The objectives of this lesson: (a) to note Peter's courage as well as his flaws; (b) to affirm that, in spite of our flaws, we can serve Jesus' purposes.
In the texts you are asked to read today, there are two incidents drawn to your attention. For either incident to occur, it took a great deal of insight. In each, Peter demonstrated his faith in ways that many of us would be hesitant to consider. In the first, Peter left his job, his means of income, to be Jesus' disciple with no promise of income. Those who are older might say Peter acted impetuously without thinking through the consequences of his decision. Scripture does not say how long Jesus' earthly ministry lasted, but most think it lasted around three years. That would mean Peter went for three years without a job. Wonder how his wife (Matthew 8:14) managed during this period?
The two incidents are (a) Peter's courage expressed in immediately following Jesus and (b) Peter's confessing that Jesus was the Messiah.
Peter leaving his job (when jobs were difficult to find) would be considered irresponsible by many Christians today. The fact that he had family responsibilities would increase our perception of irresponsibility.
It is assumed Peter had seen and heard Jesus previously. It is assumed Peter attached grave significance to Jesus' teachings. Whatever Peter knew and heard, the Gospel of Matthew says he left his nets "immediately" in order to follow Jesus. To do such quickly would take a lot of courage. It suggests that Peter saw something in Jesus that most others did not see. Peter paid an "immediate" price in real terms to accept Jesus' invitation to discipleship. Peter left to follow and be taught how to be "fishers of men."
Note what Christians see in Peter as an act of faith, Christians often see in others, today, as something other than faith. We need to exercise great care in "second guessing" the motives of other people. We should not condemn the actions of other Christians to make ourselves feel better.
Much later, Peter was following Jesus in the area of Caesarea Philippi (with the 11 others) when Jesus asked all of them, "Who do people say I am?" By this time, Jesus was a major "news item" among the Jewish people. Both Jesus' teachings and miracles were a steady topic of conversation. People discussed where Jesus was, what he said, and what he did (just as we do about people who do the unusual). Among the Jewish people, Jesus, his teachings, and his miracles had to be explained. Jesus, his teachings, and his acts were too unusual to be ignored. So, Jesus asked, "How do people explain me? Who do people say I am?"
To acknowledge Jesus' true identity when no one else saw it took a lot of courage. It is easy to report what others say; it is hard to see what others do not see (and would reject).
Several of the 12 responded to that question. All of them had heard people discussing Jesus' identity, explaining his deeds. Remember even Nicodemus, a Pharisee in the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, had an opinion about Jesus--Jesus was a teacher from God (John 3:2). Some said he was John the Baptist. Remember when Herod Antipas explained Jesus by saying he was John resurrected (Matthew 14:1, 2)? Some said Jesus was Elijah. However, John and his work was the promised work of Elijah (see Matthew 11:9, 10, 14; 17:9-13). Still others said Jesus was Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
Note and discuss the curiosity that would have everyone discussing and keeping track of the unusual. Some unusual occurrences simply have to be explained. Such occurrences reach a point that they cannot be ignored.
In this impressive list there is one striking omission. No one in Jewish society (at this time, in the disciples' hearing) explained Jesus, his teachings, or his deeds by saying he was the Messiah or Christ. For Jesus to be ranked with the forerunner of the Messiah or as one of the great Jewish prophets was acceptable to some. However, to say he was the Messiah (at this time) was not within Jewish thought. Jesus could indicate the Messiah was coming or be God's great spokesman, but he was not the Messiah himself.
Jewish society expected the Christ or the Messiah to be so different to Jesus that they could not see the obvious. The people they associated Jesus with were significant. However, their expectations of the Messiah were so different to the reality of Jesus, it did not occur to them to associate him with the Messiah. It is the same today: common expectations blind people to the obvious. Our common reaction to the unusual is expressed in these words: "That is not possible!"
Then Jesus asked, "Who do you say I am?" We might say, "What do you think? In your understanding of me, who am I?" Though many (maybe all) of the 12 had a response for Jesus' first question, the second question met with an astounding temporary silence. All 12 did not immediately fill in what is to us the obvious gap. The 12 men who were closest to Jesus, who heard everything he said everywhere he went, who saw everything he did everywhere he was, did not chime in as one chorus and say, "You are the Messiah!"
The obvious was not even immediately evident to the twelve.
Only Peter understood something that the others did not see. Only Peter said, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God." (This is the second incident.) Jesus blessed him for seeing the obvious. He did not understand this from human deduction based on what occurred. He understood this truth because God revealed it to him. (It is not my understanding that God forced this understanding on Peter, but that he was open to God revealing the obvious to him.) However Peter's understanding came, he saw something the others did not see. He had the courage and honesty to see beyond the expected. The expected regarding Jewish thought in reference to the Messiah did not blind him to a revelation of the obvious. Too many who know Jesus do not understand the significance of who he is. Too often the expected blinds people to the obvious.
It requires unusual insight to "see" what everyone else does not "see." It also takes incredible courage to declare what no one else sees. To see in Jesus what Peter saw was going to cost Peter! Often seeing exacts consequences.
The foundation of his rule as the Lord is based on the truth he was (is) the Messiah that God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3. Not even death would prevent him from being Lord over the people who are ruled by God (in each generation). To this man, Peter, who had so many flaws and weaknesses, was given by Jesus the keys of the kingdom. He opened the kingdom to the Jews in Acts 2. He opened the kingdom to everyone in Acts 10.
God's revelation of one truth does not mean there is a comprehensive understanding of all truths. For example, Peter understood Jesus was the Christ, but Peter did not understand God's intent to save all people.
Peter was given the opportunity to "bind and loose," which was given to all the 12 in Matthew 18:1, 18. This is not to be understood as an arbitrary, capricious "binding and loosing." Read John 14:10-17; 16:7-15, 23; and Luke 12:11, 12. All these statements were made to the 12. They would be equipped to "loose and bind" because they were guided to say what God wanted them to say.
Emphasize that the "binding and loosing" was not an arbitrary thing given to the twelve. After Jesus' resurrection, the twelve were equipped to "bind and loose" because (a) of revelation and (b) their understanding that God was at work in Jesus.
Did the fact that Peter understood through revelation that Jesus was the Christ mean Peter understood everything about Jesus being God's Christ? No. Obviously in Acts 10, the fact that Jesus (and God) intended non-Jews to become Christians was not (at first) understood by Peter. It took a lot to convince Peter he should go to Cornelius!
Examine Acts 10 and note (a) how much it took to convince Peter to go with Cornelius' men and (b) that Peter did not understand why he made the trip (Acts 10:28, 29). This is a valuable understanding.
When you see Peter's flaws, also see his courage. In spite of your flaws, have the courage to represent Jesus Christ.
Serving Jesus does not depend on becoming a flawless individual. It depends on having the courage to become a person of faith.
For Thought and Discussion
Peter immediately left his fishing responsibilities and followed Jesus.
Matthew said Peter accepted the invitation immediately. That act took courage. It suggests he saw something in Jesus many others did not see.
The first question was, "Who do people say I am?" The answers included John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and one of the prophets. The omission was the Messiah or Christ.
His question: "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
He had the courage and honesty to see beyond the expected.
It is the understanding that Jesus is the Messiah God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3.
In the discussion, it should be emphasized that the binding and loosing was not arbitrary. The twelve did not do "just anything."
The discussion should include the insights provided by Acts 10 and God's intent to offer salvation to all.
It should encourage us to represent Jesus Christ in spite of our flaws.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 4
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