My life group is doing a study of Acts, and as we’ve been spending about 16 weeks on it so far, I’ve noticed that there are lots of mentions of Peter. For about the first half of the book, he’s kind of the star (although I suppose the Holy Spirit is the real star). He is such an interesting character! I also couldn’t help but notice how mature he is in Acts in comparison to what I remember from the gospels. I remember him being kind of brash, bold, and a big talker with a little less follow through. Boy, do I relate to him. He is totally me. I can talk the talk all day long, but when it comes to walking the walk, I nearly always fall apart. I never finish anything I start. But the cool thing about Peter is that he always goes back. He does one step forward, two steps back, and then three steps forward. He always comes back to serving the Holy Spirit. His time with Jesus truly changed him. He grows up so much!
I felt like God was calling me to study him closely. He just kept coming to my mind. I just kept wanting to know more of his story when I would read portions from Acts. So I did what any Christian true research nerd does: I consulted the Holy Scriptures and the internet!
At my church right now, we are going through a sermon series about the book of Luke that is about the life of Christ. We are studying His words, His works, and His way. We often study His words and works, but what’s really interesting is Jesus’s way. And the truth is, when He interacts with people and they experience Him, big changes happen. And boy did they for Peter!
Peter was a fisherman from Bethsaida. His name was actually Simon, but for the sake of avoiding confusion, I’ll refer to him as Peter all the time here. His brother was Andrew, and together with James and John, sons of Zebedee (that’s a fun one to say!), they ran a commercial fishing business. So they’re hanging out unsuccessfully fishing one day when they meet Jesus.
One cool thing about Peter – his first encounter with Jesus is recorded in all four of the gospels. Matthew and Mark are identical, basically. Luke adds some different details and John adds some different details. When you read all four encounters, you get a pretty good picture of how all this went down.
Hop on over to John 1:40. Here’s Peter’s brother, Andrew, who is apparently a disciple of John the Baptist (I draw this conclusion from verse 35 and 40). Andrew hung out with Jesus for a day and was amazed at Jesus, so he went and got his brother. Andrew straight up knew that Jesus was the Messiah. He tells Peter in verse 41.
“The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.”
Now in Luke 4 and Mark 1:29ish, Jesus heals Peter’s super sick mom-in-law (so is he married? Is it Andrew’s wife who is referred to in this? Does he ditch his wife for his entire ministry? Does his wife die? WHAT HAPPENS TO HIS WIFE??? These are the things I ask myself). It doesn’t explicitly say that Peter is the one who asks for Jesus’s help, but I think it’s safe to assume that he actually was part of that company. So I’m thinking maybe what went down is that Andrew was like, “Dude, I found the Messiah. You’ve gotta come see him. Also I’m pretty sure he can heal your MIL.” Also, just a side note, I’m not sure what order this stuff happens in, because in Mark, Jesus meets them and then goes to heal Peter’s MIL, but in Luke, Jesus heals Peter’s MIL before he meets them. I don’t think the order is as significant as the fact that both things happened. Verse 38 says,
“Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked her fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.”
Now I just have to say, that’s some kind of healing right there. A high fever is not something a person quickly recovers from, but she’s up and makin’ dinner like 3 seconds later. Like, what a stereotypical woman. The second you’re better, you go straight to the kitchen. But seriously, though. She must’ve gotten so much better so quickly. Jesus is cool.
So now we’re into Luke 5. Jesus is getting all kinds of crowded by the people listening to Him, and He needs a little personal space (the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and even needed personal space like we do), so he hops in the boat with Peter and speaks from there. When he finishes speaking, he tells Peter to put the nets in. So clearly Peter has been there while Jesus is preaching and has heard His message. His response is basically like, “Um, okay dude, but seriously I’ve been fishing all night with no luck. But I just heard you talk and you are definitely legit so I’m going to give this another whirl.”
Peter trusts Jesus and then catches so many fish that the boats start to sink. Peter knows what’s up. Always the first to talk, he collapses at Jesus’s feet and exclaims, “Go away from me, Lord: I am a sinful man (v8)!” And that was basically it for Peter. His whole life started right there.
One really cool thing about the Jesus-Meeting-Peter story is that 3/4 gospels talk about this little phrase we’ve come to know and love in modern Christianity called “fishers of men.” In Matthew, it’s 4:19: “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.'” In Mark, it’s 1:17: “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.'” WORD FOR WORD. In Luke, it’s 5:10: “Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.'” Side note: In John, it’s not outright stated, although Jesus does immediately rename Peter Cephas (both of which mean ‘rock’).
I did some research on fishing in biblical times, not because angling is of super high interest to me, although I can truly say I’ve caught and cleaned fish multiple times in my life (sorry, Vegan friends, I still love you, I promise), but because I wanted to see what the deal was with this “fishing for people” metaphor. If you’ve ever read the gospels, Jesus spoke in basically all metaphorical language (which is actually a fulfillment of prophecy, fun fact! See Matthew 13:10-17), so this may come as no surprise. When I think of fishing as a 21st century American, I think of leisurely, summery dusks in solitude while relaxing in a chair very happily (albeit being eaten alive by mosquitos). But honestly, biblical fishing was really more like the opening scene of Les Miserables. “Look down, look down, don’t look ’em in the eye! Look down, look down, you’re here until you diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie!” I mean I know you’re laughing right now if you are a super cool musical theatre nerd like me, but seriously, fishing was hard work! It was net fishing, not pole fishing, which was a lot more work than pole fishing but often yielded significantly better results. Without sharing too many details, there were a couple of kinds of net fishing, and the one that was probably being practiced at this time was with a veranda net, which was a mixture of several types of nets. It was a huge net that had weights. The fisherman would find the school of fish and surround them by dropping the net, and then they’d drive the boat around to encircle. Sometimes net fishing involved diving into water and moving the fish from the net into pouches. Sometimes it involved hauling the nets onto the boats or even onto the shore (that’s where I get my Les Miserables vision from). This was work full of physical labor. It had the potential for amazing results, but that didn’t always happen (like in Luke, where they’d had no luck all day). Also, think about this: because people from all over would buy the fish, fisherman were probably pretty smart. They could probably speak several languages to accommodate all the different people they’d sell to, and they definitely had to be good at math to run their businesses. They may not have been super educated and they may have been gruff, but they were strong and smart. I wonder if that says something about why Jesus chose them first. And it really must say something about the affect Jesus had on them if they immediately dropped their entire business, left everything behind, and followed him.
In thinking about this “fishing for people” idea, I also thought about other obvious Peter moments in which Jesus predicted what was going to go down and then it straight up happened. The first one we think of is Peter’s denial of Christ three times. Jesus tells him it’s going to happen, Peter is like totally appalled and he’s like, “Never, ever, ever, not me, no way!” and then LATER THAT SAME NIGHT…Well, you know what happens. Jesus also names Peter “Rock” because Peter is the first one to openly declare that he knows Christ is the Messiah. Jesus tells him that He’ll build His church upon the rock (Himself) that He’s naming Peter after. Of course, that’s a super cool idea that I’m looking forward to diving into later. But for now, the “fishing for people” thing.
Like I mentioned above, my life group is doing an in-depth study of Acts. Fun fact! The beginning of Acts contains the first sermon about Jesus as the Messiah that is not given by Jesus. It happens at the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends and takes residence in Christ’s followers. It happens when suddenly the Christ followers can speak many languages at once, communicating to a huge group of people all at once. Guess who gives the sermon. Just guess. I’m going to have to let God’s Holy Word take this one (Acts 2:1-14):
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’ Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd…”
So I can’t help but picture this in context of net fishing. The tongues of fire are the nets. They come down and then spread apart, settling. The “fish” are surrounded and caught. They are dumbfounded and amazed. I mean, come on, you can’t help but picture fish being all like, “Umm, what do I do?” when they are caught in nets, and these people are all doing that, amazed that they can hear their own languages. It’s like the bait, in a sense, although I don’t think net fishermen actually use any bait. And then Peter gets up to reel ’em in (or pull in the nets, as it were).
This is such a cool picture to me! I mean, we always knew that Peter became a “fisher of people” because of the work he did to spread God’s kingdom, but this is the first time Jesus’s kingdom expands since Jesus has ascended, and Peter is at the forefront. And it’s a significant expansion. Mind you, this is like reasonably soon after Jesus’s resurrection. And three days before Jesus’s resurrection, Peter was all like, “I swear and bring down curses on you people – I do not know that dude, I’ve never seen him, I’ve never been with him!” three times in a row before the rooster crowed. Peter for sure learned his lesson, because he is boldly and confidently standing up, filled with the Holy Spirit and preaching the truth of Jesus to this crowd. And the crowd is cut to the heart (verse 37) and about THREE THOUSAND WERE ADDED TO THEIR NUMBER THAT DAY (verse 41). I mean talk about quite a reel-in. Talk about enough fish to make the boat sink. And this was the FIRST expansion. These people are the first stones added to the temple. The Holy Spirit basically jumpstarted His church here, with Peter’s speech.
Peter had power. He had the power of the Holy Spirit. He had trust. He just did what Christ told him to. Peter had faults. Big ones. He lied. He was quick to talk and slow to listen. But he did listen. He was changed forever when he met Jesus.
I definitely relate to Peter. He is so headstrong. He talks so much. He has trouble with follow-through. I totally get him. But Peter’s heart was changed by Christ’s way. He had an instinctual understanding that Christ was it. He just trusted and followed. In spite of his pretty large mistakes, his cowardice, God used his life to enormously spread His kingdom. I want to be like Peter: two steps toward Christ, one step back, three steps forward.