THE TWELVE 2008 — PETER
Surprisingly, we don’t know how many disciples Jesus actually had. Luke 10:1 says at one point, Jesus sent seventy out in pairs to evangelize in communities where He was preparing to visit. But the total was certainly more than that. Scripture says multitudes followed Him. From this multitude of disciples, He called twelve men to become apostoloi or apostles in English which literally means “messengers or sent ones.” The last 18 months of Jesus’ life on earth, these men were given a unique role as Christ’s ambassadors. Though they carried full authority from Christ, they themselves apparently felt uncomfortable with that authority. Matthew uses the term apostle only once in his Gospel (10:2). Same thing with Mark (6:30) and John (13:16). Instead, these three men, in the books they wrote, refer to themselves as “The Twelve” and so we will too. Beginning with Simon Peter.
We have four lists of the twelve apostles in the New Testament: Matthew 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:13–16; and Acts 1:13. Here’s how the list reads in Luke’s Gospel: “When morning came, He called His disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”
In all four lists, the same twelve men are named and the order in which they are given is similar. The first name in all four lists is Simon whom Jesus also named Peter. If you knew nothing else about him, you would know right away that those near and dear to him considered him the leader. He’s at the head of the class. Top of the charts. Simon was a very common name. There are at least 7 Simons in the Gospel accounts alone. Among the twelve, there were 2 Simons. Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot. Matthew 13:35 says one of Jesus’ half–brothers was named Simon. John 6:71 says Judas Iscariot’s father was named Simon as well. Matthew 26:6 says Jesus had a meal in at the home of a man in Bethany named Simon the leper. Luke 7 says this was the same Simon who was a Pharisee. And Matthew 27 says the man who carried Jesus’ cross on the way to Golgotha was known as Simon the Cyrene. Which makes six.
But the seventh, the apostle Simon’s full name at birth was Simon Bar–Jonah, according to Matthew 16:17. It means “Simon, son of Jonah.” Not the prophet. That guy lived hundreds of years earlier. This Simon was sometimes rendered son of Jonas or most commonly in English, John.
But notice that Jesus gave Simon a new name. We just read it. Luke introduces him this way: “Simon, whom He also named Peter.” Luke’s choice of words are important. For names in Bible times were huge. And they were for Jackie and me too. Because Joshua was born 5 days late one year to the day of my dad’s stroke, we wanted a name to remind us of the goodness of God. How God always takes something bad and turns it into something good. So we chose Joshua because his name means “The Lord is my salvation” or simply “God saves.” We chose Lydia’s name because of the businesswoman by the same name in Acts 16. She was a seller of purple but also a known follower of Jesus. Jesus didn’t just give Simon a new name to replace the old one. He “also” named him Peter. This apostle would from that point on be sometimes known and addressed as Simon and sometimes known and addressed as Peter. And sometimes even as Simon Peter. And we’ll look at some possible reasons why shortly. But before we do, you should probably know that Peter was a sort of nickname.
Maybe some of you already know it comes from the Greek word Petros which means “a piece of rock, or stone.” Not a big boulder or cornerstone. But a corner of the cornerstone. A pebble. A rock. The Aramaic equivalent was Cephas (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Galations 2:9). John 1:42 (NIV) describes Jesus’ first face to face meeting with Cephas: “Jesus looked him [Simon] and said, ‘You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter, a stone.)”
So long before the wrestler and actor came along, Simon was the original Cephas. Simon was The Rock. Everybody didn’t get a nickname. James and John got theirs before they met Jesus. But Simon got his afterward. He became Cephas. The stone. The nickname Petros was significant because by nature Simon was anything but stable. He tended to make promises he couldn’t follow through with. He was undependable. When Jesus met him, he fit James 1:8 description of a double–minded man unstable in all ways. But Jesus doesn’t look at the outside of man like we do. He looks at the inside. The untapped potential in all of us. The weaknesses that through his grace can become our strengths. And this is point number one. Certainly the life of Peter the apostle can teach us many things, but one of them that becomes abundantly clear is that by God’s grace, our weaknesses can become strengths.
And Jesus gave Peter a new name to help him remember that. To remind him of who he was becoming not who he is now. Which is a theme Peter himself eventually picked up and wrote about in his first epistle in 1 Peter 2:4–5 (NIV) says, “As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him—you also, living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
And from that point on, whatever Jesus called him sent him a subtle message. If He called him Simon, he was saying you’re acting childish and unstable and unChristian like your old self. If He called him Cephas in Aramaic, Petros in Greek, or Peter when translated into our English Bibles, He was commending him for being more like a chip off the old block. The stone was becoming more like the chief cornerstone. Though this young, married, and successful Jewish businessman was impulsive and overeager, by God’s grace, He was becoming more stable like a rock. So that is what Jesus named him. From then on, Jesus could gently reprimand or praise him just by calling his name.
But how do we know Peter was married? Because in Luke 4:38 Jesus healed his mother–in–law. You only get a mother-in-law if you’re married right? I love mine and so did Peter. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:5 that Peter even took his wife along with him on his field trips, “Don’t we have a right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” Scripture doesn’t say if they had any children. But Peter was married. Archaeologists think they’ve found his house in Capernaum, on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, a short walk to edge of the lake.
We know he was successful as a business man in the fishing industry because Luke 5:3-10 mentions that he and his business partners James and John had multiple boats. So there were multiple employees and multiple boats. But whenever Scripture is describing his old life before becoming an apostle or giving examples of times when he messed up, it more often than not uses the word Simon to address him. Luke 5:5 (NIV) for example, says, “Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”
That is Simon BC, Simon before Christ, the young fisherman speaking. He is skeptical and reluctant. But willing to be willing. And this is point number two. Weaknesses become strengths when we’re willing. We don’t have to understand everything to obey that which we know. It doesn’t make sense to Peter to throw the nets into the water in broad daylight after no fish were biting all night long in the darkness. But Peter obeys and his eyes are opened to who Jesus really is. So Luke begins to refer to him as Simon Peter in verse 8 saying, “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
But Peter was willing. Another Simon BC example is found in Luke 22. Predicting Peter’s betrayal, Jesus said in verse 22, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” Then later in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Peter should have been watching and praying with Jesus, he fell asleep. Mark 14:37–38 (NIV) picks up the story and says, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Was he perfect? No. He fell asleep on the job. But he was willing. And that’s what God sees in us. This Simon before Christ and Petros after Christ thing occurred so often in rebuke, that at the very mention of his real full name, he must have cringed. Kind of like today when I’m calling my children in for supper or in for bath time. I can yell, “Joshua, Lydia, time to come in!” and often they keep on playing. But if I yell, “Joshua Scott or Lydia Kay!” they don’t mess around. They run right in. Peter must have been thinking, “Please call me the Rock!” And Jesus could have replied, “I’ll call you Rock when you start acting like it.”
But Jesus and Luke weren’t the only ones having difficulty reconciling the “before” and “after” sides of Cephas. Peter’s best friend and business partner John couldn’t make up his mind which name to use either. So in his Gospel, he refers to his friend as Simon Peter 15 times just combining his 2 first names and as Peter got used to the tension of living as the sinner he was while becoming who Jesus was making him to be, he even calls himself Simon Peter. In 2 Peter 1:1, he writes, “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” This tension and growth in grace became such a part of who he was that Acts 10:32 (NIV) actually says Simon started using Cephas as his last name instead of Bar–Jonah. “Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter.”
After the resurrection, Jesus instructed His disciples in Matthew 28:7 to return to Galilee, where He planned to appear to them. Impatient Simon apparently got tired of waiting for Jesus (anyone else been there done that?!), so he announced in John 21:3 that he was going back to work. As usual, the others followed his lead. They got in the boat. Fished all night. And caught nothing.
Verse 4 (NIV) continues, “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” [Daniel may have drawn me this]. The Lord of the loaves and the fishes had prepared some of his own since the fishermen could not. But a grand slam breakfast wasn’t the reason He came. The main purpose of this brunch was to permanently name Simon into Cephas. John 21:15–17 (NIV) says, “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” He could’ve been talking about the disciples and his former occupation as a successful businessman to which we quickly returned. ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Three times Peter denied Jesus the night he was betrayed. And now, three times, Jesus addresses him as Simon and asks him, “Do you love me?” In what must have been a humbling exchange, three times, Peter affirms his love.”You know I love you.” And that was the last time Jesus ever had to call him Simon. Weaknesses become strengths. Point number one. When we’re willing. Point number two. And humble. Point number three.
A few weeks later, on Pentecost, Acts 2:14 records how Peter the Rock, with the other apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, stood up at 9 in the morning and preached his heart out. And verse 41 says 3,000 people were baptized and added to the church that day. After Pentecost, Acts 4 describes how Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling counsel, and were commanded “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” Peter and John boldly replied in verse 19–20, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Being humble doesn’t mean being weak. Or unclear. John the Baptist was so humble he wouldn’t untie Jesus’ sandals. But anyone who thinks the guy who stood up to the king and told him he was living in sin can’t conclude he wasn’t clear.
So they brought Peter back before the Sanhedrin for telling people more and more about Jesus. And again they told them the same thing. But Peter hasn’t changed his mind. In Acts 5:29 (NIV) he says, “We must obey God rather than men!”
And when we’re clearly leading with humility giving God the glory for His mighty acts, mighty acts occur. People change. Entire communities are effected. Acts 3:1–10 describes how Peter and John healed a lame man that turned into a wonderful children’s song. He was so powerful that Acts 5:15–16 says people were healed in his shadow. Acts 9:36–42 records how he raised Dorcas from the dead. Acts 10 describes how he eventually summoned the courage to introduce the Gospel to the Gentiles. And he wrote 2 books of the Bible—1 st and 2 nd Peter.
Was Peter sinless? No. Had he been transformed yet in the twinkling of an eye? Was his sanctification complete? No. He was living breathing proof of Hebrews 10:14. “14By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Scripture says he was being made holy. But it also reveals he was leading with humility.
In Galations 2, the apostle Paul relates an embarrassing Simon like incident when he was eating with some Gentiles and fellow shipping with them. Until some false teachers showed up saying Gentiles had to be circumcised and follow all the ceremonial laws of the Jews. According to Galations 2:12, Peter caved in and stopped eating with the Gentiles. And verse 13 says that when he did that, everyone else followed his lead. So the apostle Paul writes in verse 11, “I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed.” It doesn’t mean he slapped in the face. But verbally, he basically publicly disagreed with him. Verse 14 confirms that he rebuked Peter in front of everyone.
To Peter’s credit, he responded humbly to Paul’s correction. And when the errors of the false teachers were finally confronted at the first General Conference session of the church in Acts 15:7–14, it was Peter who spoke up first defending Paul’s position. Have you led like that? What do people say about how you respond to conflict? Or disagreement? Do we respond humbly?
That in a nutshell is where all of us are in our journeys with Jesus. A little rough around the edges. Weak in many areas. But hopefully willing. And humble. I think that’s what Jesus is looking for in the life of His followers. Point number one. Weakness can become our strengths. When we’re willing. Point number two. And lead with humility. Point number three.
Scripture doesn’t say how Peter’s life ended. We know that Jesus told Peter he would die. John 21:18–19 (NIV) says, “‘I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.”
All the records of early church history indicate that Peter was crucified as Jesus alluded to. Eusebius, who Bible scholars have identified as one of the earliest and reliable historians, cites the testimony of Clement, another historian, who says that before Peter was crucified, he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his own wife. As he watched her being led to her death, Clement says, Peter called to her by name, saying, “Remember the Lord.” When it was Peter’s turn to die, he remembered the Lord, pleading to be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord had died. And so the leader of the twelve was nailed like his Lord to a cross. Only his was upside down.
2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Peter knew the meaning of those words. And it’s why he wrote some of his own just as important. 2 Peter 3:18 says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” That is exactly what Simon did. And that is why he became known as Cephas. Peter. A chip off the old block. A willing humble stone, becoming by God’s grace and power, more and more like the living Cornerstone. And if that can happen in the life of Peter, surely it can happen in ours too. Is that your desire? Let’s ask God to make it so.
Based on content found in John MacArthur’s book Twelve Ordinary Men pages 1-60.
1600-1601; Oil on canvas, The Crucifixino of St.Peter, 90 1/2 x 70 in; Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popola, Rome by Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da