Andrew then went to find Peter and told him “We have found the Messiah” And he brought Peter to meet Jesus. Jesus looked intently at Peter for a moment and then said “You are Simon, John’s son – but you shall be called Peter – The Rock!” (John 1:41-42, Life Application Bible)
This was Peter’s first encounter with Christ. What simple words, yet such amazing insight – and what a game changer for a simple fisherman, whose life had undoubtedly been pretty routine until that moment.
The more we learn about Peter from the Gospels, and the more we understand him as a person, the more compelling he becomes. We can identify with his enthusiasm and impulsive, even blundering, nature.
Why did Christ chose Peter, an uncultured man prone to failure, as a foundation on which to build his church? Jesus’s naming of Peter contradicts human reason. He did not choose a conscientious manager or a charismatic personality, but a man who was all heart and apt to behave irrationally at times.
The first disciple to recognize Jesus as the true Christ, Peter was the only one who, seeing Jesus walking across the water toward their boat, stepped out to walk towards him. Although Peter lost courage and started sinking, he reached out in childlike faith to Jesus, who held him from going under.
On the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter was the one who, desperate to protect his master, cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in the garden of Gethsemane. Who, succumbing to the terror surrounding Jesus’ arrest, denied Jesus – not once, but three times. Who, in perhaps the most significant moment of his life, wept bitterly upon recognition of his betrayal.
After the news of the resurrection, as he and John ran to the tomb, was it not Peter (while John, having arrived first, hesitated at the entrance) who ducked in, maybe even bumping his head on the doorway in his eagerness to see where Jesus had lain? Later, after the disciples had been out all night fishing and in the morning saw a man on the shore calling to them, was it not Peter who, without a second thought, leapt into the water and swam ashore in his longing to meet Jesus?
As John’s account continues, we hear the tenderness of Jesus’s question: “Peter, do you love me more than these?” followed by the redeeming commission, “Feed my sheep.” Aren’t Peter’s repentance and Christ’s forgiveness the heart of the gospel? Despite his failings, or perhaps because of them, Peter became the “Rock of the Church” and later, filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed the crowd at Pentecost. Isn’t Peter’s example of clinging to Jesus (the true rock, friend, and master) the foundation of the church?
Shouldn’t we share the disciples’ longing to receive the peace Jesus gives, “not as the world gives”? As believers in Christ, aren’t we all commissioned to be “fishers of men” and to spread the good news of the gospel despite our flaws or personal incompetence?
Peter’s story shows that discipleship is a matter of the heart. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said:
In the final analysis, God does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives. In the final analysis, God knows that his children are weak and they are frail. In the final analysis, what God requires is that your heart is right.
Despite his mistakes, “the total bent” of Peter’s life aimed toward Christ. Peter’s story does not excuse our shortcomings or sins. On the contrary, it challenges each of us to turn again and again to Jesus, who can use anyone for his purpose.