Tuesday, 2 July 2013
Peter the Apostle: The evangelist who learned to listen before he spoke,
The martyrdom of St Peter took place in Rome under the emperor Nero around A.D.62-64. As far as we know from tradition, he showed no fear at his execution, in fact it is recorded that he told the guards that he wanted to be crucified upside down as he was not worthy to be killed the same way as his Master.He was originally brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew (John 1.41-43)and later Jesus then called both Andrew and Peter at the Sea of Galilee saying to them :‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’(Mk1.14).
At another time when the two brothers were out in their boat and had failed to catch any fish Jesus told them to cast their nets into the deeper waters to which Peter replied: ‘we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets."(Lk. 5.5) As a result of their action they caught so many that Peter fell down at Jesus’ knee and cried out:”Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord". Jesus then responded to him and said; "Don't be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." Peter therefore knew at an early stage the ministry that he would one day have.
It should be noted that in any list of the disciples recorded in the gospels Peter is always mentioned first and among the inner three along with John and James. Peter was truly devoted to his Master, however sometimes he was too quick to show it,which resulted in failure.It would seem that when he had first of all listened to Jesus then obeyed him, things went well; however when he took the initiative in order to help Jesus out, he ended up letting himself down.
For instance in Matthew 16.13-23 we see these both happening. First of all Jesus asked the question: ‘but who do you say that I am?’to which Peter repliesd: ‘you are the Christ the Son of the living God’. This was good and Peter was commended by Jesus, who then told him that it was the Father who had revealed this to him...
However shortly after when Jesus was describing what would happen to him in Jerusalem with regard to his suffering, death and resurrection, Peter starts to rebuke Him. This Jesus did not commend, rather strongly rebuking with the words: ‘get thee behind me Satan you are a hindrance to me, you are not setting your mind on the things of God but of man.’ Poor Peter!
In the story of Jesus walking on the water, again Peter wants to get involved. This time he asks Jesus: ‘Lord if it is you will command me to come to you on the water.’ This Jesus did and Peter succeeded in walking on the water, at least until he started to doubt.
Some time afterwards, Peter, despite Jesus stating the opposite, boasted that though all would leave Jesus during his time of trial, he would not. Jesus then predicted that he would deny him three times! After Peter denied his Master he was probably very much a broken man,but it is recorded that the Lord had prayed for him and prepared the way for him to be fully restored.
In John 21 which records the events after the death and resurrection of Jesus we read the story of the disciples being unable to catch any fish, even though they had been fishing all night. The next morning on discovering that they hadn’t caught any, Jesus teld them to cast out on the right side and immediately they caught a full load. John then realised it was the Lord and told the rest. At this, Peter, fully clothed jumped in the sea and made for the shore. Remember that the last time a similar event took place Jesus had promised Peter that he would from then on catch men. Perhaps he thought, despite his failure, that Jesus still had a work for him to do!
When the rest of the disciples arrived on the shore Jesus had already prepared a fire to cook the fish. Remember again that when Peter denied the Lord it was beside a fire. I’m sure when Peter saw any type of fire it brought him pangs of guilt and shame as it remind him how he denied his Master. But here we see how the Lord in his mercy brought him back to the fire, but instead of denial Peter was able to affirm three times his love, and three times the Lord commissioned him to feed his sheep and tend his lambs.
Gone was Peter’s boasting, instead a great sense of humility when he stated in his third reply: ‘Lord you know all things you know that I love you.’
Peter was no longer the self confident apostle but one who had been chastened by the Lord and had learned to listen before he spoke out of turn.
In Acts 2 it is recorded that on the day of Pentecost when the disciples started to speak in tongues Peter responded to the people’s comments : ‘they have had too much wine’ with an explanation, then a sermon which ultimately saw three thousand come to the Lord.
Peter’s next opportunity came after he healed the cripple at the gate called Beautiful (Acts3). After the healing had caused such a stir Peter again gave the people an first an explanation, then a sermon, and even though he and John were both arrested, five thousand believed through their message!
Note that these were not evangelistic crusades as such with lots of organization with lots of money spent on publicity. On the morning of these events Peter did not even intend to preach a sermon, though I'm sure he was always open to the Spirit's leading. He just responded to the commotion of the speaking in tongues and the healing in a dignified way, through explanation, then a sermon.
The gospel reaching the Gentiles was in the first place due to a God given vision, and obedience to the Spirit (Acts 10). It was not Peter’s own idea for sure- in fact he was, if anything a little hesitant. Peter’s letters also do not portray the brash evangelist. He seems concerned with Christians being a good witness in the world and staying steadfast in the midst of suffering and trial. He does however have a few things to say about speaking the words of Christ or words for Christ.
In 1 Peter 3 he tells wives not to preach at their non-Christian husbands, rather that they might be won without a word if their behaviour is right.In verse 15 of the same chapter Peter also writes: ‘But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’.
Always be prepared like the scouts. Like Jesus with the woman at the well he was prepared for what the Father opened up for him. If we do not expect to see doors open we more than likely will miss them. We must learn to see and seize them! We must still be gentle and respectful as Jesus was with the woman at the well, and as Paul was with the woman who were praying along with Lydia by the river.
We don’t need to be brash , we don’t need to bully people. We just need to be willing and prepared to speak when He does open up the door. We must also be willing to persevere and not give up at the first sign of inconvenience or trouble.
I used to think that Jesus and the apostles just preached and always got great results in terms of people becoming followers of Christ. Then one day I read again one of my favourite verses: ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me’. It made me think of Him knocking and waiting at the doors of the hearts of men and women.How long did he have to wait for us. Think of how many times we ignored his knocking before we responded. Are we sometimes too ready to give up on people too soon?He waited for us can we not wait in his name for others.We like instant coffee but we will never get instant saints.
Peter learned to listen to the Spirit within as well as listening to the people. Despite that he still needed boldness to take the opportunities when God had opened them up to him.
It did not have to be an organised evangelistic event (was there any in the New Testament or were they all spontaneous?, but it could be just going about doing everyday things: that is what makes the Christian life exciting.
Peter was no longer self reliant but God reliant and seeking always to please the Master, practising the presence of God.