by Randy Heffner
"Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness."
1 Timothy 3:16a
Peter—Petros—The Rock. That’s the name Jesus gave to this impetuous, uneducated fisherman, saying “on this rock I will build My church” (Matt 16:18). I wonder what Peter thought when Jesus said that. Whatever he thought, he still had a lot to learn—like five verses later, when Jesus called him “Satan” and a hindrance.
In the Gospels, although Peter is outspoken, he’s not much of a rock. Walking to Jesus on the water, he sinks when scared by the wind. In Jesus’ great hour of need, he falls asleep. Despite the “Satan” episode, he again hinders Jesus by slicing the ear off the high priest’s servant. Having boasted of his unfailing loyalty, he denies knowing Jesus. Perhaps such unsteadiness is why Jesus continues calling him by his given name, Simon.
Only after Jesus’ ascension does Simon (“one who hears”) indeed become Peter, the rock. He is confident and articulate at Pentecost. He stands up to the authorities, who are surprised that an uneducated man carries himself so boldly. He is glad, if necessary, to be flogged for telling about Jesus. Upon Peter’s leading, thousands come to faith.
In Sunday’s sermon, Tommy Overton told how this ordinary man’s transformation gives great encouragement for our journey in this life. Though we are Simon, we might yet become Peter.
In the “Satan” incident, Simon heard Jesus tell plainly, not in an obscure parable, that He would suffer and be killed. But never mind Jesus’ perplexing words, Simon was certain of something else. He was stuck on our simple human insistence that God’s ways banish suffering. Jesus’ rebuke made it clear that God’s ways aren’t that simple. Simon kept listening, and later, Peter tells of beauty in the midst of suffering: “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Pet 2:20).
Across the windy waves, Simon heard Jesus tell him, “Come” (Matt 14:22–32). But Simon was focused on the miracle of water-walking rather than on his approach to the Lord, and he sank. Since Jesus wasn’t one to turn faith into a question of parlor tricks, I believe his rebuke—“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”—was not about the water-walking. Rather, Simon wavered by giving attention and priority to the miracle, rather than simply following Jesus, whether by miracle or not. Simon kept listening, and though Peter happens to be a conduit for many miracles, he is somewhat taken by surprise when he himself is miraculously saved (Acts 12:6–17).
At the Transfiguration, Simon heard Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses. Not knowing what to say, he spouted out something that sounded pious: “Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:2–8). In reply, God speaks from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Simon did keep listening, and later, when Peter is perplexed by a vision about relaxing Jewish dietary laws, he doesn’t rush to an answer. He stays in the discomfort of mystery until the vision’s meaning comes clear (Acts 10:9–48).
Like Simon, I get stuck thinking that faith banishes suffering, and I turn away from danger. I seek first safety and comfort, forgetting that He walks with me through the valley of the shadow of death. I wonder what else I’m stuck on for which Jesus would call me “Satan” and a hindrance.
Like Simon, I get stuck thinking faith means I’ll miraculously walk above the storm, and so I keep looking for miracles and sink. Thank the Lord He’s there to catch me, but I wonder how often I cry out to Him only because I’m depending on a miracle rather than simply walking toward Him, knowing that He is always good and He is always working, no matter what happens around me.
And like Simon, I get stuck thinking that satisfied confidence in pious-sounding ideas means my faith is strong, when I’d be better off simply listening to Jesus. I wonder how often my satisfied confidence is actually me trying to live by proud certainty instead of by humble faith.
Peter, in his final letter, retains his given name, greeting us as Simon Peter (2 Pet 1:1). It’s as if to remind us there’s good news because, if I keep listening like a Simon, allowing the perplexing things of God to realign my confidence, I might indeed reach the joy of being a small rock in God’s landscape of salvation.