Readings: Isa. 6:1-8; Ps. 138:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11.
The theme this week is Proclaiming the Gospel. Though Isaiah in chapter 6 proclaims “I am unclean,” when God asks, “Whom shall I send?,” the prophet replies, “Here am I. Send me.” Psalm 138 proclaims the good news of God’s unending love and 1 Corinthians 15 proclaims the power of the gospel. The sermon this week from Luke 5 asks if we, despite our failures or successes, are willing to go where God leads.
Peter—the Rock (?)
Introduction: If you had to choose which of Jesus’ disciples you identify with, who would it be? It’s amazing how many people identify more with Peter than any other disciple.
The apostle Peter—Shimeon Cephas Petroas—gets the most air time of any of the original apostles. Like many celebrities of today, his life was on display. Every time he stumbled in a doorway or spoke before thinking, someone was around to record it!
Ironically, that’s what makes Peter so identifiable, and probably the most popular apostle. We can all see ourselves in him, and we love him as much in his mistakes as we do in his victories.
This is a good place to talk about which disciple you identify with, and why. Here’s a sample anecdote from the author:
Personally, I’ve always envied Peter—and the different folks in my life who would come up “Peter” on a personality test. I hedge my bets far too much, or I don’t take them at all. If I were to be one of the disciples, it might be John—in the shadows, holding back from the fray. One of the things I’m working on, that I’m learning from Peter, is speaking what I feel when I feel it. I’m one of those who’s a little too lost in himself. “I would be the one trying to keep everyone happy, weighing every word for maximum charm and minimum in-trouble-ness, finding it hard to say what I mean. I choose diplomacy over directness any day of the week, and I’d rather hold a grudge than get in a fight.
Most of us are likely thankful Jesus chose Peter and didn’t wait for us. Thankfully for all of us, Peter’s skin seemed to be as thick as his skull, and when his mouth outran his brain it often spoke something everyone else was afraid to say. He is the disciple of the people, a man who sinned and sinned boldly, and yet was a good representation of humanity.
So today let’s look at Peter, or as Jesus called him, “Rocky.” We’ll look at the way his close-to-the-skin temperament was cherished and changed by the Lord. We’ll look at how his great mistakes, and his amazing insights, were fingers on the same hand. Finally, we’ll look at how an uneducated lower-middle class-redneck became the focused, bold preacher who walked through hell and high water to lead the church.
Let’s start with Peter’s calling—or his early life. We know from John 1 that Peter, like his brother Andrew, was from Bethsaida. Bethsaida means in Hebrew “house of fishing,” and it was on the shores of the sea of Galilee. Peter would have grown up fishing, probably learning the trade from his dad. In the village, there were people from all kinds of worldviews and backgrounds. An early chore for young Simon was probably to sort out the non-kosher catfish from the nets to sell to the Gentiles. The clean fish would then be sold to Jews.
Peter likely spoke Greek, and Aramaic, but probably couldn’t read or write much. He would have been in what was called the “am ha’aretz”—the people of the land—a derogatory term used by the educated classes to talk about the blue-collar working men and women.
He lived on the sea. Peter is usually in the water up to his neck or on a boat through much of the Gospels. People who make their living on the water, like farmers who make their living off the land, sometimes have a bit of magic in them. They do a lot of studies of waves and weather patterns and statistics from last year versus this year, etc. Yet when it comes right down to it, there’s still an X-factor. There’s still a gap that has to be bridged by intuition, instinct, and plain old gut feelings. This is the kind of man we see in Peter. He isn’t the educated finery of Paul, nor is he the mysticism of John, he’s a guy who calls ‘em like he sees ‘em and trusts his instincts. Notice what Luke tells us in today’s Gospel reading:
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. (Luke 5:1-3)
Let’s set the scene. Jesus is being surrounded by a crowd so he notices two empty boats and steps in one of them and asks the owner to put out from shore. If you don’t think this is a big deal, the next time you see a shiny Harley at a store, go sit on it. We can only imagine what Peter was thinking. This guy just got in his boat—his working transportation—and asks Peter to row away from shore so he can teach the crowds.
Personal example: Talk about how you might feel if someone decided to sit in your car, truck, boat, or get into your RV, or plop themselves down in a chair in your backyard.
If that is not enough, after being rowed off shore so he can teach the crowd, Jesus looks at Peter and tells him how to do his job:
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:4-5)
Something in Peter responds to this. Perhaps he was moved by what Jesus had just taught. Perhaps he was thinking, “If this guy’s bold enough to jump in my boat, I might as well give it a shot. Nothing else is working.” He and his partners had been mending their nets, which was a laborious part of every day. They were cleaning their tools when Jesus tells them to get dressed and go back out.
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. (Luke 5:6-7)
The catch is unbelievable – so unbelievable they knew it was supernatural – telling them this Jesus was someone special. Peter’s reaction is so, well, Peter.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:8-11)
What a response: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!,” and then dropping everything to follow him.
Once again, I come back to envying Peter. How many times has Jesus come and sat down right in the middle of the place where I believe I’m “in charge,” where I’m the man, and tried to show me a better way? How many times has he come to you like that?
What about today? How is Jesus interrupting you today? What is the Lord throwing off balance that you need to be paying attention to? Had Peter not been the impulsive, drama-hungry guy we all know and love, he might never have become the great apostle Jesus intended. What might be preventing me or you from being the disciple Jesus wants us to be?
And this is just the very beginning of Peter being Peter.
He also had those wonderful moments where his mouth outran his brain, sometimes with great errors, sometimes with great truth! Let me briefly share two examples – found right next to each other:
In Matt. 16:13-16 we find Jesus and his disciples coming to Caesarea Philippi when he asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They provided a few answers, and then he said, “But what about you, who do you say I am?” And Peter was the one who responded. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Notice Jesus’ response:
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matt.16:17-19)
Caesarea Philippi was a place with a large temple to the Greek god Pan. This was a place full of idols, people dancing, partying and offering sacrifices to their gods. As usual, Jesus knows exactly what he’s doing and was intentional in bringing them here. If he was going to be a political hero, he might have taken them to the senate building; if he was going to be a military hero, maybe to a battlefield. But he takes them to a place that is aching with the human need for the divine. And here Peter blurts out what is probably based on a gut-feeling and hope and impulsiveness and says, “You’re the guy! You’re God’s man!”
It is here that Jesus gives his boisterous, unpredictable friend a nick name that doesn’t fit him. Better to name him “short circuit” or “hothead” or “firebrand” but he says you are “rocky”—strong and stable, and worthy to lead my church. From his own murky brain, Peter blurts out what his heart has to say, right near the place of idols.
In the next example, Peter’s lack of impulse control gets him into a jam.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matt. 16:21-26)
This may not have happened directly after the conversation at Caesarea Philippi, since the Gospels don’t always tell us when some time has elapsed, but the contrast is meant to be made. Peter triumphs for a moment, having more insight than any of the other disciples, and then he quickly fails.
The main problem here is that Peter is trying to apply his old understanding to a new thing. We see this happening all the time. The disciples saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the dreams they grew up with. If he was the Messiah, he would obviously be a political warrior king—he would re-establish the nation of Israel, restore the nation to its old glory. Is it any wonder Peter felt strongly that Jesus could not die—how could anyone kill the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?
Poor Peter, one moment being referred to as the Rock, the next being told he is a stumbling block and acting like the accuser. It’s interesting how quickly this contrast comes up in the narrative. Jesus doesn’t give an easy answer. Sometimes Peter’s impulsiveness is exactly what is needed—he’s the only one with the guts to speak out. And yet other times it’s off the mark—Peter isn’t paying attention here, he’s not seeing that Jesus is doing something else entirely.
One commentator called this the “looking-glass reality” of the kingdom of God. When you’re trying to do something in a mirror, your perception is off—you think you’re moving right when you’re actually moving left. It takes a minute to get reoriented. Peter is using the old paradigm to understand Jesus as Messiah—he’s thinking, Jesus is going to be a warrior and the reason he wants to go to Jerusalem is to take it over—what’s this about dying? What’s this about suffering and defeat?
How often does God upend the old paradigms we try to bring him under? How often does he turn our small view of reality on its head? We think, “This is the way that would be best, Lord, if you’d just sign off on this, things would be great.” And God says, “Get those dumb ideas behind me! Get that narrow view out of my way! My way of doing things is different than yours, my kingdom is different than yours.”
It takes Peter, and all of us, a long time to understand this.
Peter’s hot temper sometimes ran against Jesus’ kingdom. Think of the night Jesus was arrested. That night a whole troop of soldiers is dispatched to take down four scared guys in a garden. What a contrast! Dozens of soldiers, armed to the teeth, carrying torches, sent to arrest a carpenter and three of his buddies. We remember what Peter did, he drew a sword and cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John 18:10). Jesus intervened and healed Malchus.
Then Peter did the same thing all the disciples did—he fled. However, Peter turns and discreetly follows Jesus to the courts. It is there that Peter faces his most embarrassing time in ministry and denies Christ—not once, but three times. This is the Peter we know—this is the Peter we’d rather not identify with, though we know we do.
Though let me bring a different point of view into this story of denial. If you recall, after Peter’s third denial, Luke tells us “The Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61).
Peter was there! He was apparently the only disciple close enough to be seen by Jesus! This “Rocky”, this imperfect, unpredictable man, is known for his denial because he was the only one strong enough to stay near the spotlight. The rest were off in the shadows, far away and out of danger. Peter, though, was there.
Soon after, of course, Jesus asks his three questions to Peter, one for each denial. Peter, son of Jonah, do you love me? He calls him by his full name. Jesus knew the answer already, he wanted Peter to know it.
Many speculate that Peter and Paul were both martyred during the persecution of the early church. Tradition has it that Peter was crucified, but he asked to be on an upside-down cross, declaring he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord died. But before that, the Romans crucified his wife right in front of him as he yelled to her, “Remember Christ! Remember Christ!”
What can we learn from our brother the rock? What can we take home from his amazing story? What does his story teach us about Jesus and our relationship to him?
- God has great dreams for you—Jesus saw very quickly what kind of man Peter could be and God used him in powerful ways because Peter desired to follow Jesus—no matter what. Remember that God has great dreams for you, and great plans for you—he didn’t choose you because he had nothing else to do. He saw you struggling, he saw you in your sin, and he sees what you will become in this life and the next. Let him dream and share his dream with you.
- Second, God accepted Peter just the way he was, and he accepts us just as we are. We don’t have to change to get God’s attention, but once he has our attention he starts to change us—often through the mistakes we make. Peter learned from his mistakes and embarrassing moments, and we can, too. Jesus wants to make you new—to transform you – but he also loves who you are. He made you who you are, and those traits and trademarks are his doing. Peter was still Simon, the fisherman, even when he took leadership of thousands of people.
- And finally the great lesson of Peter: put yourself out there. You might make great mistakes, but at least you will do something. Peter’s great example to us is that he kept going. Even after all his blunders he was still there until the end. He taught us to get up, dust yourself off and move on. That is a great lesson. And through it all—through all the mistakes and blunders, we know Jesus is faithful to us as we are reminded to always, “Remember Christ! Remember Christ!”
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Have you ever taken a personality test online (ex. Which member of the A-team are you? Which president are you?) If there were such a test for the apostles, which one do you think you would be and why?
- Luke 5 talks about Jesus getting into one of the boats of the fishermen (v. 3: He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.) Has God ever “jumped into” a place where you thought you were in charge and thrown you off? Maybe a difficult co-worker at the job? Or a chance to talk about Jesus to a fellow employee (whether by words or actions)?
- Matthew 16 presents us with the profound contrast in a man like Peter. Jesus calls him “the Rock” and “satan” within the space of a few verses. Do you think that God can love us and work with us and use us for the kingdom even when we have conflict within ourselves? Can we love others even with they have conflict within themselves?
- Peter is known to be hot-blooded, close-to-the-surface. He has profound insight and makes profound blunders, often at the same time. How can we learn from Peter to put ourselves out there? Can God use even our mistakes for his glory—such as telling his most famous denier that he will use him to found the church?
- We talked about Peter cutting of Malchus’s ear (John 18) as a contrast to the way Jesus wanted to bring in his kingdom (through sacrifice and obedience). Have you ever seen the contrast between our way, (the human way), and God’s way in your own life? In the history of the church?
- Read Isaiah 6:1-8. Notice verses 5-6. Do you see any parallels with your life? Have you ever felt you were too unclean for God to use? Now read verse 8; are you willing to respond the same way?
- Read Psalm 138. Now read it with conviction. Notice the difference
- Paul summarized the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Write down your own summary of the gospel. Don’t use Paul’s words—use your own vernacular.