If Peter’s life is a journey, then he begins about as far from the destination as a person can. In the beginning, in the days when he was still called Simon, in the Gospel of John, we see Peter sheepishly approach Jesus, at the urging of his brother, Andrew, and Jesus sees something in him and gives him a new name – Jesus calls him Rock. Jesus must have seen something that we do not because Peter constantly acts like the dog who gets caught eating the garbage. He doesn’t seem like a rock on which Jesus will build his Church. He seems more like the kind of guy who could fail an aptitude test.
We make fun of Peter, but we’re, but in our hearts, we know that we not much better, right? We tend to have to admit our weakness and our struggles. And, not in that job interview sort of way… not the weaknesses like, “I work too hard. I love my job too much. I’m a perfectionist.” Weaknesses like, “I can’t let go of the hurt and pain that happened thirty-five years ago.” Or, “I broke the only good relationship I ever had and I don’t know if I can get it back.” Or, even, “I’m too afraid to try.” Those kinds of weaknesses that gut us to our very cores.
Peter tries, but, even when he tries his hardest to do something right, he has a way of messing it up. Jesus is missing. He sent his disciples ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He tells them that he will meet them there. Frankly, Jesus seems a bit sick of people, his disciples included, and he needs some time to himself (I think we can all relate to that feeling sometimes).
When it was evening, his disciples were on the boat heading to the other side. Imagine the sea at that time of day… the cool dimness of the light of dusk, the waves, the breeze…. Now, imagine that far off on the horizon a shape emerges. Something is coming toward the boat. Through the waves and mist comes the shape of a man… above the water.
These disciples begin to freak. out. Eleven of them lose their minds. They think that they have seen a ghost, but Peter, the one who doesn’t lose his cool, Peter knows that there is more to it. Peter realizes who he has been following. He knows it’s the Lord, Jesus. And he begs. He begs to Jesus, “Lord if it is you, let me come out of this boat.” But, when Jesus answers this prayer, saying, “Come on!,” Peter barely makes it half a step when he becomes afraid, because he sees the wind and the waves – he sees their power – he becomes afraid and he sinks and, again, begs Jesus, asking, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus does, pulling him out of the water, with a grin and a giggle, saying to Peter, “Oh, you… why did you doubt?”
Jesus asks this question because Peter was so close to something amazing. Faith was at hand. He was going to receive assurance and confidence. Assurance of his hope that Jesus is God and that Jesus will empower him toward confidence when everything becomes unseen, confidence when everything in life is a confusing mess. Faith is assurance. Faith is confidence. Peter was so close to faith.
This is us almost all of the time. We’re so close. We beg Jesus, “Lord, show us. Lord, if it is you, let me come to you.” It’s our prayer: “Closer Lord, Jesus, closer.” And Jesus says, “Come on!” And we say, “Nevermind. It’s too scary… It’s too scary to let go and to step out of the boat.”
For Peter, though, something changes for Peter in Acts. We know Peter. We see him called by Jesus. We see Jesus say to him, “Get behind me Satan,” when Peter tells Jesus to stop talking about his upcoming death and resurrection. We see Peter deny Jesus three times and cry bitter tears. We know Peter the bumbler. We know Peter the clueless. We know Peter the dunce.
But do we know Peter the competent? Do we know Peter the persuasive? Do we know Peter the Spirit-filled hero? He’s the one we meet in this second half of the second chapter of Acts. He has been touched by the Holy Spirit, as if by tongues of fire, and, in this moment, he preaches like he means it. Twelve disciples are present and only one speaks up: Peter. He tells the story of Israel in a way that everyone present has never heard it told before. He tells them that they have had this Messiah business all wrong, but that God is doing the work of redeeming. God is trying to convince them of grace… of hope… of love…. Convince them that this Christ Jesus who died, rose to life, sits at the right hand of God, and makes everything all right.
Confidence. Assurance. Faith. The things that Peter was so close to walking out on the sea. These are the things that the Holy Spirit has given to him. These are the things that Peter is offering all who will listen to his words… then and now.
We hear his words and we think, “Who is this man?” We don’t recognize this peter. He’s not the same one who sunk in the Sea of Galilee with Jesus giggling at his failure, at his “O ye of little faith.” He’s not that spiritual infant. He is powerful in ways that we never thought possible when we heard him in his doubt crying out, “Lord, save me.” Peter has changed and it is because of the power of the Holy Spirit that his life, his mind, his confidence, his assurance… has changed… his faith has saved him. And he asks these people of Jerusalem to be saved as well.
Repent. Be baptized. Be saved from this generation that can’t recognize God in confidence and assurance. He sees the wind. He sees the waves. But this time he sees the one who makes them move. The one in whom all things have their being. God. Jesus Christ. Holy Spirit. This time he sees it all and knows that the same power that moves the waves, moves his heart. That’s power. That’s confidence. That’s assurance. That’s faith.
That faith makes him faithful. The faithfulness from which Peter grows in boldness, life-changing stuff – we hear his sermon and know that Peter came out of the boat… and into life. That’s what he wants from Jerusalem and it’s what he asks from us. Repent. Be Baptized. Let the Holy Spirit do for you what has been done for me. Let the Holy Spirit change your heart. Let the Holy Spirit give you confidence and assurance that makes sure that you will always stand above the waves and walk onward into faithfulness to God.
That’s what faith does. Faith is not this weak, willy-nilly belief in things. It is God living in you so that you can stand when others fall. It is God shaping who you are, by the Holy Spirit, turning you from the one who sinks and criticizes and denies your best friends. Faith turns us from the Peter we see in the beginning of his story to the one we see now, boldly preaching the truth as he sees it… speaking his truth to everyone who will listen – the Peter who changes lives.
Like Peter, God is doing something by his Holy Spirit in us. Accept the power the Holy Spirit has to give. Allow God to work and ask him to change your life. Lord, if it is you, let me come out of this boat.
Pray with me:
Holy Spirit, live in us, as we live in you. Teach us to walk on water even when we are afraid. Teach us to speak your truth to all who will listen so that lives will be changed.