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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Let's Refresh


 

“Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours….”

2 Peter 1:1


Last time I stood here, I finished a series of messages on the ‘I am’ statements of Jesus, which are found in John’s gospel account. Today, I want to start a new series, looking at the Apostle Peter’s second letter, found in our Bibles, and often referred to as ‘Two Peter’.


This new series is not disconnected from the previous. Look at 2 Peter 1:4. In my last message, I said, ‘…I’m thankful to the Lord for “his very great and precious promises”, which are found throughout his word. They act like fertiliser to the weak Christian’s soul. The apostle Peter tells us, “that through them you may participate in the divine nature.”’ That is where I borrowed those words from.


There are other themes that connect 2 Peter with those ‘I am’ statements, such as opposition to the truth, and fruitfulness. In this first chapter (v.5-8), Peter is giving the instruction that certain things needed to be added to what he refers to as ‘faith’. It is an instruction that is accompanied with a promise. He says, ‘For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ If we changed, ‘they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive’, to, ‘they will make you more fruitful’, and it would mean exactly the same thing.


I’m not going to get far into this letter this morning. Don’t worry, though, I think our rate of progression will increase! Today, is more of an introduction. It should be; that is how the letter begins! The author introduces himself and he clarifies who he is writing to. He says, ‘(I am) Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. (I am writing) to those who… have received… faith.’ This means that this letter is written to believers; those who have put their faith, or trust, in Jesus Christ, to save them from the consequence of their failure, which the bible often calls, ‘sin’. The contents of this letter are directed to believers. Its promises apply to believers and to no-one else. If we have trusted in Jesus to save us, then we need to listen to the message that this letter contains. Why? Because Simon Peter wrote it to us!


So, who was Simon Peter? Let’s refresh our memories. In fact, let’s refresh our spirits. Because there can be few things that are more inwardly refreshing than considering the life of an imperfect man like Simon Peter, and the impact that Jesus had upon him. It should give hope to everyone.


It is easy for us to make the mistake of believing that these men and women in the Bible were special in some way – those whose lives were altered by God’s good hand upon them. We can assume that they were different from us. The truth is that they weren’t changed by God’s gracious goodness because they were special. He effected their lives because he is special. One of my favourite half-sentences in the whole world, is found in the NLT’s rendering of James 5:17, ‘Elijah was as human as we are…’ The Old Testament prophet, Elijah, was. Simon Peter was. They all were!


The chronology (so, if we put the events in the order that they occurred) of the Bible’s account of the life of this man begins when he was known as ‘Simon’.


In John 1, we have the account of John the Baptist baptising people that were repenting of their sins, in the River Jordan, near the town of Bethany. Jesus arrives on the scene and John instructs the crowd to look at Jesus. He makes a remarkable statement about Christ and his earthly mission. He says, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ A similar thing happens the next day. Two of John’s followers, called disciples, are so struck by this claim that they stop following John and follow Jesus instead. One of them is a man called Andrew. Andrew’s brother is Simon, and he goes to fetch him and excitedly brings him to Jesus. In their first meeting, Jesus tells Simon that, in the future, he is going to alter Simon’s name. He begins by reminding Simon of who he currently was. In John 1:42, Jesus says, ‘You are Simon son of John.’


He was Simon, John’s son. If this account had taken place in this country, then he would perhaps be known as Simon Johnson. This should really help our thinking. Just some ordinary bloke, living an ordinary life, who was married, because we know that Simon was (Mark 1:30 & 1 Corinthians 9:5), and who had an ordinary job, working as a fisherman.


The second account of Jesus and Simon together is found in Luke 5. That morning, Simon is at work. He is cleaning his nets after an unsuccessful fishing trip. He tells Jesus, ‘We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.’ This interaction took place because Jesus was on the shore. Jesus was opening up God’s word to a crowd of people. They were eager to hear him and kept pushing forward. Jesus was getting crowded but came up with a solution. It was simple but effective. He asks Simon if he can borrow his boat to preach from, and Simon pushes him far enough into the water to discourage the crowd from getting too close.


After Jesus has finished, he instructs Simon where to go out and drop his nets. Simon is doubtful, but agrees to do as instructed. The result is extra-ordinary. So many fish are caught that Simon, and the other fisherman with him, have to call for assistance from another boat. Even then, when the catch is landed, both boats are on the verge of sinking due to the weight of the fish.


Simon is awestruck. Then he does a quick mental calculation. He is beginning to grasp the extra-ordinary nature of this man of God, called Jesus. His thoughts turn to himself, and the failure of his own character. He realises that there is a gulf between them. So different are their respective qualities that Simon believes that it is wrong for him to even share the same space as Jesus. We read in Luke 5:8, ‘When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”’


Jesus didn’t need to move away from Simon. Not because he didn’t see Simon’s sin, but because of what John the Baptist had already pointed out. Jesus had come, not to separate himself from sinners, but to draw near to them and to ‘take away’ their sin. Jesus tells Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid’. Then, Simon, this ordinary bloke, with his ordinary job, is offered a new job.


Do you ever think about a change of direction? One of my children told me the other day that they fancied a change. They said, ‘I sometimes wish I belonged to another family!’ There are a lot of mornings when I wonder whether a career change would be good. Jesus tells Simon that he has a new role for him. Up until that point, Simon had been fishing for fish. Jesus says, ‘From now on you will fish for people.’ Simon, along with James and John, and Simon’s brother, Andrew (as Matthew 4:18), ‘pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him’ (Luke 5:11). Why did they make such a life changing decision that day? Because they had met a truly life changing man.


Gradually, Simon would become more and more persuaded. He observed the miracles that Jesus performed, and other ‘out of this world’ happenings that occurred around him. He listened to the wise words of his friend, as he unfolded the Old Testament prophecies, and saw clearly that God had promised to send his Son to earth on a rescue mission. What Simon saw in those prophecies matched what he saw in Jesus.


A day arrived when Jesus posed a question (Matthew 16:13-20). Jesus asked his disciples what the popular opinion was about Jesus. The disciples replied that it was mixed. Some said Jesus was this, some said he was that, some said he was the other. Jesus posed a more personal question. ‘“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ It was a wonderful profession of faith in Jesus. It was precious. Jesus tells Simon that he is truly ‘blessed.’ ‘For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.


Then, Jesus confirms the name change that he wishes to give to Simon. He tells him that he is to adopt the name, ‘Peter’, which in the (Greek) language of that time means, ‘rock’. Why does Jesus want Simon to be called Peter? It is all to do with the confession that Simon had just made, that Jesus was, ‘the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus says, ‘… I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock (so that rock of Peter’s confession of faith) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’ The Church of Jesus Christ is built on that confession. If we are to become one of the Lord’s people then we must realise and confess that same truth that Simon did, that Jesus is God’s Son and our Saviour.


So Simon is given a new name to remind him and others of this truth. Jesus foresaw this when he first met Simon. I doubt that we would have. Because, the bible’s record of Simon’s life doesn’t hide his failings. It is a ‘warts and all’ account. It isn’t like Facebook. When we sign up to a new social media site and post a profile picture, which one do we choose? In the vast majority of cases, I suspect it is the best one that we can find. Not the one where we have just got out of bed, but the one where our hair is washed and crimped, and our make-up is perfectly applied. And that’s just the men!


Even when, Simon becomes Peter, his blushes are not spared. Even when he becomes a bold leader in the early New Testament Church, doing wonderful things for the cause of Jesus Christ, God sees fit to show us his shortcomings. Acts 10 has the wonderful account of the Lord’s willingness to teach his people what they don’t fully understand. Peter has been teaching the Good News of the saving power of Jesus, to his fellow citizens in Israel. He hadn’t fully ‘grasp(ed) how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ’ (Ephesians 3:18). God reveals to Peter in a powerful dream, that he is not only the God of Israel, but that he is willing to be, through the death and rising again of his Son, the God of all people - all who call on him for salvation. Simon Peter realises that the Old Testament rules for living, given to Israel, are all over and done with. But later on, he pretends to believe differently.


This happens because he is afraid. Certain men have arrived in Antioch where Simon Peter was. He knows that these men are very strict in what they believe should be the ongoing practice of believers, so he pretends to still be engaged in some of the Jewish customs. Whereas he was totally immersed in Church life before, he does something that has the danger of splitting the Church. He stops gathering with those who were not Jewish by birth. Others are caught up in this deceit and are ‘led astray’. The Apostle Paul, in the account that he records in Galatians 2:11-21, doesn’t hold back. He calls it ‘hypocrisy’. Paul has to oppose Simon Peter (called ‘Cephas’ in Galatians, which is the Aramaic form of ‘Rock’ or Peter’) to his face, to correct his duplicity.


Why are we told these things? Because it is important that we are aware that error can come from anywhere. And, because the Bible is a more honest book than Facebook. In the profile picture of Simon, in this book, he is totally exposed. We see him as God sees him. Or do we?


Another mistake that we could make is to only see Simon as a standout failure. That isn’t how Jesus sees him. I mentioned earlier that in that first meeting between them, Jesus spoke of this impending name change. He knew what could be. He knew what would be.


Jesus sees past Simon. He sees past Simon’s past; where Simon himself acknowledged that he was ‘a sinful man’. Jesus sees past Simon, with his ongoing imperfection. Jesus sees past Simon, with all of his failings still to come in the future. Jesus sees past Simon. Jesus sees Peter. And what does Jesus see? Well, when Jesus was here he gave Simon instructions for the future. He warned him of the Devil’s burning desire to hold on to people. In Luke 22:31-32, he says, ‘’Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’


How could this come about? Was it because Simon started trying harder? No. Simon was always a trier. He was never backwards in coming forwards. Actually, it’s all about investment. Jesus saw the investment that was to be put into Simon Peter.


Last time I did the message, we considered Jesus’ claim found in John 15:1-2. He said, ‘’I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.’ He also said, ‘every branch (in me) that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.’ This Heavenly Gardener is willing to put the work in. He is willing to invest time and energy and patience into bringing fruit to bear in his people.


I planted some sunflower seeds this spring. My vegetable garden isn’t very big. There are always far more seeds than I need. After I had planted a few into pots, I placed the rest back into the packet. The ones that I had planted were carefully and lovingly watered. I put them into small pots in a little, plastic greenhouse to protect them. I fed them plant food at regular intervals. When they got too big for their pots, I moved them to larger pots. When they grew again, I moved them out of the greenhouse to get them gently accustomed to outside conditions, before eventually planting them in the soil, where I continued to tend to their needs.


By contrast, the seeds that were returned to the packet, were just left in a cool garage. Did I expect a return from those seeds? Of course not. I hadn’t invested anything in them. No time, no energy, and consequently, no fruit expected.


Did I get a return from those that I took special care of? I did. And what a return the Lord got from Simon Peter, as he graciously fed and watered his life.


Simon Peter grew into the man who Jesus could see at the beginning. He would strengthen the brothers and sisters in Christ’s Church. The record of the emerging, New Testament Church, is found in the Acts of the Apostles, in our Bibles. What an encouragement Simon Peter is in those accounts. That man was really crucial to the huge growth of the body of believers. He wrote two fantastic letters that form part of the Bible. These words continue to strengthen the Lord’s people nearly two thousand years later.


I trust they will benefit us as we start to look properly at 2 Peter next time.


So that is it for our introduction. You may be thinking, ‘well you haven’t told us anything that we didn’t already know, it’s just been a reminder’. Sometimes, that is the way that it should be. I believe this because I read it in a letter; a letter of warning and instruction to The Lord’s people. It tells them that if they heed its warnings, and follow its instruction, then they are promised, ‘a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ It’s 2 Peter 1 and verse 11.


Verse 12-13 says ‘So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory…


If that man, who Simon Peter became, believed it was right to have our memories refreshed, then I’ll go with that.

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