On Sunday, Pastor Beau introduced our new series, Last Words. We will be looking at some powerful “last words” in the lives of four different people in the Bible.
Beau introduced this series by talking a little bit about the significance of last words. They carry weight. We tend to remember them. If we’re the one speaking them, we tend not to waste them. They are intentional, and they can reveal priorities as well as the condition of a heart. When we hear the phrase “last words”, we naturally connect it to the final statements one makes before they die. But there are many other scenarios to which the phrase applies. There are the last words we say to someone else before they die, the last thing we say before a life-changing event, or as we leave a job, a home, a church, a position. There are daily last words–the things we say as we put our kids to bed or say goodnight to our spouse, or what we say before doing something stupid. This is only a partial list, and the scenarios vary in significance, but last words can happen at many different points throughout a person’s life. This series will take us through a variety of last words, and each story is significant.
This week, we heard about some of Peter’s last words. Beau talked about Peter’s last words before Jesus’ crucifixion-his well-known betrayal of Jesus-and also took us through some of the last words he wrote before he died, words we are probably less familiar with when we think about his story.
If there were no recorded history of Peter’s life after his denial of Jesus, his entire story would be marked by that denial. Even though we do know the rest of the story, we still tend to think about this mistake first when we hear his name. It marked him, for sure. We all carry the markings of of our wounds and mistakes. But it didn’t define him. And our mistakes don’t have to define us, either. Beau’s big question for us this week was, “Who is Jesus to you?” To Peter, Jesus was the tranformative Healer and Savior who not only gave him his identity, but forged that identity in him through the very mistakes that could have otherwise left him feeling disqualified from his calling. I hope that as we walk through some of Peter’s story here, we’ll each come to understand and believe that, like Peter, our stories don’t end in our failures, and that sometimes it takes a while to live into the truth of who Jesus says we are.
Beau talked to us briefly about Jesus changing Peter’s name from Simon son of John, to Peter, the name we know him by today. I’m going to begin there.
When I think about Jesus changing Simon’s name, my mind naturally goes to the moment recorded in Matthew 16:
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. (Matthew 16:15-18)
This wasn’t the first mention of the name change, though. That moment happened much earlier. It is found in John 1:41-42:
The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
Notice that in the verses from John, Jesus says “you will be called…”. This is when Simon meets Jesus for the first time. In that moment, even though they haven’t yet built a relationship, Jesus tells him something about his identity. Later on, after getting to know each other and walking together, toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He asks his disciples who they believe He is. Simon Peter articulates correctly that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Upon hearing Simon Peter’s accurate beliefs about Him, Jesus replies, “Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…” In this instance, Jesus reinforces the identity that He had given him previously, and adds to it calling and purpose. How we answer the question “Who is Jesus to you?”, the question that Beau asked us to consider, is so important. A.W. Tozer said it this way,
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
What we believe about God, who Jesus is to us, says so much about who we are and where we are in our walk with Him. In the verses from John that we looked at above, we can see what Peter believed about Jesus. But just because his beliefs were correct, and just because Jesus reinforced his identity and revealed more about his purpose, does not mean that Peter was living into that identity yet. In fact, we get to see him stumble around in it, taking steps forward and steps backward for some time before he settles into who he really is and what he’s been called to do. I appreciate these glimpses into his very real, very messy story that we’re given, because I know I’ve done (and still do) the same thing. Let’s look at some of the ups and downs of his story and see if we can see any glimpses of ourselves in his process…
Immediately following the verses in Matthew 16 that we looked at above, we read about Jesus shifting from public ministry to preparing His disciples for his coming death. And Peter takes that opportunity to rebuke Jesus (never a great idea…), to which Jesus responds,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:23)
Five verses separate Jesus’ proclamation of Peter’s identity and calling and this moment, when he, uh, calls him “Satan”. Five verses. I can’t imagine how small (and maybe afraid?) Peter felt in this moment. Maybe he had forgotten that, often, there is a good chunk of time between the anointing and the appointing. Or maybe he was having a Simon moment. You know, those moments when self takes over and we slip back into the identity that we haven’t quite let go of yet… maybe this was a moment like that.
In the next chapter of Matthew, we find Peter with Jesus on the mountain of His Transfiguration. Peter again says some silly things, but only until he hears the terror-inducing voice of God booming from a cloud, saying,
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)
We don’t learn until later how impactful this moment was for Peter. He writes about it not long before his death and they were some of his last recorded words, the ones that Beau focused on in Sunday’s message (2 Peter 1:16-18). This moment reinforced and confirmed Peter’s belief that Jesus was the Son of God.
It can be hard to believe that after experiencing the Glory of Jesus, the apparition of Moses and Elijah (Sidenote: How did the disciples know who the men were?? Pretty sure there weren’t photos of them floating around…), and the audible voice of God Himself, Peter would still go on to deny Jesus not long after this moment.
He was becoming, but hadn’t fully become. And before we get all judge-y with Peter, we have to take a good look at ourselves and our propensity to do the same thing… I haven’t been on a mountain with the person of Jesus. Haven’t seen the Glory-light all around Him or seen long-dead prophets in my midst. I haven’t heard the voice of God descend in a cloud right next to me. But I have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit speaking to me, in me, through me. I have seen miracles. I have been in moments of worship so sweet that they can only be explained as the merging of heaven and earth. I have experienced the person of Jesus in the love and forgiveness of a friend. I have been shattered to my core over things that didn’t used to matter to my heart-but now, somehow, they do. And I have heard through God’s Word, through the voice of others that Jesus has used as His mouthpiece, and through the voice of the Holy Spirit Himself, my new name and identity called out. And I have left those moments certain that I will walk in the fullness of all that He says I am… only to find myself tangled up in the grave clothes of my old identity the very next hour/day/week/month. I wish it wasn’t that way. But, like Peter, I am becoming. We don’t step into the fullness of our identity in Christ in a moment. It’s a process. And it’s one that Jesus Himself patiently and purposely makes accommodations for. Let me explain that very large assertion…
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
Jesus speaks lovingly to Peter here. He calls him “Simon” again, and repeats it twice, implying tenderness. He speaks to his old identity, the one that hasn’t yet been fully transformed, and tells him that he will go through some hard things. He knows what the trial will do to him, how it will break him, and he exhorts him to strengthen the others after he comes through the sifting. When Peter makes yet another grandiose statement of faith, one he’s not quite ready to fulfill, Jesus speaks to the identity that is forming. He responds to his statement by calling him “Peter” again, and by telling him what he would do in the coming hours. Jesus knows that the journey from Simon to Peter will be painful, but that it is necessary. And he tells Peter here that he knows what he will do, a grace that is so kind… Because later, in the moments when shame could try to steal the identity that Jesus will restore him to, he can be assured that even though Jesus knew in advance what would happen, he was not disqualified because of his denial. The sweetness of Jesus, His kindness in this moment, is so beautiful. I want to say as David did in 2 Samuel 7:19, “… Is this your usual way of dealing with men, O LORD God?” And, yeah, it is His way. There were pieces of Peter’s old identity that would have to die before his new identity could be fully realized. And the same is true for us…
Peter went on to fulfill the words Jesus had spoken. He denied His Lord and friend three times. And then Jesus was crucified. The weight of the brokenness that Peter must have felt in the days that followed… the hopelessness, the shame… Only Jesus knew that this deconstruction was necessary for Peter to become all that He had created him to be.
Sometime during the forty days after the resurrection of Jesus, we find the beautiful story of Him cooking breakfast for His disciples on the beach. It is in the midst of this story in John 21:15-19 that we find the reinstatement of Peter. During the conversation between Jesus and Peter, Jesus asks him three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Jesus never calls him Peter during this conversation. Only Simon son of John. As he converses with Simon son of John-all that he could ever be in his human efforts, Jesus brings healing to the open wounds of shame. As He draws him into fully committed surrender and into his calling and true identity, the Healer seals the wounds. He seals them into scars–marks that would serve as a reminder of the journey, but also serve as evidence that a Healer exists. We see Simon give himself to the “fully committed surrender” that Beau talked about on Sunday in the way he responds to Jesus’ questions. Gone are the grandiose statements and declarations of faith. By the third response, we see Peter emerge where Simon had stood. We see him rely not on himself, but rather on the Lordship of Jesus. In verse 17, he responds, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you”. Here, Peter throws himself on the truth that Jesus knows his heart. He didn’t need to say anything else. It was in this place of humility that Simon was healed, changed and grown into all that Jesus always intended-and knew-he would be. We can see this in the text–not because Jesus begins to call him Peter at this point in the conversation, because he doesn’t. He only refers to him as Simon son of John during this exchange. But we see it because the gospel writer, John, who recorded this exchange, does call him by his new name. Throughout the book of John, the writer refers to our guy as “Simon Peter”. It’s how he refers to him at the very beginning of this conversation in verse 15. But by the third time Jesus asks the question, John calls him Peter. And from that point on, throughout the whole of the New Testament, he is known as simply, “Peter” by everyone who wrote about him, except for one instance where he himself introduces himself as Simon Peter. He was finally living into his true identity…
As Peter writes some his last recorded words later, we see the impact that witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus, the confirmation of Him as the Son of God, had on him. He wants us all to remember, implores us all to remember the truth of who Jesus is as our Savior, the reality of His power and His majesty. He knew personally the saving power of Jesus and the power of restoration. That is evident in these words that were written not long before the words he wrote about the transfiguration:
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)
Peter wants us to remember who Jesus is–but he also wants us to know that He restores those He calls. He says it confidently because he experienced it himself. And through the deconstruction process and the re-construction that followed, he became in his last words what Jesus had told him he would be in His first words to Simon–he became Peter, the rock on which Jesus would build His church.
I agree with everything that Laura wrote above. Through Peter’s story we see the kindness of God. Through Peter’s story we see that we are loved while we are still “becoming”. Through Peter’s story we see the beauty of the grace of Jesus.
I have always loved the way that Jesus reinstated Peter. I have always loved the way that Jesus told Mary Magdalene to go tell the disciples and Peter, that he was alive (Mark 16:17). Jesus was making it perfectly clear that Peter’s life, Peter’s call, Peter’s future, Peter’s journey was not over. He had not “sinned” himself out of God’s kingdom. Neither have you. Peter still belonged. He was part of the family of God forever. Someone needs to hear that. If you are in Christ, you are part of the family. Jesus has his heart and his arms open to you–always.
I have also always marveled at the way Peter’s life changes drastically from the time he was called out of his fishing boat, through the season of betrayal, the beginning of the early church and for the rest of his life.
The Bible lets us know how the transformation happened. According to Acts 1, we know that after Jesus ascended Peter was together with the disciples and others in an upper room in Jerusalem. In Acts 2 we learn that the Holy Spirit fell like fire on those who had been praying together in that room, and we know from that moment on that life was never the same. Peter, full of the Holy Spirit preached a sermon in the street and three thousand people came into relationship with Christ as a result. This is the same Peter that fifty or so days earlier had denied Jesus in order to save his own skin.
The book of Acts also reveals the times that Peter was arrested for the sake of proclaiming Jesus, yet he continued to preach Jesus. He continued to be bold. He became a pillar in the early church. He was a new creation in Christ. He had been born again–and his new life was unstoppable.
When Peter wrote his second letter he was writing from his own experience when he said: His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (1:3)
Peter knew that the Holy Spirit within him was empowering him to carry the light of Jesus wherever he went. Sometimes I’m concerned that today’s Jesus followers don’t realize that the power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit is as accessible to us as it was to Peter. Our lives don’t have to be mundane. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us. (Romans 6:10-11)
Peter lived from that power source and was instrumental in introducing thousands of people to Jesus and ushering in the kingdom of heaven on earth. We can do that too—not in our own strength, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s the plan of Jesus.
I find it so interesting that Peter, who Jesus called “the rock” upon which he would build his church, wrote in his first letter:
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”” (1st Peter 2:4-6)
Peter knew The Rock from which he had been chiseled, and he knew that his life, his personal “rock”, was one of the “living stones” building the kingdom of God. If you know Jesus, you too are a living stone–a living stone and hopefully a stone gatherer. There is no size limit on God’s spiritual house. Are we tapping into the Holy Spirit’s power so that we can live godly lives and bring others in?
Peter became unstoppable because he surrendered to the power of the Holy Spirit. But he was committed for the long haul because he had memories and moments with Jesus that were undeniable. His personal encounters helped carry him.
He says in 2 Peter:
We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (1:16-18)
Peter remembered being on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured, where Peter saw Elijah and Moses, where Peter blurted and God shushed him and identified Jesus as His son. Peter remembered his life changing “Jesus moments”.
When Peter wrote his second letter he knew he was getting close to death. He was in Rome under Nero’s rule. Scholars say that Peter was crucified in 68 A.D, meaning he was still on fire for Jesus 35 years after Jesus had ascended. 35 years of following Jesus in an empire that was hostile to the Jesus movement. 35 years of persecution. And 35 years of incredible joy as the early church grew and spread throughout their region. His personal encounters with Jesus, and his surrendering to the power of the Holy Spirit were so significant we still read about him more than two thousand years later. He didn’t know that would be the case. He only knew that he had a Savior, a Friend, a Redeemer whom he loved. He only knew that he had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. He only knew that he wanted others to know this Jesus who loved him so well and changed his life. He knew the one thing that matters.
Take some time to sit and remember the moments that Jesus has made himself real to you. Remember your story. Remember His goodness to you. Remember the life changing encounters…the “I’ll never be the same” moments.
And remember that because you know Him, you have His divine power in you which provides all that you need to change this world.
I promise you that your personal story with Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit are all you need to bring others into the kingdom.
Words have power…last words carry weight…may all our words be infused with life and love for Jesus’ sake.