Grace, yes, we do live on grace; perhaps, we do far more than we should. To most of us, grace is a gift rather than a reward. For Peter and his companions, grace was an experience or an encounter with Christ. He lived it out every day and one did not fully realize it until the day life ended. What did Peter mean by, “Stand fast in grace?” It echoes his question, “How often shall I forgive my brother?” The answer was, constantly or endlessly. It was a life-style of living graciously by being gracious. Grace for Peter was not only a one-sided divine gift, but it was also a way of life. A gracious life is an example of the Sermon on the Mount. To behave like the Beatitudes is being gracious. Helping the poor, grieving with those that lose loved ones, being humble, doing what is right, being merciful, being unselfish, making peace, enduring abuse, and suffering unjustly is living in grace. In Peter’s world loving your enemies and praying for them, turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile and giving up your coat rather than your life was preferable. He was not in a position to demand an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth nor could he make promises. Under hostile authorities and persecutions, grace is not a great theological concept but a way of life one adapts to survive. Like his Lord, Peter adapted Jesus’ graciousness and encouraged his fellow believers to do likewise.
Jesus reinstated Peter as the shepherd of his flock and instructed him to feed (boske) and pasture (poimaine) his lambs and sheep (Jn. 21:15-17). The sheep would vary in attitude and maturity. The feeding shall be about a healthy spiritual diet, like the word of God and the example of Christ and the pasturing shall be in dealing with and behaving in an unfriendly environment. As the head shepherd, Peter offered some guidelines for his people and leaders.
Acts is Luke’s account of the actual building of God’s kingdom on earth. There were five major reasons why Peter was of tremendous importance to the Gentiles and Luke was the only writer that recorded them. First, Simon Peter knew who Jesus was from the beginning, and not when He asked his disciples who He was (Lk. 9:20). Second, Peter began to lead some 120 believers in Jesus before Pentecost (Ac. 1:15-17). Third, Peter made Jesus as the Savior of mankind public on the day of Pentecost (Ac. 2:14-41). Fourth, Peter took the message to Cornelius (Ac. 10). And fifth, Peter’s testimony at the first Council in Jerusalem led to the admission of the Gentile Christians (Ac. 15:1-35). The last four reasons are in Acts. Acts is not an appendix, but a continuation of the message concerning Jesus to Theophilus (friend of God). The disciples did not grasp why the Christ had come. The Risen Son of Man spent forty days to explain what the kingdom was all about but without much success. They still wanted to know, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” Jesus’ answer was, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After having given the eleven specific instructions as to their task, a cloud took up their Lord and out of their sight. While the disciples were gazing into the sky, two men in white, similar to the two in Luke 24:4, said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? The same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Ac. 1:1-11). It is rather apparent that the first infusion of the Holy Spirit did not open the disciples’ minds (Jn. 20:21-23). What would the second infusion of the Holy Spirit do?
Luke had great admiration for Simon Peter. In addition to a Gospel to the Gentiles, he singled out Peter and Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. Luke was a Gentile, a physician, a companion of Paul, Barnabas, Mark and Silas and a friend of all the apostles and first leaders of Jesus’ followers. He was a skilful writer and he focused on accuracy and details. To avoid any repercussions, Luke wrote to one called, “most excellent Theophilus.” It could have been a person whose identity was undisclosed, but it is equally likely that Luke had in mind all the dedicated friends (philus) of the Son of God (Lk. 1:1-4). There were four major reasons why Peter was of tremendous importance to the Gentiles and Luke was the only writer that recorded them. First, Simon Peter knew who Jesus was from the beginning and not when He asked His disciples who He was (Lk. 9:20), and the other three are in Acts.
The First Epistle of Peter ended with this greeting: “With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ” (5:12-14).
Peter sent greetings from Babylon (Rome) with his son Mark (I Pe. 5:13). John Mark, the author of the Second Gospel that became the basis for two larger versions of Matthew and Luke, was Peter’s spiritually adopted son. He was the John Mark that left Paul and Barnabas after the blinding of Elymas (Ac. 13:13). Many scholars believe that Peter inspired Mark to write an account of Jesus. Peter and the first Christians did not have the New Testament. They depended on the Old Testament and took permissible liberties to apply the Spirit of God to their work (Mk. 1:2). What Peter did to Ananias and Sapphira (Ac. 5:1-10) and what Paul did to Elymas (Ac. 13:6-14) was not the way Jesus treated His enemies (Lk. 23:34). The young man that was present when Jesus was betrayed, arrested and was present at the resurrection of his Lord may have been John Mark (Mk. 14:51, 16:5-7). “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.” He said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” The reference to Peter gave credence to Mark’s testimony on Jesus. It was the first eyewitness report regarding the highlight of the Son of Man’ s mission on earth. And it credited Peter as the only one that identified Jesus as the Christ (Mk. 8:29). At this time, there was a struggle for leadership in the Church. In Jerusalem, Peter was already in second place behind James and before John Zebedee. In the Gentile world, Paul was emerging as the leader (Gal. 2:9). Mark, at this time, did not endorse Paul (Ac. 15:36-41). Paul did recognize Mark’s contribution and requested that Timothy bring him to Rome (II Tim. 4:11). We have no documentation whether the two men met before Paul died. What we do know is that John Zebedee provided Jesus’ last wish as to who should shepherd Jesus’ flock. There was absolutely no doubt that Peter was the intended leader of Jesus’ followers (Jn. 21:15-22). Mark did not mind to become Peter’s penman and shadow.
The person that Jesus chose to succeed Him was not an obvious choice. He came from a hamlet called, “Bethsaida.” He married a lady from Capernaum and took over her father’s fishing business. Five different writers gave us sketches of who this man was. Jesus renamed him Peter, the Rock. Just how solid was he? He grabbed my attention for a number of reasons. The most important one was that he learned how to follow Jesus. It was a rocky road. He was not at all sure of himself. Physically, he was unforgettable. During Jesus’ trial, a girl that saw him once identified him as being one of Jesus’ followers. And when he opened his mouth, he betrayed his Galilean origin (Jn. 18:15-27). Simon Peter was not one that volunteered to follow anyone without some convincing proof; but when he joined, he commanded attention. If there were any important questions, Peter would most likely come up with the correct answer. When Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” It was Simon that declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was pleased with his answer and acknowledged Peter before the group, “Blessed are you, Simon son of John, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter (a rock), and on this rock I will build my fellowship (like a church), and the gates of Hell will not stop it. I will give you the keys of my heavenly fellowship; whomever you will lead in will continue in, and whomever you will not win over will not become part of my fellowship” (Mt. 16:17-19).
Jesus said this regarding man’s last chance to claim the promises. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Mt. 24:37, 40-42). In the days of Noah, man depended on hand technology and everyone was left behind for the flood to take them. To be back in the days of Noah, one has but eliminate electricity and we would be grinding food with our hands. It was very disturbing to hear Jesus say, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Mt. 21:43). To inherit the promises one has to become first a keeper of God’s conditions.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the death that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20).
Simon Peter began as a student in Jesus class and it took some three years before his teacher regarded him fit for promotion to be a teacher himself. He was not converted over night nor did he become a new being in Christ on the first day. He believed in the God of his Fathers before he met Jesus and he also lived by their tradition. Peter’s education did not end with Jesus’ departure; rather, he entered a period of self-study and application of his new faith. It was a difficult and long road for him to separate himself from Judaism. In fact, there is no indication that he ever did. His mission was primarily to the Jews (Ac. 11:19; Gal. 2:7). The idea that Jesus had come to draw all men unto him self did not register on Peter’s mind until he had a vision in which he was ordered to eat what pagans eat. He heard a voice commanding, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat!” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice informed him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Three times, he was ordered to eat what his upbringing regarded as unclean. While Peter was pondering the meaning, the voice within him urged him to go with three soldiers form Cornelius a Roman officer who was ready to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior along with his household. To Peter’s surprise, the Holy Spirit had preceded him into the heart of a gentile (Ac. 10). In spite of that experience, Peter hesitated to treat gentile believers as being equal to Jewish converts. Paul had to remind him of his improper conduct. “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy Barnabas was led astray” (Gal. 2:11-13). Yes, the same Peter that defended the Gentiles at the first Council in Jerusalem went back on his word (Ac. 15).