When we think of the apostle Peter, a few notable incidents from his life are the first things that come to mind. We remember that he is the one who jumped out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus – and subsequently took his eyes off the goal and sank, needing rescuing by Jesus (Matt. 14:22 – 33). We certainly remember that he is the disciple who swore he would never deny Jesus (Matt. 26:30 – 35), but in short order did so three times (Matt. 26:69 – 75).
We often forget Peter’s incredible sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14 – 41), the healings he performed (Acts 3:1 – 8) and his courage and Spirit-filled testimony in front of a decidedly hostile audience (Acts 4:1 – 22).
Peter, along with his brother Andrew and fishing partners, brothers John and James, were among those specifically, personally called by Jesus to be apostles. Within this elite group of twelve, Peter was part of a small inner circle. In the gospel record we have, we see Jesus talking to Peter more often than to the rest of the group – perhaps because Peter was constantly asking questions.
In that regard, he seemed to be the spokesman for the group – or at least that guy who would ask the questions everyone else was thinking, but didn’t necessarily want to say out loud.
Explain this to us (Matt. 15:10 – 15). How many times should I forgive someone (Matt. 18:21 – 25)? If it’s hard for a rich man to get into heaven, what reward is there for us, who’ve given up everything to follow you (Matt. 19:23 – 30)?
Still, even during this training period, he had some spectacular successes. The disciples reported to Jesus that the crowds were all a-twitter over the things He had done, and were speculating on whether He was John the Baptist, Jeremiah or one of the prophets raised from the dead, or Elijah returned from the whirlwind. Peter’s immediate, uncompromising answer to the question of who the disciples thought Jesus was – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16)
My personal favorite “Peter moment” comes from John’s gospel. Jesus had been preaching on a hard topic – the idea that He is the living bread of life, and the way to eternal life is through eating and drinking His flesh and blood. The crowds had for the most part misunderstood, taking a literal meaning rather than hearing the spiritual meaning. Many of the large crowd of followers fell away after this teaching. It was only natural that Jesus ask His inner circle if they, too, wanted to leave. You can almost hear the “Duh!” at the beginning of Peter’s response:
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."
John 6:68-69 (ESV)
John 6:68-69 (ESV)
The two small letters Peter left us were written near the end of his life, in response to intense persecution of the fledgling Christian church. Christianity had spread as far as Rome, with almost disastrous consequences for the converts. Nero had an aggressive new building plan in mind, but to accomplish it, most of the existing city needed to be demolished. There just happened to be a huge fire the evening of July 18, 64 A.D. While nothing seems to have been proven, rumors circulated that Nero had ordered the city burned. He needed a scapegoat, and found it in these monotheistic people.
The backlash against the Christians was incredible in its savagery and scope. It spread throughout the empire. First Peter was written to the faithful in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, or what is modern day Turkey. Even there, the persecution had begun. How were they to live? What hope did they have?
Those are just some of the things Peter talks about in his letter. While we may not be undergoing the type of persecution his original readers were, the letter is astoundingly relevant to us today. Stick around for a while, and study through it with us.