Dare to Be a Disciple: Divided Peter

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Sunday - 9:15 AM Sunday School, 10:30 AM Worship Service

by: Denise Robinson

02/15/2022

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Dare to Be a Disciple: Divided Peter

Matthew 14:25-33; Matthew 16:15-23; Mark 14:27-31, 66-72

The New Testament gives a more complete picture of the disciple Simon, better known to us as Peter, than of any other disciple. Two weeks ago, we began looking at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ through the lives of those Jesus first called to be disciples. From Thomas we learned that a disciple will have doubts from time to time but never stops asking questions and seeking answers. From John we learned that the greatest single attribute of a disciple is to love one another, but even the most devoted disciple will get it wrong occasionally. This morning we turn our attention to Peter. 

When we first meet Peter, he is introduced by the name “Simon.” The name Simon has different meanings in the Greek and Hebrew. In Greek, the name Simon refers to what may be a physical characteristic: it means to have a wide, flat nose. In Hebrew, the name would actually have been pronounced Shim-on or Simeon and its meaning is a little more generous: it means he heard or he listened. After calling Simon, Jesus changed his named to Cephas (Aramaic), which is Petros in Greek, meaning rock or stone. Throughout the Gospels, he may be called Simon or Simon Peter or Peter; commonly, though, Jesus refers to him as Simon when he’s messed up and Peter when he’s living the life Jesus has called him to live. Through a simple name change, Jesus provided a nickname which was to serve as a reminder about who he should be. When Jesus called him Simon, he was referring to his life before he committed to following Jesus or he was signaling that he was acting like his old self; when he called him Peter, Jesus was telling him he’d gotten it right. It’s kind of like when my mother called me “Denise Ann” – then I knew I was in trouble. 

I conducted one of my in-depth scientific surveys (AKA a Google search) and found that while many people admire John, most people identify with Peter. Why is that? I think it’s because we see more of Peter than any other disciple in the Bible (with the possible exception of Paul) and he reminds us of ourselves – he’s stubborn, opinionated, impulsive, given to rash conclusions and hasty remarks. As we will see in our Scripture readings for this morning, he can be brilliant one minute and inspire confidence and just seconds later open his mouth and destroy it all. In a nutshell, Peter embodies all of what it means to be human – he is us on our best day, on our worst day, and every day in between.

The story of Peter walking on the water takes place just after Jesus has performed one of his biggest miracles by feeding over 5,000 people from just a few loaves of bread and fish. After he has taught and fed the crowd, Jesus goes off by himself to pray. But before doing so, we are told that he sends the disciples ahead of him to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. There are so many issues with what happens here. It’s been a long day. It’s evening. The disciples would have several very valid objections to Jesus’ request and equally good reasons for camping out on the shore until morning. They are tired. It’s dark out and that’s no time to start rowing across the Sea of Galilee in a first century boat. It’s windy and the skies look like rain. Further, the reason for Jesus’ request makes no sense: we are told that they are taking “the” boat (not a boat or one of the boats) and are leaving Jesus behind. They are to go on ahead of him, but there is no explanation for how he will join they later. But Scripture makes it clear that this was not a request; we are told that Jesus made them get in the boat and go. So, they go. And it isn’t long until a big storm comes up. We are told that when they are far from land (the Sea of Galilee is, by the way, Israel’s largest freshwater lake, about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide), a storm strikes and the wind is against them and they are being battered by the waves. Suddenly, they see out in the blurry distance a figure walking toward them on the water. It’s Jesus, of course, and there he stands, middle of the lake, on the water. Peter is the one of the twelve disciples who suddenly and impulsively speaks up and asks Jesus if he can walk on the water as well. I can imagine the other disciples sitting in that boat staring at Peter as if he’s crazy. But Jesus says, “Come,” and in faith and confidence in Christ, Peter steps out of the boat and starts walking on the water. That is Peter at his best. But, then, Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and when he does so, he notices the storm and he begins to sink. Jesus catches him, helps him back into the boat, and the wind ceases. From these verses we get our first lesson for discipleship from Peter: a disciple keeps his or her eyes on Jesus. Jesus is what centers us, stabilizes us, keeps us from sinking. When we take our eyes off of Jesus we are tempted by our own pride and by things we see around us, doubt creeps in, we are afraid, we fail; a disciple tries to always keep focused on Jesus. Peter also reassures us that we will get distracted, forget, get scared – and the water will close around us. When that happens, Jesus will reach out his hand, catch us, and get us back into the boat. 

The second lesson we learn from Peter comes from Matthew 16, beginning with v. 13. Jesus has been performing miracles and teaching, and perhaps he wonders if the crowds who are getting increasingly larger really understand who he is and what he’s about. So, he asks the disciples a question: “Who do people say that I am?” They give him various possible answers: some say John the Baptist (who had been killed by Herod, but some were claiming he had been resurrected from the dead), some say the great prophet Elijah from the Old Testament who had been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and whose death had never been recorded, others say another one of the prophets (like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and so on). In other words, people were talking about Jesus and speculating, but no one was getting it right. Jesus then turned to his disciples and asked, “Who do you say that I am?” They had heard more of his teachings, had an insider’s look into what he did and how he did it, were with him daily. Once again, all twelve are there and just like with the boat, only one speaks. Peter responds: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In response, Jesus blesses Peter and then utters the often-quoted words in v. 18: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Too often, when this is preached, the story ends here with this incredible affirmation of faith by Peter and response by Jesus. But if we continue to read from Matthew 16, starting with v. 21, Jesus continues to teach the disciples by talking to them about what will happen in Jerusalem: everything from arrest to crucifixion to resurrection. Peter doesn’t want to hear this kind of message and so he takes Jesus aside and in essence tells him to stop talking such nonsense. Jesus, who just a few verses earlier affirmed Peter and called him the rock of the church, now refers to Peter as “Satan” and accuses him of being a stumbling block. Then he says to Peter: “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” In other words, Peter forgot to consider God’s will in Jesus’ ministry and instead focused on what he wanted to have happen. Peter reminds us a disciple remembers who Jesus is and what Jesus did for us in his death and resurrection. A disciple works to set his or her mind on divine things rather than on our human wants and desires. 

Our third lesson this morning comes from Mark 14. I’ve shifted to Mark’s Gospel, because it is often referred to as the Gospel of Peter. John Mark, who wrote the Gospel, never travelled with or even knew Jesus. He was too young at the time – but Acts tells us that after Jesus’ resurrection and later ascension into heaven, Peter sought shelter in the home of Mark’s family and there met a young Mark. Mark was with Peter in Jerusalem and then later in Rome, and it is assumed the stories told in Mark’s Gospel came from his conversations with Peter. In Mark 14, Peter provides an honest and brutal assessment of his denial of Jesus. In vv. 29-31, Jesus tells Peter he will deny knowing him three times, and Peter strongly responds that he will not. “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you,” he says. Later that evening, after Jesus has been arrested, Peter is standing by a fire by himself when a young girl walked by him. She simply states that he was with Jesus; Peter denies knowing or understanding what she is talking about. Then, just minutes later, the same girl, seeing him again, repeat her statement to some others now standing nearby. Peter again denies knowing Jesus. Then, some of the bystanders, hearing his Galilean accent, more directly accuse Peter of being a follower of Jesus. Peter, scared by what the accusation might mean, begins to curse and swears on his oath that he has no idea what they’re talking about. Many of you know what happens next. A rooster crows and suddenly Peter remembers what Jesus said earlier he would do. We are told he breaks down and weeps. 

The third lesson Peter has for us is a difficult one. There will be times in a life of following Christ when we will completely and utterly fail. We will remain silent when we should speak, fail to act when we know what is right to do, or even deny our faith out of fear. But here’s the great part of this lesson. That doesn’t mean we are done at being a disciple; it doesn’t mean Jesus gives up on us. When we let Jesus down, we have a choice. Next week we will learn lessons from a disciple who let Jesus down and believed he was beyond forgiveness and redemption, and so he gave up and walked away. Peter, however, does not. John 20 describes Peter’s next encounter with Jesus. Jesus appears to seven of the disciples who are together fishing. They sit by a fire, talking and eating, and then Jesus and Peter have a private conversation. Jesus, three times, asks Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times he asks, and three times Peter answers, “Lord, I love you.” Three denials, three affirmations to make up for those denials. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter is with the other disciples, now eleven of them, and Jesus commands them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” A disciple goes and makes more disciples, because God’s love, grace, and forgiveness is never taken for granted but is always given.  

What happens to Peter in the end? Church history tells us that sometime in Nero’s reign, in the mid to late 60s, Peter was imprisoned in Rome. He was ordered to be crucified and at his request he was crucified upside down since he didn’t feel worthy in the same manner as Christ. But before he died, while in Rome, he wrote two letters that bear his name and are part of our Bible. In 1 Peter 4:8, Peter wrote these simple words: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Peter, in his letters, gives us his words of discipleship: humble yourselves before God, give all your fear up to God because God cares for you and will restore and strengthen you, keep alert and stay focused, remain steadfast in your faith, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.   

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Dare to Be a Disciple: Divided Peter

Matthew 14:25-33; Matthew 16:15-23; Mark 14:27-31, 66-72

The New Testament gives a more complete picture of the disciple Simon, better known to us as Peter, than of any other disciple. Two weeks ago, we began looking at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ through the lives of those Jesus first called to be disciples. From Thomas we learned that a disciple will have doubts from time to time but never stops asking questions and seeking answers. From John we learned that the greatest single attribute of a disciple is to love one another, but even the most devoted disciple will get it wrong occasionally. This morning we turn our attention to Peter. 

When we first meet Peter, he is introduced by the name “Simon.” The name Simon has different meanings in the Greek and Hebrew. In Greek, the name Simon refers to what may be a physical characteristic: it means to have a wide, flat nose. In Hebrew, the name would actually have been pronounced Shim-on or Simeon and its meaning is a little more generous: it means he heard or he listened. After calling Simon, Jesus changed his named to Cephas (Aramaic), which is Petros in Greek, meaning rock or stone. Throughout the Gospels, he may be called Simon or Simon Peter or Peter; commonly, though, Jesus refers to him as Simon when he’s messed up and Peter when he’s living the life Jesus has called him to live. Through a simple name change, Jesus provided a nickname which was to serve as a reminder about who he should be. When Jesus called him Simon, he was referring to his life before he committed to following Jesus or he was signaling that he was acting like his old self; when he called him Peter, Jesus was telling him he’d gotten it right. It’s kind of like when my mother called me “Denise Ann” – then I knew I was in trouble. 

I conducted one of my in-depth scientific surveys (AKA a Google search) and found that while many people admire John, most people identify with Peter. Why is that? I think it’s because we see more of Peter than any other disciple in the Bible (with the possible exception of Paul) and he reminds us of ourselves – he’s stubborn, opinionated, impulsive, given to rash conclusions and hasty remarks. As we will see in our Scripture readings for this morning, he can be brilliant one minute and inspire confidence and just seconds later open his mouth and destroy it all. In a nutshell, Peter embodies all of what it means to be human – he is us on our best day, on our worst day, and every day in between.

The story of Peter walking on the water takes place just after Jesus has performed one of his biggest miracles by feeding over 5,000 people from just a few loaves of bread and fish. After he has taught and fed the crowd, Jesus goes off by himself to pray. But before doing so, we are told that he sends the disciples ahead of him to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. There are so many issues with what happens here. It’s been a long day. It’s evening. The disciples would have several very valid objections to Jesus’ request and equally good reasons for camping out on the shore until morning. They are tired. It’s dark out and that’s no time to start rowing across the Sea of Galilee in a first century boat. It’s windy and the skies look like rain. Further, the reason for Jesus’ request makes no sense: we are told that they are taking “the” boat (not a boat or one of the boats) and are leaving Jesus behind. They are to go on ahead of him, but there is no explanation for how he will join they later. But Scripture makes it clear that this was not a request; we are told that Jesus made them get in the boat and go. So, they go. And it isn’t long until a big storm comes up. We are told that when they are far from land (the Sea of Galilee is, by the way, Israel’s largest freshwater lake, about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide), a storm strikes and the wind is against them and they are being battered by the waves. Suddenly, they see out in the blurry distance a figure walking toward them on the water. It’s Jesus, of course, and there he stands, middle of the lake, on the water. Peter is the one of the twelve disciples who suddenly and impulsively speaks up and asks Jesus if he can walk on the water as well. I can imagine the other disciples sitting in that boat staring at Peter as if he’s crazy. But Jesus says, “Come,” and in faith and confidence in Christ, Peter steps out of the boat and starts walking on the water. That is Peter at his best. But, then, Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and when he does so, he notices the storm and he begins to sink. Jesus catches him, helps him back into the boat, and the wind ceases. From these verses we get our first lesson for discipleship from Peter: a disciple keeps his or her eyes on Jesus. Jesus is what centers us, stabilizes us, keeps us from sinking. When we take our eyes off of Jesus we are tempted by our own pride and by things we see around us, doubt creeps in, we are afraid, we fail; a disciple tries to always keep focused on Jesus. Peter also reassures us that we will get distracted, forget, get scared – and the water will close around us. When that happens, Jesus will reach out his hand, catch us, and get us back into the boat. 

The second lesson we learn from Peter comes from Matthew 16, beginning with v. 13. Jesus has been performing miracles and teaching, and perhaps he wonders if the crowds who are getting increasingly larger really understand who he is and what he’s about. So, he asks the disciples a question: “Who do people say that I am?” They give him various possible answers: some say John the Baptist (who had been killed by Herod, but some were claiming he had been resurrected from the dead), some say the great prophet Elijah from the Old Testament who had been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and whose death had never been recorded, others say another one of the prophets (like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and so on). In other words, people were talking about Jesus and speculating, but no one was getting it right. Jesus then turned to his disciples and asked, “Who do you say that I am?” They had heard more of his teachings, had an insider’s look into what he did and how he did it, were with him daily. Once again, all twelve are there and just like with the boat, only one speaks. Peter responds: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In response, Jesus blesses Peter and then utters the often-quoted words in v. 18: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Too often, when this is preached, the story ends here with this incredible affirmation of faith by Peter and response by Jesus. But if we continue to read from Matthew 16, starting with v. 21, Jesus continues to teach the disciples by talking to them about what will happen in Jerusalem: everything from arrest to crucifixion to resurrection. Peter doesn’t want to hear this kind of message and so he takes Jesus aside and in essence tells him to stop talking such nonsense. Jesus, who just a few verses earlier affirmed Peter and called him the rock of the church, now refers to Peter as “Satan” and accuses him of being a stumbling block. Then he says to Peter: “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” In other words, Peter forgot to consider God’s will in Jesus’ ministry and instead focused on what he wanted to have happen. Peter reminds us a disciple remembers who Jesus is and what Jesus did for us in his death and resurrection. A disciple works to set his or her mind on divine things rather than on our human wants and desires. 

Our third lesson this morning comes from Mark 14. I’ve shifted to Mark’s Gospel, because it is often referred to as the Gospel of Peter. John Mark, who wrote the Gospel, never travelled with or even knew Jesus. He was too young at the time – but Acts tells us that after Jesus’ resurrection and later ascension into heaven, Peter sought shelter in the home of Mark’s family and there met a young Mark. Mark was with Peter in Jerusalem and then later in Rome, and it is assumed the stories told in Mark’s Gospel came from his conversations with Peter. In Mark 14, Peter provides an honest and brutal assessment of his denial of Jesus. In vv. 29-31, Jesus tells Peter he will deny knowing him three times, and Peter strongly responds that he will not. “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you,” he says. Later that evening, after Jesus has been arrested, Peter is standing by a fire by himself when a young girl walked by him. She simply states that he was with Jesus; Peter denies knowing or understanding what she is talking about. Then, just minutes later, the same girl, seeing him again, repeat her statement to some others now standing nearby. Peter again denies knowing Jesus. Then, some of the bystanders, hearing his Galilean accent, more directly accuse Peter of being a follower of Jesus. Peter, scared by what the accusation might mean, begins to curse and swears on his oath that he has no idea what they’re talking about. Many of you know what happens next. A rooster crows and suddenly Peter remembers what Jesus said earlier he would do. We are told he breaks down and weeps. 

The third lesson Peter has for us is a difficult one. There will be times in a life of following Christ when we will completely and utterly fail. We will remain silent when we should speak, fail to act when we know what is right to do, or even deny our faith out of fear. But here’s the great part of this lesson. That doesn’t mean we are done at being a disciple; it doesn’t mean Jesus gives up on us. When we let Jesus down, we have a choice. Next week we will learn lessons from a disciple who let Jesus down and believed he was beyond forgiveness and redemption, and so he gave up and walked away. Peter, however, does not. John 20 describes Peter’s next encounter with Jesus. Jesus appears to seven of the disciples who are together fishing. They sit by a fire, talking and eating, and then Jesus and Peter have a private conversation. Jesus, three times, asks Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times he asks, and three times Peter answers, “Lord, I love you.” Three denials, three affirmations to make up for those denials. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter is with the other disciples, now eleven of them, and Jesus commands them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” A disciple goes and makes more disciples, because God’s love, grace, and forgiveness is never taken for granted but is always given.  

What happens to Peter in the end? Church history tells us that sometime in Nero’s reign, in the mid to late 60s, Peter was imprisoned in Rome. He was ordered to be crucified and at his request he was crucified upside down since he didn’t feel worthy in the same manner as Christ. But before he died, while in Rome, he wrote two letters that bear his name and are part of our Bible. In 1 Peter 4:8, Peter wrote these simple words: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Peter, in his letters, gives us his words of discipleship: humble yourselves before God, give all your fear up to God because God cares for you and will restore and strengthen you, keep alert and stay focused, remain steadfast in your faith, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.   

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