Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. – No. 1


The process of salvation is a matter of God’s taking over the souls of men and transforming them. This is why the lives of the apostles are so valuable to us. Here we can see the process more plainly than anywhere else. When we study the lives of the apostles, we are seeing Jesus take quite ordinary human clay and transform it into something noble and fine. In the case of Matthew we see Jesus taking a man considered actually less than ordinary by most of his Jewish contemporaries and turning him into a spiritual giant. But it is the life of Simon Peter that is especially valuable to us, largely because we can read more about him than we can the rest of the twelve.

Peter and Us

If our interest in Peter is merely historical however it will have little value. Unless we see that something of the same kind, though perhaps differing in degree, can happen to us there can be little point in such a study. If we recognize that the personal experience of this one man is a universal possibility then the experience has a great deal to say to us.

Most modern books written about Peter spend more time guessing at his early years as a sinner than describing his later years as a saint. It seems that such a course is more apt to be appreciated by the modern reader. We are evidently either more interested in or more at home with the sinner. The saint disturbs us. I would like to ignore the early years and begin with Peter at Pentecost. But I see that we lose some of the power of Peter’s example unless we first study how he came to be the great saint he was. It is necessary then to begin our study of the Galilean fisherman as he was when Christ first set to work on him.

Simon seems to have been a born leader. When he said, “I go a fishing,” others were apt to say “I’ll go with you.” I think one reason for this was his wholeheartedness. He was right sometimes and wrong sometimes but never astraddle of the fence. If he denies his Lord, it will be with oaths; if he repents, it will be with bitter tears. It was just not in him to be lukewarm or halfhearted. He is not an educated man, and he does not pretend an education he does not possess. When he goes to Jerusalem he will still talk with the accent of a Galilean.

Peter, the Sinner

But Simon was a sinner when he met the Lord. Why? What was wrong with him? Very much the same things that are wrong with you and me. He was of the earth earthy. He was impulsive but unstable. He had the will to start what he sometimes lacked the courage to finish.

But his chief sin was pride. When it was suggested that he might prove unfaithful his reaction was, “Impossible! Others maybe, but not me.” So his chief fault was exactly the same as yours and mine. The great trouble with mankind is unreasoning pride. It makes us touchy, competitive, scheming, short tempered, boastful and unjust. This is another reason why Simon’s transformation is so valuable to us. To start with he was so much like us.

Simon might have gone on all his life a simple fisherman and a proud blustering sinner. The thing that started the change in him, of course, was the fact that he met Jesus. This meeting was not the result of an accident. He was introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew. It was probably the biggest thing that Andrew ever did. But, after all, what bigger thing can any man do? To introduce someone to Jesus is the biggest service any man can render on this earth. Behind every great man is an Andrew who helped him get started. Behind Paul is Barnabas who traveled up to Tarsus and brought the recently converted Saul back with him in order to get him started in the work God planned for him. Behind the great King David is the lesser figure of Jonathan who shielded David from the wrath of King Saul. No man is so great that he does not need his Andrew.

The First Meeting

The first meeting of Jesus and Simon is an interesting one. It is fascinating to see how Jesus handles him. Jesus sees the blustery impulsiveness, the emotional instability, the tendency to blow hot and cold, to confess one time and deny another. He sees the crying need for change in this man. So he holds a picture up before Simon; the picture of the man he can be. “You shall be Peter the rock.”  This statement would have a special meaning to Simon. At that time Isaiah was read in the synagogues more than any other prophet and one of the most popular passages of Isaiah was the one that reads, “A man shall be as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Jesus is here saying “You can be that man, Simon. I will make you that man.” It would have appealed to Simon. It would have awakened a deep longing. Yet at the moment it must have seemed very unlikely. Jesus is always taking a man’s greatest weakness and turning it into his strength. We say, “Other things I can do, Lord, but never this.” He answers, “Without me ye can do nothing,” and then proceeds to do with us the very thing we thought impossible; to make of us that one character we secretly longed to be but thought we never could be.

God’s Power in a Life

Certainly this has been true in my own experience. As a boy I wanted to preach so very badly, but I was timid and awkward. I had an amazing talent for getting my foot in my mouth. My voice was like a rusty file on a piece of tin. After several months of trying to preach, I was convinced I would always have to do something else to make a living. I knew I would starve to death preaching. Yet, I couldn’t think of anything I could do well. I had a terrible inferiority complex. Yet in the quarter century since that time the Lord has sent me over thousands of miles preaching the gospel, and night after night people have had the courtesy to come and listen. If the Lord can take what I was and do that, I have no doubt that He can take anyone the least bit willing and do anything he wants to do with them. It was so in the life of Simon Bar Jonah. He didn’t look very rock like when the Lord called him, but the Lord was thinking more about what He could turn Simon into than what Simon was.

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