Can you tell whom I’m thinking about?
Read the title of this post. Look at the picture.
That is Dwayne Johnson’s nickname from his days as a professional wrestler.
There seems to be a specific kind of person whom we nickname with the word “Rock”. Think about Rocky Balboa. Remember the character Sylvester Stallone is famous for playing in how many boxing movies? 20? Rocky Balboa is a prize fighter. Dwayne The Rock Johnson is a professional wrestler and action movie hero. These guys are intense!
At Faith Church last week we began a series talking about The Rock. Not Dwayne Johnson or Rocky Balboa, but a guy named Peter. How is Peter like The Rock?
We first meet Peter in Mark 1:16. Peter was a Jewish man from the town of Bethsaida in Galilee, which is the northern part of Israel. People from Galilee had a bit of a different accent, and were considered to be…well…kinda backwards.
As Mark tells us, Peter’s Hebrew name was Simeon, often shortened to Simon. So why do we call him Peter? The name “Peter” is actually a nickname Jesus gave him! Right around the same time as the events of Mark 1:16, we read in John 1:42 that Jesus calls Simon a nickname, Cephas, which is the Aramaic word meaning “rock.” “Peter” is our English version of the Greek word “petros” which means “rock”. Why would Jesus give Simon the nickname, “The Rock”? In this post, we’re going to tell Simon Peter’s story to find out what Jesus was thinking.
Jesus would invite Peter, Peter’s brother Andrew, their friends and some others to be his followers, most commonly known as Jesus’ 12 Disciples. Among the disciples, Peter quickly showed his potential. He is often depicted as speaking first, or in the lists of the disciples’ names, Peter’s is first. One time in Matthew 17:24 tax collectors come to Peter to ask a question about Jesus. There is no doubt that he was considered a leader. Furthermore, Peter was bold. Neither afraid to speak nor to ask questions. He was rock-like.
But, like so many bold people, Peter knew how to put his foot in his mouth. In Matthew 15:15 right after Jesus tells the disciples a parable, Peter pipes up, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus’ response is classic: “Are you still so dull?
In Mark 9:5 we read the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah, two towering figures from Israel’s history, appear beyond the grave, and Jesus’ clothes turn brilliant white. We are told that Peter, “…did not know what to say, they were so frightened.” But that didn’t stop him. He said stuff anyway, making a fairly offbeat comment to Jesus that perhaps they could build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. God the Father responded this time. Or was a it a rebuke to Peter’s big mouth? God says, ”
Also in John 13:4-9, during the account of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus gets up from the table and, showing them how they should serve one another, washes their feet. Peter is aghast. The servants should be washing their master’s feet! But Jesus warmly tells Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. Guess what Peter comes out with in response to that? “Then, Lord, not just my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Huh? Can you see the other disciples looking at each other thinking, “Awkward…” Even in Ancient Israel, grown men don’t wash each other.
Peter was passionate. Yeah, sometimes he said crazy stuff. Other times he said amazing things.
In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus asks the disciples a question in private, a question he could not ask in the presence of a crowd, and especially in the presence of the religious leaders who already wanted his head. He asks his disciples about his identity, “Who do people say that I am?” Well, word on the street was that Jesus was special, and there were a number of options for who he might be. One of the famous prophets maybe. People in the crowds had speculated wildly. Jesus knew that. But he wanted to hear what his closest followers thought. He wanted to know what was going on inside their hearts and minds. Guess who pipes up right away? Peter. And as much as Peter could put his foot in his mouth and say really inappropriate stuff sometimes, he could also come out with some amazing truth.
Peter is right on the money when he says, “You the Christ! The Son of the Living God.” Jesus looks at Peter with great approval, and says, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my father in heaven.” What a moment! Jesus is saying that Peter received a revelation from God of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah! That is amazing!
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Here Jesus tells a joke, a pun to be precise when he says to Peter, “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.”
Peter, Jesus says, is The Rock. It wasn’t just that he was bold in what he said. Peter also had a bold faith that took action.
There was the time that the disciples saw a mysterious figure walking on the water out to their boat. As it gets closer, they realize it is Jesus! So guess what Peter does? He walks on water right out to Jesus! And yet, when the wind and waves spray in his face, Peter the solid rock, crumbles, becomes afraid, turns away from Jesus and starts to sink. You know the rest of the story. Jesus grabs his hand, steadies him and says “You of little faith…why did you doubt?”
Then just before Jesus was arrested, as the soldiers surround him, Peter whips out his sword, and he cuts off the ear of high priest servant in Garden. He was bold! Has his faith become rock solid?
Jesus surprises Peter, telling Peter to put down his sword. Peter is shocked and confused. His Lord who he loves, who Peter has committed to follow, seems to be giving up. Jesus even reaches over and heals the servant’s ear! What is Jesus doing? Isn’t this supposed to be his big moment? Instead Peter’s Lord is now being taken away. Peter gets scared. What seemed like a new movement of God appears to be falling apart right in front of his eyes.
With Jesus in chains, Peter follows at a distance, curious, and frightened. Suddenly, Peter is spotted. People outside the high priest’s house where the trial is taking place call him out: “You are one of Jesus’ followers!” Now Peter is really worried. If Jesus is going down, Peter and the other disciples could easily being going down with him. So Peter, as boldly as he had confessed his allegiance to Jesus just a few hours before, now boldly denies ever knowing Jesus. And he does it again. And one more time. Three times Peter denies knowing Jesus, then the rooster crowed. From his position, Jesus turns and looks Peter in the eye. And Peter runs away in bitter, bitter shame. Peter seems to be anything but a solid rock.
We know what happens next. Jesus is beaten severely, then crucified, died and is buried on Friday. Sunday morning, a couple of the women who were Jesus’ followers report to the disciples hiding out in a room in the city that Jesus was alive. Peter’s head jerks up and he on his feet in a flash. He sprints out the door, John at his heels. They run to the burial place, and John overtakes him, gets there first and looks in from the outside. Peter arrives and rushes into the tomb. It was true! Their Lord was no longer there! Soon after Jesus began to appear to them. It was true! He was alive!
A few days pass. The feast of Passover, for which Jesus and his disciples had originally traveled to Jerusalem, was over so the disciples returned home to Galilee in the north. What do you do when your world is turned upside down? They went back to work. I bet Peter needed to go fishing, to clear his head. The disciples, from their boat, notice a man on the beach making a fire, and it was Jesus. Peter again jumps out into the water to go to him. After breakfast Jesus does something remarkable to Peter. Read John 21:15-17, and you’ll see.
For each one of Peter’s three denials, Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to say, “I love you,” and he directs Peter to feed his lambs. This is Jesus restoring Peter. Peter, the one who was so boldly committed to Jesus saying, “I will die for you,” had actually turned out to boldly deny Jesus. But Jesus knew what was deep down inside Peter was not a coward. Peter was not a failure. Jesus loved Peter, and he knew Peter loved him. So in this amazing moment, Jesus lifts Peter back up. Peter truly would be The Rock.
Now let’s continue Peter’s story in the book of Acts. Very quickly we notice something. The first 11 verses of Acts chapter 1 are all about Jesus. But in verse 11 Jesus returns to his father. Starting in verse 12, the focus then turns to Jesus’ disciples. How would they react to this astounding turn of events? In the span of 50 days their master had gone from national hero to criminal to dead to risen again! And now…Jesus is gone. The disciples and other followers, which verse 14 tells us number about 120, do what Jesus said they should do: go back to Jerusalem and wait in prayer.
One of them stands up. Starting in verse 15 Peter stands up and speaks. Skim through the next five chapters of Acts, these critical early moments of the life of the church, and one name appears over and over and over again. Peter.
- In chapter 1 Peter leads the discussion about who will replace Judas.
- In chapter 2 Peter preaches the first sermon.
- In chapter 3 he heals a crippled man and preaches again.
- In chapter 4 Peter is arrested and boldly proclaims Christ before the Jewish leaders.
Look at Acts 4:13 and what it says there is just amazing: “When the Jewish leaders saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
When you spend time with Jesus, he will transform your life.
In Acts, the story of Peter just keeps going. He takes the lead in confronting sin in chapter 5. And how about this verse in 5:15: “People brought the sick in to the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.” What? Peter’s shadow had power? Just his shadow? That’s crazy wild. And the dude was catching fish just a few years before?
At this point in the middle of Acts 5, the new church in Jerusalem is enjoying amazing favor. Tons of people coming to faith, following Jesus, becoming part of an amazing new community. Miraculous healings. Amazing generous gifts of sacrifice to help those in need.
Until Acts 5:17. The religious establishment guys don’t like what they are seeing. The new church is encroaching into their territory, as people are following Jesus. The Jewish leaders are filled with jealousy, they round up the apostles, these uneducated men who hung out with Jesus, and bring them in for questioning. They flog the apostles and tell them to knock it off. And you know how Peter and the other apostles respond? They rejoice because they were counted worthy of suffering for Jesus! They do not knock it off. They keep preaching. The church keeps growing.
In chapters 6-7 we get a brief pause in Peter’s story. We meet some of the other leaders in the church, Stephen and Philip. But in chapter 8, Peter is back, now going on missionary trips to Samaria. For the rest of chapter 8 and halfway in chapter 9 we meet Philip again and Paul makes his first entrance in the story.
Halfway through 9 we’re back to Peter, who is making more missionary trips. Then in chapter 10 something momentous happens. Peter has a game-changing vision from God. At first, the vision seems really weird. In the vision Peter sees a sheet dropping from heaven, and in the sheet are unclean animals, and God is telling Peter to eat these animals, that they are no longer unclean. The meaning of the dream was that Peter was to lead the new Christian church to reach the Gentiles, the non-Jews, with the message of Good News in Christ alone.
Reach the Gentiles? Peter is Jewish. Born a Jew, always a Jew, Peter followed Jewish laws all his life. The thought of eating unclean meat, and of reaching out to the unclean Gentiles is repulsive to Peter. So once again, put your foot in your mouth Peter comes out when he says, “Surely not Lord!” But yeah, God wanted to reach the Gentiles too.
Peter obeys and the book of Acts starts to take a major turn as God wants the message of Good News in Jesus to be conveyed to the Gentiles. In chapters 11, therefore, we read about Peter explaining and living out this newly expanded understanding of the mission of God to include all people.
In chapter 12, things get crazy. The local King Herod is getting lots of political heat from the Jewish religious establishment about these Christians. So Herod rounds up a couple leaders, intending to persecute them. He actually puts the Apostle James to death. That was James who years before was fishing partners with Peter. Peter gets jailed too. With James dead, it seems like Herod wants to take down the new church’s leadership, hoping to destroy the church. Peter is public enemy #1.
But God has other plans for Peter. The night before his trial, chained in prison, praying, Peter is miraculously freed by God’s angel. Peter then travels away to share more about Jesus in other places. That is the last full story featuring Peter in the book of Acts. He pops up again in chapter 15, at a major church council. By that time, Peter has become a missionary. James, the brother of Jesus, is the new leader of the church in Jerusalem.
Historians tell us that Peter eventually traveled to many places in the Empire, including Rome. He is believed to have been the leader of the church in Rome. He is also said to have died on an upside-down cross. Just before his death, Peter wrote two letters which we call 1st and 2nd Peter. But also the Gospel of Mark was likely influenced by him. Mark was not a disciple, but a traveling companion of Peter.
That’s Peter’s story of life change.
I suspect Peter was always a bold, brash guy. But I doubt he ever expected life would take him much beyond the shores of the Galilee. He was a fisherman. That was a good business to be in. Feeding his family, feeding many others in his area. Making a living.
He meets a guy named Jesus one day. Jesus is remarkable. Different. There’s a spark. Jesus says, “Follow me, Rock, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Only three years later, what do we see? Fisherman Peter is now the Rock of the Church preaching a sermon in Jerusalem to a huge crowd. And 3000 of them respond to his sermon. What. The. Heck? What happened in those three years?
What happened during those three years were lots of ups and downs. It didn’t seem like Jesus’ nickname was working out so well. Peter often seemed more like quicksand than The Rock. But Jesus continued reaching out to Peter and set Peter up to lead his followers. When Jesus returned to his father, Peter was ready to be the Rock of the church. The Holy Spirit empowering the church, Peter was ready to lead this small group of 120 followers of Jesus.
Peter was a changed man.
I think Peter would understand the life that most of us live, because he lived it too. The crushing realities of life seem insurmountable.
We hear ourselves saying things like “I’m just a lowly worker with no hope for a meaningful future.”
But Jesus comes to us and says “Follow me. I will make you…something you never could have imagined. I’ve got a new name for you.”
We hear ourselves saying, “I feel like I’m sinking in the raging waters of life, and I don’t know how to swim and no one cares.”
But Jesus reaches out to pull us and strengthen our faith.
When life gets really hard and scary and God seems nowhere to be found, we hear ourselves saying “I don’t know you God, I don’t know you Jesus, I don’t know you!” And we can’t believe we denied our Lord, and we wonder if we’ve lost it all.
But Jesus comes to us with forgiveness and says “Do you love me?” And we really do love him, and he says “I have a plan for you.” And we think “Really? Me? But Lord, I turned away from you.” And he says a second time “Do you love me?” And we really do love him, and he says “I want to use you.” And we think, “But I’ve screwed up so many times. You can’t possibly use me, Lord.” And he says again “Do you love me like a brother?” And we know where he’s going with this. We know he is right, and we respond “I really do love you like a brother.” And he confirms to us “Yes, I have a job for you.” He really does want to use us.
To follow Jesus we need to do what Peter did. Peter left fishing behind. Peter said “Ok. I will make a change and follow you, Jesus.”
What change do you need to make to follow Jesus in a new way? During my April sermon series, what I learned on sabbatical, I told you some changes that I needed to make. I was feeling trapped by some elements of life. I got rid of them in order to make space to follow Jesus. I encourage you to do the same. The time has come.
Jesus wants to restore you, to transform you. He loves you. That is our amazing Lord. Merciful, gracious, patient.
He doesn’t always turn a fisherman into the leader of the world-wide church. But he obviously can do that if he wants. More likely, Jesus wants to do in you what he did in Peter. Transformation. Transformation of the heart, transformation of the mind, of the soul, of the body.
How is Jesus at work in your life? What does he need to restore in your life? How is he calling you to serve him?
He doesn’t call everyone The Rock, but I suspect he has a nickname for you too. His name for you might surprise you. It might take you a while to feel it suits you. But in time you find it will fit perfectly.