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Peter Was a Fisherman

Peter was a fisherman, and by all accounts, the senior member of the twelve disciples of Jesus. If anyone is familiar with the TV program, “The Most Dangerous Catch” on the Discovery Channel, one has a fair idea of commercial fishermen, their language, their lifestyle, their education, their risks, their feast and famine, and their superstitions. Each of the Gospel writers is clear that Peter was a “take charge kind of guy.” He was quick on the draw and just as quick to withdraw in the face of challenge—recall the temple tax, sinking in the water, and the girl in Pilate’s courtyard.

Even as an apostle, Peter quickly withdrew into the Jewish enclave in Ephesus when the “brethren” from Jerusalem arrived; this after his vision and baptism of Cornelius. As Luke tells the story, Paul had to rebuke Peter. It seems that Peter was a slower learner. Peter’s high point was on the Day of Pentecost, when his sermon persuaded more than three thousand to convert to the new faith soon to be called Christian.

Peter was recruited along the shore of the Sea of Galilee with his brother, Andrew, and the two brothers, John and James. Fully one-third of the twelve were fishermen by trade. Obviously, all four were very religious and ambitious. According to some historians, the consensus was that the Messiah was about to appear, thus, there were more than one hundred would-be Messiahs roaming the hills of Northern Palestine. Jesus of Nazareth seemed a likely prospect, particularly with the endorsement of John the Baptist. So the fishermen left their nets and gear and followed Jesus. This was not an impressive sight to those expecting a “return” of King David!” Certainly not in Jerusalem, the economic, cultural, and religious center of the Jews—the most zealous of the Messiah waiters.

The name of Peter is evoked most frequently in ecclesiology. Did Jesus say, “upon Peter I will build My church?” Or did he say “Upon “upon Me, ‘the Chief Corner Stone,’ I will build my church?” One need but examine the diversity of churches, beliefs, and practices to be inclined to believe that Christ really did build his church upon Peter. Certainly today, the church resembles Peter much more than it resembles Christ.

Where Peter shines is in his two letters to believers in Asia Minor. One reads with astonishment how closely Peter reflects Paul. It is amazing how the Spirit testifies through men of faith. If one were to refer to the first three Gospel stories as synoptic, then by rights one would also have to identify Peter’s letters as synoptic of the Pauline epistles.

Knowing their backgrounds, one would have to declare that both Paul and Peter were a piece of work. Yet throughout the Christian era, that same transformation has occurred over and over with Augustine, Luther, John Bunyan, John Newton, John Wesley, Joseph Bates.

The glorious Good News is that Spirit is working today. This Spirit has one task: to bear witness to Jesus Christ as the redeemer of a lost world and hence comfort to those who mourn their sins and fallen state. As Paul, those reached by the Spirit cry out, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

Paul and Peter clearing identify the “Who of our salvation,” the why of our salvation, the manner of our salvation, and, finally, the behavior of those who have received and accepted that assurance.

If the Holy Spirit can take men like Paul and Peter and make them the first line of the Apostles, just think what he can do now as the earth hurdles on to oblivion, and that by its own hand.

Tom Zwemer is vice president emeritus of academic affairs and professor emeritus of orthodontics at the Medical College of Georgia.

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