This week starts the first of a blog series on Jesus’ 12 Disciples. These posts will be recaps of sermons preached by Pastor Harper. We hope that the unique format we use to look at the lives of these men will really make this interesting and impactful for all of us.
Each of the disciples’ stories will be based off what the Bible shows us about their lives and what they were like, but also understand that for the sake of keeping the overall narrative of their lives moving forward as it’s told, some of what we could call “sanctified imagination” will be used, and just logical conclusions in general will be drawn from the facts we know.
Pastor Harper asked Jared T. to create a few sketches for each sermon to help visualize the lives of these men, so the artwork you’ll see in these posts is all Jared’s original work; and we are very grateful to him for the time and energy he put into making these.
Matthew 10:2-4 gives us the first full listing in the Bible of the names of all twelve disciples, and we’ll take them in order as they come, starting today … with Peter.
I always enjoyed watching Andrew work.
Everything Father taught us, Andrew had taken so seriously. He was never that fast, but he rarely made mistakes. For some reason, waiting on him didn’t drive me crazy. Still, I harangued him with our inside joke: “Will you be ready before or after Messiah comes?” He looked up just long enough to flip sand at me with his foot, making me cover my face and drop my own side of the net. Just then he finished, saying, “Now who’s waiting?”
We both smiled.
It could be tricky business—casting a large net into the sea, without tangling the net or tearing it, especially a two-person sized net—but after so many years Andrew and I could do it without thinking. We each intuitively felt the rhythm and flow of the perfectly timed release. Still, to get the best cast the wind had to be just right.
Once I’d gathered and gotten the correct hold on the net again, we both waited for just that right moment. This was my favorite part of the cast—the pause and peace of that instant when the beauty of Galilee stopped your breathing. Hills so lush and green, and waters so deep and blue—there were times I know I sensed their taste just by looking at them.
Like always, the breeze died away and so did that peaceful pause. Instinctively Andrew and I began to move, steps coordinated, measured perfectly to stop just past the water’s edge, our arms swaying in unison, building up momentum. In as much as I savored the brief instant of pause before the cast, now with the movement started I relished the rush of throwing my entire body weight and all of my strength into the coordinated throw. We crouched in our run, ready to leap with the release. Out of nowhere Andrew stopped, tripping over himself and falling to the sand. My own momentum carried me recklessly into the water, making me drop my net again, this time tangling it. I cast a red-hot look toward Andrew for being so inept. Curse words for him were already forming in my mouth when I saw what had actually happened. He hadn’t tripped at all. He barely stopped himself in time to keep his body from hurling into a passerby who didn’t care to wait.
Now my profanity was set to spew out at Him … until I looked at Him.
For what seemed like the longest time He didn’t say anything—no one did. None of us even moved. The Man simply stared at us with a mixed look of amusement and anticipation. “Follow Me,” He said, “And I will make you fishers of men.”
The passerby, of course, was Jesus. And leaving all our equipment behind we followed Him, Andrew and I both. Rabbis would come through Bethsaida from time to time, drawing followers to themselves from our people and the people of the surrounding cities and villages. They chose disciples who were educated and showed real promise. But when Jesus came and called Andrew and me … that was unheard of … almost embarrassing.
I didn’t care. The only other person in my life who had ever treated me like he saw something worthwhile in me … was Father. Don’t ask me what Jesus saw in me. I just knew He had called me, and that I’d never have another chance like this in my lifetime. So I went. I had to follow. Something in my heart made me follow. And am I ever glad I did.
A day before this, I was working one of our solo nets.
All I could think about was what I was going to say to Andrew once he finally returned. Straining with all the force in me I could barely pull each catch back to shore … which was good. But being only one person I was limited to a solo net, which was bad, especially on a day like that day. It felt good to chuckle, though, when I heard shouting and squawking echo across the water.
I didn’t have to turn my head to know what was happening. John had gone with Andrew, so James, like me, was left alone to defend his catch from sea birds. I just threw dead or wounded fish into a pile and let the birds eat them. This almost always kept them away from the good fish.
But not James. Ha! He couldn’t stand the thought of giving up anything to the unclean scavengers, so his method was to drive them away by stoning them. And believe me, he threw to kill! I couldn’t resist any longer, so I signaled to him and waved my arms like a bird. He picked up another rock and threw it in my direction. Haha!
I loved that guy … his brother too. The four of us had more memories … ha! How many times had we taken one of Father’s or Zebedee’s boats without permission, so we could share our ideas and dreams without being warned of “blasphemy.” How many times had we met beside the sea at dawn to pray the Shema. How many times had we reclined at my table and whispered long into the night.
Messiah would come — we knew it. We believed it. We dared to believe He would come soon. How would we know when? What would He look like? Where would He appear first?
I just knew that when He came, my heart burned to be a part of it!
In later years, Philip would often meet with us whenever he would visit from his side of Bethsaida. His questioning mind always got a good debate going. And sometimes Philip would even bring Nathaniel, who never said much, but when he spoke it was worth hearing. We all knew the Rabbis agreed that the prophet Micah predicted Messiah would first come to Bethlehem. And there was that old shepherds’ legend of angels and a baby being born to a carpenter and his wife. Nathaniel always scoffed at the idea, but what if … ? What if?
Two or three times I all but set out for Bethlehem on my own to find out if the tale was true. But we owned boats, not horses or donkeys, and it would take six or seven days to get there on foot, plus the time there looking, plus another six or seven days to get back … it would have severely hurt our fishing business. But if it was true, then maybe, just maybe, someday Messiah would come up to us, near Galilee. And round, and round the debates would go … until that day it happened.
As much as both James and I were fed up with sea birds and solo nets, it was our idea that John and Andrew should go and listen to the prophet from the wilderness. James honestly wondered if the man wasn’t a lunatic. I spent my days sloshing in and out of water and just wasn’t keen on the idea of him dunking me in the Jordan. But he was calling for repentance, because “the Kingdom of God was at hand.”
What did the prophet mean? If the Kingdom of God was near … then was Messiah at hand as well? The possibility blazed in our hearts. I tried to not think about it as I fished and half regretted sending Andrew, but I couldn’t help myself… .
Then … I heard Andrew’s voice … and saw his look.
Careening recklessly through the tide, leaping and laughing, and waiving his arms, he was shouting my name over and over. He looked just like a boy again. I was too tired and irritated to immediately appreciate his excitement, so I waited and let him come to me. While I was still wrestling in my mind over whether or not to push him all the way into the water just because I felt like it, he called my name and spoke the five words we had waited all our lives to hear: “Simon—we have found the Messiah.”
I wish I could tell you I immediately ran back with him.
But now that I had heard the words, I couldn’t make myself go. Something in me refused to move, as though if I went, it would somehow disappear and not be real anymore. The moment I had dared to hope for throughout my entire life was here, and I didn’t have the faith to go.
Finally Andrew grabbed my arm, and turned, and just started running again, my legs stumbling along. After a few seconds I yanked my arm free and kept up pace, not to be outdone by my brother. Finally we turned a bend in the road and I saw a crowd of people, but no one who looked like the Messiah. We stopped to catch our breath before going near, and I was starting to think whoever Andrew was talking about had left already. But Andrew grabbed my arm again and pulled me right into the crowd. I shook my arm free and was going to tell him what would happen to him if he grabbed my arm like that again, when the Man right in front of me turned and silenced all my thoughts with a look that saw through to my soul. Andrew’s eyes lit up, and he said nothing. My mouth stayed slightly open, and I said nothing.
But holding my gaze, the Man smiled and said, “You are Simon the son of Jonas. You shall be called Peter, which means ‘a stone.’”
The next day was that day on the shore when Jesus officially chose us to be among His closest followers, and we left all we had to follow Him. I didn’t understand fully what Jesus meant by giving me the name, Peter, or “Stone.” But over the years that we walked with Him I came to learn.
Often when my mouth or my emotions caused me to become like my old self before I met Jesus, He would correct me and call me, “Simon,” my old name. And just as often, when my faith and boldness caused me to act like what Jesus was training me to become, He would praise me and call me, “Peter.” What Jesus was teaching me was that if I let Him, He had the power to change my life and turn sinful Simon, stable as water, into victorious Peter, solid as rock.
But it’s not just me. That’s what Jesus will do for anyone who will follow Him and let Him change them. Like I wrote in my first letter, “you also, as living stones, are being built up [as] a spiritual house, … through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done. If you allow Him to, Jesus will take you just as you are and make you into a solid rock. Just like He did for me. And if He can do that with me, He can do that with anyone. If there was hope for me, there is hope for you.
I know this, because, of all the infamous disciples, there was Judas … and then there was me.
I couldn’t stop shaking. My mind blamed it on the weather, but my heart condemned me for not having nerve. When I most needed composure, I couldn’t pull myself together to stop trembling. My skin felt dank. Though wrapped in my cloak and pressed against my side, my hands quivered and my arms shuddered.
Had I truly been reduced to this?!
I bore down with all the power of will that I could summon, refusing to let myself slip any farther. The chilling night air didn’t help, though. It turned the stone gate columns and ground pavers into bottomless wells that drew the warmth from anything touching them. My bones ached from the cold, pressed against the iron gate hinge and rock post, but I dared not come out of the shadow.
Opposite the courtyard was the way back to the cover of the Garden trees. I turned, and my body instinctively moved to step—no. “Raca!” I berated myself. The valley could still be occupied by the temple guard. They would, without question, remember me as the one who cut off the servant’s ear. Even if I made it through and found where the other disciples had gathered, how could I face them? I vowed as their leader to follow Jesus to death if it came to that. But now, it was coming to that, and my bravery had broken. But it was too late. I had made public my stand. I had shed a man’s blood.
I had come too far to go back.
Come back on April 25th for the conclusion of Peter’s story…or listen online to Pastor Matt Harper telling the story himself!