Sunday, April 7, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
When God’s Story Intersects Yours
Part 6—Peter’s Story


ILL: In early 1994, my Mom stayed with our five little kids while Laina and I were out of town.  Grandma was putting our twin girls to bed—they were 8.  Each night, Grandma did a little Bible study with them.  One night they were talking about faith.  Amy volunteered, “Oh, I know all about faith.  Faith is believing.  If you believe really hard, if you really believe, you could even walk on water.”  And in a flash, Sally added, “I think Grandpa Noel could walk on water.”

I’m sure that those you who know Noel probably think the same thing.  There are a few people, like Noel and my wife, Laina, who could probably walk on water—they are just good through and through.

But most of us are like me—a messy mix of good and bad, a bundle of contradictions.

That’s why I think you are going to love today’s story about Peter.  He was one of us, a hero one moment and a goat the next.

This is Peter’s story—and it’s different because of Jesus.

Video: Scott’s story


Introduction and offering:

Thank you Scott for sharing your story!

Several months ago, I wondered where I would be without Jesus.  My story would be very different from the wonderful story I’m living.  Jesus has radically changed my story!  So I decided to do this series, Story—when God’s story intersects yours.  We are telling the Big Story, the story of God and us as it’s told in the Bible, and talking about how the Big Story changes our stories.  There is a meta-narrative in the Bible—a story that runs from cover to cover.  We are telling the Big Story by telling 9 individual stories—arguably the 9 stories that best summarize the Big Story.  

  • The start of the Story.

  • The story of Abraham.

  • The story of Moses.

  • The story of David.

  • The Story of Jesus.  (Easter weekend)

  • The story of Peter.

  • The story of Paul.

  • The story of us.

  • The end of the Story.

The story of Jesus is the central story, the main story.  All the stories before point forward to Jesus; all the stories after point back to Jesus.  

The Big Idea: The Bible is the story of God and us.  When God’s story intersects yours, you begin to live a new story.

Today, we’re telling Peter’s story.  Peter was one of the first people whom Jesus called to follow, and became the leader of the twelve apostles. In some ways, Peter’s story is every one’s story.  He is perhaps the most relatable of the disciples.  One moment he’s brilliant; the next he’s a moron!  Peter put his foot in his mouth so often that he had to wear mint-flavored sandals! He was a bundle of contradictions—kind of like me, and you.  I think that’s why almost everyone relates to Peter—they see themselves in him.

Here’s Peter’s story.

1. Peter’s call.  

Simon was a fisherman, in business with his brother Andrew, and partners James and John.  He made his living netting fish in the rich waters of Lake Galilee, and selling them in the market at Capernaum, the village where he lived.  It was hard work, and he wasn’t going to get rich, but it was an honest living, and he was good at what he did.

Once, Andrew missed work several days in row.  He had been listening to a young rabbi from the nearby village of Nazareth.  Andrew came home excited and insisted that Simon go with him to meet this rabbi, named Jesus.  Reluctantly he went.  

Have you ever met someone for the first time, but you walk away knowing, “I’ll never forget this experience”?  Simon had barely met Jesus, when Jesus said, “You are Simon, but I’m going to call you Rocky!”  It was Cephas which is Aramaic for “rock”—or Petros in Greek, Peter in English.   This would be like me meeting you for the first time, and saying, “Nice to meet you, Nancy; but I’m going to call you Rocky.”  Jesus saw something rock-like in Simon and so He gave Simon a new name: Cephas or Peter.  Rocky!  

It was an unforgettable first meeting.

Peter started going with Andrew to listen to Jesus teach.  He saw and heard amazing things, and slowly Peter started to believe.  The tipping point came one day at work.

Peter and Andrew and James and John were cleaning their nets after a long night fishing.  Jesus was teaching nearby on the shore and people were crowding around Him to hear.  So Jesus asked Simon, “Do you mind if I borrow your boat?  And would you mind pushing it out a little from shore?”  From Simon’s boat, Jesus taught the crowds.  

When He was done, He turned to Simon.  “Let’s go fishing!  Push her out into the deep waters and drop your nets—let’s catch some fish!”  

Simon looked at his partners and probably rolled his eyes, then shrugged his shoulders and said, “Master, we—that is, we professional fishermen—have fished all night and caught nothing.  But if you—that is, you the traveling preacher—say so, we’ll go fishing.”  Jesus smiled and nodded, and off they went.

Simon let down his nets and had such a huge catch that his nets began to tear.  He had to call James and John over to help, and they hauled in so many fish that both boats began to sink!  Simon had never had a net-tearing, boat-sinking catch like this!  And suddenly he realized why.

He dropped to his knees in front of Jesus.  “Lord, you should leave; I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.”  Simon recognized that he was in the presence of Someone different, Someone holy.  “You’re holy, I’m not.  Please leave.”  

If it was me, I would have signed Jesus up as a fishing partner on the spot!  “Stick around; we could use a guy like you in our business!”  Instead, Simon is asking Jesus to leave.  But Jesus has other plans.  He’s going to invite Simon to become a partner in His business.

“Don’t be afraid!  From now on, you’ll be fishing for people.”  Jesus radically changed Peter’s story.  Instead of catching fish for dinner, he’s going to catch people for God!  When they got back to shore, all four men left their boats and nets and began following Jesus.

Jesus called Peter to be on His team, to start catching people for God.  The miraculous catch of fish served as a reminder of what Jesus wanted to do with Peter’s life—only with people instead of fish.  Peter was going to catch a lot of people for God!  The rest of his life would be devoted to helping people find and follow Jesus.  

There are too many good stories about Peter—I only have time for a few.  If you want the whole list, I’ll publish it on the end of my manuscript on our website.  But I have to tell you this story.

2. Peter’s big moment.

Near the end of their three years together, Jesus took His men out of Israel into Gentile territory, so He could have some time alone with them, away from the demands of the crowds.  There, He asked them, “Who do people say that I am?”  

They answered, “Some say you are John the Baptist, or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”  This was the word on the streets.  They tried to identify Jesus by using familiar categories—but Jesus really didn’t fit any of them—He was something more than a prophet.

“What about you?” Jesus asked.  “Who do you say I am?”  

Peter had been thinking about this very question ever since that miraculous catch of fish.  He had seen all the miracles, heard all the teaching.  And suddenly in this moment, the last piece of the puzzle dropped into place.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Peter said.  This was a mouthful.  The Christ was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah who fulfilled all the promises of the Old Testament.  And Peter recognized that Jesus the Messiah was more than human; He was the divine Son of God!

Jesus said, “You are blessed, Simon, because my Father revealed this to you.”  In other words, you didn’t figure it out and no one told you.  God revealed this to you.  A Jewish man would never come to this conclusion on his own that another man was divine—this was so far out of the normal categories that it required a revelation from God!

Then Jesus said:

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

This was Peter’s big moment!  You are Petros (a rock) and on this rock (petra), I will build my church. Jesus is using an obvious play on words.  But what did He mean?  Here’s my take.

“On this rock I will build my church.”  What is the rock?  It seems obvious that Peter is the rock, but in what way?  We know that the church is founded and built on Jesus, not on any human being.  

1 Corinthians 3:11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

But Peter was the first member of the church.  He was the first person to discover who Jesus was, and to declare it: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  He was the first stone in the building and so has an honored place.  As the first member of the church, you could say that the rest of the church is built on him.  

Don’t miss the fact that Jesus announces He will build His church and all the powers of hell won’t stop it.  Jesus is building His church and nothing—not even Peter or me or you—can stop Him!

Back to our story.  It’s Peter’s big moment!  He got it right, and now Jesus says all kinds of great things about him.  He’s on top of the world!

Not for long.

Jesus goes on to announce that He is heading to Jerusalem where He will suffer and die and rise again.  Peter, full of himself, discreetly takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him.  “Never!  This will never happen to you!”  It’s almost like Peter is saying, “Jesus, have you forgotten what I just said about you?  You are the Messiah, the Son of God, for Pete’s sake!  You are not going to suffer and die.”  Peter had his own ideas about what the Messiah would do; He was going to Jerusalem to reign as a King, not die on a cross.  So Peter straightens Jesus out…never a good idea.

Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan!  You are in my way!  You don’t have in mind the things of God, but of men!”  

What does the proverb say?  “Pride comes before a fall.”  Peter got a big head and Jesus popped his bubble.  From the top of the world to the bottom of the pile.  From “God revealed this to you” to “Get behind me Satan”!  Peter learned how quickly we can fall when we get full of ourselves.  

He had to learn it again later in a much more painful way.

3. Peter’s fall.

On the last night of Jesus’ life, as they were sharing the last supper together, Jesus warned them, “This very night, you will all fall away from me.  The Scripture predicts, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.’”

Peter piped up, “Lord, even if all these others fall away, I never will.”  You gotta love that!  Peter was all in!

Jesus said, “Peter, tonight, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

Peter was horrified.  “Lord, I would never disown You.  Even if I have to die, I would never disown you.”  I believe Peter was sincere—he meant every word he said.

But unfortunately, he overestimated his strength.  

Later that night, when Jesus was arrested, Peter was the only one who resisted.  He pulled his sword and took a swing at one of the arresting mob.  He hit a man named Malchus and clipped his ear off.  Jesus intervened before it got any more ugly.  “Put your sword away, Peter.  I have to do what God says.”

Then Jesus reached out and touched Malchus and healed his ear.  Don’t you love Jesus?  

They arrested Jesus and the disciples ran off into the dark.  But Peter, his bold promise still bright in his memory, followed the mob at a distance to the high priest’s courtyard.  There, he warmed himself by a fire while Jesus was being tried.  

A girl in the courtyard recognized him.  “Hey, you are one them; you were with Jesus.”  Peter said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Peter walked away from the fire toward the gate where another girl said, “I recognize you.  You were with Jesus of Nazareth.”  Peter denied it again.  “I swear, I don’t know the man.”

A little while later, a man approached Peter.  “You’re one of them.  Your Galilean accent gives you away.”  Peter swore and called down curses on himself.  “As God is my witness, may he damn me if I am not telling the truth: I do not know the man.”  

Just then, the rooster crowed.  Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter.  He remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”  And Peter rushed out of the courtyard weeping.  

Peter is a bundle of contradictions.  On the one hand, he alone was courageous enough to follow Jesus right into the high priest’s courtyard.  On the other, his courage failed him when he was confronted and faced with the possibility of being arrested himself.  On the one hand, he sincerely promises total devotion—to the death if necessary.  On the other, he disowns Jesus at the first sign of danger.  

Peter’s tears tell us a lot about him. He was earnest about his promise and heartbroken about his failure.

But Jesus specializes in healing broken hearts.

4. Peter’s restoration.

Even after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter’s failure dogged him.  Yes, Jesus was alive—but would Jesus want Peter as a follower any longer?  Peter couldn’t imagine why Jesus would want such a colossal screw up!

So one day, Peter said to some of the other guys, “I’m going fishing.”  This was not a weekend recreational fishing trip—a few hours of fun out on the water.  This was Peter going back to his old job.  This was Peter giving up on being a disciple.  

“I’m going fishing,” he said, and six other disciples said, “We’re with you.”  Peter, even in his defeated and discouraged state, was still a leader.  He took six guys with him back to the old life.

They fished all night and caught nothing—does this sound familiar.  In the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again!”

Early in the morning, Jesus arrived on the shore—they didn’t know it was Him.  He called out, “Friends, do you have any fish?”  Maybe they thought he was a fishmonger, looking for fresh fish for the market.

“No,” they shouted back.

“Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you’ll find some.”

Well, why not?  They had nothing to lose—they’d been skunked all night.  So they did, and suddenly their net was so full of fish that they couldn’t haul it into the boat!  

John was the first to recognize Jesus.  He turned to Peter and said, “It’s the Lord.”  And as soon as Peter he heard this, he jumped in the water to be the first to shore.  Peter had been stripped for work, and he didn’t want to meet Jesus in his underwear, so before he dove in, he put on his tunic.  Most people strip to swim—not Peter!  You gotta love this!  Here’s this bundle of contradictions again: the guy who led the desertion is the first one to jump in the water and get to Jesus.  

The other men followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish behind them.  John tells us that there were 153 large fish in the net.  Over the centuries, Biblical scholars have tried to find some hidden meaning in this number.  But the easier explanation is that fishermen remember the details of their best catch!  Like this one: this guy is a friend of my nephew and he caught this lake trout while fishing for kokanee on Loon Lake!  He can tell you all about it!  “Remember the time we caught 153 fish!”

On the beach, Jesus had a fire going with fish on and some bread.  “Come have breakfast with me.”  I love that!  Jesus tracks these wandering disciples down and invites them to breakfast.  “Let’s enjoy breakfast and we’ll talk.”

But no one was enjoying or saying anything.  They all knew it was the Lord.  They were caught red-handed—so it was a silent breakfast.

The silence was broken by Jesus.  He turned to Peter and asked, “Simon, do you love me more than these?”  Perhaps, as Jesus said this, He swung his hand toward the boat and the net full of fish.  “Do you love me more than your old life?  Do you love me enough to let go of all this and come back and follow Me?”

Or maybe, as Jesus said this, He swung His hand toward the other disciples.  “Simon, do you love me more than these?”  Remember, Peter had said, “Even if everyone else disowns you, I won’t.”  In essence, Peter claimed to love Jesus more than all the others.  So maybe that’s what Jesus meant.  “Do you really love me more than these other disciples?”

Peter quietly said, “Yes Lord, You know that I love You.”  Interesting thing here: Jesus used the Greek word agape, the highest word for love, the love of pure commitment to another’s well-being.  But Peter answered with the word phile, the word for affection, friendship, brotherly love (the city of Philadelphia).  This is like the guy who tells the girl, “I love you,” and she says, “Let’s be friends.”

“Simon, do you love me?”

“Lord, I really like you a lot.”

Peter had over-promised and under-delivered before, and was still smarting from his failure.  He wasn’t about to make the same mistake again.  “I really like You, Lord—a lot.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus said.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon, do you love me?  Do you agape Me?”

Again Peter responded, “Yes Lord, you know I phile You—I really like you a lot.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

Jesus asked one more time: “Simon, do you phile Me?  Do you really like Me?”  And Peter was grieved that Jesus asked him this, and said, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I phile You.”  

“Feed my sheep.”

And so Peter was restored and back in the saddle.

This is one of my favorite stories.  One of the things that has always spoken to me is that when Jesus tracks Peter down after he failed and deserted, Jesus only asks one question: Do you love Me?  There was no recrimination.  “Why did you disown me?  Why did you lie?  And what the stink are you doing back here fishing?”  None of that.  Just, “Do you love Me?”

“Because, if you love Me, Peter, I can do something wonderful with your life.”  Some of you need to hear that.  You’ve failed, you’ve fallen and crashed, and like Peter, you think Jesus is probably done with you.  He’s not.  He’s asking, “Do you love Me?”  

And notice that when Peter was unwilling or unable to use the higher word for love, Jesus accommodated him.  It’s like Peter said, “Lord, I don’t want to over-promise again.  I really like you; I’m your friend.”  And Jesus said, “Ok, I’ll take that and we’ll go from there.”  

“Do you love me?”  Yes, I do, Jesus, but even my best love is weak.  Jesus understands and takes us where we are.  

Feed my sheep.  That’s exactly what Peter went on to do.

5. Peter’s leadership.

Peter went on to become one of the primary leaders of the early church.  He preached the first Christian sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and 3000 people believed and were baptized.  He presided over the church in Jerusalem.  He healed people, worked miracles, preached to crowds, was arrested and jailed and miraculously released.  Peter went to Samaria to affirm the birth of the church there.  Later, God used Peter to bring the first Gentile into the church—a Roman soldier named Cornelius.  Peter was instrumental in the Jerusalem council that made it possible for Gentiles to freely become Christians and for the church to spread through the Roman Empire.  Peter eventually wrote two letters that were circulated among the churches, known to us as 1 and 2 Peter.

Legend has it that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome—a martyr for Jesus.  Do you think he had any regrets?  Do you think he wished he had stayed a fisherman in Capernaum?  Peter lived an extraordinary life following Jesus.  His trajectory was radically changed—from fisherman to fisher of men, from backwater businessman to global apostle.

Where would Peter be without Jesus?  Where would you be without Jesus?


Stories about Peter

  • Peter’s call to follow and become a fisher of men.  Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 5, John 1

  • Peter walks on water: bid me come to you.  Matthew 14

  • Peter’s great confession and blunder: you are the Christ…and I rebuke you!  Matthew 16, Mark 8, Luke 9

  • Peter on the mountain and in the garden.  Matthew 17, 26, Mark 9, 14, Luke 9,

  • Peter on forgiveness.  Matthew 18

  • Peter refuses a foot washing.  John 13

  • Peter vows never to desert even if the others do.  Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13

  • Peter defends Jesus, de-ears Malchus.  John 18

  • Peter denies Jesus. Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 18

  • Jesus restores Peter.  John 21

  • Peter preaches on Pentecost.  Acts 2

  • Peter and John heal and preach. Acts 3-4

  • Peter with Ananias. Acts 5

  • Peter in Samaria.  Acts 8

  • Peter and Cornelius.  Acts 10-11

  • Peter arrested and freed. Acts 12

  • Peter and the Jerusalem council. Acts 15

  • Peter and Paul. Galatians 2

  • Peter, author of two letters in the Bible.