Peter: Disciple, Rock, Human

Scripture Reading: Matthew: 16:13-19: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 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. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Peter’s story is told in all four gospels and also in Acts. When I think of Peter, many thoughts come to mind. I remember Peter going up on the Mount of Transfiguration with his fellow disciples, John and James, and of course, Jesus. There, Peter witnesses an incredible scene with Jesus, whose clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Peter saw two men, Moses and Elijah, appear to Jesus and talk with him about his departure from this earth. In the midst of this incredible moment, Peter says something about putting up three shelters (Luke says that he did not know what he was saying). While Peter was still speaking, a voice comes from a cloud and tells Peter to “listen to him (Jesus).”

This is the same Peter of whom Jesus said that He would build His church upon. Jesus saw something in Peter that Peter may have not seen in himself. Peter would accomplish a great deal for the kingdom of God, but like most of us, Peter would be a constant work in progress.

After Peter’s brilliant confession of Christ, from our scripture reading in Matthew today, Peter then pulls Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him after Jesus told his disciples that he must face death. Jesus very plainly tells Peter that he does not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.

We see Peter in Gethsemane, there with Jesus and the disciples, to keep watch with Jesus and pray. Jesus asks three of his disciples to go a little farther with Him, to be closer to Him (Peter, John, and James). After praying, Jesus returns to find the three disciples sleeping and he says to Peter, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41).  Twice more, Jesus would go away to pray and each time when He came back, Jesus found them sleeping.

A few moments later, Jesus is arrested and the ever impulsive Peter, cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus admonishes Peter and Matthew tells us that “all the disciples deserted him and fled.” Later that night, Peter would deny Jesus three times and this would probably be for Peter, the lowest point of his life. Matthew tells us that Peter wept bitterly.

After Jesus ascends into heaven, the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples and Peter stands up and gives a sermon at Pentecost and 3,000 were saved that day. Peter was on his way to becoming the “rock” that Jesus said he would be.  Paul would later call Peter a “pillar” of the Church. It was said that the crowds came to believe that the mere casting of Peter’s shadow upon the sick was capable of bringing about miraculous healings.

Peter eventually went to Rome. While there, it is believed that John Mark (the writer of the Gospel of Mark) served as his translator as he preached. There is a Church tradition which says that “Mark the disciple and interpreter of the apostle Peter, wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome, embodying what he had heard Peter tell.” Thus Peter was the source of the Gospel of Mark.

According to Church tradition, the Roman Emperor Nero, publicly announcing himself the chief enemy of God, was led in his rage to kill the Apostles. Because of this persecution, Peter was crucified upside down while in Rome around 67 AD.

I have always been fascinated by the stories of Peter. It seems that on many levels I can relate to Peter the man, the human. Peter is taken to the Mount of Transfiguration where he is privy to a scene that only two other human beings were allowed to see. For me, I would probably allow pride to set in and I would use that occasion to build up my importance. I wonder if Peter ever felt that he was on a different level than the other disciples. It seems that he was one of Jesus’ “go to guys.”

I can also relate to Peter in terms of his failures and my own failures. Many times I do what I want to do, not what God wants me to do. And I am prone to “lose my cool” like Peter did as Jesus was being arrested. Even though Peter failed many times, Jesus did not give up on him. Jesus knew that Peter had some growing up to do and He knew that it would take some time, it was a process.

Jesus knows that about us also, we are a work in progress. Some days we can accomplish a great deal for God’s kingdom and some days, we disappoint and fall very short of what God intends for us to do. The good news is that God created us and He continues to mold us into His image, each and every day. So don’t get down on yourself when you stumble and fall. Remember Peter, and know that you are in good company.

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