The gospels are the story of two men. Of course the most important of these, named on average TEN times in every chapter, is the Lord Jesus Christ. But there is another man mentioned more than a hundred times in the gospels. His name always appears first in the lists of the twelve apostles and first whenever the “inner circle” of Jesus’s closest friends is mentioned. No other disciple spoke up as much or as often. Jesus said more things directly to him than to any other person. No other disciple was criticised more strongly than him and no other disciple dared contradict Jesus as he did. So often when this disciple opened his mouth he put his foot in it! He appears another 68 times in Acts as the undisputed leader of the Early Church. He was the big fisherman: hot-headed, enthusiastic and impulsive. I’m talking about the apostle Simon Peter. His name was Simon son of Jonah, but Jesus gave him a new name, in Aramaic, Cephas, in Greek Petros, in English Peter – a new name with a prophetic meaning. Peter – the Rock – Rocky!
Mark 1:14 ¶ After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
It may seem strange to us that Simon and Andrew abandoned their homes and left their nets so quickly. But in fact this was not the first time they met Jesus. Simon and Andrew had talked to Jesus before – quite possibly the previous day.
John 1:35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 ¶ When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning round, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.
So these two disciples of John the Baptist were among the first to meet Jesus face to face. That day they spent together must have been amazing! At the end of it at least one of them was convinced!
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).
I have often said that outreach is an activity for every Christian. Our principal witness to the world should be our transformed lives. “Evangelism is the overflow of our joyful faith.” Here Andrew gives us the perfect Bible example of outreach which is the spontaneous overflow of joyful faith.
41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And (Andrew) brought (Simon) to Jesus.
The first thing he did! It was four o clock when they left Jesus. Dinner time when he got home. Yet Andrew dragged his brother out at that time of day to meet Jesus. And the results of this one simple act of witness would be incalculable!
42 And (Andrew) brought (Simon) to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
You are Simon – you will be Peter! William Barclay wrote this about this life-changing encounter.
“It’s interesting to me how Jesus looks at men. He does not only see what a man is; he also sees what a man can become. He sees not only the actualities in a man, he also sees the possibilities. Jesus looked at Peter and saw in him not only a Galilaean fisherman but one who had it in him to become the rock on which his church would be built. Jesus sees us not only as we are, but as we can be; and he says: “Give your life to me, and I will make you what you have it in you to be.” ”
You are Simon – you will be Peter. I know what you are – and I know what I can make you into! There is a lovely story about the great sculptor Michaelangelo. Once someone found Michelangelo chipping away his chisel at a huge shapeless piece of rock. He asked the sculptor what he was doing. “I am releasing the angel imprisoned in this marble,” he answered. Jesus is the one who sees “the angel in the marble” inside each of us.
I know what you are – and I know what I can make you into! God sees you and me just as we are. God knows every detail about us. But He also knows what we COULD BE, the very best we could be. And God offers to transform us just as he transformed Simon Peter. Right now you are just Simon – the fisherman. You will be Peter – Rocky, and on this Rock I will build my church. Remember what Jesus said to those fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John. Mark 1:17 “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
And there isn’t one of us here whose life is as it should be. There isn’t one of us who is perfect. Every one of our lives needs changing. There’s not one of us without a whole graveyard of skeletons in our closets! So these words Jesus speaks to Simon offer us hope and encouragement. You are Simon – You will be Peter. You need changing – I can change you. *I* will make you fishers of men.
I know what you are – I know the mess your life is in – and I know what I can make you!
We were created to be perfect – but like every human who has ever lived we have rebelled against God. We have this bias within us which means when we have the choice between doing right and doing wrong we choose to do wrong. Instead of living to please God we just please ourselves. The Bible calls this “sin.” The apostle Paul explains it this way in Ephesians 2.
1 ¶ As for you, you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins. 2 .. you followed the world’s evil way; you obeyed the ruler of the spiritual powers in space, the spirit who now controls the people who disobey God. 3 Actually all of us were like them and lived according to our natural desires, doing whatever suited the wishes of our own bodies and minds. In our natural condition we, like everyone else, were destined to suffer God’s anger.
We all need changing. We all need rescuing from ourselves! Not everybody realises it! Very many people are happily living their lives as if God didn’t exist. Even when they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, very many people today, just ignore it and go on as before. But this shouldn’t surprise us. Even when Jesus Himself preached, most people ignored Him.
Mark 1:14 ¶ Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Even when the Son of God called people to repent and believe the good news, most people didn’t! So how come Simon and his brother Andrew were different? Why did they respond and leave their nets and follow Jesus? In his expanded account of the call of Andrew and Simon, Luke fills in some very important details.
Luke 5:1 ¶ One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding round him and listening to the word of God, 2 he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
What are you an expert at? What do people come and ask your advice about? Most people have something they are particularly interested in and particularly good at. What are you an expert at? Simon son of Jonah was an expert at fishing. He ran the family business, a fishing fleet on the Sea of Galilee. He knew more about fishing that huge lake than anybody else. Simon knew that if his boats had been out all night and not caught anything there were no fish to be caught! He knew that if the fish weren’t near to the surface in the cool of the night they would be even deeper in the heat of the day, even more out of reach of his nets. Simon was the expert!
But there was something special about this Jesus. Jesus who had seemed to know everything about him even before they met. Jesus who had given him this new name “Rocky”. Perhaps his brother Andrew was right. Perhaps Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Messiah. So Simon Peter obeyed Jesus’s command.
“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
And then comes the miracle!
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
This event proved to Simon that Jesus is the real expert. Whatever we may think we know about. However clever or experienced we may be – Jesus knows better! In that instant Simon realised that his life was a mess, that he NEEDED changing from Simon into Peter.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
The good news is that more than anything else Jesus is an expert at taking broken lives spoiled by sin and changing them into “something beautiful for God”.
All we need to do is to admit that we need to be changed!
8 Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Recognising that we are sinful. That our lives are spoiled by selfishness and pride and greed. Recognising that these sins cut us off from the God who made us and who loves us all so much. I know what you are – and I know what I can make you into – Jesus says. The starting point for US, as it was for Peter is simple, “I am a sinful man”.
To use the words of a very old prayer of confession, we must “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.” We may be good at intellectually acknowledging the truth of what the Bible says, that we are sinners facing the wrath of a Holy God. But we also need to get to the point of bewailing our manifold sins and wickedness. Of weeping and mourning our sinfulness. James 4:10 says this. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. This is exactly what Simon the fisherman did. He fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
And that was the start of the process of transformation. Jesus changed Simon the fisherman into Peter, Rocky the Rock on which the Early Church would be built.
Jesus said to Simon – You are Simon: but what would he say to you?
What kind of person are you?
Jesus said to his new disciple – You will be Peter: but what would he say to you?
Who do you want to be? What kind of person do you want to become? What kind of angel is imprisoned in the marble of your life?
God had great plans for Simon Peter’s life. To turn this big fisherman into a great preacher and pastor and leader. Plans to work through him to establish the Early Church. And God has plans for each of our lives too – to make us the very best we could possibly be – and to use us to extend His Kingdom – if we will let Him.
Jesus says, I know who you are – and I know what I can make you into.
“Give your life to me, and I will make you what you have it in you to be.”
Still today Jesus is calling men and women to leave their nets and follow him. Jesus is looking for disciples. Will you follow Him? “You are Simon – you will be Peter!”