By THOMAS HUKAHU
IN this week’s article, the character we will study is in the New Testament.
The characters we have studied in the past few weeks (Joseph, Daniel and Esther) lived in the Old Testament times.
Starting this week, we will look at some interesting characters in the other half of the Bible, starting with Peter, an apostle.
Peter is also called Cephas, or Simon Peter, a man who was called to be one of the original 12 of the apostles, followers of Jesus who became the leaders of the new sect that emerged from Judaism, the religion of the Hebrews or Jews.
Before we look at Peter, let me remind you that to appreciate these studies on the characters in the Bible, you must realise that these men and women were real people.
Even though they lived thousands of years before us, the challenges that they faced are similar to the challenges we are facing, of dealing with their people and others around them.
Also, how they were perceived by others would be similar to how other people perceive us in today’s world – where we come from, how we look like and what we are perceived to be able or not able to do.
How others perceive us depends on how we speak, our peculiar accents, our level of education, and how we interact with others.
Keep this at the back of your mind as you follow our studies. I am sure it will benefit you better in how you deal with people and life.
(Those were the aspects I often thought about as I studied some of these Bible characters decades ago. They taught me a lot about how to relate to people appropriately, people of with different education qualifications and from different nations.)
Glimpses of Peter
The different gospels have stories that feature Peter, but I will stick mainly with the gospel of Matthew.
Let us briefly look at some of the events where Peter was involved in, or was present when they took place.
In Matthew 4.18, Jesus was going by the Sea of Galilee and sees Simon, also called Peter, and his brother Andrew fishing and calls them to follow him. He tells them that they would not be “fishers of men”.
In verse 21 of the same chapter, Jesus also calls another pair of brothers, the sons of Zebedee, James and John, to follow him.
Peter is married but we do not know if he had children. In Matthew 8.14-17, we are told that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-inlaw.
In Matthew 14.18-31, we see Peter walking on water after seeing Jesus doing the same. But he started to sink when he saw the wind blowing strongly over the water and became afraid.
In Matthew 26.51, Peter cuts off the ear of a servant of the high priest, when he came with other armed men to take Jesus away.
Matthew 26.69-75, Peter denies the Lord three times.
And in John 20.15-18, Jesus queries Peter’s love for him and urges Peter to “feed his sheep”.
In those references, they show Peter to be someone who likes to take on new challenges but often do not follow through to the end.
He had denied his master three times but then asks for forgiveness and later tries to do better with tasks given to him.
Fishers of men
Let us take a break to ponder on this term, “fishers of men”.
Why did Jesus choose fishermen (and they were Peter and Andrew his brother, with the other two brothers, James and John) to be in his pack of 12?
And later told them that they would now be fishers of men?
I can think of a number of reasons.
(The reasons come from my experiences in fishing. Interestingly, the best fishing trips I was part of and caught a lot of fish was done in another country. That was when I was in Nauru, where I lived and served there for two years. It is from these experiences that I am stating the reasons why fishermen can do some things better than other professionals.)
Firstly, a fisherman goes out to sea to catch fish.
You cannot catch fish on land, you must go out to sea.
Christian workers go out into the field to evangelise the lost.
Secondly, fishermen have to be patient.
When the fish don’t bite his bait, the fisherman has to wait patiently, or find another spot where there would be fish to catch.
A lot of patience is required in the Lord’s work. Sometimes success is achieved when you wait longer, or move to a different spot.
Thirdly, fishermen must know how to manage a boat and its contents.
The fisherman must also know how to properly manage the vessel and what it carries, the fishing equipment as well as the people in it and the fish that he catches.
Poor planning can mean the catch can go bad and needs to be dumped at sea.
The work of the Lord requires men and women who are good managers or the followers will not be assured that they are in the right vessel.
Fourthly, fishermen must be brave.
The type of storms that a boat will face will differ. Some would be small but there would be others that can topple the boat itself and everything that it carries.
A fisherman cannot lose his senses and panic, he must be brave to keep his vessel afloat until he reaches the harbour or until the storm ends.
The work of the Lord also needs brave servants – not those who panic and run for cover when storms pass over his field.
Those are four reasons that come to my mind as regards what it means to be fishers of men.
He wrote two epistles
Can you believe that a fisherman wrote two letters which formed part of the holy book of Christians?
Well, that happens when someone has undergone a real change.
It is a Christian understanding that when a hopeless and directionless sinner turns to God and accepts Him in his life, his life changes and he becomes a better student. As hope enters his life and he becomes purposeful.
That is the case with the fisherman who was known as Cephas.
He became a Church father and led not only in spoken words but also in the written form.
The books of 1 Peter (five chapters) and 2 Peter (three chapters) warn Christians and church leaders to stand against wickedness and the Devil and be strong in the faith.
He was a Church leader
He was a leader in the first Christian church but he still had to learn some things from other apostles, as they learned from him.
There is a good example of Paul discussing the issue of circumcision as an essential act for salvation, or someone to be saved, in the Book of Acts 15. This is often referred to as The Council at Jerusalem where the apostles and other disciples (including Paul and Barnabas) met and addressed certain issues that were affecting the church, including keeping of the laws of Moses and circumcision, an act that is compulsory for male Jews (verses 4 and 5).
In verses 7-11, Peter stressed the point that God had also saved gentiles, and they as Jews must not make it hard for any gentile to follow their God.
In verse 12, Paul and Barnabas informed the church of what God was doing in the lives of gentiles.
In verses 13-21, James, often called James the Just, made some remarks and arrived at a common ground that everybody should take, as stated in verse 20, the gentiles should “abstain from pollution of idols, and from fornication and from things strangled and from blood”.
There was no mention of circumcision or the keeping of other Mosaic laws in order to gain salvation.
(James the Just is another interesting character. He is not the brother of John and a son of Zebedee. He is a different James and was a key leader in the church at Jerusalem. You can go and research and find out about him. The epistle of James, a book filled with many practical tips about life, was written by him.)
It is apparent in this chapter that Peter was not the sole leader at the church at Jerusalem. There were other leaders there too, including James.
Humble in death
Legend has it that Peter was crucified on a cross, just like his master.
However, he told those in charge to turn the cross upside down because he said he was not worthy to be stood upright as his Lord, Jesus the Christ.
The man who rose and fell as a believer in his first few years died as a Christian martyr.
By that time he was beyond betraying his master ever again and even would show his reverence for Christ, the man who some referred to as Jesus of Nazareth.
Next week: The education of Jesus