Paul wrote, "(just as it is written, 'I have appointed you a father of many nations') before God, whom he believed, the One who gives life to the dead and calls those things which are not as though they were" (Romans 4:17 EMTV). God calls those things that are not as though they are. We see in this passage the principle that governs growth and maturity in the kingdom of God. At the center of it all is the giving and receiving of a new name.
God's way of leading Abraham and Sarah to the fulfillment of the promise began with the changing of their names from Abram ("father") to Abraham ("father of a multitude") and Sarai ("She that strives") to Sarah ("Princess" or one who inherits all things). The promise that God gave to Abraham and Sarah was not fulfilled by striving, but by divine inheritance. Every time He spoke their new names in their barren state, He was calling those things that were not as though they were. This is the faith of God at work. Abraham and Sarah's condition was grim from a purely human perspective. There wasn't a single shred of physical evidence to support the possibility of the fulfillment of God's promise to them, much less that it could ever come to pass that their seed would become as plenteous as the stars of heaven or the grains of sand by the sea. Abraham's body was as good as dead and Sarah's womb was barren.
God sees through to the end of a thing. He is called the Alpha and the Omega for a reason. He knows what He intends to do, how to get it done and He finishes what He starts. True faith takes into account the working of His mighty power on our deadness and barrenness to bring about His will. He sees our Isaac as a living reality long before we do.
In God's dealings with Abraham, the father of the faith, we see a principle of faith at work that looks at the substance of things that are not seen, especially as it applies to the new name he gives. Just as God saw Abraham in Abram, Sarah in Sarai, Israel in Jacob, Paul in Saul and Peter in Simon, He sees a new name in every one of His children. In the Hebrew culture, name, character and position are synonymous. The changing of a name corresponded to a change of character and position. With God, however, the new name is given well in advance of the realization of what the name promises.
To us this is contradictory because we are taught to view evidence from a purely empirical point of view--something we can handle with our hands and see with our natural eyes. In our culture the saying goes, "Seeing is believing." From our perspective there is no evidence to support God's view of us. There are simply too many blemishes and weaknesses in our lives. We often feel as hopeless in our individual situations as Abraham and Sarah, who were childless. Our present deadness and barrenness stand before our eyes like two atheists demanding proof of God's existence. The great gulf between God's promise and where we are in relationship to it is the real test of faith.
I, Michael, went through many years of testing and trials. I was in a spiritual wilderness. I was looked upon by my fellow Christians at best as an anomaly among them, or worse yet, rejected as not one of them. I felt like Job, surrounded by his "friends" who were constantly trying to psychoanalyze him while he was in pain and just needed to be loved.
It was at the end of this time that I was at a church conference in a class called "The Heart of David." At the end of a class time the teacher picked up his guitar and led us in a song. The lyrics went like this:
I will change your name.
You shall no longer be called
Wounded, Outcast, Lonely, or Afraid.
As I sang it along with them I was thinking, "Yup! That is my name, Lonely Reject." But the song did not end there. The next stanza went:
I will change your name.
Your new name shall be
Confidence, Joyfulness, Overcoming One
Faithfulness, Friend of God...
These things were not true! I was not confident, joyful, nor did I feel like an "overcoming one." At that point I said, "God, who am I that you would call me your friend?" Then I heard the song continue.
One Who Seeks My Face.
That was when I broke. I slumped down to the floor as my knees buckled under me from the impact of what Father was saying to me. I was His faithful friend because in all my trials and loneliness for Him, I had sought His Face and never turned from believing in Him. He is calling those things that were not as though they were until they fully become who I am in Him; confident, joyful, faithful, overcoming friend of God. What a great salvation we have!
We are not just saved by faith but also by hope. Hope is locked in tandem with waiting for what is clearly promised but not yet realized. This is the nature of a promise. A promise is a guarantee that something will certainly happen or be done without our help! The promise is there but the realization is not. This is where hope comes in. Without hope (expectantly looking to a future fulfillment) there can be no patient waiting. Consider Paul's words:
For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. (Romans 8:22-25 KJ2000)
We are saved by hope! By their natures faith and hope walk hand in hand. And true hope patiently waits for God to fulfill His promise. This is where fallen human nature crosses grain with the promise. Waiting is not our specialty. I knew a brother that used to say, "Lord, give me patience right now!" As typical Americans we want it now and we want it "biggie sized."
Most of us get a glimpse of what God has for us and we set out to help Him make it happen. We have known Christians that have been given personal prophesies and the rest of their lives were ruined as they tried to make them come to pass. God created the universe and all that is in it without us, but we can't depend on Him to be the Omega in our lives. Like the foolish Galatians, we set out to complete in the flesh what God started by His Spirit. Though we can foster an Ishmael, we cannot create God's Isaac! God has shut our womb to such an exercise. If we are to see the promise fulfilled we must wait on God to fulfill it. So we either wait in hope or act in haste. Either God is birthing or we are striving, and what is not of faith is sin. We must learn to wait on the timely appearance of what God is calling into existence. This is the bedrock Christ builds His church on. He calls those things that are not as if they were and as we stand in faith, He allows us to see the evidence of those things that are not seen with mortal eyes.
Now let's consider how this relates to the new name. We will consider two other instances of this--one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. Let's begin with Jacob.
Jacob and the New Name
All Christians are on a spiritual journey that began the moment they believed. Our Lord Jesus is the way and the Holy Spirit is our guide and vehicle. Faith demands that we follow. The Spirit wind is fluid and always moving. Religion is more like stagnant, unmoving air than wind. Embarking on our faith journey often puts us on a path that is contrary to the wishes of men. Our destination is God Himself and His ways are not our ways, nor are our thoughts His thoughts. This is why with His Spirit abiding in us we must have a new heart.
Jacob's travels led him to an increasing comprehension of God, and yet a greater hostility grew between him and his brother, Esau. Those who have begun to follow the Good Shepherd have a similar journey. God, in His foreknowledge, has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son. He has called, justified and glorified us, and these are all spoken as if they are already done, in the past tense (Romans 8:29-30). Again God calls those things that are not as though they are.
Jacob's journey was a pilgrimage of discovery and transformation in which "the God of Abraham and Isaac" became his God. After deceiving his father Isaac and taking Esau's birthright, Jacob found himself fleeing from his angry brother. He had a dream that very night as he lay on the ground sleeping. He saw a ladder extending from heaven to the earth with the angels of God descending and ascending on it. God stood above the ladder confirming the covenant that He had made with Abraham and Isaac, "I am the lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac." Note that He did not say here, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Did Jacob know God in the same way his fathers knew Him? God's words here seem to be introductory. "Hello Jacob. I am your grandpa's God and your father's God. Am I yours?" Jacob must go through many trials before God could say, "I am the God of Jacob."
Jacob named the place of this highly significant meeting Beth-El meaning, "House of God." From here Jacob must journey on, following on to know the Lord. It will take years of breaking. In short, God was about to lay the ax to the root of Jacob's natural bent toward conniving and taking what he wanted with his arm of the flesh. Even in his birth, his natural strength was evident; he came into this world grasping his twin brother's heel as if to pull him back into the womb so he could be the first born.
As he grew he became a man who continued to take matters into his own hands. When he fled from Esau, Jacob went to live with and work for his uncle Laban. Little did his uncle know that he was about to meet his match in Jacob. The two stood toe to toe, one deception after another, deceiving and being deceived. In spite of being tricked into being Laban's slave for 21 years, Jacob remained unbroken. Finally, Jacob left with two of Laban's daughters as his wives and the best of his herds, still very much in control. Then the Lord said to Jacob, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you" (Genesis 31:3). Jacob was sent to Laban's house initially by his natural father Isaac to save him from the wrath of his elder brother, but now he is sent back home by his heavenly Father, God Himself, knowing full well that Esau was still waiting for him.
Little by little Jacob was learning to trust in God more and less in his own strength and opinions. By faith he was now willing to face the fear that he once ran from. He obeyed God and set out for home. He must have remembered his brother Esau's threats, but God promised him, "I will be with you." God always rewards our obedience to His commands when we step out by faith. It is through this obedience that our faith in God has a chance to grow (James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:1-5).
Because of his trust in God, Jacob, perhaps for the first time, made himself truly vulnerable. Even then he still could not resist his natural tendency to manipulate his circumstances. He sent messengers with oxen, asses, flocks and servants on ahead to Edom to meet his brother, in hopes that he might temper his brother's anger and buy grace in his sight. However, a messenger returned to report that Esau was coming with an obvious war party of 400 men. This struck fear in Jacob's heart, so he divided the remaining people and flocks into two bands, thinking that if one band were smitten the other might get away. Had Jacob forgotten God's words, "I will be with you"?
At this point Jacob was undoubtedly grasping again, looking to his natural strength and craft to save him. "I will appease him (Esau) with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me." But Esau and his men kept coming. After having exhausted all the possible avenues of escape, Jacob fell to his knees, and prayed.
"O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you': I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children." (Genesis 32:9-11)
God led Jacob to his own Red Sea experience, and he had difficulty standing still. His scheming mind was teeming with evasive thoughts; how can I soften my brother's anger, where to hide and what to do? Finally, Jacob is reduced to prayer. Sad to say, it was his last resort just as it is with many of us. Isn't this often this case? How often have we heard the comment in an hour of need, "All we can do now is pray"? We give the situation to God only when we are faced with circumstances beyond our control. Here in this story we are witnessing the breaking of Jacob and what was perhaps the first truly insurmountable circumstance in His life.
Jacob now sent gifts on ahead to prepare his way as a peace offering while he stayed behind alone. Then suddenly an angel appeared to him, and true to his nature, Jacob grasped him and would not let go. He wrestled all night until daybreak, saying to the angel, "I will not let you go until you bless me!" Jacob clung to God with the same tenacity he had previously schemed and cajoled his whole life. He finally understood that the only answer to his need was God's blessing, His great grace. How did God bless Him? He crippled him by putting his hip out of joint. From that day on he walked with a limp. Have you ever thought of your weakness as God's blessing for you? Speaking of his own God-given weakness, Paul said, "Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10 KJ2000).
It was after this that the angel informed Jacob in his weakness that his name was changed to Israel, one who prevails with God. Only in our weakness will we prevail with God as His servants. Jacob named the place of this encounter Peniel, which means "the face of God." God is revealing Himself to Jacob and Jacob is changing. To see Him is to be changed into His likeness. John wrote, "Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:2-3 KJ2000).
The story of Jacob continues:
Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming with his four hundred men. He divided the children between Leah and Rachel and the two maidservants. He put the maidservants out in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. He led the way and, as he approached his brother, bowed seven times, honoring his brother. (Genesis 33:1-3 MSG)
Notice that Jacob leads the way before the maid servants, his wives and their children. He now faces his brother with them behind him. This shows a total change in character; the conniving coward has become a man of faith in God, not seeking his own wellbeing first, but the wellbeing of those for whom he is responsible.
Years later God said to Jacob. "Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother" (Genesis 35:1). So Jacob and his sons sanctified themselves, changed their clothes, and went forth. In that time, moving such a massive company of people was considered an act of war. "And they journeyed and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob" (Genesis 35:5). This is a testimony of Jacob's growing trust in God to protect him and his family. It was God who put fear in the hearts of all who might think of attacking him. This time he didn't break the family up into bands. His faith had grown since that day at Peniel when he was facing the army of Esau. Now he stepped out boldly, knowing that the God who promised to be with him was not far away.
Jacob arrived at the place he had previously named Beth-El (house of God) and there he built an altar renaming this place El-Beth-El (The God of the house of God). In Jacob's journey, he finally came to see beyond the religious trappings of a mere religious house, to the God of the house. What a revelation! Christianity is not a system of buildings God dwells in along with the organizations that control them, but it is Christ in us! For many of us as children, Christianity consisted of "going to church," singing from the hymnal, and listening to a man in an ornate robe or black suit talk about this God who is in heaven, so very far away. What a glorious day it is when God pulls back the religious veil and we see beyond the house to God Himself.
Based on this revelation and Jacob's faith, God changed His name saying, "Your name will no longer be called 'Jacob,' but, 'Israel,' for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed" (Genesis 32:28 WEB). The Hebrew name Israel has a twofold meaning. 1) One who will rule like, or prevail like God and, 2) One who will rule or prevail with God, or along side of God. Jacob had become like his heavenly Father. He would no longer be known by the name Jacob, the grasper. From then on he was called Israel-one who is like God and will rule with Him.
Like Jacob, we are also called on a journey of transformation. We also must be broken of our grasping, manipulating and self-serving ambition and come to a place of vulnerability and utter dependence on God. We must come to our own Peniel where we see the face of God with our natural strength broken. We must behold His glory with unveiled faces and be transformed into His image from glory to glory (Corinthians 3:18). We also must be led back to Beth-El where we finally break through the earthly veil of religion (the house) and focus on the God of the house.
Paul wrote, "Since you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ toward God: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also has made us able ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:3-6 KJ2000). We know God as our sufficiency. We see beyond Beth-El, beyond the cultic, superstitious and shadowy realm of religion, beyond antiquated and abolished temples, altars, staged services, priest craft, rites, rituals and all that is of the Old Covenant. We now walk in a new and lasting Covenant with His law of love inscribed on our new hearts by the power of His Spirit within (2 Corinthians 3:9-11, Hebrews 7:21-25, 8:13, and 12:25-29). Finally we have come to that place where the temporal is forever distinguished from the eternal, where the "one thing" is valued over the many. Only then can we prevail with God. Only then can we reign with Him. Only then can we apprehend that for which He has apprehended us.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
Simon and the New Name
Now let's consider this principle of the new name in the life of Christ's disciple Simon (Peter). It all began one day when John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples looking at Jesus as He walked by. John said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" Two of his disciples who heard this left John and followed Jesus. One of them was Andrew the brother of Simon. Andrew went and found Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah." Andrew led Simon to Jesus.
Next we read the first recorded words that Jesus spoke to Simon. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas," an Aramaic surname whose Greek synonym is Petros, or Peter, meaning "a rock" or "stone" (John 1: 35-42). With a few exceptions, Jesus him Simon for most of His three and a half year ministry.
One of these exceptions occurred at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus called His disciples to Himself and asked, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets." Then he asked them, "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." It must be noted here that the blessed revelation was not that Jesus was the Messiah, but that He is the Son of God. Andrew had already introduced Simon to Jesus as the Messiah. The revelation that the Father gave to Peter was that Jesus is the Son. Herein lies the meaning and significance of His use of the two words for rock: petros-a stone-for Peter and petra-a massive foundational rock.
To Simon's answer Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of John, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also tell you that you are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:17-18).
Simon was the name given to Peter by his natural parent, Simon son of John (Simon Bar-jona). This revelation was about two fathers, one earthly and One heavenly, and their sons, one earthly and One heavenly, one fleshly and One spiritual. Nothing Peter received from his flesh and blood father could perceive this heavenly revelation. Natural abilities had no part in it whatsoever. "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing" (John 6:63), and where the life of the Spirit is, there is revelation. On the backdrop of Simon's natural relationship to his earthly father, Jesus showed Simon the true meaning of his new God given name, Peter.
So what does this have to do with the foundational rock (Petra) upon which Christ builds His ekklesia, "that also He should gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad" (See John 11:52)? Here is the significance of why God gives us a name that matches how He sees us in our final (omega) form. It makes no sense unless we consider it in the context of family, the children of God. The blessed revelation is of His Son, "you are...the Son of God"-- Christ the Petra or massive foundational Rock. This Son is as foundational to the family of God as Isaac was to Abraham's family. When Jesus used the word ekklesia in our passage, He was not only using it in the sense of a large called-out gathering, but expanded its meaning to include the linage and growth of the family of God. We are talking about our Father, His Son (Matthew 16:17-18) and many more sons (Romans 8:14-18, 29-30 and Hebrews 2:10).
The Son is the Rock or Foundation Stone, but as important as this is, that is not all that is being implied here. Just as Isaac represented the hope of a new linage to Abraham, the Son makes the way for the heavenly lineage of Abba Father. Flesh and blood has no part in this family nor can it conceive the ultimate intention of our Father. Simon the son of John could not imagine it, but the converted Peter could (Luke 22:31-32).
To see Jesus as the Son is to see God as Father! This is the revelation the true Church is built on-"You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!" To see Jesus as He really is, is to know Him as the Son. The life is in the Son for He who has the Son has life. Knowing this, we understand that He is "the first begotten of the Father," and that many more begotten ones-many sons of the Father-are being birthed, nurtured and brought to maturity.
If we do not see this foundational revelation "You are the Sonů," we will never know our position in the Father and the Son. We will never see what John saw and recorded in his first epistle. "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1).
Life-changing power comes from the Son as we abide in Him and He is revealed in us and the Father bestows that power and right upon all who receive Him. "As many as received Him to them gave He power to become the Sons of God!" It is critical that we receive from the Father the same revelation that he gave Peter.
Who we think Jesus is, is critically important. It is foundational to all that the Father would do in and through His children! It is the bedrock on which the called-out assembly of Christ is multiplied, grown and built. John wrote, "Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:2-3 KJ2000). Flesh and blood cannot reveal this to us. A mere Sunday-school teaching or even extensive seminary training will not suffice. Only the Father can reveal the Son and He desires to not only reveal Him to us, but in us. There is no knowledge of Him without "...the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him" (Ephesians 1:17 RSVA).
And so we have in this blessed revelation and in the name Peter the promise of many sons and a conversion much like that of Jacob. This is how Christ's Church is built. God's dealings with Peter reflect the scope and nature of that building. First we see The Rock (Jesus) petra - a massive rock, a large stone, the Foundation Himself. Next we have the rock (Peter) petros - a small, lively stone and the building material. The recounting of the earthly flesh and blood name Simon with the immediate mention of God's prophetic name Peter draws our attention to the process more than the man-the principle more than the person. "You are blessed, Simon son of John . . . I say to you that you are Peter." The name Simon represents the choosing of a man by God to be initiated into a process of change according to God's plan, but the name Peter represents the end of that process. Peter was not the foundation of the ekklesia as some falsely teach, for no other foundation can be laid other than Jesus Christ (See 1 Corinthians 3:11 and Isaiah 28:16).
The name Peter is representative of the kind of building materials (living stones) Christ has chosen and still chooses to use in His building, and also of the principle for quarrying such stones. Christ builds His church by the principle of revelation and faith. The prophetic nature of the new name (in this case Peter) comes with that personal revelation of Himself that He gives us. The new name carries with it the promise of conversion. We will see this very clearly as we consider the Divine transformation of Simon into that stone, petros, founded on the True Foundation Stone, Petra.
In choosing the stone for his famous statue of David, Michelangelo settled upon a flawed stone that the previous sculptors had rejected. When asked why he had chosen an inferior stone his reply was "I have chosen this one, because it has David in it!" The artist could see the finished work in the stone before he ever started. The useless rock had to be removed before David could be revealed. There are five statues that Michelangelo started but never finished, though you can see the human forms in them as they were emerging. Prophetically, these statues are called "The Captives." As a master sculptor, Jesus came to set the captives free. How fitting that the stone the builders rejected is the One Who lets the oppressed go free.
Like Simon, those God has called are not chosen because they are great, noble or wise. He does not choose those who the world admires and values because of their outward beauty or apparent worth. No! There is nothing there of the old Adam to commend us to the Father, no matter how "perfect" it may seem to others. As He did with Simon, He sees beyond our rough exteriors, beyond the faults, beyond the earthly habits and propensities, even beyond our inconsistencies. He sees the finished product, the perfection of His Son. He sees an extraordinary image in the unlikeliest of pebbles. He sees the image of His Son in weak and foolish stones. Paul wrote, "For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty" (1 Corinthians 1:26-27 KJ2000). God sees the Foundation Stone, the model for our transformation, and so this divine sculptor sets His hands to form Christ in us.
As Christ is formed in us we exchange our flesh and blood weaknesses for the stability of the Rock. He must increase. We must decrease. This is the nature of the conversion that the new name promises; an exchanged life. Just as Michelangelo chose a flawed stone to ensure that the beauty of the work would reflect his true talent, God chooses the weak and flawed stones so that the glory of the finished product might reflect Him. (1 Corinthians 4:7).
We see in Simon Peter the process that purges all believers from dependence on their natural strengths and founds them on the strength and resources of the Rock, Jesus the Son of God. In many ways we all identify with Simon. Many of us have one particular Simon-like trait. How often have we prayed the well-intentioned prayer, "I will serve you, Lord! I will lay down my life for you." And how quickly have our bold declarations morphed into a bemoaning of our inconsistencies and failures? This is where we are most like Simon; on the one hand, boasting in our strengths and on the next, mourning over our failures.
The Lord had been preparing His disciples for His death on Calvary. He said to them, "Where I go, you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow me afterwards." As usual the impulsive Simon spoke up, "Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for your sake" (John 13:37). Sound familiar? This statement was about to become the focal point of the greatest test of Simon's strength and resolve. Jesus answered him saying, "Will you lay down your life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto you, the cock shall not crow, till you have denied me three times" (John 13:38). Matthew records Peter's response, "No!" Peter insisted, "Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you!" And all the other disciples vowed the same (Matthew 26:35 NLT).
Before we judge Peter too harshly, note that all the other disciples made the same promise, but Simon, being first in so many things, would go through this conversion process ahead of the others. It is one thing to confess Christ, but still another thing to be truly converted to the point where you lay down your life in both living and dying for Him. We know Peter's story. It happened just as the Lord had foretold. Peter, when pressed by those who were crucifying Jesus, openly denied the Savior--not once, but three times.
Luke records the warning that Jesus gave Simon, just before he made his bold and heroic declaration ". . . I will lay down my life for your sake." To this the Lord replied, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not: and when you are converted, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32 - emphasis added).
What was it that Simon needed to be "converted" from? Notice his use of the phrase, "I will..." Man has to come to terms with the fact that in himself he is powerless to do the work of God. James spoke of the folly in our human assertions when he wrote:
Come now, you that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas you know not what shall be tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. For you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now you rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. (James 4:13-16 KJ2000)
The other thing about this phrase, "I will," that repels God is that it originated with Satan himself! Isaiah records the roots of the serpent's original rebellion against God when he wrote:
How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, who did weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the farthest sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet you shall be brought down to sheol, to the sides of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12-15 KJ2000 - emphasis added)
God is the prime mover in His creation, not man, and this is the lesson that Simon unwittingly placed himself into to be sifted by Satan like wheat. When a saint fully comes to see that in himself is only found weakness and failure, a place for Satan to work, and sees that in Christ alone can there be any success or righteousness, that saint can be said to have truly been converted. Until then he is still in process of becoming a true believer and is at the mercy of his enemy as long as he operates in that same pride which brought Satan's downfall. Only the I AM has the right to say, "I will."
Jesus warned Simon regarding the nature of the crisis before him. He explained it in the context of winnowing grain as it has been carried on in the East for thousands of years. It was a sifting designed to bring conversion and purity by the removing of the chaff and the tares. Winnowing separates the worthless chaff (the fleshly nature of the old Adam) from the precious wheat. Sifting on the other hand separates the wheat from the poisonous tares that are smaller, fall through the sieve and are then cast into the fire.
John the Baptist described the ministry of Christ in this very context. "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his [threshing] floor, and gather his wheat into the barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12 KJ2000). God doesn't reject the wheat because of the chaff that clings to it. He threshes and winnows it. This is exactly what had to happen to Simon before he could fully become Peter, the rock, whom Christ would use to strengthen his brethren.
We should pay close attention to the use of the name Simon here, as it was repeated twice for emphasis, "Simon, Simon." Simon must be sifted before Peter could emerge in God's strength. Standing between Simon and the reality of all that the name Peter implied was a divinely ordained sifting. Peter's poisonous pride had to be removed. The chaff of his fleshly ways had to be blown away by God. God used Satan to do the sifting through trials and tests, breaking Simon's natural strength and shaking his self confidence. In this winnowing process he learned the utter futility of attempting to follow Jesus and do the Father's will in the strength of his own soul.
Although it makes many extravagant declarations of its intention to follow Jesus at any cost, the flesh draws back as the cross draws near. Instead of siding with Christ it seeks to comfort itself at the fires of those who crucify Him. When put to the test it will always elect to deny Him in order to save itself and Satan knows this. "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man has will he give for his life" (Job 2:4). This is the purpose of this crisis. Peter must learn to put no trust in Simon! He must learn to distrust his fleshly resolve and tenacity. Simon must be converted from one life-source to another -- from his natural strength to the life and recourses of Jesus. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren."
Simon's denial of Christ is an admonition to us today. How much of our "Christianity" remains unconverted and weak because we evade the cross, preferring rather to draw from the strength of the flesh? Even while enduring the trials we seek to hide in self-pity. How much of our Christianity still needs to be sifted? Without this we may think we are able to minister to the saints of God (as many do), but we will go on lacking the depth of spiritual maturity required to truly strengthen the brethren. Can we honestly say that "... we are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3)?
Undoubtedly, Simon's faults have been put on display so that when the enemy sifts us, only our faith in ourselves will suffer. Through each test our faith in Christ grows. One look at Simon and we know there is hope. We know that our Savior is praying and interceding for us as He did for Peter (Romans 8:34). "I have prayed for you..." Dear believer, no matter what you are going through right now, remember, He has prayed for you! No matter how painful your trial, remember, He is touched with the feelings of your infirmities, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, He himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses" (See Matthew 8:17 KJ2000 and Hebrews 7:25). As you endure the painful winnowing process, you will find more than enough strength to see it through, because He has yoked Himself with you. Paul wrote, "For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you" (2 Corinthians 4:11-12 RSVA). Death and suffering in us is meant to bring forth life not just in us, but in others also. "When you are converted, strengthen your brethren."
After denying Jesus Peter must have been in his own "slough of despondency." Could he have been thinking to himself, "I am no better than Judas. I also have denied the Lord; he did it for silver and I did it to save my life." But let's not forget the nature of this sifting. Peter was valuable wheat to be gathered into the Father's granary. He was not discarded like chaff or tares, but in this moment of utter despondency he was closer to pure wheat than he had ever been before. He soon found this out; Simon had a unique encounter with Jesus that was more than a mere restoration (as though value had been lost rather than gained in the sifting process).
It was a rather uncomfortable commissioning, based upon the new name, Peter. Jesus tested Simon, giving him every opportunity to repeat those words, "I will lay down my life for you Jesus. I will serve you." After Jesus rose again from the dead, He tested Peter to see whether he would answer this time from his own strength and pride? Jesus appeared to him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus: "Simon son of Jonah, do you love (agapao) me more than these?"
Simon: "Yes, Lord, you know I love (phileo) you."
Jesus: "Then feed my lambs."
Jesus: "Simon son of Jonah, do you love (agapao) me?"
Simon: "Yes, Lord, you know I love (phileo) you."
Jesus: "Then take care of my sheep."
Jesus: "Simon son of Jonah, do you love (phileo) me?"
Simon: "Lord, you know everything. You know I love (phileo) you."
Jesus: "Then feed my sheep."
Notice how Jesus does not refer to Simon as Peter, but instead uses his flesh and blood name Simon, son of Jonah. The problem was with Simon, not with Peter, and Jesus was going to the source of it. Added to this is the fact that there are two different Greek words that Jesus used in the above conversation and both are translated love in English Bibles. The first word is agapao and the second one is phileo. Agapao is love in its highest expression--a sacrificial love, where the one loving gives his all for the one loved. "Greater love (agape) has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). Phileo is a word that is much cooler in relational intensity which indicates a fondness or a friendship kind of affection, but not necessarily a sacrificial love. Let's amplify this conversation with this in mind.
Jesus: "Simon son of Jonah, do you love me with a sacrificial love, so intense that you would lay down your life for me? Do you love me more than the rest of these, your brothers?"
Simon: "Yes, Lord, you know I have a friendship fondness for you."
Jesus: "Then feed my lambs."
Jesus: "Simon son of Jonah, do you love me with a sacrificial love, so intense that you would lay down your life for me?"
Simon: "Yes, Lord, you know I have a friendship fondness for you."
Jesus: "Then take care of my sheep."
Jesus: "Simon son of Jonah, do you even have a friendship fondness for me?"
Simon: "Lord, you know everything. You know I have a friendship fondness for you!"
Jesus: "Then feed my sheep."
Because of his previous failure, Simon dared not use the word agapao. Instead he used the lesser word phileo because he had failed to sacrificially lay down his life for Jesus as he had once boasted. Each time Jesus asked this it must have been like a finger being poked into an old infected wound. No doubt Simon was Christ's friend. He was fond of Jesus that was certain, but did he love Jesus with a divine agape love that produces a sacrificial posture of life? Peter had not yet received the Holy Spirit and he did not know the fruit of the Spirit in his life. How could he agape love our Lord? The point of this test was not to rub salt in a wound, but to show him his lack so that he would no longer put any of his trust in the flesh of Adam within.
Jesus went on to assure Simon that there would come a time when he would indeed glorify God in both his death and his life. He showed him the difference between Simon the waffler and Peter the rock. "The truth is, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked and go wherever you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will direct you and take you where you don't want to go." Jesus said this to let him know what kind of death he would die to glorify God. Then Jesus told him, "Follow me" (John 21: 15-19 NLT).
Only after this conversion and Jesus' death on the cross could Peter hear Jesus say, "Follow me," and know exactly what He meant. It was not a call to follow Jesus in his own energies and resolve, in the strength of a young man who does what he likes and goes where he wants. It was a call to be given over to the love and grace of Christ so completely that the cross was no longer an emblem of suffering and shame, but a glorious door to life. The converted Peter would do the will of his Savior and go where Simon refused to go.
Peter did eventually lay down his life for his friend, Jesus. Tradition has it that when he was old, he was indeed bound and taken where he had formerly been unable to go. After years of embracing the cross in his heart, it came to pass that Peter hung upside down on a literal cross, all for the love of his friend and Lord, Jesus. Peter asked that he should not be crucified upright, for he reasoned that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord and Friend Jesus. What devotion! What greater love is there than this, than a man would lay down his life for his friend? Was Peter a stone? Undoubtedly! Was He the Foundation Rock? No, but he looked an awful lot like Him.
Know No Man after the Flesh
Jesus builds His church with such stones. The more we are adhered to the Head as members of His body, the more we become like Him and see Him as He is. The more that we become like Him, the less "church" is about us. Church is no longer something we do, but rather something we are... the ekklesia, the called out of God as His own precious sons.
So we see the significance of the new name as it relates to the new creation. Knowing all this, there is one more consideration. How do we live in a way that complements this glorious truth in our own life and the lives of others? In other words, how can we relate to others in a way that affirms the new name that Father has given them? We are called to be "converted" and empowered by the Spirit to know one another after the Spirit as new creatures.
Paul wrote, "Therefore from now on know we no man after the flesh . . . if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." How desperately we need to know one another in a new creation way after the Spirit and not after the flesh. We need to ask the Father how He sees our brothers and sisters in Christ instead of looking upon their "Simon" in process. God has given us each a new name. Do we see one another as Jesus does, through His incredibly prophetic eyes? Do we have the new creation eyes to see beyond the biases and prejudices of our flesh and see another person in the light of eternity? There is no greater blessing that we can give one another than to acknowledge in agape love that each of us is God's work in progress. This is the perfect love-filled and faith-filled environment for growth in the ekklesia of God.
We need to love one another with a love that sees the wheat underneath all the chaff, which sees the David in all that rough hewn rock and desires to see him set free! Such love is empowering. Love empowers its object. There is no greater influence than to be believed in. Love believes the best of every person, not blindly but with clarity of vision that differentiates between present shortcomings and the divine call on an individual's life. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7 RSVA).
God doesn't give us a general charge to change people so that we can be more comfortable with them. Rather He desires to give us grace and vision for that person in order to relate to them in faith. Jesus saw Peter in Simon and prophetically declared the promise "you shall be called Peter," but He did not seem to go out of His way to make it happen. He saw the divine plan and watched it unfold, knowing that the Father would certainly bring it to pass in spite of all the natural obstacles and outward workings of the flesh. Allowing the Father to bring things to pass on His timetable is not necessarily our specialty, but it is the specialty of His great eternal love for us. "Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:24 KJ2000).
May we dare to think it possible to say of each other what the prophet Isaiah prophesied so long ago, "The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God" (Isaiah 62:1-3 ESV).
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it" (Revelation 2:17).to top