We continue our Focus on the Faithful series with one of the New Testament’s most beloved figures, Simon Peter. We know this lowly fisherman-turned-mighty apostle well. After Jesus, his name is mentioned more times than any other, including Paul’s. Few Bible characters are more exposed before us than Peter is. We see all his flaws and failures, along with his strengths and successes. For this reason, he is not just the preeminent disciple, always listed and standing first among the Twelve; he is the archetypal disciple. He is a pattern of discipleship to follow.
From a fishing boat to the upper room, from casting nets in Galilee to preaching to the Gentiles, Peter’s walk of faith, like Abraham’s, was a road of transformation. It’s seen from the moment he first met Jesus, an introduction like no other. His brother, Andrew, was the one who took Peter to meet Jesus. But when Jesus saw the rugged fisherman, the first thing He did was rename him: “‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated, A Stone)” (John 1:42).
The Jews would call Peter Cephas, the Greeks, Petros. In whatever language, Peter was the rock, signifying the new identity and purpose Jesus had for this special disciple. We cannot possibly cover every episode in Peter’s life with Jesus, but let’s highlight a few and the chief characteristics that defined the rock. As we follow the Master with His most passionate and outspoken student, we see what a faithful follower of Jesus looks like.
Peter’s most memorable attribute may have been his fervent zealousness for Jesus. It was not always rightly directed (he cut off an ear defending Jesus!), but no one doubted his passion. He was all in. In calling disciples, Jesus made the cost of discipleship clear: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). And Peter did. When he heard the call that day as Jesus passed his boat on the banks of Galilee, he “forsook all and followed Him” (Luke 5:11). This disciple was destined to catch and make more disciples.
Peter was always jumping in to be near Jesus. This is vividly illustrated in some of our favorite Gospel stories. Caught in a storm on the lake, it was Peter who was out of the boat and walking on the water to Jesus at His command (Matthew 14:22-33). After the Crucifixion, a dejected Peter went back to fishing. But when the resurrected Lord showed Himself to His disciples, it was Peter who jumped out of the boat and into the sea to get to his Master (John 21:1-14).
Peter’s bold and decisive actions explain better than words that a faithful follower is eager to leave the familiar to be where Jesus is and where He is going.
Peter is as famous for his candid statements as for his daring deeds. This outspoken disposition was sometimes misguided, too (he argued with Christ about dying and about washing his feet!), but no one doubted his sincerity. A calling comes with confession, and Peter was not afraid to speak up, about himself or His Lord. Faced with Jesus’ authority when he was first called in the boat, Peter immediately fell at His feet: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). That honest, humble cry is seen during the storm on Galilee too. At the sight of the winds and waves, Peter began to sink in fear, but cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30). This tough fisherman was brave enough to confess his need.
Peter’s desire to jump in testifies to a courageous passion for Jesus, but in speaking up, his unreserved vulnerability before Jesus was plain to all. Peter could declare the truth about who he was and cry out for help because he knew who Jesus is. Later, when the Lord asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” it was Peter, again, who spoke up. His confession is the rock upon which the church is built: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:15, 16).
Peter’s clear and direct words explain that faithful followers know themselves and their Lord, and are eager to openly confess both before God and the world.
We love Peter because we identify with him. He is the rock, a faithful follower, not because he was faultless but because, despite his fears and failures, he was ready to jump in and speak up for the Lord. Peter was a faithful follower because he did not give up, though his focus sometimes strayed from his Lord and onto himself. Peter, the rock, is the prototypical faithful follower because over the long haul, he trusted and obeyed his Lord above all, thus fulfilling the mission contained in his name.
At the end of his life, after following, denying, and preaching Jesus to the ends of the earth, Peter wrote that we are all “living stones,’’ building up the church of God in Christ (1 Peter 2:5). He was just the first. May we all be transformed rocks, like Simon Peter — faithful followers jumping in and speaking up for the Master, Jesus Christ.
This article was adapted from the adult Bible study A Faithful Disciple: Following the Master with Peter, now available in English and Spanish by the Bible Advocate Press.