on his ministry Peter learned the importance of hospitality through the example of his godly mother-in-law. Mark speaks of this in his gospel account, “And he (Christ) came and took her (Peter’s mother-in-law) by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.” (Mk 1:31) This lady models hospitality perfectly; she has been very sick with fever and yet upon being healed she immediately begins to minister.
Peter may have had this example in mind when he wrote, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” (1 Pe 4:9) The word hospitality is two words in the Greek φιλόξενος philoxenos the first word is the word for the brotherly kind of love and the second word means stranger.
Peter exhorts believers to love strangers or outsiders, which for the Jew would have been the gentiles. In the book of Acts Peter learns through his vision and the visit with the Centurion Cornelius that the Gospel message was also for the gentile believers. Peter says, “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (Ac 10:28) God used Peter to open the door of the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Believers today must be careful not to be hospitable to strangers especially those outsiders who come to visit their church. Christians should seek to win all men to the Savior. The friendliness of a church has been proven to be one of the biggest keys for whether or a visitor returns, and it may also determine their eternal destiny.
One of the most widely known stories concerning Peter in the Gospels is the account of him walking on the water to Jesus in Matthew 14. Jesus is walking out to the boat on the water, and Peter asks to come to Jesus on the water. Peter is the only disciple that has the courage to walk on the water, but after a few steps he takes his eyes off his savior and begins to focus on the winds and the waves. In his fear he calls out to his Lord, and Jesus saves him saying, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matt. 14:31b)
The lessons to be drawn from this story are too many to be covered in this paper, but one can say that Peter learned what faith is all about. In his epistles, he mentions faith seven times, and they cover the different aspects of faith found in this story such as: it is necessary for salvation, through faith in God’s power one is saved, it carries one through suffering and trials, and it must be in Christ alone.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asks the disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” and they respond with the names of a few great prophets. Jesus gets more personal with the next question by asking, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter is the first to answer as usual, and he says, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter shows that he really does know who Jesus is, and Jesus responds by saying, “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The Roman Catholics have taken this passage and twisted it to mean something that it does not mean. Nothing in this verse sets Peter up to be the first pope or above any of the other apostles. Peter obviously was the leader of the apostle, but as he states in both introductions to his books he is Peter an apostle not the apostle. Acts reveals the story of Paul correcting Peter; this would never have taken place if Peter were an infallible pope.
The two Greek words used are Πέτρος petros (Peter meaning rock) and πέτρα petra (which means bedrock) the later is the kind of rock that the wise man built his house on. Petra in the opinion of the author refers to the concept that Peter just affirmed, which is that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God.
Peter shows that he understood this when he says in his address to the Sanhedrin that Jesus whom ye crucified is the corner stone. (Acts 4:10-11) In his first epistle, he speaks of Christ as the stumbling stone to the Jew and the chief corner stone for constructing a spiritual house. Peter never mentions himself in either of these epistles. Most of the words used for stone in I Peter 2:4-8 come from the Greek word λίθος lithos, which refers to building stones. The word is combined with another to taken on the idea of chief corner stone found in verse six. Peter is quoting from Isaiah 28:16 which reads, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste” in this verse. The rock of stumbling in verse number seven is translated from Petra mentioned earlier. Spiros Zodhiates in The Complete Word Study Dictionary explains,
Also the expression a “rock of offense” or “stumbling stone,” referring to Christ as the occasion of destruction to those who reject Him (Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:8 quoted from Is. 8:14). Distinguished from the masc. pétros in that pétra is a mass of rock while pétros is a detached stone or boulder, a stone that might be thrown or easily moved. Therefore, when a type is sought to illustrate a sure foundation, the word pétra, an immovable rock, is used (Matt. 7:24, 25; 27:51, 60; Mark 15:46; Luke 6:48. See also its illustrative use in Rev. 6:15, 16 [cf. Is. 2:19ff.; Luke 8:6, 13]).
Peter clearly understood his role in the church and knew that God was the foundation upon which all other stones should be placed.
The keys to heaven and hell are symbolic of the great authority and power that Peter would have to do miracles and preach. Peter on the day of Pentecost used those “keys” to preach a message at which 3,000 souls were saved that is truly opening the doors of heaven for the Jews. A.T. Robertson states, “The same power here given to Peter belongs to every disciple of Jesus in all the ages.” He bases this statement on the support provided by Jesus’ statements in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23 where Jesus gives similar power to all believers present. Barnes in his commentary summarizes Jesus statements to Peter in Matthew 16 as if he said, "I will make you the honoured instrument of making known my gospel first to Jews and Gentiles, and will make you a firm and distinguished preacher in building my church."
Peter, James, and John in Matthew chapter 17 ascend a mountain alone with Jesus Christ, and there they witness His transfiguration. Matthew testifies, “And (Jesus) was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” (Mt 17:2) They witnessed His glory, and they saw Elijah and Moses. God the Father also spoke affirming, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” (Mt 17:5) This event would have been permanently etched on Peter’s mind.
In fact, he writes specifically of that day on the mount in II Peter 1:15-18. The first two verses refer to what Jesus said in Luke concerning His coming. In verses 17-18 Peter gives witness, “For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.”
Peter, in the context, uses this testimony in three ways the first is to give an eyewitness account attesting to his and others validity as apostles, the second is to refresh the believers’ knowledge, and lastly it again confirms that Jesus is the Son of God. The Bible Knowledge Commentary points out that the phrase “putting you in remembrance” (II Peter 1:13) is in the present tense, which denotes the continuation of the action. One must always keep Christ on the forefront of activities, thoughts, and speech.
Jesus in Matthew 17 showed that He would submit to the government to pay tribute even if He was the King of kings. He said to Peter, “What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.” (Matt. 17:25-26) Peter will address submission to the government in I Peter 2:13, ”Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme.” It is likely that Peter thought of Jesus’ lesson when he wrote this passage.
Peter’s darkest day comes shortly before he shines at his brightest moment. The account of Peter’s denial of his Lord the night before the crucifixion is well known, and it stands as a grim reminder that anyone can fall. In Mark 14:27 Jesus predicts that the disciples will all forsake Him, but He counters that will a statement that they shall be reunited after His resurrection. Peter speaks up saying, “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.” The other disciples all agreed with his statement. Jesus responds with his prediction that Peter would deny Him three times that night. Peter vehemently declared that he would never do such a thing, but that he would die for Christ. According to tradition, Peter did one day die for his Lord by being crucified upside down. This night though, Peter did deny Christ three times, and the last time he did so with oaths. Peter heard the cock crow the third time, and Luke reveals that Jesus looked at him at the same time.
The culmination of these events led Peter to remember what Jesus said in the garden, and the Bible says, “When he thought thereon, he wept.” These tears are the outward expression of Peter’s inward repentance. The Bible Knowledge Commentary states, “Peter’s remorse opened the way for true repentance and a reaffirmation of his loyalty to Jesus as the risen Lord.” A person must be broken before one can truly repent.
Peter’s grief at the death of Christ served to propel forward the already great grief of his thrice denial of his Lord and Savior. John Butler in his biography of the life of Peter describes how Peter might have been feeling, “He would be filled with vain regrets and at times have wished he had never met Christ rather than have met Him and then have it all end in the worst sorrow and heart-rending experience of his life.” When Jesus rose from the grave, He appeared to Mary Magdalene and told her to tell Peter and the other disciples that He was alive. Jesus wanted Peter to know that He still cared for him.
Peter was restored to Christ and as has been mentioned was used of God to open the door of the Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles. Peter saw and participated in many of Jesus’ great miracles such as: the feeding of the 5,000, raising Jairus’ daughter, two great catches of fish, Jesus walking on water, and he himself walking on water. This is just a few of the miracles Peter witnesses, but after Christ ascended up to heaven he was given power to perform miracles. These miracles served as a sign of the power of God upon his life, and a verification of the Gospel message.
Peter exemplifies humility and boldness for the Lord. He said some things out of line a couple of times, but God used his passion and love for him to help bring the Gospel to the world. God is so gracious to use man in his frailty to accomplish His purposes. Peter’s story reminds the believer that God can use him if he is willing to forsake all and follow the Master. Peter gives much advice for living the Christian life in his epistles such as live by faith, suffer willingly for Christ, and place one’s trust in the Word of God. In II Peter 3:14 he concludes his discussion on the coming of Christ with this challenge, “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” May that be true of everyone of us.
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, "An Exposition of the New Testament Comprising the Entire 'BE' Series"--Jkt. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989), Lk 5:1.
Luke 5:11, KJV
Henry Ironside, Expository Notes on the Epistles of James and Peter,
(New York: Loizeaux Bros., 1947), 65
See I Peter 1:5, 7, 9, 21; 5:9; II Peter 1:1, 5
Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary : New Testament, electronic ed. (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000, c1992, c1993), G4073.
A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol.V c1932, Vol.VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), Mt 16:19.
Albert Barnes, Barnes NT Commentary, (1st American reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1962) (Joseph Kreifels), Mt 16:18.
John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985), 2:867.
John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985), 2:184.
John Butler, Peter the Illustrious Disciple, (Clinton, Iowa: LBC Publications, 1993), 164.