One of my favourite people in the Bible is Peter the fisherman. I relate to his inconsistencies, blunders, and well-intentioned failures. Like most of us, Simon didn’t have the credentials expected of a spiritual leader or hero. Many would have described him as unstable, unpredictable, and impulsive. But Jesus saw more in him than others saw. And, because of this fisherman’s story I know that Jesus sees more in you and me as well.
Calling Simon to be His disciple, Jesus gave the fisherman a new name that carried a new purpose (see Matthew 16). After Jesus plays a round of spiritual Jeopardy! Asking His followers who He really is, Peter lands the big money with the right answer. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” In recognizing Jesus’ true identity, Simon is stepping into a new name and a new position within the group of 12 disciples and in the future Church.
Jesus says, “And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
(Matthew 16:17-18 emphasis mine)
He is no longer Simon, but Peter. He will no longer cast nets for fish, but now he will be a fisher of men. God will use him to win people into God’s Kingdom.
Now, if you know anything at all about Peter, even after Jesus’ declaration, Peter didn’t always live up to his new name. Like us, he still had much growing to do as a believer, a disciple, and as a leader. Numerous times Peter fell short of faithfulness. When the guards confronted Jesus near the Garden of Gethsemane, rather than responding as Jesus taught him, Peter resorted to violence and sliced off a soldier’s ear. I’m only guessing, but I am pretty sure Peter was swinging for the head and missed.
Peter’s most infamous failure followed on the heels of his boldest declaration. When Jesus explained that many would fall away, Peter fought back, promising his allegiance. “Even if everyone else in the world falls away and leaves you,” Peter declared with unbending boldness, “I will always be there for You and never let You down. (Mark 14:29, paraphrased). If you know the rest of the story, before the rooster crowed, Peter denied even knowing his Lord, not once, but three different times.
Even though Peter didn’t initially live up to his new name and purpose, God helped him grow into it. His consistent shortcomings became his best teacher to learn about the grace and redemption of God through Christ, Since he was forgiven much, he knew how to preach on repentance and forgiveness. It’s no wonder that God chose Peter to be the keynote speaker on the day of Pentecost as he unwaveringly told people to turn from their sins and turn to Christ,
Peter the Wishy Washy grew into his new name and purpose — Peter the Rock, called not to fish for fish but to fish for souls. History shows us that Peter died a martyr’s death for his faith in Christ. Tradition says that his enemies planned to crucify him on a cross just like Jesus to mock his faith in Christ. But Peter begged them not to, explaining that he wasn’t worthy to die in the same way as his Saviour. Many Christians believe that Peter was crucified upside down, displaying his love for Christ and his unwillingness to end his life in the same way as his Saviour. Peter may have been born as quicksand, but he died a rock.
So, like Simon, when Jesus looks at you He does not see what others see. He does see what you see. So often people are labeled for one or another aspect of their lives. And then they wear the label like this is who they really are. Like this is all they really are. But Jesus sees past the self-imposed labels. He sees past the other-people-imposed labels. He sees the real you, the potential that He placed within you. We need to get past the identity baggage and see ourselves as Jesus sees us.
You don’t need to think long and hard to name people who’ve been labeled. There is Attila…the Hun. There is Conan …the Barbarian. Billy… the kid. Buffy… the Vampire Slayer. And, a child’s favourite, Winnie … the Pooh. Right or wrong people are known for what they do. Tiger Woods was known for being the best golfer in the world. Unfortunately, because of his extracurricular activities, he has now picked up less favourable labels. Some people’s names even become synonymous with their crimes or failures. No one wants to be a Benedict Arnold or a Doubting Thomas. You get the idea. There is Pam the People Pleaser. Evan the Evasive.
Whatever you have labeled yourself; whatever others have labeled you — you are more than that. Much more. And, Jesus sees the real you and wants to work with you, walk with you, to bring the real you into the sunlight. He wants to help you lose the identity baggage and become whom He created you to be. No matter what others think or see, Jesus looks past all of that and sees the potential.
Like Peter we can find forgiveness and redemption in our walk with Jesus. Like Peter, Jesus will help us to see and realize the potential that is within us. And, with His help he will lead us into His eternal plan and purpose for our lives. You and I are on an amazing and exciting journey to discover who we really are ‘in Christ.’