Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. – No. 36
SIMON BAR-JONA: FALTERING GIANT
The process of salvation is a matter of God taking over the souls of men and transforming them. This is why the lives of the apostles are so valuable to us. Here we see this process more plainly than anywhere else. From quite ordinary human clay we see Jesus making spiritual giants. The case of Simon Bar-Jona is especially valuable because we learn more about him than the rest of the twelve. Unless we recognize, however, that something of the same kind, though perhaps different in degree, can happen to us, there is very little point in making such a study. But if we understand that this personal experience of one man is a universal possibility, then the experience has a great deal to say to us.
Most of the modern books written about Simon spend more time guessing at his early years as a sinner than describing his later years as a saint. We seem either more interested or else more at home with the sinner. The saint bothers us. Yet I recognize the necessity of examining the Galilean fisherman as he was when Christ set to work on him. Even then he was a born leader. There was something about Simon’s personality that seems to have dominated other men. When he said, “I am going fishing,” almost immediately other men responded, “I am going with you.” I think one reason for this was his wholeheartedness. He was sometimes right and sometimes wrong, but he was never astraddle of the fence. When he denies his Lord, he will do it with oaths. When he repents, it will be with bitter tears. It doesn’t seem to be in him to be lukewarm or halfhearted. He is not an educated man and doesn’t pretend erudition. When he gets to Jerusalem, he will still speak with his own Galilean accent. He is devoid of affectation.
The Worst of His Sins
But Simon was a sinner when he met the Lord and admitted it. What had he done? What was wrong with the man? People have done a lot of guessing, but what do we know for sure?
Peter was a proud man and pride is the worst of sins. It is the complete anti-God state of mind. Pride always looks down and no man can see God while looking down. When Jesus warns Simon of his approaching denial, he declares that such a thing would be impossible. “Though all should forsake you, yet would not I.” He fancied himself a cut above the others. We see then that Simon’s chief fault was the same as yours and mine. The great trouble with all mankind is our unreasoning pride. It makes us touchy, competitive, short-tempered and boastful. The reason Simon’s transformation can be so helpful to us is the fact that to start with, he was so much like you and me.
Now Simon might have gone on all of his life as a simple, proud, blustery fisherman. The thing that started the change in him was that he met Jesus. It was not an accident. His brother Andrew brought him. This is probably the greatest thing Andrew ever did, but after all, what bigger thing can a man do? To introduce someone to Jesus is the biggest service any man can ever preform.
How Jesus Changed Him
When Jesus meets Simon, how does he handle the proud fellow? He knows how badly Simon needs to change. He sees the blustery impulsiveness of an emotionally unstable man who, blowing hot and cold, might confess him one day and deny him another. Jesus immediately holds a picture of the man he can be up before Simon. “You shall be Peter, the rock.” This would have meant something special to Simon. Isaiah was the most popular book read in the synagogues. He would be familiar with that great passage, “A man shall be . . . as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Jesus is telling Simon that he can be that man. This would have awakened the deepest longing in Simon’s soul. Yet it must have seemed impossible to him. Jesus is always taking a man’s greatest weakness and turning it into his strength. We say to him, “Other things I can do, Lord, but never this,” and he replies, “Without me ye can do nothing.” He then proceeds to do in us the very thing we had considered impossible and to make of us that one character we secretly longed to be but thought we could never become.
At first, Simon had his doubts. He went back to his fishing boat impressed but not convinced. He took his boat out and fished all night but didn’t make a good job even of that. He came back to shore with nothing and there stood Jesus. “Have the deep water.” It seems casual but it was a crucial moment. Simon had grown up fishing the Sea of Galilee. He had been taught to fish the shoals. Now this carpenter was trying to tell him how to fish. Impulsively, he starts to answer, “We have fished all night and haven’t caught a thing,” but something in the calm confidence and poised expectation of Jesus stopped him. Jesus wasn’t just making a suggestion; he expected to be obeyed. Suddenly it seemed to Simon that authority was present. This strange carpenter was a man to be obeyed. You can almost hear the change in his voice as he finishes his utterance, “nevertheless, if you say so, I will do it.”
It was a great moment for Simon and it is a moment we all must face. When Jesus comes commanding and we don’t see the sense in his command. We don’t see how it would help, but in a great moment of decision we say with Simon, “Nevertheless, if you say so, I will do it.” From that moment on, our lives will be completely changed as Simon’s was. Christ is even now commanding you. You may not completely understand why he commands this particular course. You may look back on past failure and doubt your own ability. But you can say as Simon said, “Nevertheless, if you say so, I’ll do it.”
That is all Christ needs to make your life over and turn your weakness into strength.
–From Gospel Tidings, December 1991.