SIMON PETER: LEARNING TO BE A DISCIPLE
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).
To walk with Peter is an eye opener. He was a man who followed and listened to Jesus for three years. At the end, he had to relearn what he should have gotten the first time. Most of the teaching in the Gospels was directed at the disciples or students. In fact the entire Bible was written for God’s people and not for the world. The same is true of the New Testament. Before Peter was asked to follow Jesus, his brother Andrew had brought him to Jesus (Jn. 1:41). Jesus went into seclusion for forty days. He had to escape from Nazareth before he settled in Capernaum, where He performed several miracles, some in Peter’s home with his mother-in-law being one of the first Jesus healed (Lk. 4). And then He began to enlist willing disciples or learners (Lk. 5). From then on, the students were trained on the job with special lessons in seclusion. These disciples were not instant Christians like instant coffee that is neither here nor there. According to Matthew, and before the disciples were entrusted with any mission, Jesus took them to a mountainside where He instructed them how to act and treat those that would reject his message. We know this lengthy and profound lesson as “the Sermon on the Mount” (Mt. 5-7). In fact it was Jesus’ own blueprint for the way He and his followers would go about building his heavenly kingdom on earth. The instructions Jesus gave to the twelve and the seventy-two before they were sent out were an application of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 10; Lk. 9-10). Jesus did not encourage any confrontation because time was short (Mt. 10:23). He was soon to be taken from them and they were not prepared to continue his work. While Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John, the other disciples below fell apart. They could not help an epileptic. Jesus regarded them as “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me” (Mt. 17:17). What was the problem? Why did they fail?
The admission of failure by the disciples turned into an invaluable lesson on faith. When the disciples were alone with Jesus, they asked: “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” A partial answer is with the ”We” rather than with Jesus. Their eyes were on themselves and not on the Lord. “Look what we can do!” The bigger issue was their inability to take their faith in Jesus and put it into their hearts. It was external and not internal faith. The power of faith was in the name of Jesus and not in the disciples and then it was for the benefit of the epileptic and not for them. Jesus compared their faith and their attempt to heal to a mustard seed. His answer was, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt. 17:19-21). Faith that does not change things or move things is of little value. Faith in Jesus, even if it is but a mustard seed, is more beneficial and far more powerful than the strongest human faith. Peter began to get the hint after Pentecost when he pointed to Jesus as the healer of the lame man. “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk.” “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you all see” (Ac. 3:12,16). Peter had tried it by walking on water and almost drowned. Jesus rescued him and told him that he had too much doubt to allow his little faith to work (Mt. 14:28-29). But was it for the right reason to walk on water? Why did Jesus let Peter sink? It was an invaluable lesson about using faith for what man was not created to do.
Moving mountains and walking on water was and is using faith inappropriately. Peter tried to use faith to enhance himself. He wanted to be rewarded for being a follower of Jesus in this life, very much what many of us are doing and have done. We have reached beyond our ability and means and have sunk because we regarded material and physical advancements as evidence that God was rewarding us. That was precisely Peter’s problem when he asked Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” What was Jesus’ answer? “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Mt. 19:27-29). Jesus did not link spiritual growth with material success and neither did Paul in Ephesians 6:3, “That it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” The Apostle quoted Deuteronomy 5:16 when children honor their parents things do go well on earth. The other reference that has been misappropriated is Third John 2, (KJV) “Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.” It is inconsistent with what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The only time and place where our soul can prosper is here on earth and its physical housing does require bread. It will not proper when we neglect or abuse its temple (I Cor. 6:19).
We live in a greedy world and it is no different from the one Peter lived in. Peter was present when Jesus used the Parables of The Rich Fool (Lk. 12:13-21) and The Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31). Two rich men had built big mansions and huge storage places. Materially they were secure, but morally and spiritually they were sick with greed. Both men died before they could enjoy their earthly treasures. They left their riches to someone else to enjoy. By serving themselves, they had not build up a credit line in heaven. How long has it been when we were warned not to place our trust in perishable materialism? For three generations my people have build and lost everything. They lost it in Europe but we have lost it in the U.S.A. We put our trust in the free economic system and made the mistake of building bigger homes on borrowed money. We came naked into the world and we shall leave with nothing but a memory of what we have done Jesus would have done. Peter never became wealthy on earth but rich in heaven. He was buried inconspicuously so that his killers could not desecrate his grave. He died as his Lord had predicted (Jn. 21:18-19). In becoming rich in faith he also became rich toward God (Ja. 2:5; Lk. 12:21).