“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Luke 5:8
Bethsaida, the place of Simon’s birth and later his home in Capernaum in Galilee were both lakeside (John 1:44; Mark 1:21ff). From his youth he was woven into the fabric and folklore of a closely knit fishing community. He would have spent long, sweaty, smelly, hours catching and processing fish, toiling with boat and net repairs, trying to provide for his family while an oppressive government and heavy taxes made it difficult to do so. He was forged by the fishing fraternity, disputing fishing zones, haggling over prices, jibbing and ribbing one another, fishing for hope when the fish were few and far between. He worked around Gentiles and spoke Greek, but his mother tongue of Aramaic was heavily accented and sharpened by the wit and vulgarity (Mark 14:70) of the wharf.
Although awash in the cultural milieu of the Greek and Roman gods of his day, Simon was anchored by his Jewish heritage and education. News from his younger brother Andrew about the long-awaited Messiah must have caught his attention. What did Simon think when he first laid eyes on Jesus? Perhaps he was skeptical about this carpenter’s son being the Messiah. He may have rolled his eyes when Jesus, a landlubber, after commandeering his boat for a floating pulpit to preach at them, had the nerve to then try and school him on how to fish. After an unsuccessful day of fishing, Simon begrudgingly decides to humour Jesus and sets out to fish again. The immediate and dramatic haul of fish, that threatened to sink the boat, was probably eclipsed in Simon’s mind by the fearful revelation that he had just callously scoffed at the thought of this man being the Messiah, and now he was at the mercy of the Almighty One, himself. He blurts out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). Expecting judgement he receives grace and his life would never be the same again.
Jesus changes his name in Aramaic to Kepha (Cephas), Peter, which means, rock. This was not previously known as a personal name. Warren Wiersbe says, “Perhaps the two names suggest a Christian‘s two natures: an old nature (Simon) that is prone to fail, and a new nature (Peter) that can give victory. As Simon, he was only another human piece of clay; but Jesus Christ made a rock out of him!”
Peter is the easiest for many of us to identify with in the Bible. No one, as seen in Scripture, is as high and low and sideways as Peter. In his worst moments he tries to tell Jesus what to do, and then cowers before a young girl, denying that he ever knew his closest friend and Lord. Yet, consistently out of the twelve apostles Peter is always mentioned first (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13) as the recognized leader after Jesus. However, even in leadership Peter would struggle with being prejudice and duplistic, caving in to peer pressure. Through his failures and trials, by God’s grace, he persevered. Faithful to Christ, he went on to write two books of the Bible as a compassionate and caring pastor. History tells us that he was crucified upside down at his own request. He did not think himself worthy to die as Jesus did.
It’s been said that it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way. Looking back on Peter’s life, I think he would heartily agree. God transformed this everyday, curmudgeon of a fisherman into a humble servant-leader he used to change the world. Peter’s brokenness endears him to us, while his dogged pursuit of holiness and obedience to Christ inspires us to believe that God can do the same in us.
Thanks for meandering along with me,