A Rock, A Stone, and Some Scattered Shards

Of course, Peter was the first one to say it out loud. He always said what others only thought. Except sometimes he didn’t think before he spoke. “Act first, think about it later.” That’s how Peter rolled. But when he said this thing, everyone was still calling him Simon.

The Rock was just starting to roll. Continue reading

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Just the Middle Man

John the Baptist had a disciple named Andrew. When Jesus walked by John’s location one day, Andrew and another disciple left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. It only took a few hours for the two disciples to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah. Andrew’s first reaction? Go get his brother, Simon!

And he brought him to Jesus. -John 1:42a Continue reading

Treading Water or Treading On Water

Oh, the difference a preposition makes.

I learned to tread water in swim lessons when I was a little girl (pool water cold so early in the morning, parents watching from outside the chain-link fence). They said it was easy, but I never thought so. Treading water means constantly kicking your feet and constantly sweeping your arms back and forth in order to keep your head above the water. Floating, on the other hand…floating was the way to go. But you don’t get anywhere floating, at least not anywhere you want to go. Treading water isn’t very mobile either, but at least you can see what’s around you.

Of course I’ve never walked on water. Apart from the fact that it takes a miracle, seems like it would be easy: no rocks on which to stub your toe, no holes in which to turn your ankle. Yes, treading on water would be way easier than treading water. That’s the difference a preposition makes.

Peter found that out the hard way.

Matthew 14:25-33. It was windy, and the rolling waves made the boat rock roughly back and forth. No big deal for Peter, though. He was a fisherman, and he’d surely seen worse than this. The waves and wind weren’t what frightened Peter and the other disciples. It was the “ghost” coming toward them on top of the water. Still too far away to recognize, Jesus knew their fear, and his voice carried across the wind (or maybe it was a miracle), “Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

Walking on water was
Peter’s idea, not Jesus’.

Rather than “Rock” (for which Petros is the Greek), Jesus should have named Simon Peter whatever the Greek word is for “Impulsive!” Peter decided to go meet Jesus out there on the water. He was not afraid to jump out of the boat and into the water (see also John 21:7). But walking on water was Peter’s idea, not Jesus’.

Treading on Water

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be like Jesus. I wish I were as kind and patient as Jesus. I wish I had the authority with which He spoke to crowds. I wish I could do a miracle or two, just to get people’s attention. All these, however, are external aspects of Jesus’ identity, and I think this is where Peter found his motivation. Peter wanted so much to be close to Jesus, to be like Jesus, that he longed to do what Jesus did. In this case, to tread on water. These external things, however, are not the essence of Jesus’ character. The central characteristic of Jesus was (and still is) His relationship with the Father. That relationship constitutes the source of everything tangible that Peter tried to emulate. Jesus’ actions were just the by-product of His essence.

Actions are the
by-product of essence.

Copying the actions without the essence is like putting on a mask. It doesn’t change who you are. Yes, “emulation is the highest form of flattery,” but Jesus wasn’t looking for flatterers. He wanted followers.  He wanted people who knew Him intimately and obeyed Him unceasingly.

So why didn’t Jesus tell Peter “No”? Instead, Jesus tells him, “Come” (14:29). Knowing he would falter, why did Jesus let him do it? I don’t really know, but perhaps…

  • Peter needed to learn the limits of his budding faith (14:31).
  • The other disciples needed a passive (i.e. safe) push to their own faith (14:33).
  • Jesus knew how important this story would be down through the centuries, and so He permitted Peter’s embarrassment for our benefit. (How many sermons, lessons, even songs have you heard from this passage? I loose count. Thanks, Peter!)

Treading Water

When Peter “came to his senses,” we might say, fear set in. He was like me, during that same set of swimming lessons, when I strolled onto the high dive like it wasn’t a big deal only to freeze in terror there at the end, with the diving board bouncing and the chill bumps spreading over my body. Maybe his legs locked up, or maybe Peter kept striding forward, thinking, “I can do this. I can do this.” Even as the water covered his ankles, his calves, his knees….

You see, because Peter’s desire was his own, not Jesus’, Peter operated in the strength of his own faith. That was no shabby faith. Doubtless, he walked further than most of us would walk today. But when Peter reached the limits of his faith, when he began to compare his strength to that of the waves and wind, he sank. Then he just hung there, treading water where he had been treading on water.

Faith and Power

Our faith is not the fuel for
obedience. His power is.

As Christ-followers, we cannot live according to what we think is a good idea or what we think Jesus wants. We cannot depend on our faith to fulfill His will. Don’t misunderstand me here. We need faith, and our faith increases as we grow in Him, but our faith is not the fuel for obedience. It’s His power that gives us everything we need for a godly life (2 Peter 1:3). It’s His power, which raised Jesus from the dead, that works in us (Ephesians 1:19). It’s His power that makes us witnesses (Acts 1:8). It’s His power that will finish what He has started in us (Philippians 1:6).

We can’t dig into Peter’s mind that windy evening when he so rashly jumped out of the boat. It’s safe to say, however, that “his mouth was writing checks his faith couldn’t cash.” It’s quite possible that he was operating in his own strength, depending on his own faith. (Compare Acts 3:12.) Be careful not to put too much faith in your faith. It’s limited and its power is derivative.

Do you know whose faith is limitless and whose power is unmatched? Jesus’.

Be careful not to put to much faith in your faith. Our faith is only effective when Jesus is its source and goal. My #faith is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Can you tread water easily? I’m still no good at it. I’m trying to get a little better at keeping my faith properly centered, though. What about you? How does Peter’s sinking scene influence your faith? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Who’s Humble Now?

Rethinking Peter’s Foot-Washing

Sometimes I think John took special delight in recording Peter’s unique interactions with Jesus.  He gives us so many singular moments which the Holy Spirit now uses to teach us.  It certainly happens here.  Let’s take a look . . .

John 13:1-10.

I’ve heard people point to Peter in the upper room as an example of humility, and on the surface it appears that way. As Jesus makes his way around the room, Peter tucks his feet up under his robe and denies Jesus: “No.   I don’t want you to wash my feet. This is wrong! I should be washing your feet” (My paraphrase of v. 8). But who is Peter…and who are we…to tell Jesus what He should and shouldn’t do?  It may seem humble, but in reality, Peter is trying to boss Jesus around! Continue reading

The Elephant on the Beach

Oh, Simon Peter . . . If you, dear reader, say that you are not like the Peter of the Gospels, then you and I have little in common. Impetuous, quick-tempered, over-thinking, big-hearted Peter . . .

Thank You, Father, for giving us so many honest pictures of Simon Peter. They show us that we are redeemable too.

John 21:1-19.

After Jesus’ death, the disciples didn’t really know how to fill their days. They had been so involved for three years, but now they had no one to follow, no crowds to hold back, no teachings to digest. Even though Jesus had appeared to them more than once, the loss was palpable. One day, Peter, who was accustomed to work and busyness, decided to go fishing. No harm in that. (Probably.  It depends on when Jesus told them to stay in the city—Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4.) Six other disciples went with him. Continue reading