John Bradshaw - Great Characters of the Bible, Peter
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Success doesn't always come easy, and frequently success follows repeated failure. After working on a whaling ship, Rowland started a business with his brother in California. The business failed. So he headed east and opened a store. Then another, then another, then another. They all failed. So then he went all in, moving to New York City and opening yet another store. This time the business didn't fail. In fact, it became a big success. After his death, that store was moved to 34th and Broadway, where Macy's became one of the largest department stores in the world. Henry Ford's success in the auto industry is the stuff of legend. But that success wasn't instant. His first venture folded without producing a single car. His second attempt was just as unsuccessful as the first. He quit his next company, but Ford eventually revolutionized not only the vehicle manufacturing industry but industry himself. He said, "Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently".
How many people fail at faith before making a success of their spiritual life? Well, the answer is probably everyone. Today we're continuing our series "Great Characters of the Bible," and we're looking at someone who took a long time to get it right. His experience has to be an encouragement to anyone who knows the feeling of blowing it as a follower of Jesus, of falling short, of wondering if you'll ever get the hang of being a disciple of Christ. So how bad was it for this man? Well, he was violent. He was racist. He made promises he didn't keep, and was even referred to as "Satan" by none other than Jesus Himself. When we're introduced to Peter in the Bible, he's a fisherman. His name is Simon Bar-Jonah, Simon the son of Jonah. And Jesus gave him the surname Peter, which is why he's sometimes referred to as Simon Peter. When we read of his call to follow Jesus in Matthew 4, we get the impression that he'd been acquainted with Jesus for some time. Jesus called to Peter and Andrew his brother and said, "'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him".
Now, it's significant that Jesus called Peter, of all people. Peter wasn't a religious leader. He hadn't graduated from the best religious schools in the land. But it's not that Peter hadn't been educated; he hadn't been miseducated. The schools in that day were riddled with pride and bigotry. Jesus was looking for someone genuine, teachable, humble, someone with moral worth who had a desire to see God honored. If you have that, God can use you, no matter what you do in life. And there's another reason it's significant that Jesus called Peter, and that's because Peter was... Peter was Peter. He was far from perfect. He was rough around the edges, and it was going to take a lot of sanding before Jesus could smooth those rough edges out. He once said to Jesus, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have"?
In other words, what's in it for us? Peter would ask questions that other people wouldn't ask, and he'd say the things that others wouldn't say. When Jesus was going to wash the disciples' feet, Peter said, "You shall never wash my feet"! Before telling Jesus to wash not only his feet, but his hands and his head also. When he saw Jesus on the shore of the lake one time, he was so excited he dived in and swam for shore. That was Peter: impetuous, in a hurry, an action man, speak first, think second. "I will lay down my life for [You]," he told Jesus. And of course we know how that turned out. Peter had some growing to do. And that's who Jesus calls to be His disciples: people who have some growing to do. Because the fact is that's everyone. No one is the finished product. If you feel God is calling you, and He is, don't wait until you're ready to accept that call. Don't wait to be good enough for God. Peter accepted Jesus' call, and he grew. Peter was transparent. He was honest, honest about his feelings, honest about his love for God, and honest about himself.
So let's take a look at several episodes from the life of Peter. We'll see what we can learn, not only about Peter, but about ourselves and how we can have a successful relationship with God in spite of our failings. One of the most memorable Peter moments occurred on a lake late one night. Jesus had fed the thousands with just five loaves and two fish. And then He sent the disciples on ahead by boat to the other side of the lake. A storm came up. The Bible says, "The boat was... tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary". And based on what John writes, it seems like the disciples were about 3/4 of the way across the sea when Jesus appeared walking on the water. The disciples were initially afraid, not certain of what they were seeing. But Jesus said, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid".
Peter was beside himself. He called to Jesus and said, "'Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.' So He said, 'Come.' And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus". Walk on water? Since when? But this is what God can do. Loudmouth Peter, shoot-first, aim-second Peter, and Jesus gave Peter a unique experience. No other disciple ever did what Peter did that night. But Peter was about to learn something, something he would forget when he really needed to remember it. He began to sink. Evidently he took his eyes off Jesus and looked instead at the stormy sea. When you look at the storms of life, that's what happens.
When you focus on the problems more than on the solution, when you forget that God is able, that's what happens. Peter sank into a stormy sea in the dead of night, with no lifejacket. But he had the presence of mind to do the right thing, and he called out to Jesus. There was no time for eloquence or oratory. There was no time for flowery language. He cried out from the heart just a three-word prayer: "Lord, save me"! And what did Jesus do? He reached out to Peter, took him by the hand, and got him back in the boat. Matthew 14:32, "And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased". When you take your eyes off Jesus, that's when the trouble starts. When you call out to God in desperation, He hears you, and He answers your prayer. It was Peter's own fault that he was in a fix. But that didn't matter to Jesus. He came to Peter's aid. And that's what He does for you. In the storms of life, don't take your eyes off Jesus. In a moment, Peter forgets the lesson he learned that night on the lake. I'll be right back.
Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. This is "Great Characters of the Bible," and while we know how it worked out in the end for Peter, Peter wasn't an instant success as a follower of Jesus. When Jesus asked His friends who people said He was, "They said, 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'" But just down the page in the same chapter, as Jesus is explaining to them that He is going to suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, and that He'll be crucified, and that He'll be raised from the dead on the third day, Peter speaks up again. The Bible says Peter "began to rebuke [Jesus]," to admonish Him, to censure Jesus. He said, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You"!
Now, Peter wasn't helping Jesus by saying that; he was trying to discourage Jesus from carrying out His mission to save the world. He was trying to prevent the death of Jesus on the cross, whether he realized that or not. You know, you're not always helping someone when you show what you think is concern. A missionary is going off to a faraway place; you don't always help him by telling him how dangerous that place is going to be. Someone's committed to a great humanitarian work or some great community project of some kind; you're not necessarily helping them when you tell them to think of the cost and what else they could buy with all that money. Peter expressed concern, but not in a way that was assisting Christ's mission. Jesus responded by saying this: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men".
Ooh, that had to sting! But Peter in his zeal didn't realize what he was doing. Satan was trying to discourage Jesus, and he was using Peter. Peter was slow to learn that Jesus' path and the path of Jesus' followers was a path of difficulty and humility. Peter shrank away from trials. Jesus was direct with Peter because Peter needed to grow. He needed to see the state of his heart, and Jesus knew we'd read these words one day, and so He was speaking for our benefit, too. But Peter did learn eventually. Here's what he wrote later in 1 Peter chapter 4: "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you, but rejoice to the extent that you partake [in] Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you".
Here's the thing with Peter; he learned; he grew. God was patient with him, which means God will be patient with you as you grow in your faith. In fact, again in the same chapter, when Peter said to Jesus that Jesus was the Son of the living God, Jesus said this to Peter: "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it". Now, some want to believe that Jesus was calling Peter "this rock," or that Peter was the first pope, the first bishop of Rome. Well, He wasn't. There were no popes in the first century A.D. He wasn't a pope, he wasn't a Catholic, and he wasn't "the rock".
Now, you could see how somebody might want to read it that way, but the evidence of the Bible just doesn't support that. Look at it linguistically. Remember, Jesus gave Peter the name Peter. It's from the Greek "pétros," which means "a stone," a small slab of stone maybe. Jesus said, "You are Pétros," a stone, "and upon this rock", this "pétra," a big rock, a boulder, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell", the Greek word there is "Hades," the grave, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it". Peter himself was certainly prevailed against. Linguistically, Peter isn't "the rock". Experientially, Peter isn't "the rock". You don't want your church built on Peter. But the Bible refers to Jesus as "the rock" again and again.
Second Samuel chapter 22: "The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and exalted be the God of the rock of my salvation". Psalm 89: "He shall cry unto me, 'Thou art my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.'" This is divinity being referred to. Now, Peter made an immense contribution to not only the early Christian church, but to the growth and development of Christianity. And he still does. But he wasn't "the rock," and he wasn't a pope. He was a faulty man used by God to do great things. And as far as we can tell, only four people wrote more books of the Bible than Peter did. But unfortunately, for a man who wrote two books of the Bible, he's probably best remembered for his worst moment. It was the night before Jesus died. They're in the upper room, and Jesus had just instituted the Lord's Supper. "Then Jesus said to them, 'All of you will be made to stumble because of me this night, for it is written: "I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered."'"
Jesus quoted the prophet Zechariah. Then He said, "'But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.' Peter answered and said to Him, 'Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.' Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.' Peter said to Him, 'Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!' And so said all the disciples". I'm sure you and I would have said the same thing. "Oh, no! I'd never do that, no, not me". And then it all unraveled. But that's the thing with Peter; someone who fell so low was able to bounce back and become a truly outstanding follower of God. How can that happen? Well, we'll find out in just a moment.
Peter was confident. He was too confident, really. Like when he walked on water and took his eyes off Jesus, down he went. Well, he clearly took his eyes off Jesus again, because not long after telling Jesus he would die before he denied Him, things aren't going well. Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray. Peter, James, and John are told to go with Him and pray for Him, but they fall asleep. Jesus even said to Peter when He found Peter sleeping, "Could you not watch with me one hour"? He was warning Peter: Peter, for a man who said he would rather die than deny me, you're not off to a great start. When Jesus is arrested, Peter takes his sword and swings it, cutting off the ear of the high priest's servant.
Now, you don't think Peter aimed for his ear, do you? He was either the best swordsman in all of Israel, or what's more likely is that he was aiming for the man's head. The man must have ducked at just the right time. After Jesus is arrested, Peter denied Him: "I do not know what you are saying". That's Matthew 26, verse 70. Then "he denied with an oath, 'I do not know the Man!'" That's two, if you're counting. And someone says, "You're one of them". We can tell by "your speech," your dialect. "Then he began to curse and swear, saying, 'I do not know the Man!' Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.' So he went out and wept bitterly". And that had to be bitter. "I'll never deny You. I'd rather die".
That has to be just about as low as you can get. Have you ever been that low? Well, look at what happened. When Jesus was raised from the dead, an angel told the women who went to the tomb, "Go, tell His disciples, and Peter, that He is going before you into Galilee". You see? Jesus hadn't forgotten Peter. He hadn't cast him off. In John 21, when Peter miraculously catches those 153 big fish, and they're eating with Jesus on the shore, Jesus says to him, "'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Feed my lambs.'" No self-assurance now. Jesus asked him a second time, same reply. "He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'"
What's interesting is if you look at the Greek words used, Jesus asks him, "Do you love me"? But He used the Greek word "agapé" when He asked him those first two times. "Agapé," that's a self-sacrificing love. It's the highest form of love. It's not "phileó," brotherly love; it's unconditional love. "Peter, do you love me with that"? That's the kind of love that motivates someone to stand for Jesus even if he has to die. Peter answers, "You know I phileó You". I love You with brotherly love. Jesus asked him a second time, "Do you love me, Peter"? Do you agapé me, love me unconditionally? Again, Peter says, "You know I phileó You," brotherly love. Now, that third time He said, "Peter, do you phileó me"? Do you love me with brotherly love? Peter said, "Lord, You know all things," which is interesting. You know I love You with a brotherly love. You also know that the last time I made a big profession, I fell flat on my face. You know how weak I am. And Jesus said to him, twice actually, "Feed my sheep".
Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus puts it to him three times. And three times Peter came through. Now, think about that. Peter had failed dismally, and yet Jesus commissioned him to be a leader in the church. He restored Peter. He showed love for Peter. And what Jesus did for Peter, He can do for you...or anyone else. So what happened to Peter? At Pentecost he was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached powerfully. Three thousand people were baptized in that one day when the floodgates opened, and the church exploded with growth. He and John were met by a paralyzed man in Acts chapter 3, a beggar hoping for coins. "Peter said, 'Silver and gold have I none; 'but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.'" The man went "walking, and leaping, and praising God".
Peter was a miracle-worker now. He delivered some of the most bold, some of the most stirring lines in the book of Acts. "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard". In Acts chapter 5, he was arrested for his faith. He was put in prison, liberated by a miracle of God, and then went straight back to the temple to preach, saying, "We ought to obey God rather than men". Herod had Peter arrested in Acts chapter 12. James had been executed. Peter was clearly next, but when his life was hanging by a thread, he was in prison and slept so soundly an angel had to smite him to wake him up, and he walked out of the prison as the gates miraculously opened up before him. This was a new man. God took that rough stone and polished it, and Peter was used powerfully for God.
Now, he wasn't perfect. Acts chapter 10 makes clear he still had race issues. Bigotry was sort of the order of the day back then, and Peter hated gentiles. But he was given the vision of the sheet lowering the unclean animals. This is where God said, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat". Peter protests, "I have never eaten anything common or unclean". But then he realizes God is telling him not to call the gentiles unclean. This had nothing to do with food; it had to do with his racism. The scales fell off his eyes, and off his heart. And Peter grew and changed... and learned to love all people.
What a character! Peter: impetuous, impulsive, rash, reckless at times, but Jesus hung in there with him, lovingly brought him to repentance, and loved him even after he had really messed up. There are lessons there that we can learn about how to treat others, but also about how God treats us. If you can see yourself in Peter, then you can see God's love for you in Jesus' treatment of Peter. God loves you. There's a Peter in all of us, and a new Peter just waiting to come out. Trust God with your life today, with your faults, with your failings, with your brokenness, with your inadequacy, and know that God will make you a whole new person, just like He did Peter. Let's pray together now:
Our Father in heaven, I thank You that You demonstrate in Peter's experience that people can fail and then find success, that sinners really can be turned around, that those who make mistakes can learn from them and grow and become just what You want them to be. We thank You for Your patience. As You were patient with Peter, we know that You're patient with us. And, Father, I ask that You would work in our lives just as You worked in Peter.
Now, friend, would you like to ask God right now to work in your heart and give you hope and a new life? Maybe you've done that before, so perhaps your prayer is just a prayer of agreement. Although maybe you're that one who is saying, "Oh, I'm far from God. I'm the failure. I'm more likely to take the sword and swing it or make a rash promise that I can't keep than I am to simply be humble and faithful". Friend, if you've failed, God can restore you, wants to. If you've blown it, God can put the broken pieces back together again. In fact, God can do better than that. He can completely remake you. Would you like that? If you would, lift up your heart to God right now. You might even want to lift up your hand right now, if you can.
Our Father and our God, thank You for treating us the way You treated Peter and for giving us hope that You can make a person new. We thank You for that newness. We claim it now through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. And it's in Jesus' name that we pray. Amen.