Today I want to talk to you about somebody I think is a great favorite of most people who read the Bible, and that is Simon Peter. There is so much we can say about Simon; the question is, “Where do you start?” It reminds me of a preacher who went to talk to a group of students on one occasion. He said, “I have so many things to tell you; I just don’t know where to begin.” So one of the students rather helpfully replied, “Why don’t you begin near the end?”
Well, I can’t begin near the end as far as Simon Peter is concerned, but I will select three incidents in his life, all of which are connected, that I think will give us some helpful lessons. It all started one day when Jesus, with His disciples, got some very sad news. The sad news was that John the Baptist, his relative, his colleague, his forerunner had been brutally murdered. Now naturally, Jesus was deeply bothered about this, and He wanted to get away quietly after getting the bad news. He took His disciples with Him because they also needed a break, and they went off into a deserted area on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
But word had got ahead of them that that was where they were going, so 5,000 men brought their wives and children to meet with Jesus. We read that when Jesus saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion towards them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He did something really quite remarkable. He put His own grief on one side when He saw the enormity of the need of the people around Him. That in and of itself is a startling response on the part of Jesus.
There is a tendency for us to feel that when we’re dealing with our own problems, that we really don’t have time or energy to deal with anybody else’s problems. In fact, it has been shown conclusively that very often the best therapy for our problems is to get involved in the needs of those that are greater than ours. Remember the old Chinese proverb: “I grumbled when I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” If you begin to minister to the people who have no feet, it’s amazing how the fact that you don’t have shoes doesn’t seem all that important. Jesus ministered to these people. He put His own private grief on one side, when He saw the enormity of human need.
In fact, He became so absorbed in dealing with these people, that He allowed time to get by. Eventually the disciples came to Him and said, “Look, Master, it’s all well and good you are looking after these people, but they have made no provision for food, they have no provision made for accommodations. They’ve come out here and really messed up the quiet day that we were going to have, and what you really need to do is send them away; just send them away. Get them out of our hair! We don’t need these people; they are not our problem.
The problem was, basically, the attitude of the disciples. Imagine their consternation therefore, when Jesus’ response was, “No, I won’t send them away, you feed them.” “You feed them!” Now their attitude was they are not our problem. Jesus countered that by saying in effect, “They are your problem!” The disciples would counter that by saying, “Look, we didn’t ask them to come; they were totally irresponsible; they had not brought food with them; they’ve not thought in terms of accommodations, send them away. They are not our problem.” Jesus, no doubt, said to them “You are absolutely right; we didn’t invite them, and they have been irresponsible. They have not made proper plans, but they are still your problem. You feed them!”
This is a message for the Church. You see, very often, the people who are in deep difficulty, deep problems, are in problems and difficulties because they are responsible for some of the actions that they’ve taken. There’s an attitude in the Church that sometimes says, “These people have got themselves in the mess they are in, and it’s not our problem to get them out. They got themselves in it; they can get themselves out of it! I think, Jesus still says to the Church, no, they’re still your problem. You feed them.
Now it’s very interesting to notice that we have no record at all of the majority of the disciples as to what they did. Two of them, however, we know what they did. One of them, Andrew, he went around looking to see what he could find and came across a little boy with five loaves and two fish. He brought the boy to Jesus and said the immortal words, “There’s a boy here with five loaves of bread and two fish, but what are they among so many?”
Andrew was active but apologetic. So often that is the case when we look at the enormity of human need, and we hear down through the centuries, Jesus says, “They are your problem. You reach out and do something about this human need.” The attitude very often is that we become active, but with an underlying apologetic sense. It won’t do any good, so what possible difference can we make? But I guess we better do it, because He says so. Andrew is active, but apologetic!
The other one of whom we have some information is Philip. Philip immediately begins to calculate how much money they have, what the going rate for wholesale bread is, and if they spent all their money, how much bread they’ll get, divided by five thousand families. He comes to the conclusion that it’s a sheer waste of money. They simply would get rid of all their money, and it would only give a little to everybody else. So, he’s essentially practical about the whole thing, but he throws his hands up in despair, for Philip is practical and powerless. What a picture very often of the Christian Church! “Send these people away …” we tend to say, “… they are not our problem.” Jesus says, “No, you feed them.” We say, “Okay, we better get active, but we’ll do it with an apologetic air, and we had better be essentially practical, but we know we’re powerless to make any discernable difference.”
However, we have one little clue to this story. We are told that in the midst of all this turmoil, Jesus was standing there serene and thinking to Himself, “I know exactly what I will do!” And that’s the key! We can be active and apologetic, we can be practical and powerless. The thing to realize, of course, is this: In the work of Christ it is what He knows He will do that is important! Which leads us, of course, to something very specific. Jesus takes the lunch from the little boy, and He gives thanks, and He begins to break it, and He starts to distribute it to the people around. Amazingly, they were fed. In fact, they were over fed. Jesus’ commentary on the event the next day says rather bluntly, “You stuffed yourselves like pigs.” There was an enormous amount of food left over. Jesus told His disciples to collect it up, and they finished up with twelve baskets full, and they then go down the hill.
Peter was also there. We know he was there because in the next story we are told that the succeeding event happened because Peter and the rest of them hadn’t grasped the significance of the miracle of the loaves. So, what’s the lesson that we’ve learned? It is this: Human resources, however limited, willingly offered, divinely empowered are more than adequate to achieve divine ends. Now I’m going to give you that again.
The lesson that comes from this story is this: Human resources, however limited, willingly offered, divinely empowered are more than adequate to achieve divine ends. Now if you said that to Andrew when he started scurrying around and came up with a little boy with five loaves and two fishes, and said, “what do they amount for so many?” Or if you said that to Philip who was calculating how much food they had, and came up with the conclusion “if we spend everything we’ve got, we’ll only give everybody a little.” If you’d ask those two people, “Do you believe that human resources, however limited, willingly offered, divinely empowered are more than adequate to achieve divine ends?” the answer probably would have been, “No!”
Here’s the challenge that comes to Peter at this point, and here’s the challenge that echoes down through the centuries. It is this: Do we look at the enormity of human need confronting the Church today and say, “Send them away; they are not our problem!” Or do we say, “Okay, you’ve told us that they are our problem, but what in the world can we do?” or do we look at it and say, “Our resources are abysmally limited.”
The need is so utterly enormous. What in the world can we do among so many? We must realize that Jesus Christ is the key, and He knows what He will do. Therefore, we willingly offer our limited human resources and anticipate that He will divinely empower our limited resources, and prove that they are more than adequate to achieve what He had in mind. Do you see the difference in attitude?
I believe the question that comes down to us today is a question about vision. Is my vision broad enough to embrace this principle? The principle that human resources however limited, willingly offered, divinely empowered are more than adequate to achieve divine ends. There’s the challenge! Now you may want to stay there and not bother going on any further in the story. Maybe you want to ponder that?
For those of you who are going to continue with me, let me tell you what happened. Immediately, the people wanted to make Jesus king, which is not surprising. He fed them free, and didn’t say anything about raising taxes. Anybody who offers a free lunch, and doesn’t raise taxes will get elected. So they wanted Him to be king. He did not want to be king though, and He suspected His disciples might rather like the idea. So He decides to bundle them out of there as quickly as possible. Of course, He still has in mind that He’d like a little quiet, for it was only at the beginning of the day, and He’d heard about John the Baptist. But He’s been so busy dealing with the issues, so He says to the disciples, that it’s time for them to get in the boat and go home.
One of the evangelists recording this story uses a very interesting word. He said, “He compelled them to get in the boat.” That’s a very significant word. “He compelled them to get in the boat.” You don’t usually compel people to get in a boat, particularly professional fishermen, particularly men who have grown up around Galilee and had spent all their lives getting in and out of boats. Why in the world did He have to compel them to get in a boat when it’s second nature to them? I think we need to use a little sanctified common sense here. Why is it necessary to compel these people to get into the boat, when they are used to getting in and out of boats every day of their lives? The answer, presumably, is because they thought it was not a good idea.
Let me suggest to you in light of what subsequently happened that Peter and the rest know the area, who understand the volatile climate conditions in Galilee, sensed that the Mother of all storms was about to come. The last place they want to be in a major storm is in that boat out on Galilee in the middle of the night. So it is necessary for Jesus to compel them to get in the boat. Let me put it to you this way. Jesus says, “All right, men, now it’s time to go home; jump in the boat, and off you go!” Peter says, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea, Master!” And Jesus says, “I don’t recollect asking you for your opinion, Peter.”
And Peter says, “with respect, Master, that is quite true. You did not ask for my opinion, but my opinion is of great value at this particular point, and I repeat, I do not think it’s a very good idea that we should get in that boat!” And Jesus said, “Nevertheless, get in the boat!”
And Peter says, “Master, I want you to understand something, when it comes to miracles, You are in a class of your own! When it comes to teaching, You’re absolutely unique! When it comes to fixing plows, building furniture, running a carpentry business, you are very, very good. But when it comes to fishing, and it comes to boats, and it comes to reading the weather, with all due respect, Master, you don’t know diddly. So it would not be a good idea for us to get in that boat.” Whereupon, Jesus says to them, “Get in that boat!”
My intent here is to impress upon you what it means that Jesus compelled them to get in the boat. They didn’t want to go. There’s a little lesson here, and it is simply this: That once in a while Jesus, who is Lord of Heaven and Earth, and therefore, holds in His hands ultimate authority, sometimes He tells people to do what they don’t want to do. Now that is a novel idea to some people because they’ve got the idea that Jesus actually comes along just to encourage them in everything that they’ve already decided that they are going to do. If He is not going to encourage them, at least, He will turn a blind eye to it, and forgive them anyway. That is a very odd view of the Lord Jesus.
The Lord Jesus is the one in whom ultimate authority resides, and sometimes He puts His foot in His voice, and He says, “DO THIS!” And if we have the audacity to ask, “Why?” He will simply say, “Because I SAID SO! NOW DO IT!”
A question that I ask myself occasionally is this: “What have I done recently that I didn’t want to do for no other reason than He told me to do it?” That’s the essence of compelling them to get in that boat! And when He puts His foot in His voice, they get in that boat knowing full well what they’re heading into, and they start pulling at the oars for the other shore. Jesus goes and has His quiet time.
In the middle of the night, he says, “I better go and see how the boys are doing,” which is a good idea because the wind has come up, the waves are rising, and the storm has arrived. Now Jesus decides that He has to catch up with them, and He doesn’t have a boat, so He walks. Now you must gather the importance of this. Jesus does not walk around the side of the lake, He takes a shortcut. If you read in the book of Psalms (Psalms 77:16-19), and you read the Book of Job (Job 9:8), you have the references in your outline, you will find two references to God who does something remarkable like “walking in the paths of the sea, and not leaving His footprints.”
Now, obviously this is a poetic, dramatic description of the way God works. But isn’t there in what Jesus says here, an indication of His Deity. In the Old Testament concept of God, He is the One who walk in the paths of the sea, and doesn’t leave His footprints, and here Jesus is doing precisely that, He is walking on the water!
A very interesting thing happens. As He draws near to the boat, this gives you some idea of how difficult the circumstances were, He overtakes them when they’ve had a few hours start, and He’s only walking. As He draws near to the boat, the men in boat were absolutely petrified because the boat is shipping water. They look, and to their horror they see a Ghost! Now, it wasn’t a ghost, it was Jesus walking on the water. But there’s an interesting little lesson here, an interesting little insight. Have you ever heard somebody say, seeing is believing? Have you ever heard somebody say that? Have you ever said that yourself?
Hello! Anybody ever said that? Okay, well be careful now in light of what I’m going to tell you. Seeing is believing is the way we operate now. Now I understand why we say that!
Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps the opposite is true? The men in the boat do not believe that people walk on water. Number two, the people in the boat do believe in ghosts. People don’t walk on water and there are such things as ghosts. So, when they see somebody walking on the water, what do they see? They see a ghost. What they believe determines what they see!
Or to put it in slightly different language, it is our presupposition that determines our conclusions. This is rather important, because in actual fact, when we talk to people about deeply important issues, we usually get into a debate about conclusions when in actual fact what we should be doing is exploring the presupposition. The simple fact of the matter is this: your conclusions will already be determined by the presuppositions upon which you base your reasoning.
Jesus walked on the water. As He comes towards them, He says something very striking. He says, “Now take courage, don’t be afraid.” Actually, those are two things that He says, but sandwiched in between is a significant little statement. What actually is said is “take courage, and don’t fear.”
Now it’s pointless saying, “be of good courage,” and it’s pointless saying, “don’t fear,” unless He impresses upon them the middle bit – I AM. You remember this is a title that got Jesus into trouble. It was a term that He had used. One day He was discussing His age with some people, and they talked about Abraham, and He said, “Before Abraham was, I was.” Is that what He said? “No.” What He actually said was “Before Abraham was, I AM!” They were so annoyed at Him saying this, that they took up stones and tried to assassinate Him on the spot. Why? When He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM!” in their minds, that was blasphemy. He was claiming for Himself the title reserved for Deity.
You will remember that when Moses asked God what His Name was, rather enigmatically God answered, “I AM that I AM!” I am totally, completely, entirely in myself. I’m without beginning, and I’m without end. I am eternal, I am not contingent, I am not dependent, I am complete. I just AM! If I was to talk about myself, I would say, “Last week I was, this week I am, next week I will be.” When God talks about Himself, He says, “I transcend all things. I AM utterly and totally unique.”
Jesus has the audacity to take that Name upon Himself, and His peers recognize it, and they want to assassinate Him for His blasphemy. Now He stands in the power of the seas, and He doesn’t leave His footprints, a description of God Himself, and He makes the declaration, “I AM!” Then He interprets it and surprises these people, and He says, on the basis of who I am in your midst, “be of good courage, don’t fear.”
One of the men there begins to catch a glimmer of the truths that Jesus was proclaiming. It’s our friend, Peter. Peter says, “Lord, if it’s really You, would You let me come out there with You?” Jesus said, “Come!” So Peter clamors out of the boat, out on the water, and he begins to walk, and he does very, very well. He moves very capably and confidently on the water, and then the thought occurs to him, “How did I get here?” “What in the world am I doing?” “Oh, I wish I was back in the boat.” “And there’s the Master!” “Oh, look at these waves, and this wind, this is scary, this is overwhelming, I should never have done it, bbubbbblyboom!” And down he goes. He comes up for breath, “Oh, bbbuubbblboom” and the Master reaches down, and pulls him up, puts his arms around him, and they stand on the water. Jesus says, “I need to talk to you Peter!” “Let me ask you a question, “Why did you start doubting?”
“What?”
“Why did you start doubting? You were doing very well! I mean, you got hold of this I AM business, didn’t you? You kept your eyes on Me, didn’t you? Whilst you were thinking in terms of who I AM, rather than who you are, and whilst you were concentrating on my deity rather than your circumstances, you were doing fine, weren’t you, Peter? Why did you start doubting?
The challenge comes to Peter now, in another part of his vision, but about his faith: is your faith strong enough to slide over what other people sink under? Two challenges: one about vision and one about faith. Well, Jesus quickly gets them ashore, tells them to go home and catch some sleep, and then He wants to see them next morning.
Once it is the next morning, all the crowds gather around, they want to know where He’s been, how He got there, but there are some “critics” in the crowd. The critics in the crowd begin to say to Him, “Listen, you are making some rather extravagant claims for yourself, and these people seem to think you are a sort of Messianic figure? Now if you’re going to entertain those kind of thoughts about yourself, we demand that you give us a sign! Do us a miracle, otherwise we will dismiss these ideas out of hand.” Now can you believe that these people would ask Jesus to do a miracle? What had He just done? Well, He just fed five thousand families with five loaves and two fishes, with twelve basketfuls left over. And what do they say? “Show us a miracle!”
This does seem a bit outrageous, doesn’t it? What a demand they’re making. Well, not exactly. You see, they had been taught correctly by the rabbis. “When the Messiah comes, He will be greater than Moses!” What had Moses done? Moses had led tens of thousands of people out of Egypt. He led through the wilderness to the borders of the Promised Land, they “chickened out” of going in, and for forty years they had stayed in the wilderness and every day, they had been fed with bread from Heaven. They said, “That’s what Moses did, what have you done? All you’ve done is feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes, one time, big deal!”
Jesus concedes, He says, “You’re absolutely right. I fed five thousand families with five loaves and two fishes, once. Moses was instrumental in feeding tens of thousands of people for forty years, with “bread from Heaven.” But, listen up, I want to tell you something!” I AM the bread from Heaven! In the same way that Moses was able to feed the people with bread from Heaven in a barren wilderness, I have come to a world populated by hundreds of thousands people living in a spiritual desert, who down through the centuries will be multiplied to millions and billions of people who will live in an ever-increasingly barren spiritual desert. I have come to be the Source and Substance of Life for them. I AM the one who will be all that they need to be all that God intended them to be. For I AM the bread of Life!
An amazing thing happened, some of His disciples decided that was going too far, it was too extreme, and they walked away. Jesus turned to Peter and the rest of them, and He said, “Are you going to leave too? Are you ready to quit? Have you come to the point of hearing some things from Me that you don’t like? So you will go along with Me so long as I tell you what you want to hear, but as soon as you hear something you don’t want to hear, you want to quit. Because if you’re thinking of quitting, now is the time; there’s the door. Are you leaving?
Peter says, “Master, where can we go?” There are no alternatives. You have the words of Eternal Life.
The challenge here is the challenge to commitment. Is your commitment deep enough to keep on keeping on regardless of what you hear from Him? Regardless of what He leads you into? Or is your commitment a mile wide, and an inch deep, for you are totally committed to Him as long as He does exactly what you want him to do. As long as He delivers exactly what you expect him to deliver, and as long as He never demands of you anything that you’re not prepared to do.
What a challenge to our vision, to be asked, “is your vision broad enough to embrace this principle?” Human resources, however limited, willingly offered, divinely empowered are more than adequate to achieve divine end. What a challenge to our faith to be asked, “is your faith strong enough to stride over what other people sink under?” What a challenge to our commitment to be asked, “is your commitment deep enough to allow you, regardless of where He leads you to keep on “keeping on?”
When Jesus met Simon, He took one look at him and said, “You’re Simon, but you will be Peter!” Three years and personal attention, begins to turn Simon into Peter. It was a process. Part of the process was to deal with his vision, which was very myopic, to deal with his faith, which was very faint, and to deal with his commitment, which vacillated all the time. Until in the end, he became a man of vision and commitment and faith, a disciple of Jesus Christ. The challenges are still the same: the challenges to vision, to faith and to commitment. And that’s the story of Peter.

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