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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VII. JESUS AND PETER.

Personal Friendships Of Jesus by Elizabeth Miller

CHAPTER VII. JESUS AND PETER.

|As the mighty poets take
Grief and pain to build their song,
Even so for every soul,
Whatsoe'er its lot may be, --
Building, as the heavens roll,
Something large and strong and free, --
Things that hurt and things that mar
Shape the man for perfect praise,
Shock and strain and ruin are
Friendlier than the smiling days.|

Our first glimpse of Simon in the New Testament is as he was being introduced to Jesus. It was beside the Jordan. His brother had brought him; and that moment a friendship began which not only was of infinite and eternal importance to Simon himself, but which has left incalculable blessing in the world.

Jesus looked at him intently, with deep, penetrating gaze. He saw into his very soul. He read his character; not only what he was then, but the possibilities of his life, -- what he would become under the power of grace. He then gave him a new name. |When Jesus beheld him, he said. Thou art Simon: ... thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone.|

In a gallery in Europe there hang, side by side, Rembrandt's first picture, a simple sketch, imperfect and faulty, and his great masterpiece, which all men admire. So in the two names, Simon and Peter, we have, first the rude fisherman who came to Jesus that day, the man as he was before Jesus began his work on him; and second, the man as he became during the years when the friendship of Jesus had warmed his heart and enriched his life; when the teaching of Jesus had given him wisdom and kindled holy aspirations in his soul; and when the experiences of struggle and failure, of penitence and forgiveness, of sorrow and joy, had wrought their transformations in him.

|Thou art Simon.| That was his name then. |Thou shalt be called Cephas.| That was what he should become. It was common in the East to give a new name to denote a change of character, or to indicate a man's position among men. Abram's name was changed to Abraham -- |Father of a multitude| -- when the promise was sealed to him. Jacob's name, which meant supplanter, one who lived by deceit, was changed to Israel, a prince with God, after that night when the old nature was maimed and defeated while he wrestled with God, and overcame by clinging in faith and trust. So Simon received a new name when he came to Jesus, and began his friendship with him. |Thou shalt be called Cephas.|

This did not mean that Simon's character was changed instantly into the quality which the new name indicated. It meant that Jesus saw in him the possibilities of firmness, strength, and stability, of which a stone is the emblem. It meant that this should be his character by and by, when the work of grace in him was finished. The new name was a prophecy of the man that was to be, the man that Jesus would make of him. Now he was only Simon -- rash, impulsive, self-confident, vain, and therefore weak and unstable.

Some of the processes in this making of a man, this transformation of Simon into Cephas, we may note as we read the story. There were three years between the beginning of the friendship of Jesus and Simon and the time when the man was ready for his work. The process was not easy. Simon had many hard lessons to learn. Self-confidence had to be changed into humility. Impetuosity had to be chastened and disciplined into quiet self-control. Presumption had to be awed and softened into reverence. Thoughtfulness had to grow out of heedlessness. Rashness had to be subdued into prudence, and weakness had to be tempered into calm strength. All this moral history was folded up in the words, |Thou shalt be called Cephas -- a stone.|

The meeting by the Jordan was the beginning. A new friendship coming into a life may color all its future, may change its destiny. We never know what may come of any chance meeting. But the beginning of a friendship with Jesus has infinite possibilities of good. The giving of the new name must have put a new thought of life's meaning into Simon's heart. It must have set a new vision in his soul, and kindled new aspirations within his breast. Life must have meant more to him from that hour. He had glimpses of possibilities he had never dreamed of before. It is always so when Jesus truly comes into any one's life. A new conception of character dawns on the soul, a new ideal, a revelation which changes all thoughts of living. The friendship of Jesus is most inspiring.

Some months passed, and then came a formal call which drew Simon into close and permanent relations with Jesus. It was on the Sea of Galilee. The men were fishing. There had been a night of unsuccessful toil. In the morning Jesus used Simon's boat for a pulpit, speaking from its deck to the throngs on the shore. He then bade the men push out into deep water and let down their net. Simon said it was not worth while -- still he would do the Master's bidding. The result was an immense haul of fishes.

The effect of the miracle on Simon's mind was overwhelming. Instantly he felt that he was in the presence of divine revealing, and a sense of his own sinfulness and unworthiness oppressed him. |Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord,| he cried. Jesus quieted his terror with his comforting |Fear not.| Then he said to him, |From henceforth thou shalt catch men.| This was another self-revealing. Simon's work as a fisherman was ended. He forsook all, and followed Jesus, becoming a disciple in the full sense. His friendship with Jesus was deepening. He gave up everything he had, going with Jesus into poverty, homelessness, and -- he knew not what.

Living in the personal household of Jesus, Simon saw his Master's life in all its manifold phases, hearing the words he spoke whether in public on in private conversation, and witnessing every revealing of his character, disposition, and spirit. It is impossible to estimate the influence of all this on the life of Simon. He was continually seeing new things in Jesus, hearing new words from his lips, learning new lessons from his life. One cannot live in daily companionship with any good man without being deeply influenced by the association. To live with Jesus in intimate relations of friendship was a holy privilege, and its effect on Simon's character cannot be estimated.

An event which must have had a great influence on Simon was his call to be an apostle. Not only was he one of the Twelve, but his name came first -- it is always given first. He was the most honored of all, was to be their leader, occupying the first place among them. A true-hearted man is not elated or puffed up by such honoring as this. It humbles him, rather, because the distinction brings with it a sense of responsibility. It awes a good man to become conscious that God is intrusting him with place and duty in the world, and is using him to be a blessing to others. He must walk worthy of his high calling. A new sanctity invests him -- the Lord has set him apart for holy service.

Another event which had a marked influence on Simon was his recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus. Just how this great truth dawned upon his consciousness we do not know, but there came a time when the conviction was so strong in him that he could not but give expression to it. It was in the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus had led the Twelve apart into a secluded place for prayer. There he asked them two solemn questions. He asked them first what the people were saying about him -- who they thought he was. The answer showed that he was not understood by them; there were different opinions about him, none of them correct. Then he asked the Twelve who they thought he was. Simon answered, |The Christ, the Son of the living God.| The confession was wonderfully comprehensive. It declared that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he was a divine being -- the Son of the living God.

It was a great moment in Simon's life when he uttered this wonderful confession. Jesus replied with a beatitude for Simon, and then spoke another prophetic word: |Thou art Peter,| using now the new name which was beginning to be fitting, as the new man that was to be was growing out of the old man that was being left behind. |Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.| It was a further unveiling of Simon's future. It was in effect an unfolding or expansion of what he had said when Simon first stood before him. |Thou shalt be called Cephas.| As a confessor of Christ, representing all the apostles, Peter was thus honored by his Lord.

But the Messianic lesson was yet only partly learned. Simon believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but his conception of the Messiah was still only an earthly one. So we read that from that time Jesus began to teach the apostles the truth about his mission, -- that he must suffer many things, and be killed. Then it was that Simon made his grave mistake in seeking to hold his Master back from the cross. |Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be unto thee,| he said with great vehemence. Quickly came the stern reply, |Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling-block unto me.| Simon had to learn a new lesson. He did not get it fully learned until after Jesus had risen again, and the Holy Spirit had come, -- that the measure of rank in spiritual life is the measure of self-forgetting service.

We get a serious lesson here in love and friendship. It is possible for us to become Satan even to those we love the best. We do this when we try to dissuade them from hard toil, costly service, or perilous missions to which God is calling them. We need to exercise the most diligent care, and to keep firm restraint upon our own affections, lest in our desire to make the way easier for our friends we tempt them to turn from the path which God has chosen for their feet.

Thus lesson after lesson did Simon have to learn, each one leading to a deeper humility. |Less of self and more of thee -- none of self and all of thee.| Thus we reach the last night with its sad fall. The denial of Peter was a terrible disappointment. We would have said it was impossible, as Peter himself said. He was brave as a lion. He loved Jesus deeply and truly. He had received the name of the rock. For three years he had been under the teaching of Jesus, and he had been received into special honor and favor among the apostles. He had been faithfully forewarned of his danger, and we say, |Forewarned is forearmed.| Yet in spite of all, this bravest, most favored disciple, this man of rock, fell most ignominiously, at a time, too, when friendship to his Master ought to have made him truest and most loyal.

It was the loving gentleness of Jesus that saved him. What intense pain there must have been in the heart of the Master when, after hearing Peter's denial, he turned and looked at Peter!

|I think the look of Christ might seem to say, --
'Thou Peter! art thou then a common stone
Which I at last must break my heart upon,
For all God's charge to his high angels may
Guard my foot better? Did I yesterday
Wash thy feet, my beloved, that they should run
Quick to deny me 'neath the morning sun?
And do thy kisses like the rest betray?
The cock crows coldly. Go and manifest
A late contrition, but no bootless fear!
For when thy final need is dreariest,
Thou shalt not be denied, as I am here.
My voice, to God and angels, shall attest,
|Because I know this man, let him be clear.|'|

It was after this look of wondrous love that Peter went out and wept bitterly. At last he remembered. It seemed too late, but it was not too late. The heart of Jesus was not closed against him, and he rose from his fall a new man.

What place had the denial in the story of the training of Peter? It had a very important place. Up to that last night, there was still a grave blemish in Simon's character. His self-confidence was an element of weakness. Perhaps there was no other way in which this fault could be cured but by allowing him to fall. We know at least that, in the bitter experience of denial, with its solemn repenting, Peter lost his weakness. He came from his penitence a new man. At last he was disinthralled. He had learned the lesson of humility. It was never again possible for him to deny his Lord. A little later, after a heart-searching question thrice repeated, he was restored and recommissioned -- |Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.|

So the work was completed; the vision of the new man had been realized. Simon had become Cephas. It had been a long and costly process, but neither too long nor too costly. While the marble was wasting, the image was growing.

You say it was a great price that Simon had to pay to be fashioned into Peter. You ask whether it was worth while, whether it would not have been quite as well for him if he had remained the plain, obscure fisherman he was when Jesus first found him. Then he would have been only a fisherman, and after living among his neighbors for his allotted years, he would have had a quiet funeral one day, and would have been laid to rest beside the sea. As it was, he had a life of poverty and toil and hard service. It took a great deal of severe discipline to make out of him the strong, firm man of rock that Jesus set out to produce in him. But who will say to-day that it was not worth while? The splendid Christian manhood of Peter has been now for nineteen centuries before the eyes of the world as a type of character which Christian men should emulate -- a vision of life whose influence has touched millions with its inspiration. The price which had to be paid to attain this nobleness of character and this vastness of holy influence was not too great.

But how about ourselves? It may be quite as hard for some of us to be made into the image of beauty and strength which the Master has set for us. It may require that we shall pass through experiences of loss, trial, temptation, and sorrow. Life's great lessons are very long, and cannot be learned in a day, nor can they be learned easily. But life, at whatever cost, is worth while. It is worth while for the gold to pass through the fire to be made pure and clean. It is worth while for the gem to endure the hard processes necessary to prepare it for shining in its dazzling splendor. It is worth while for a life to submit to whatever of severe discipline may be required to bring out in it the likeness of the Master, and to fit it for noble doing and serving. Poets are said to learn in suffering what they teach in song. If only one line of noble, inspiring, uplifting song is sung into the world's air, and started on a world-wide mission of blessing, no price paid for the privilege is too much to pay. David had to suffer a great deal to be able to write the Twenty-Third Psalm, but he does not now think that psalm cost him too much. William Canton writes: --

|A man lived fifty years -- joy dashed with tears;
Loved, toiled; had wife and child, and lost them; died; And left of all his long life's work one little song. That lasted -- naught beside.

Like the monk Felix's bird, that song was heard;
Doubt prayed, Faith soared. Death smiled itself to sleep; That song saved souls. You say the man paid stiffly? Nay. God paid -- and thought it cheap.|

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