Simon Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus Christ. He was an outspoken  and ardent disciple, one of Jesus’ closest friends, an apostle, and a “pillar”  of the church (Galatians  2:9). Peter was enthusiastic, strong-willed, impulsive, and, at times,  brash. But for all his strengths, Peter had several failings in his life. Still,  the Lord who chose him continued to mold him into exactly who He intended Peter  to be.

Simon was originally from Bethsaida (John 1:44) and  lived in Capernaum (Mark 1:29),  both cities on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. He was married (1 Corinthians 9:5),  and he and James and John were partners in a profitable fishing business (Luke 5:10). Simon met Jesus  through his brother Andrew, who had followed Jesus after hearing John the  Baptist proclaim that Jesus was the Lamb of God (John  1:35-36). Andrew immediately went to find his brother to bring him to Jesus.  Upon meeting Simon, Jesus gave him a new name: Cephas (Aramaic) or Peter  (Greek), which means “rock” (John  1:40-42). Later, Jesus officially called Peter to follow Him, producing a  miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-7).  Immediately, Peter left everything behind to follow the Lord (verse 11).

For the next three years, Peter lived as a disciple of the Lord Jesus. Being a  natural-born leader, Peter became the de facto spokesman for the Twelve  (Matthew  15:15, 18:21, 19:27; Mark 11:21; Luke 8:45, 12:41; John 6:68, 13:6-9, 36). More significantly, it  was Peter who first confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,”  a truth which Jesus said was divinely revealed to Peter (Matthew  16:16-17).

Peter was part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples,  along with James and John. Only those three were present when Jesus raised the  daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37) and  when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain (Matthew  17:1). Peter and John were given the special task of preparing the final  Passover meal (Luke  22:8).

In several instances, Peter showed himself to be impetuous to  the point of rashness. For example, it was Peter who left the boat to walk on  the water to Jesus (Matthew  14:28-29)—and promptly took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink (verse 30).  It was Peter who took Jesus aside to rebuke Him for speaking of His death (Matthew 16:22)—and was  swiftly corrected by the Lord (verse 23). It was Peter who suggested erecting  three tabernacles to honor Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Matthew 17:4)—and fell to  the ground in fearful silence at God’s glory (verses 5-6). It was Peter who drew  his sword and attacked the servant of the high priest (John 18:10)—and was immediately told to sheath his weapon  (verse 11). It was Peter who boasted that he would never forsake the Lord, even  if everyone else did (Matthew  26:33)—and later denied three times that he even knew the Lord (verses  70-74).

Through all of Peter’s ups and downs, the Lord Jesus remained  his loving Lord and faithful Guide. Jesus reaffirmed Simon as Peter, the “Rock,”  in Matthew  16:18-19, promising that he would be instrumental in establishing Jesus’  Church. After His resurrection, Jesus specifically named Peter as one who needed  to hear the good news (Mark 16:7).  And, repeating the miracle of the large catch of fish, Jesus made a special  point of forgiving and restoring Peter and re-commissioning him as an apostle  (John 21:6, 15-17).

On the day  of Pentecost, Peter was the main speaker to the crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14ff), and the Church began with an influx of  about 3,000 new believers (verse 41). Later, Peter healed a lame beggar (Acts 3)  and preached boldly before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4). Even arrest, beatings, and  threats could not dampen Peter’s resolve to preach the risen Christ (Acts 5).

Jesus’ promise that Peter would be foundational in building the Church  was fulfilled in three stages: Peter preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  Then, he was present when the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8).  Finally, he was summoned to the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius, who also  believed and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). In this way, Peter “unlocked”  three different worlds and opened the door of the Church to Jews, Samaritans,  and Gentiles.

Even as an apostle, Peter experienced some growing pains.  At first, he had resisted taking the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile. However,  when he saw the Romans receive the Holy Spirit in the same manner he had, Peter  concluded that “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34).  After that, Peter strongly defended the Gentiles’ position as believers and was  adamant that they did not need to conform to Jewish law (Acts 15:7-11).

Another episode of growth in Peter’s life concerns his visit to Antioch, where  he enjoyed the fellowship of Gentile believers. However, when some legalistic  Jews arrived in Antioch, Peter, to appease them, withdrew from the Gentile  Christians. The Apostle Paul saw this as hypocrisy and called it such to Peter’s  face (Galatians  2:11-14).

Later in life, Peter spent time with John Mark (1 Peter 5:13), who wrote  the gospel of Mark based on Peter’s remembrances of his time with Jesus. Peter  wrote two inspired epistles, 1 and 2 Peter, between A.D. 60 and 68. Jesus said  that Peter would die a martyr’s death (John  21:18-19)—a prophecy fulfilled, presumably, during Nero’s reign. Tradition  has it that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, and, although such the  story may be true, there is no scriptural or historical witness to the  particulars of Peter’s death.

What can we learn from Peter’s life? Here  are a few lessons:

Jesus overcomes fear. Whether stepping out of a  boat onto a tossing sea or stepping across the threshold of a Gentile home for  the first time, Peter found courage in following Christ. “There is no fear in  love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John  4:18).

Jesus forgives unfaithfulness. After he had boasted of  his fidelity, Peter fervently denied the Lord three times. It seemed that Peter  had burned his bridges, but Jesus lovingly rebuilt them and restored Peter to  service. Peter was a former failure, but, with Jesus, failure is not the  end. “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown  himself” (2 Timothy  2:13).

Jesus patiently teaches. Over and over, Peter needed  correction, and the Lord gave it with patience, firmness, and love. The Master  Teacher looks for students willing to learn. “I will instruct you and teach you  in the way you should go” (Psalm  32:8).

Jesus sees us as He intends us to be. The very first  time they met, Jesus called Simon “Peter.” The rough and reckless fisherman was,  in Jesus’ eyes, a firm and faithful rock. “He who began a good work in you will  carry it on to completion” (Philippians  1:6).

Jesus uses unlikely heroes. Peter was a fisherman from  Galilee, but Jesus called him to be a fisher of men (Luke 5:10). Because Peter was willing to leave all he had  to follow Jesus, God used him in great ways. As Peter preached, people were  amazed at his boldness because he was “unschooled” and “ordinary.” But then they  took note that Peter “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).  Being with Jesus makes all the difference.

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