13-4-1 Peter The Shepherd
As with his preaching, Peter’s pastoral work was shot through with an
awareness of his own failure and taste of his Lord’s grace. The lack of
energy in our collective care for each other is surely reflective of a
lack of awareness of our sinfulness, a shallow grasp of grace, and a subsequent
lack of appreciation of the need to lay down our lives for the brethren,
as the Lord did for us. Jesus Himself encouraged Peter to see things this
way, in that He arranged circumstances so that Peter had to pray
for Simon as Christ had prayed for him (Acts 8:24 cp. Lk. 22:32). And
His triple commission to Peter to feed His lambs was prefaced each time
with the question: Do you love me? It was an eloquent undoing of Peter’s
triple denial of the Lord. Now, three times, he was asked: Do you love
me? It could have been ‘Do you know me?’. But Jesus knew that to know
Him was to love Him, and so He put it that way, more kindly and more graciously.
And Peter knew that for all his denials, he loved his Lord. With hung
head he commented from the heart: ‘You know that I love you’. And then,
and only then, was the time right for the great commission to feed the
sheep; to be a pastor in the fullest sense a man has ever been invited
to be. Earlier the Lord had asked Peter to give himself to the strengthening
of his brethren, “when thou art converted”. ‘Do you love me? Do you know
me?’ was really asking him: ‘Are you converted now?’. Of course, Peter
had been converted by Galilee, when he left all (or so he thought and
felt then) and followed. But the Lord foresaw that there were levels of
conversion; levels of accepting and living His truth. He understood Peter’s
conversion as being the point where that man concentrated all his love
upon Him, with a full awareness of his own frailty and specific failure.
This was, and is, the conversion of the converted. And it is only on that
basis that succesful and powerful pastoral work can be accomplished.
An over-reaction against Catholic views of Peter can lead us to under-estimate
the undoubted supremacy of Peter in the early ecclesia. He was in the
inner three along with James and John, and in incidents involving them
he is always mentioned first, as the leader (Mt. 17:1,2; 26:37; Mk. 5:37).
He is the first to confess Jesus as Messiah (Mt. 16:13-17), the first
apostle to see the risen Christ (Lk. 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5), the first to
preach to the Gentiles. Being given the keys of the Kingdom is language
which would have been understood at the time as the Lord making Peter
the Chief Rabbi of His new ecclesia(1). The Acts record without
doubt gives primacy to Peter as the leader and chief representative of
Christ’s fledgling church. But, humanly speaking, he was the most unlikely
choice. The one who in the eyes of the world and brotherhood should have
sat a fair while on the back burner, done the honourable thing…in fact,
many honourable things, in just keeping a respectful and bashful silence.
And there is no lack of evidence that Peter himself would have preferred
that. But no, he was commissioned by the Lord to specifically lead the
church. The early church was to be built on the rock of Peter. Whether
we like to read this as meaning the rock of Peter’s confession that Christ
was the Son of God, or as simply meaning Peter’s work as the manifestation
of Christ, the rock, the Acts record shows clearly that the early
church was built upon the specific work of Peter. Remember that ‘Peter’s
real name was Simon. ‘Peter’ was a name given to him by Jesus- ‘Simon
the rock’ was how Jesus surnamed him. And the name stuck. He became known
simply as ‘Peter’, the rock-man. “The fact that the word Kepha
was translated into Greek is significant. It confirms that the word is
not a proper name; proper names are usually not translated” (Oscar Cullmann,
Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr (London: S.C.M., 1962) p. 21).
There are many examples of names being changed or added to, in reflection
of the Divine perspective upon the individuals (Gen. 17:5,15; 32:28; Is.
62:2; 65:15). It was common for Jewish rabbis to give their disciples
such new names. The Lord likewise surnamed the sons of Zebedee Boanerges.
Although Peter seemed so unstable, he ‘dissembled’ due to fear even in
Gal. 2:11, he had the potential to be a rock; the basic stability of the
man’s tenacious basic faith was perceived by the Lord. We too will be
given a new name, and it is for us to live up even now to the name of
Jesus by which we have been surnamed in Christ. Even though it seems too
good for us- we are to live up to the potential which the Lord sees in
us. I even wonder whether it was the Lord’s renaming of Peter which inspired
him to the spiritual ambition of Pentecost- to stand up in front of the
Jerusalem crowd, with all the gossip about his own denial of Jesus staring
him in the face, and so preach that he achieved the greatest mass conversions
of all time. Perhaps ringing in his ears were the Lord’s words: ‘You,
Simon, are the rock, and upon you, Simon-rock, I will build my church’.
The Lord entrusts us with the Gospel, and we respond to this trust and
belief which He shows in us. It’s like the schoolteacher telling the most
disruptive child: ‘I’m going out of the classroom for 5 minutes. You’re
in charge. And when I return I want there to be deathly silence’. And
there likely will be. After the shock of the high calling wears off, the
pupil often rises up to the unexpected trust given him [or her].
It is significant that ‘Peter’ occurs a disproportionate number
of items with the article- as if, ‘the Peter’.
I thought it best to test the closest parallel, which is OT PNs used
in the NT, but the pattern seems to hold up with purely NT names, like
John (the Apostle):
Curiously the pattern breaks down with ho Petros (Peter), since
of the 92 occurrences 59 have the article. This seems to be explained
by the fact that Peter often heads the lists of the 12 disciples and because
his name occurs more often on its own in constructions that give him (and
hence his name) prominence.
Many thanks to Steve Snobelen
Mt. 14:31 records the Lord rebuking Peter as he sunk into the water.
He rebukes Peter for his “doubt”, using a Greek word meaning ‘to duplicate’
[Strongs]. Peter’s lack of faith is thus made equal to having a double
heart. James alludes here in saying that “A double minded man is unstable…ask
in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the
sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6,8). James is clearly telling
his readers not to be like Peter. It is easy for our reaction against
Catholic extremism to lead us to under-estimate the high status of Peter
in the early church. Here was James, also a respected elder, telling the
flock to take a snapshot of their great leader Peter in his moment of
weakness on the lake- and not be like him! Leaders of worldly organizations
have a way of telling the flock that all their fellow leaders are as spotless
as they are. But this wasn’t the case in the early church. It was Peter’s
very humanity which was and is his inspiration.
And the man chosen for this great work was one who so frequently referred
to his own weaknesses, and seems to have gone out of his way to show to
the world that the Lord’s commissions to him were not to be taken
as meaning that he alone had the great responsibility of strengthening
others and building up the ecclesia. He had been told that his experience
of forgiveness and re-enstatement would be such that he would thereby
be able to strengthen his brethren, feed the sheep, and therefore fulfil
the prophecy that the ecclesia would be built up upon him. We can construct
Upon this rock (of Peter fully and truly
believing in Christ as Son of God, with all it implies)
I will build my church
When thou art converted
Strengthen thy brethren
[As Peter with hung head says] "
thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee"
Feed my sheep / lambs
Follow me to the cross, die my death with me
Building up the church, strengthening the brethren, feeding the sheep-
this is the life of the cross. Self-giving to others, all the way.
Peter often shows that he is the pattern of every true convert;
all must strengthen their brethren, feed the sheep, and thereby
the ecclesia will be built up upon them too. Thus the Lord’s words
“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” can
be read as meaning ‘on this type of rock and confession
as you exhibit and will more fully show, I will build up the ecclesia’.
This is why Peter can tell all his readers to build up
the house (ecclesia) of God (1 Pet. 2:5 GK.), just as it had been
promised he would after his conversion. Having promised that the
ecclesia would be built up upon the rock of Peter’s faith, the Lord
promised him the keys of the Kingdom to enable this to happen. But
He repeated this promise to the others, as if to confirm that what
He meant was that all who follow Peter’s pattern would quite naturally
have the same abilities and achieve the same end, without consciously
trying to do so. “Feed my sheep” is a commission passed on by Peter
to all pastors (1 Pet. 5:2), whom he pointedly describes as “fellow
elders”, as if to safeguard against any possible misunderstanding
to the effect that he was the senior, special elder. They were all
to follow his path and thereby achieve the same for others. It is
only the typical perversity of the Catholic church which makes them
read Peter as the very opposite: as a father figure unapproachable
in achievment by any other. The way Peter calls Christ the petra
of the ecclesia (1 Pet. 2:8) is surely to warn against any view
of himself as the rock.
It's significant and instructive that the other leaders of the
early church not only accept Peter's authority, but do so exactly
because of how he had dealt with his weaknesses and failures. It's
as if they see in his humanity a reason to elevate him in their
own estimations. Thus Peter’s wavering when walking on the
water is picked up by James, in one of the earliest of the New Testament
letters [note the allusions to Stephen, John the Baptist, the references
to Christians as still meeting in the synagogue, etc.- it has been
argued by John Robinson and Paul Wyns that James was in fact the
first of the epistles. It seems that the “scattered abroad”
audience of James 1:1 refers to the scattering abroad of the Jewish
believers in Acts 8:1]. James warns that we shouldn’t waver
in faith, like a wave on the water, blown and tossed around by the
wind (James 1:6). James of course had seen Peter wavering on the
water; and he holds up Peter, who at that time was the senior elder
of the very early church, as an example of how not to be.
My point is that the greatness of Peter was in his example of failure
and how he overcame it.
(1) K. Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968) p. 28.