May 6 – Gaining Spiritual Stability (Peter)

The twelve apostles included “Simon, who is called Peter” (Matt. 10:2).

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Jesus can make an impulsive and vacillating Christian as stable as a rock.

The first disciple Matthew’s Gospel names is “Simon, who is called Peter.” He was a fisherman by trade, but Jesus called him to be a fisher of men. John 1:40–42 records their first encounter: “One of the two who heard John [the Baptist] speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon, and … brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which translated means Peter).”

“Peter” means “stone.” “Cephas” is its Aramaic equivalent. By nature Simon tended to be impulsive and vacillating. Apparently Jesus named him Peter as a reminder of his future role in the church, which would require spiritual strength and stability. Whenever Peter acted like a man of strength, Jesus called him by his new name. When he sinned, Jesus called him by his old name (e.g., John 21:15–17). In the Gospel of John, Peter is called “Simon Peter” seventeen times. Perhaps John knew Peter so well, he realized he was always drifting somewhere between sinful Simon and spiritual Peter.

For the next few days we will see how Jesus worked with Peter to transform him into a true spiritual rock. It was an amazing transformation, but not unlike what He desires to do in every believer’s life.

You might not have the same personality as Peter, but the Lord wants you to be a spiritual rock just the same. Peter himself wrote, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). That occurs as you “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Make that your continual aim.

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Suggestions for Prayer:  List the areas of your Christian walk that are inconsistent or vacillating. Make them a matter of earnest prayer, asking God for wisdom and grace as you begin to strengthen them.

For Further Study: First Peter was written to Christians in danger of severe persecution. Read that epistle, noting the keys to spiritual stability that Peter gives.[1]


The Master’s Men—Part 1: Peter: A Lesson in Leadership

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, (10:2a)

In his book Quiet Talks on Service, S. D. Gordon gives an imaginary account of Jesus’ return to heaven after His ascension. As the angel Gabriel greets Jesus he asks, “Master, You died for the world, did You not?” to which the Lord replies, “Yes.” “You must have suffered much,” the angel says; and again Jesus answers, “Yes.” “Do they all know that you died for them?” Gabriel continues. “No. Only a few in Palestine know about it so far,” Jesus says. “Well, then, what is Your plan for telling the rest of the world that You shed Your blood for them?” Jesus responds, “Well, I asked Peter and James and John and Andrew and a few others if they would make it the business of their lives to tell others. And then the ones that they tell could tell others, and they in turn could tell still others, and finally it would reach the farthest corner of the earth and all would know the thrill and power of the gospel.” “But suppose Peter fails? And suppose after a while John just doesn’t tell anyone? And what if James and Andrew are ashamed or afraid? Then what?” Gabriel asks. “I have no other plans,” Jesus is said to have answered; “I am counting entirely on them” (cited in Herbert Lockyer, All the Apostles of the Bible [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972], p. 31).

Though it is a fantasy, that story dramatizes a great truth about the gospel. The only plan the Lord has for reaching the world is for those who know Him to witness about Him to others. The life-changing power of the gospel is in the atoning death of Jesus Christ and can be applied in a life only through the convicting and recreative work of the Holy Spirit. But the declaration of the gospel is in the hands of those who have already experienced the new life and are willing to tell of it to others.

Society routinely sets standards of qualification for a myriad of enterprises. Businesses establish qualifications for their employees, and the more responsible the job, the higher the qualifications. Advertisements for jobs often list requirements such as self-motivation, ability to work under pressure, minimum typing speed, several years’ work experience, and willingness to travel. A person must also qualify in order to buy a house or car, get a credit card, enroll in college, or receive a driver’s license.

Scripture makes clear that God’s standards for His people, especially for the leaders who are to model those standards for His people, are extremely high (1 Tim. 3:1–12; Titus 1:6–9; 2 Pet. 3:14). The standard for every believer, in fact, is nothing less than perfection: “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Jesus says (Matt. 5:48) Yet Scripture makes equally clear that no person in himself can meet the least of God’s standards. Even after he became an apostle, Paul confessed of himself: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18). In the same epistle he says of mankind in general, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (3:10–12).

The greatness of God’s grace is seen in His choosing the undeserving to be His people and the unqualified to do His work. It should be a marvelous encouragement to every believer to know that, just as Elijah (James 5:17), the apostles had a nature like ours. Because there was no other way, God chose to bestow sanctifying grace on those who believe in His Son and by His own power to transform them into men and women of great usefulness.

We are tempted to become discouraged and disheartened when our spiritual life and witness suffer because of our sins and failures. Satan attempts to convince us that those shortcomings render us useless to God; but His use of the apostles testifies to the opposite. They did not lead the church in turning the world upside down because they were extraordinarily talented or naturally gifted, but because-in spite of their human limitations and failures-they surrendered themselves to God, whose power is perfected in man’s weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

That has always been God’s way, since He has never had anything but imperfect and sinful men through whom to work. Soon after God delivered Noah and his family through the Flood, Noah became drunk and acted indecently. Abraham, the father of the faithful, doubted God, lied about his wife, and committed adultery with her maid. Isaac told a similar lie about his wife when he thought his life was in danger. Jacob took advantage of his brother Esau’s weakness and extorted the birthright from him. Moses was a murderer, and in pride he struck the rock instead of speaking to it as God had instructed. His brother, Aaron, the first high priest, led Israel in erecting and worshiping the golden calf at the very time Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God. Joshua disobeyed the Lord by making a treaty with the Gibeonites instead of destroying them. Gideon had little confidence in himself and even less in God’s plan and power. Samson was repeatedly beguiled by Delilah because of his great lust for her. David committed adultery and murder, was an almost total failure as a father, and was not allowed to build the Temple because he was a man of blood. Elijah stood fearlessly before 850 false prophets but cowered before one woman, Jezebel. Ezekiel was brash, crusty, and quick to speak his mind. Jonah defied God’s call to preach to the Ninevites and resented His grace when they were converted through his preaching.

Apart from the brief ministry of His own Son, the history of God’s work on earth is the history of His using the unqualified. The twelve disciples who became apostles were no exception. Even from the human standpoint they had few characteristics or abilities that qualified them for leadership and service. Yet God used those men, just as He did Noah, Abraham, and the others, in marvelous ways to do His work.

Writing to the factious, worldly Corinthians, Paul insisted that neither he nor Apollos were anything in themselves. “What then is Apollos?” he asks. “And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Cor. 3:5–7).

The New Testament does not teach Christian leaders to follow the individual methods or styles of the apostles. It does not explain their methods or give details of their specific strategies for evangelism or other ministry. The focus of apostolic power in the New Testament is always on the Lord. As with the lowliest believer, the apostles’ power and effectiveness were exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit.

The story is told that after a famous artist finished his painting of the Last Supper he asked a friend to comment on the work. When the friend remarked that the cups were the most magnificent parts of the entire painting, the artist was dumbfounded. He picked up his brush and painted over every cup, explaining, “I failed. I wanted you to see Christ, but you only noticed the cups.” It is a wonderful thing to be a vessel fit for the Master’s use, but the vessel is not the source of spiritual power and should never be the focus of attention.

Emphasizing the methods and practices of famous and visibly successful Christian leaders inevitably weakens the church, and at no time in history has that misguided emphasis been more dominant than it is in much of the church today. When men are elevated, Christ is lowered; and when men’s power and resources are relied on, Christ’s work is weakened.

Someone has commented that a great writer can take a worthless piece of paper, write a poem on it and instantly make it extremely valuable. A famous artist can take a piece of canvas worth fifty cents and by painting a picture on it make it priceless. A wealthy man can sign his name to a worthless piece of paper and make it worth a million dollars. In an infinitely greater way Jesus Christ can take a worthless, corrupted, and repulsive life and transform it into a righteous child of God and a useful worker in His kingdom.

A church in Strasbourg, France, was severely damaged by bombs during World War II. Although a beloved statue of Christ had survived, a ceiling beam had fallen across the arms and broken them off. A local sculptor offered to restore the statue without charge, but the townspeople decided to leave it as it was. Without hands it would be a continuing reminder to them that God does His work through His people. His earthly hands.

Jesus Christ chooses human hands-and minds and arms and feet-as the instruments of His eternal work of redemption. Those who are not offended by His demands for discipleship and who, like the apostles, give their imperfect and flawed lives to Him as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), become His means for drawing all men to Himself.

Jesus did not intend to proclaim the kingdom alone. His own ministry lasted but three years and did not even extend to all of Palestine. From the earliest part of His ministry He began training the twelve who would continue His work It was in this training of the twelve that the Lord began the process Paul later admonished Timothy to follow: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

Jesus chose only twelve men to be His apostles, a seemingly insignificant number for the task ahead. They would be pitted not only against the evil, unbelieving system of the world but against Satan and his demon system.

History is full of amazing exploits by a few men against great odds. Sometimes the few have been victorious, and often they have gone down in tragic defeat. In either case they are remembered and admired for their courage. Against supernatural enemies, however, man can never be successful in his own power, no matter how great his courage. On the other hand, when God empowers His people, no obstacle or enemy can withstand them.

Shamgar, a judge of Israel, killed 600 men with an ox goad. With only 300 men filtered from an original force of 32,000, Gideon, another judge, routed an uncountable number of Midianites and Amalekites, whom the Lord caused to slaughter each other in panic. Still another judge, Samson, slaughtered 1,000 Philistines with only the jawbone of a donkey as a weapon. Jonathan and his armor bearer, who was probably only a boy, killed twenty armed Philistines who were waiting for them at the top of a hill; and that victory led to the defeat of the entire Philistine army by Israelites armed only with farm implements. In one day Elijah singlehandedly slaughtered 850 pagan prophets on Mount Carmel.

The Lord can display His divine power through a handful of men, or even one man, just as surely as through a multitude-so the small number of the apostles was no hindrance to the work of the gospel.

Henry Drummond, the Scottish author and evangelist who wrote the well-known booklet The Greatest Thing in the World, was once invited to speak to an exclusive men’s club in London. He began his talk with a provocative analogy that those men easily understood: “Gentlemen, the entrance fee into the kingdom of heaven is nothing; however, the annual subscription is everything.”

Because Jesus Christ paid the total price for salvation, it costs nothing to become His disciple. But to follow Him as a faithful disciple costs everything we have. We are not only saved by Christ’s blood but are bought with it and therefore belong totally to Him (1 Cor. 6:19–20; 7:23).

The twelve men Jesus called as disciples and transformed into apostles were willing to pay everything. They turned their backs on their occupations, their life-styles, their homes, their own plans and aspirations. They committed themselves totally to following Jesus Christ, wherever that would lead and whatever that would cost.

They were a committed few among the unbelieving many. From early in His ministry, and especially after He began performing miracles, Jesus never lacked for an audience. The multitudes followed Him wherever He went, so much so that He often had difficulty being alone by Himself or with the twelve. The crowds were attracted by the ring of authority in His voice, by the uniqueness of His message, by the wonder of His miracles, and by His concern for common people and for the sick, diseased, and sinful.

In the broadest sense they were disciples (mathētēs), which has the root meaning of follower or learner. But that term does not necessarily carry the idea of commitment, as is clear from several gospel accounts. The morning after Jesus fed the five thousand (plus women and children), many of the people who were fed followed Him back to Capernaum. When He saw them, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled” (John 6:26). A short while later He said to the same group, “You have seen Me, and yet do not believe” (v. 36). Among this crowd were “many … of His disciples” (v. 60) who were disturbed when they heard Jesus say, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (vv. 54). After Jesus further explained what He meant, they were even more offended, and “as a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (v. 66). Those disciples were only observers and hearers who had no desire to trust and follow the Lord.

Those disciples accepted Jesus as a great teacher and wonder worker, but only on the physical level. They were quite willing for Him to heal their bodies and fill their stomachs, but they did not want Him to cleanse their sins, recreate their hearts, and transform their lives. They gladly came to Him for the “food which perishes,” but they had no appetite for “the food which endures to eternal life” (John 6:27).

Jesus’ teaching was not “difficult” (v. 60) because it was hard to understand but because it was hard to accept. The people knew that Jesus was not talking of eating and drinking His physical body and blood but of accepting everything that He was, said, and did. His statement was difficult for them to accept for the very reason that they did understand it.

As in Jesus’ time and throughout history, false disciples today are willing to accept whatever of the gospel fits their personal inclinations and life-styles. They are willing to be identified as Christians, belong to a church, be active in its work, and give money to its support. But they have no intention of giving themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and Master. When such a demand is made of them, or even suggested, they vanish as quickly and permanently as those disciples at Capernaum.

Jesus’ difficult teachings offended them and caused them “to stumble” (John 6:61). “Stumble” translates skandalizō, which means to put up a snare or stumbling block, and is the term from which we get scandal. The original meaning pertained to a trap held up by a stick. When an animal grabbed food that was attached to the stick, the stick would fall, causing the trap to capture or kill the animal. The offended disciples at Capernaum understood clearly that to accept Christ’s demand to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to receive eternal life meant to give up their old life-which they would not relinquish even for heaven. Consequently, they had nothing more to do with Jesus.

After the crowd left, Jesus asked the disciples, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” (v. 67). He “knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him” (v. 64), but He wanted to make sure that the twelve realized in their own minds the cost of true discipleship. Peter replied for the group, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68–69)

Except for Judas, the twelve decided to eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood, whatever the cost. They had no idea of the particulars of the cost, but they placed themselves in the Lord’s hands, confident that in Him and only in Him, was eternal life and everything else of any value.

The twelve men Jesus chose as His apostles had in their hands the full responsibility for initially taking the gospel to the rest of the world. The church was “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). Jesus promised them, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26). Through the Holy Spirit the apostles received God’s divine revelation and were the ones responsible for writing most of the New Testament. It was therefore to “the apostles’ teaching” to which the true and faithful church has always devoted itself, beginning in Jerusalem immediately after Pentecost (Acts 2:42). Through them the doctrine of the New Covenant was established, explained, and proclaimed.

The apostles not only were the channels of Christian theology and evangelism but were also the first examples of godly, virtuous living for the church to follow God confirmed their authority as true apostles “by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12); and as “His holy apostles” (Eph. 3:5) they received, taught, recorded, and exemplified the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, the third phase of the disciples’ training under Jesus was what might be called their internship, which began immediately after their conversion and calling and preceded their final commissioning and sending after His ascension (Acts 1:8). It is this third phase of training that occupies Matthew in chapter 10. By this time the disciples had been under Jesus’ instruction for perhaps eighteen months, but they had not participated directly in the ministry. Until now they had only been observers and learners. Now they began to have direct involvement as the Lord sent them out two by two (see Mark 6:7) to try their wings in the work for which He had given them authority.

The apostles were essential for the future of the Christian faith, because they were the only ones called and empowered to build the foundation of God’s only plan for telling the world of redemption through His Son. It was time for them to be more than mere hearers and observers, so they were given “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” (10:1). But their first responsibility was to “preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (v. 7), for which message their miraculous works would be divine authenticating signs. As Nicodemus acknowledged regarding Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).

“How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” asks the writer of Hebrews. “After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Heb. 2:3–4). The Lord Jesus Christ was the first preacher of the gospel, and the apostles (“those who heard”) confirmed what He preached, and God the Father confirmed their testimony by the divinely empowered “signs and wonders … various miracles and … gifts of the Holy Spirit” that accompanied their preaching. The word of the apostles was miraculously attested as they laid down the foundation for the church.

The apostles were ordinary men. As far as we know, the only one who was materially prosperous was Matthew, who gained his wealth by legally but unethically extorting taxes for Rome. None of the twelve was highly educated or had prominent social, political, or religious status. Details about some of them remain unknown to us today, except for their names, because neither Scripture nor secular history has much to say about them.

Yet there has never been a task in the history of the world equal to that of those common men whom the Lord chose to be His first agents of ministry in setting in motion the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth. They had the monumental assignment of finishing the foundation work of the church that the Lord Himself had begun. Luke mentions this transition of responsibility in the introductory words of Acts: “The first account [i. e., the gospel of Luke] I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (1:1–3).

A number of truths about the apostles can be learned simply from the scriptural listings of their names. First of all, in the four New Testament lists of the apostles (Matt. 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:14–16; and Acts 1:13; cf. v. 26), Peter is always named first. In Matthew 10:2 the first does not refer to the order of selection, because Jesus called Andrew, Peter’s brother, before He called Peter (John 1:40–42). In this context, prōtos (first) indicates foremost in rank. The apostles were equal in their divine commission, authority, and power; and one day they will sit on equal thrones as they judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). But in terms of function, Peter was the first, the foremost member of the twelve. Prōtos is used with the same meaning in 1 Timothy 1:15, where Paul speaks of himself as the “foremost of all” sinners. In Revelation 1:17, Christ speaks of Himself as “the first [prōtos] and the last.” No group can function properly without a leader, and Peter was the leading member of the twelve from the beginning.

Second, all four lists of the apostles are divided into the same three subgroups. The first group includes Peter, Andrew, James, and John; the second includes Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Matthew; and the third includes James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. The names are in different orders within the groups, but they always include the same four names, and the first name in each group is always the same, suggesting that each group had its own identity and leader. The first group includes those Jesus called first (though not in the individual order), the second includes those He called next, and the third group those He called last.

We know a great deal about the men in the first group, much less about those in the second, and almost nothing about those in the third-except for Judas, who betrayed Jesus, committed suicide, and was replaced by Matthias just before Pentecost (Acts 1:26). There is not only a decreasing amount of information about the members of each group but also a decreasing intimacy with Jesus. The first four constituted Jesus’ inner circle of disciples; and of those four, Peter, James, and John were especially close to Him. Little is said about His direct instruction or work with the second group, and almost nothing about close contact with the third. He loved all the apostles equally, empowered them equally, and promised them equal glory; but because of the physical limitations common to all men, He was not able to give them equal attention. It is impossible for any leader to be equally close to everyone with whom he works. By necessity he will spend more time with and place more responsibility on certain people who are particularly capable and trustworthy.

The first group included two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew and James and John, all of whom were fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector, but we know nothing of the occupations of any of the other seven. The two sets of brothers were acquainted even before Jesus called them, because they fished near each other on the Sea of Galilee (see Matt. 4:18–21).

The temperaments of the apostles about whom we know the most were very much different. Peter, for example, was impulsive, a natural leader, and a man of action. Almost invariably he was the first to react to something that was said or done by saying or doing something himself. John, on the other hand, appears to have become quiet and pensive under Christ’s tutelage. In the first twelve chapters of Acts we read of Peter and John working closely together during the early days of the church. It must have been a helpful learning experience for both of them, with Peter anxious to charge ahead and John wanting to think things over first. Peter did all the preaching. Men of equal status and office and even of similar giftedness may have different functions relative to the uniqueness of their gifts.

Thomas was clearly the most skeptical of the twelve (John 20:25), and Simon the Zealot’s very name indicates he was a radical Jewish revolutionary, dedicated to driving out the Roman oppressor. Before he met Christ he doubtlessly would have willingly plunged a knife into the heart of Matthew, a traitorous collaborator with Rome.

Simon Peter

The first, Simon, who is called Peter, (10:2a)

All of the twelve, including Judas, were integral parts of the Lord’s plan. But Peter was by far the central figure, both during the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry and during the early years of the church after Pentecost. Jesus spent more time with Peter than with any of the others, partly because Peter was constantly at the Lord’s side. He was never far from Jesus and was continually asking Him questions, giving advice, and even giving commands. Apart from that of Jesus, no name is mentioned more often in the New Testament than Peter’s. No other person speaks as often or is spoken to as often. No disciple was reproved as often or as severely as Peter, and only he was presumptuous enough to reprove the Lord. No other disciple so boldly confessed Christ or so boldly denied Him. No other disciple was so praised and blessed by Jesus, and yet no other did He call Satan.

How could Jesus take such an ambivalent, inconsistent, and self-centered man and make him into the first-the prōtos-of the apostles? From the gospel record we can discern at least three instructive elements that were instrumental in the Lord’s preparation of Peter: the right raw material, the right experience, and the right lessons.

The Right Raw Material

Peter had the right raw material from which Jesus could fashion the sort of leader He intended Peter to be. Peter was a big beginning; he had potential. But while he was in control of his own life, his beginnings never got further than that and his potential was not always easy to see.

But one of Peter’s qualifications for leadership is seen in his continually asking questions of Jesus. He always wanted to know the what, when, where, and why of everything the Lord said and did. Many of his questions were superficial and immature, but they reflected a genuine concern about Jesus and His work. A person who does not ask questions has little chance for success as a leader, because he has no desire or willingness to inquire about what he does not understand. When the other disciples failed to understand something, they appear to have been more likely to keep quiet or simply discuss their doubts and questions among themselves. Peter, on the other hand, was never reluctant to ask Jesus about whatever was on his mind.

When Peter did not understand what Jesus meant when He said that it is “not what enters into the mouth [that] defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth,” he asked, “Explain the parable to us” (Matt. 15:11, 15). When he was concerned about the reward he and his fellow disciples would get for leaving all and following Jesus, he did not hesitate asking about it (Matt. 19:27). Peter wondered about the fig tree that Jesus caused to wither (Mark 11:21) and, with James, John, and Andrew he asked Jesus to explain when and how the Temple would be destroyed (Mark 13:4). After Peter was told that he would be a martyr for the Lord, he asked about John’s fate: “Lord, and what about this man?” (John 21:21). Peter’s questions seldom received the answer he expected, because they usually were self-centered or completely missed the primary truth Jesus was explaining. But the Lord used even his poor questions to patiently train him in leadership. Peter’s questions, immature as many of them were, gave the Lord an opportunity to help him grow.

Second, Peter showed initiative, another necessary ingredient of leadership. Just as he was usually the first to ask Jesus questions, he was also usually the first to respond to questions Jesus asked. When the Lord asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter immediately replied, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15–16). When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Peter therefore having a sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear” (John 18:10). Even though his actions were often misguided, Peter was ready to respond in what he thought was Christ’s behalf.

Third, Peter positioned himself in the middle of the activity. He was a natural participant, never content to be on the sidelines. He stayed as close to Jesus as possible and wanted to be a part of everything that happened. Even when he denied the Lord, he was at least as near to Jesus as he could be, whereas all the other disciples were nowhere to be found. When they were told of Jesus’ resurrection, Peter reached the tomb after John only because John was a better runner (John 20:4). Peter was always there.

The bold fisherman was a native of Bethsaida and later moved to Capernaum, where he and his father, John (or Jonas), and brother, Andrew carried on their trade. Because he had a mother-in-law, we know that Peter was married when Jesus called him (Matt. 8:14), and from Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 9:5, it is likely that Peter’s wife traveled with him throughout his apostolic ministry.

Even Peter’s names give insight into his character. He was given the common name Simon by his parents, but Jesus changed his name to Peter (Cephas in Aramaic) which means stone (Matt. 16:18). By nature Peter was vacillating and unstable, and when the Lord named him Peter, the other disciples doubtlessly had great reservations about the appropriateness of his new name. But the new name was perhaps a gentle and encouraging reminder to Simon of the kind of man Jesus called him to become.

Peter is usually referred to as Simon when the purpose is simply to identify him or something related to him-such as his house or mother-in-law (Mark 1:29–30), his boat (Luke 5:3), or his fishing partners (Luke 5:10). He is also referred to as Simon whenever he is reprimanded for sin or displays special weakness, as when he questioned Jesus’ advice to go “out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). When Jesus came back from prayer in the garden and found the disciples sleeping, He said, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?” (Mark 14:37). After the resurrection Peter disobediently returned to his fishing, and when the Lord confronted him three times about his faithfulness, each time He addressed him as Simon (John 21:15–17). He used his old name to point out that he was acting like his old self.

In John’s gospel Peter is called by both names together (Simon Peter) some seventeen times. Perhaps because John knew Peter so well he used the two names to depict both the old and the new characteristics of his friend, which were often intermixed and difficult to distinguish.

The Right Experiences

A second element in preparing for leadership is having right experiences. The Lord brought into Peter’s life all the experiences necessary to develop his leadership ability.

First of all, Jesus gave Peter wondrous revelations. When Peter first confessed that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus explained to him. “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:16–17). When many of Jesus’ followers forsook Him because of His teaching about the cost of discipleship, using the figure of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, the Lord asked the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Peter’s response on that occasion seems also to have been inspired of God as he said. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” (John 6:66–68).

Jesus was transforming Peter by letting him know that God wanted to use his mouth to proclaim the great delivering truth of the gospel. One day he would stand up boldly and say, “Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give heed to my words” (Acts 2:14). And one day he would take a pen and write God’s revelation in the form of two New Testament epistles.

Second, Peter was given great honor and reward. After Jesus explained to Peter that the truth of his confession was revealed to him by the Father, He said. “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:18). The lord used Peter to preach the great sermon at Pentecost to tire Jews assembled there from all over the world, and He used Peter to bring the gospel to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert. Peter unlocked the doors of the gospel to both the Jews and the Gentiles.

All of the apostles opened the door to the kingdom as they, preached the gospel of salvation, and every time any man of God preaches Christ he, too, unlocks those kingdom doors to let men in.

Third, Peter experienced great rebuke. A short while after Jesus honored Peter by the declaration just mentioned above, Peter himself proved that our Lord’s reference could not have been to him, since he was then anything but a solid foundation on which Christ could build His church. Perhaps feeling proud and overconfident as the leading disciple, he demonstrated that his mouth could be used by Satan as well as by God. When the Lord “began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day, … Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You’ ” But his severe rebuke of Jesus brought an even more severe rebuke from Jesus: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matt. 16:21–23).

A great danger of leadership is not knowing its limits. Many dictators and demagogues were once capable public servants, but great honor and power caused them to believe the right of leadership lay in themselves rather than in their privileged office. When Peter began elevating his own position and understanding, he found himself serving Satan rather than God. Great potential for being used by God also brings great potential for being used by Satan.

Fourth, Peter experienced what might be called great rejection, not by Jesus but of Him. Peter’s extreme self-confidence again caused him to fail Jesus exactly at the point where he thought he was strongest. Just as confidence in his own wisdom resulted in his rebuke by Jesus, his confidence in his own dependability resulted in his rejection of Jesus. When Jesus predicted that all the disciples would fall away when He was arrested, Peter again contradicted Him, asserting, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away” When Jesus went on to say that Peter’s falling away would occur that very night and would, in fact, happen three times, Peter protested even more strongly: “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” Following his lead, “all the disciples said the same thing too.” Jesus, of course, again proved right and Peter again proved wrong. While he warmed himself in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter not only denied the Lord three times, but progressively denied Him more vehemently (Matt. 26:31–35, 69–75).

Fifth, Peter experienced a great recommissioning. When Jesus confronted him with the lack of love, Peter assured the Lord three times that he did indeed love Him, and Jesus three times reinstated him and charged him to care for His flock. Jesus had not given up on Peter. He reassured His faltering disciple that his calling still stood and commanded him again just as He had in the beginning, “Follow Me!” (John 21:15–19).

The Right Attitudes

A third element in Jesus’ training of Peter was teaching him the principles of godly leadership. First of all, because leaders can easily become domineering, they have a special need to learn submission. When the Capernaum tax collectors demanded a two-drachma Temple tax from Jesus, He commanded Peter to go and catch a fish, in whose mouth would be a stater, exactly enough to pay the tax for both Jesus and Peter (Matt. 17:24–27). From that experience Peter learned a lesson not only in submitting to Jesus but to human authorities. In his first letter he wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. … Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:13–15, 17).

Second, Peter needed to learn restraint, of which he needed a double portion. As already mentioned, when the Roman soldiers came with the officers of the chief priests and the Pharisees to arrest Jesus in the garden, Peter drew his sword and began to fight-even though the Roman cohort alone may have numbered 500 or more men. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and to let God’s divine plan take its course (John 18:10–11).

Third, Peter needed to learn humility; and again he needed a double portion. Only a few hours after he proudly boasted, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away,” Peter denied the Lord three times-although he was in little, if any, danger (Matt. 26:33, 69–75). But he eventually learned his lesson, and many years later wrote, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5).

Fourth, Peter needed to learn to sacrifice, and Jesus promised him, “ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.’ Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ ” (John 21:18–19). When Peter became concerned that John might not have to pay such a costly sacrifice, Jesus told him sternly, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (vv. 21–22). For the second time on this occasion Jesus commanded Peter to follow Him, this time using the emphatic su (“you”).

That was the last time Jesus had to command Peter to follow Him. From then on, Peter obeyed whatever the cost. He even learned to rejoice in his suffering for Christ, and wrote, “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. … If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. … Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet. 4:13–14, 16, 19).

Fifth, Peter needed to learn love. It was lack of genuine love that caused Peter to deny His Lord, and it was about that love that Jesus pressed him three times. The Holy Spirit led Peter and John to minister together in the early years of the church, and Peter no doubt learned many lessons in true love from the great apostle of love.

Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet not only was an example of humility but of the source of humility-love. Service to others, no matter how costly or demeaning, is neither humble nor godly if done from any motive but love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:3). Peter records the lesson he learned: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8)

Sixth, Peter needed to learn courage. Because Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s suffering pointed to great sacrifice, it also pointed to need of great courage. When Peter was brought before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, or Council, for preaching the gospel, he was no longer the fearful coward he had been in the high priest’s courtyard the night of Jesus’ arrest. Now confident in his Lord rather than in himself, he stood boldly and declared, “Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by this name this man [the one Peter had healed in Solomon’s portico] stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone” (Acts 4:10–11; cf. 3:1–8). When the Council again charged Peter and John not to continue preaching, the apostles replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (v. 19–20). At the subsequent prayer meeting in Jerusalem they prayed for continued boldness; and “when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (v. 31).

Peter often learned his lessons slowly, but he learned them well. He took the initiative to seek someone to replace Judas among the apostles (Acts 1:15–17), became the first spokesman of the church at Pentecost (2:14), was the first to defend the gospel before the Sanhednn (4:8), was the first to enact church discipline (in dealing with the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira, 5:3–9), confronted Simon the magician when he attempted to pervert God’s power to his own advantage (8:18–23), healed Aeneas and raised Dorcas from the dead (9:34, 40), was the first to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10), and wrote two marvelous epistles in which he humbly included all the lessons Jesus had patiently taught him.

Peter was a man God touched with His grace in a special way. As a “wandering heart” that God finally captured and claimed for Himself, Peter would have sung joyfully the words of Robert Robinson’s beloved hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

Take my heart, O take and seal it,

Seal it for Thy courts above.

Tradition reports that Peter died a cruel death. And before he himself was crucified, he is said to have been forced to witness the crucifixion of his wife. In his Ecclesiastical History, the early church Father Eusebius writes that Peter stood at the foot of his wife’s cross and kept repeating to her, “Remember the Lord. Remember the Lord.” After she died, it is said he pleaded to be crucified upside down, because he was unworthy to die as his Lord had died.

Peter’s life can be summed up in the last words of his second epistle: “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be glory, both now and forever. Amen” (2 Pet. 3:18).[2]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 139). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 141). Chicago: Moody Press.

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