Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

What’s in a Name?

The following is the first in a series of sermons on 1 Peter.

The epistle of 1 Peter begins with a name.  Peter, Petros, Cephas to some.  Of course this was not his given name.  When we first encounter Peter in the gospel we know him as Simon.  Now Simon owes much to his brother Andrew, for it was Andrew who first heard Jesus, and then told his brother.  Not much is ever said about Andrew, but we learn an important lesson from him.  If it were not for Andrew there may have never been a Peter.  Andrew is not as well known as Peter.  There are not many Bible stories told about Andrew.  He never gets a day dedicated to him during VBS.  He is not a name we think of when we think of famous Bible characters, but he plays an important role in God’s plan.  We never know what the end result of our actions may be.  We just need to be faithful to whatever God sets before us and leave the rest up to Him.  We need to be like Andrew who faithfully told his brother about Jesus and then set back and watched as Peter became one of the first great Christian leaders.

Peter did not begin as a great leader.  He sat at the feet of Jesus for several years before he delivered the first gospel sermon at Pentecost.  It was Jesus who gave Peter his new name.  Names are important.  When Laura and I got married she took my name.  I wouldn’t be very pleased if she decided to use another name.  Shortly after the civil war Robert E. Lee was approached by the Louisiana Lottery and they asked him if they could use his name.  They promised he would become very rich.  Astounded, Lee replied, “Gentleman, I lost my home in the war.  I lost my fortune in the war.  I lost everything except my name.  My name is not for sale.”  We probably all feel this way about our name.  We wouldn’t let just anyone use our name.  We protect it.  We remind our children that whatever they do reflects on the name they were given.

Although names are important they were even more important during Biblical times.  Often people were given a new name at a significant point in their life.  Abram is given the name Abraham and Sarai is given the name Sarah.  After Jacob wrestles with God he is given the name Israel.  When Jesus meets Simon He gives him the name Peter.  Although Peter is a very common name to us, it wasn’t common in the 1st century.  In fact, scholars have not found anyone who had this name prior to Peter.  The word Peter means rock.  Jesus literally calls Peter rock.  This would be like me naming my son tree stump or some other common object.  You would know what it means, but you would wonder why I chose to name my son that.  This is the question we must consider.  Why did Jesus call Simon rock?  There has to be a purpose to it.  If not Jesus wouldn’t have done it and the gospel writers wouldn’t have recorded it.  There’s gotta be something about this name.

So, why would Jesus call Simon rock?  A few years ago there was a famous wrestler named the Rock.  He was an ex-football player who was big and strong.  Then there is that famous song by Bob Seger that was played over chevy commercials for years.  “Like a rock, I was strong as I could be, Like a rock, nothing ever got to me, Like a rock, I was something to see, Like a rock.”  These are the things that may come to mind when we think of this name.  We think of someone who is strong, someone who can stand up to anything, maybe someone we can rely on.  When we think of Peter we may even think of him as being an outgoing leader.  The first part of the book of Acts is focused on Peter and the sermons he preached, but Peter wasn’t always like this.  He may have always been outgoing, but he wasn’t always the right person to lead and therefore to be followed.  While Peter is following Jesus he shows great faith at times, only to have it all reversed by a moment of doubt minutes later.

Jesus, shortly into His ministry, tells a parable about a sower who sews seeds among four different types of soil.  Some seed fell on hard soil and was eaten by birds, some fell amongst the thorns and was choked, some fell on good soil and did well, and some fell on rocky soil.  The seed that fell on rocky soil shot up quickly, but then faded fast.  This sounds a lot like Peter.  Jesus may have not been saying Peter was as solid as rock, but that he was a little rocky.  Just think of all the stories we have of Peter.  In Matthew 14 we have the story of Jesus walking on water.  The disciples were in a boat that was being battered by the waves because they were in the middle of a storm.  When they noticed someone walking on the water Peter yelled out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  After Jesus tells Peter to “Come” he begins to walk on the water.  Here is Peter exhibiting great faith, but it quickly fades away.  He takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to focus on the wind, and he begins to sink.

There is the famous story of Peter’s denial in Mark 14.  Jesus foretells of this event before it happens, but Peter strongly denies it.  He says to Jesus, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”  Shortly after Peter’s display of confidence he is in the courtyard, and he doesn’t deny Jesus once or twice, but three times.  Three times Peter says amongst witnesses that he does not know Jesus.  Again he displays great faith just before a moment of doubt.

Then there is Peter’s great confession in Mark 8.  He comes to the realization that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, but he doesn’t understand what it means and he rebukes Jesus moments later.

“And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’  And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’  And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’  And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.  And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (Mark 8:27-33)

Although Peter confesses Jesus is the Messiah he doesn’t understand what it means and this quickly gets him into trouble.  This great moment in the life of Peter starts out well, but ends poorly.  Like many other times Peter shows great faith, but it quickly fades.

It could be that Jesus thinks of Peter as being a little rocky instead of being solid as a rock, but the good news for us is that he doesn’t stay this way.  Peter goes from being a little rocky to being a leader the early church looks up to.  He goes from being absent at the crucifixion, to being the first to go to the gentiles.  He goes from being the one who denies Jesus, to being the one who preaches the first gospel sermon.  The good news for us is that Peter can and does change.  But what moment caused this change?  We can look back and see that it was the resurrection.  At the cross the disciples, including Peter are nowhere to be found, but after the resurrection it is a different story.  They light the world on fire and Christianity grew faster than it ever has.  For Peter the resurrection changed everything.  Jesus was physically resurrected, but Peter also experienced a resurrection.  He experienced a spiritual one.  The resurrection plays an important part in Peter’s epistle.  He talks about the living hope which is only made possible through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He will also talk about baptism being an act which connects us to the resurrection of Jesus.  Notice 1 Pet. 3:21 “And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Peter can look back at the resurrection as the moment everything changed and he is telling us that we ought to be able to look back at our baptism as the moment everything changed for us.  We can see a difference between the way Peter lived before and after the resurrection, and in the same way, people should be able to tell a difference in the way we live after our baptism.  That moment changes everything.  It doesn’t mean we are going to be perfect.  Even Peter made mistakes after the resurrection.  There was the incident when he refused to eat with gentiles, but even though Peter continued to make mistakes he was a changed man, and he was striving to live the way God would have him live each and everyday.

I think we sometimes make the mistake of taking people in the Bible and making them out to be someone they are not.  We like to lift them up and make them heroes when in reality they are very much like you and me.  Sure some of them do some very important things and some incredible things, but that is only because they have God on their side.  We need to understand that if we have God on our side we are capable of incredible things as well.  Don’t pretend the people in the Bible never made mistakes or never sinned.  The writers of the Bible are very open about the flaws of these individuals.  We need to understand that God has the power to change lives and each day we are faithful to Him He helps us become a better person.  Not only do we not need to hide the mistakes of the people in the Bible, but we don’t need to hide our own mistakes either.  We may not think we are perfect, but we may just want to pretend we don’t commit some of the sins that we commit.  This is a big problem because God can’t help us become a better person until we confess our flaws and failures.  We are on a journey.  Becoming the person God wants us to be takes a life time.  The very last recorded words of Peter in the Bible are found in 2 Pet. 3:18.  He gives this advice, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Peter, perhaps more than anyone, understood what it meant to grow.  He went from being a follower of Christ who stumbled quite often to being a follower of Christ who did not stumble as much, because he continued to grow as a Christian.  May we all strive to do the same.

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