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Fishers of Men


St. Peter holds a special fascination for me, as for many men. He seems so much like so many of us. It is comforting to know that God can use a man “just like me.” Is it so? Let’s examine, under the microscope used by Monday morning quarterbacks, the character, message and results of Peter.


It’s necessary to break this study into two parts: before and after the Resurrection. Peter is not the same man after the Resurrection -- but it’s worthwhile to study the raw material out of which our Savior made one of the Apostles. It would be fun to state that Christ took a man with no virtues and made a saint of him -- but it would be false. Peter, like most of us, was a man whose virtues and vices were mingled. Let us begin with his virtues:

Peter was a caring man

(Mat 8:14-15 NIV) When Jesus came into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. {15} He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

Note something well: it’s not Peter’s mother. It’s Peter’s mother-in-law. How many of us would stand that?

Peter was a man of action

(Mat 4:18-20 NIV) As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. {19} "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." {20} At once they left their nets and followed him.

Notice the phrase, “at once.” This is a man who makes commitments (though he sometimes has the weak flesh to go with the willing spirit).

Peter knew he was a sinner

(Luke 5:1-10 NIV) One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, {2} he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. {3} He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. {4} When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." {5} Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." {6} When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. {7} So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. {8} When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" {9} For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, {10} and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men."

Note the reaction: not “thanks for the catch” but “go away from me.” Peter is a sinner, and he knows that he is in trouble for it.

Peter, like the rest of us, lived his life before the Resurrection with his vices too. Some of these are all too common today. These are the things which stood in the way of Peter becoming a “Fisher of Men.”

Doing God’s deeds in man’s way

(Mat 16:21-25 NIV) From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. {22} Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" {23} Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." {24} Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. {25} For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

Peter, like the rest of us, is fond of giving advice to God. “Here, Lord, let me help you figure this out.” God’s advice, of losing your life to save it, seems somehow “unrealistic” or “other worldly.” It is. That is precisely the point. If you want the things of heaven, you must do the things of earth in God’s way. There are two ways in which Peter (and the rest of us) tend to make this happen:



(Mat 18:21-22 NIV) Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" {22} Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Peter thought he was exceeding the law (which requires forgiveness three times for the same offense) -- but Jesus points out the heart of the matter. It is extravagant forgiveness, the forgiveness found at the cross.



(Luke 22:50-51 NIV) And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. {51} But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him.

Peter (identified in Matthew’s account) uses the world’s favorite method of conquest: violence. Jesus shows him that this is not to be the weapon of the church, for the church will share nothing with Satan, not even weaponry.


Lack of Spiritual Perception

(Mat 15:15-16 NIV) Peter said, "Explain the parable to us." {16} "Are you still so dull?" Jesus asked them.

Spiritual perception is perhaps something granted at birth, evidently. It seems that Peter got less than his share. A comforting thought, that, for we shall see how it changes. Somehow, Peter goes through his spiritual life at this stage just not “getting it.” For example:

(John 13:5-10 NIV) After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. {6} He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" {7} Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." {8} "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." {9} "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" {10} Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you."

Sometimes this comes from hardness of heart. I think in this instance it is another example of trying to do God’s things in the world’s way.

Lack of Faith

The primary example of this, of course, comes when Peter denies Jesus three times. In the central incident of his life before the Resurrection -- something repeated in all four Gospels, quite unusual -- we see the mixture of bravado and failure that is the common them of ordinary man. Peter goes with Christ to the garden. He fails to keep watch while Jesus prays; he lets Jesus down. To compensate, he rashly promises that he will never disown Christ (Matthew 26:33-45).[1] Christ then tells him how futile this is, and predicts that he will disown his Lord three times before morning (fulfilled in Matthew 26:69-75). It is typical of his lack of faith, and it burned in his mind. The finest picture of our lack of faith (as his is the example of ours) is found here:

(Mat 14:25-31 NIV) During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. {26} When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. {27} But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." {28} "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." {29} "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. {30} But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" {31} Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"

Here is the picture of our failing in faith:

·         We ask for the command of the Lord (“let’s be sure!”)

·         When we get it, we fail for our lack of faith

·         But when we fail, we know on whom we should call.

After the Resurrection, the story begins to change. There is a very curious fact here. Look first at his reaction to the empty tomb:

(Luke 24:12 NIV) Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

He begins in wonder; he ends in faith, by the sea:

(John 21:14-17 NIV) This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. {15} When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." {16} Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." {17} The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love[2] me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.

Interestingly enough, there is another, almost unnoticed incident in between. Somewhere between the tomb and the sea there is a personal appearance to Peter. It goes almost unnoticed in the New Testament:

(1 Cor 15:3-5 NIV) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, {4} that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, {5} and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Note the sequence: Peter, then the twelve.[3] Peter never gives an account of that meeting; we only know from these brief references that it did. True then, true today: a personal encounter with the living Lord completely changes the human life. Peter goes from the man who denied his Lord to the leader of the church.

Growth in God’s Plan

Peter begins his transformation. It is not a miraculous one, happening overnight, but consists of steps. The largest of these steps came in his attitude toward those who were not Jewish. He goes from considering faith something to be shared only with those who “deserve it” - the Jews, to the Samaritans:

(Acts 8:14-17 NIV) When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. {15} When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, {16} because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. {17} Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

And, from the Samaritans to the Gentiles:

(Acts 10:28 NIV) He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.

The Message

From such beginnings God made the first great evangelist of the church. It’s interesting to see how such a common man performed such a task. We so often today consider the task of evangelism as one of “inviting other people to church.” This is the “roundup theory” of Christian evangelism. It is an important task to bring those who are new to the area, or those who have not been to church in a while, into a fellowship of believers. But let’s not call it evangelism. It is a good thing, but it must not be allowed to substitute for the great thing: the Great Commission.

Peter’s effectiveness was based upon one thing: who Christ is.

(Mat 16:13-16 NIV) When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" {14} They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." {15} "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" {16} Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Knowing who Christ is -- that is the key to Peter’s new life. Peter in all his recorded actions preached several sermons. All those sermons had these three key points (see, for example, Acts Chapter 2):

·         Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, as prophesied by the Old Testament.

·         He died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and was raised again.

·         Peter then calls upon his hearers to repent, believe and be baptized.[4]

The Result

So, then, what does the Lord do for such a man? It is difficult to pick out of so many passages, but I think there are four main points:

The Keys of the Kingdom

(Mat 16:17-19 NIV) Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. {18} And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock[5] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. {19} I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Note particularly the last phrase. The power we have is echoed in heaven itself. If we take the good news to the world, those who receive it are saved. If not, then ? Note well that we hold the keys to heaven; the question is whether or not we will open the door.

Not money, but the power of God

(Acts 3:1-8 NIV) One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon. {2} Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. {3} When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. {4} Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" {5} So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. {6} Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." {7} Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. {8} He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

Note the italics. This act precedes another of Peter’s sermons. We need to choose how we will “pursue happiness.” Do we chase the money of this world, or the power of God in our lives? Depending on our natures, we may be generous or stingy, but in either case when we give, we give what we have. We might see it this way: sometimes the rich give money because they have nothing else to give.

Not triumph, but deliverance

(Acts 12:6-11 NIV) The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. {7} Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists. {8} Then the angel said to him, "Put on your clothes and sandals." And Peter did so. "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me," the angel told him. {9} Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. {10} They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. {11} Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating."

Christ will never keep us from trial and tribulation -- but He will keep us from defeat. He never promised us triumph over the world (and He has that) but deliverance from it.


All this is well and good, but that’s Peter. What about me? I submit to you the following questions, that you may learn from Peter’s example:


p Do you care about people, as Peter did for his mother-in-law? Do you pray for the lost? By name? That the Spirit might open their eyes? Do you pray for their comfort and lack of pain, or for their salvation, even if that means more pain?

p Are you ready to do his work now? Are you like Isaiah, saying, “Here am I, send me?

p Do you see yourself as Peter did, as a sinful person? Or do you feel that your righteousness has left God rather in your debt, as if He owed you a favor or two?

p Are you willing to change for his sake? Are you

·         willing to throw out the legalism?

·         willing to learn?

·         willing to ask for faith, and then go forward on it?

The Message

p Do you tell others about the Christ, crucified, dead and raised -- or do you just invite them to church, and hope that someone else will do that?

The Results

p Do you see the fruits of the Spirit in your life? Has the eternal in you (that which will be in heaven) taken over the temporal, or the other way round?

p Do you chase the power of money, or ask for the power of God?

p Do you seek deliverance from the world, or triumph over it?

[1] Note that the other disciples all make the same promise. Peter is just “everyman” magnified.

[2] Note well the change of verb from truly love(agape) to love(phileo).

[3] Another passing reference is made to this by the disciples who encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus, and is found in Luke 24:34.

[4] (Acts 2:38 NIV) Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

[5] Most conservative Protestant scholars deny the idea that this makes Peter the first Pope. The interpretation of “pope-dom” is based upon reading “Peter” (petros) and “rock” (petra) as meaning the same.

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