Previously, I introduced this little mini-series considering the lives and ministries of the twelve apostles, with the intention of separate posts considering lessons from each of their lives. In every list of the apostles, the “first” is “Simon, who is called Peter” (Matthew 10:2; cf. Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). Mark and Luke both tell us that Jesus gave Simon the nickname Peter.
Peter was the “first”—the “foremost” or “chief” (cf. Acts 16:12; 1 Timothy 1:15)—of the apostles. He was not the first selected by the Lord (his brother, Andrew, was called before him) but was appointed as the chief of this band of leaders.
It should encourage us that Peter was appointed as the chief of the apostles, for there is perhaps none more ordinary than he. He both boldly confessed Christ and blatantly denied Christ. He received words of great commendation and great rebuke. Alexander Whyte notes that Peter was “hasty, headlong, speaking impertinently and unadvisedly, ready to repent, ever wading into waters too deep for him, and ever turning to his Master again like a little child.” How like us he was!
And yet there was none as extraordinary as this ordinary man. He was the chief. He was the rock on which the church was build (Matthew 16:16–19).
Peter vacillated between courage and cowardice, fear and faith. He experienced the ordinary cowardice and fear that we experience, but when he refused to be consumed by these things, he displayed extraordinary faith and courage. As we consider what the Scriptures say of him, we can learn ourselves to be extraordinarily ordinary. And Scripture reveals that he was foremost in at least three areas.
Peter was foremost in his response to Christ. This was the key to his extraordinary ordinariness and it is the key to ours. The way that you respond to Jesus will determine whether or not you become extraordinarily ordinary. Note several things about his response to Christ.
First, he was foremost in his reverence for Christ. He knew who Christ was and who he was in light of Christ’s character. His defining moment is recorded in Luke 5:8 when, after experiencing a miraculous catch of fish by following the advice of a travelling preacher, “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8). His reverence persisted, even if waveringly, for the next three years (Matthew 16:16; John 6:68) and gave him great resolve (Acts 5:29). It kept him real so that he did not overestimate his own importance (Acts 10:26)
Second, Peter was foremost in his reception of revelation. Though he received it by divine grace (Matthew 16:16–19), Peter grasped the revelation with conviction and made it his own. He was obedient to it, whether it meant casting nets into the sea (Luke 5:5), preparing for Passover (Luke 22:8, 13), or finding a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15ff). He received revelation by faith and obeyed it.
Third, Peter was foremost in his requests of Christ. He was always asking questions (Matthew 15:15; 18:21; 19:27; Mark 13:4; Luke 8:45; 12:41; 22:9; John 21:21; etc.), which is why he received so much revelation.
Fourth, Peter was foremost in his resolve for Christ. He displayed no hesitation in following Christ (Matthew 4:18–20; Luke 5:11; cf. John 6:68; Matthew 26:33ff). His zeal for Christ persisted after the resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:14; 4:8, 12; 5:3–9, 29). He exhorted his readers to the same (1 Peter 3:15).
Fifth, Peter was foremost in his risks for Christ. He risked his fishing business to follow Christ. He risked his life by stepping out of the boat and walking on the water (Matthew 14:28–33). He risked his life to draw his sword against a troop of trained soldiers in Gethsemane (John 18:10ff). It was a risk to follow Jesus, albeit from a distance, after his arrest (Matthew 26:58). His continued identification with Christ after the resurrection (Luke 24:12) and then throughout Acts after the ascension was a risk. He risked a great deal to serve his Lord. He was extraordinarily ordinary because he knew how extraordinary his Lord was and displayed willingness to follow him, even at personal risk.
Peter was foremost not only in his response to Christ but also in his rebukes by Christ. This can be seen in a number of areas.
First, he was foremost in his rejection of revelation. While he was receptive to the word, there were times when he outright rejected it (Matthew 16:22; 17:4; 14:30; etc.). This happened even after the ascension (Acts 10:13–14). There were times when his self-reliance got in the way of his response to Christ.
Second, he was foremost in his rashness for Christ. He was always the first to act or speak (John 18:10; 13:8; Luke 22:33; etc.). His rashness often got him into trouble. He was frequently diagnosed with foot in mouth disease.
Third, he was foremost in his retreat from Christ. Who can forget his threefold denial of Christ (Matthew 26:69–75)? He displayed this same duplicity later in Antioch (Galatians 2:11–13) and needed to be corrected by Paul. But despite his lapses, he knew what it was to experience forgiveness.
Peter’s restoration after his threefold denial of Christ is recorded in John 21. It is helpful to note that his restoration was preceded by several things.
First, he experienced hopeless remorse (Matthew 26:75). He was moved by the reality of his failures and the remembrance of his sin. Was his decision to go fishing in the opening verses of John 21 a decision to resign from his apostleship? Jesus used his hopeless remorse to bring him to repentance.
Second, he experienced a humble realisation: that he was merely human. Rather than being some superhuman hero, he was merely “Simon, son of John” (John 21:15–17). Without Christ, he was nothing (cf. John 15:5). He learned this lesson, much later referring to himself not as an apostle in distinction from church elders but as a fellow elder (1 Peter 5:1).
Peter’s hopeless remorse and humble realisation led to hope-filled repentance. Though he had failed Jesus, the weight of his sin brought him to repentance. He felt, expressed, and proved his love for Christ. He was the first in the water when he recognised Jesus on the shore. He openly confessed that he loved Jesus. And he spent the rest of his years doing exactly what Jesus told him to do: feeding his sheep.
We tend to identify quickly with Peter, but I wonder if we are sometimes too hasty. Do we share his response to Christ—in his reverence, his reception, his requests, his resolve, and his risks? If we do, we will receive divine rebuke and, rather than resist, will repent. If we follow Peter in this regard, we can become extraordinarily ordinary servants of Christ.