“You are Simon…You Shall Be Called Peter: A ‘First Person’ Easter Sermon”

rembrandt_peter_in_prison.jpgI preached the following sermon as a first person expository sermon from Luke 5.1-11; John 1.40-42; and John 20.1-10; 21.1-19. This Easter message I now offer to others for both edification and fodder for what will become better sermons in your pulpit. I believe that probably all of you listening to my voice believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, although there may be a few skeptics. There will be many sermons today around the world centering on reasons for believing in the resurrection. And there are many, from many different points of view. One frequent reason for believing that Jesus of Nazareth rose again from the dead is the transformed lives of those men and women who followed Him while he walked this earth.One of those was Peter. And in the life of Peter, perhaps more than any  other, we are able, in the Scriptures, to observe and even examine the transformation that happened to him.But today, in the testimony of this man Peter, I want us to hear his voice afresh. For in the life of Peter, we come to learn that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not the end of the story¾either for Him or for us. That in the resurrection of Jesus, there is a constant beginning again.Someone wrote:”There’s nothing in man that’s perfect, There’s nothing that’s all complete, He nothing but a big beginning, From his head to the soles of his feet.”[1]Peter was a big beginning. Jesus was going to make something out of that hotheaded, big-hearted fisherman. So, today if you will listen with your heart, and believe, you will know the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for your own life. You will know that wherever you have been, whatever you have done, the message of Easter is that through the love of Jesus Christ, this is the beginning of what God will make of you.(Read Scripture in Luke 5.1-11; John 1.40-42; John 20.1-10; John 21.1-19)

Introduction to the Sermon

I am told that there is a certain statue in St. Peter’s Basilica. It is a giant statue of Peter. This statue has a rather big toe on the big fisherman and every tourist who passes rubs or even kisses this protruding appendage.We may not want to kiss a statue. But we all want to touch Peter. He is a man like us. Paul was a scholar: a legal scholar, a religious scholar, a man of languages and refinement and culture. He was well educated. But the risen Jesus appeared to that great man and he was transformed to become something else. Jesus used Paul’s gifts in a powerful way. God does not throw away the man we use to be, but he begins with the earthen portion and fashions it. But Peter seems to have taken a long time for the Master to perfect. He was a man of virtue and a man of vice. A man with a big heart and a big mouth. Maybe that is why we so want to touch Peter. There are, of course, no real portraits of the man is sometimes called “the prince of the Apostles.” But by the third century, drawings of Peter all reveal the same thing: a large man with a great round head, balding, and a great rock-solid jaw covered with a bushy beard. He would of course use that jaw a lot. Peter seemed to have a philosophy, “When in doubt: SPEAK!” And he is written about more than any of the other twelve who followed Jesus while He was on earth. And He speaks more to Jesus than any of the others. And Jesus speaks to Peter more than anyone else in the Scriptures¾sometimes to praise and sometimes to blame.The statues of Peter in Rome, as magnificent as they are, are nothing compared to the human statue, the spiritual statue that Jesus created. In all of the accounts of Peter’s call, there is a common theme:In Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says to Simon Bar Jonah and Andrews his brother, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Luke says, in the longer narrative about his calling, “From now on you will be catching men.” And in John, there is an emphasis on Peter’s name:”So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called ‘Kephas.'” John reminds us that Kephas, which is Aramaic means Petros in the Greek. Petros means Rock in our language. But note the words in all of the accounts: I will make you, from now on, and you shall be…”And so for the rest of his life, Peter was a man under construction. And like a great statue, the final finishing work for Peter came under the refining fire of trial: a trial that would lead him to an empty tomb, and back to fishing, before encountering the risen Jesus in his own life.That is my prayer today for each of us: that we will encounter the living Christ in our own lives, that the resurrection of Jesus would not simply be an event to celebrate, but a passage into a personal relationship with the risen Savior that would transform us into the men and women, the boys and girls he wants us to be.Now, Peter was crucified on an inverted cross for his beliefs around 67 AD, during the first purge of Christians ordered by the Emperor Nero. But the Word of God allows us to listen to his voice, for it tells his story so powerfully. What if we could listen to the testimony of this one who was there?”Well, I would say what the Word says. Just like your preacher who interprets and preaches the truth of the Word of God. That is what I would say. In fact, the Spirit of God moved me to use two letters I wrote. I also told John Mark about all that I saw and heard of the Master and he compiled it into his own book. And the Holy Spirit used that as well. But in all of it, yes, there is a story of my life with the Master. How precious were those days. Yet, how painful, as, indeed, the Master made me into a new man. How did He do it? He did it with love. He did it sometimes with chastening. But He did it. For all who follow Him, He changes us. In my life, there was a growing disclosure of who He was and of who I was until at last I melted under His grace. When He ascended, He was still working on me through His spirit. I was the man who preached the first sermon after the Holy Spirit fulfilled the ancient prophecies, to make our father’s faith a world wide movement. But I also was corrected by Paul on the matter of grace. I later stood at Jerusalem and got that one right as we dealt with how the life of our Lord had to go forward. There is so much. Now, let me see. How shall I tell you this story? I need to sort this out for you today, because I know there are those like me who believe but who are still under construction. Ok, I know. Let me think about it in terms of my name. I was Simon. I became Simon Peter. And then I became Peter. It is simple, but maybe you will catch what I mean.


My name was common, like everything else about me. So that is why you like me so? Well, my little brother Andrew and I had a fishing business. A good one. I had a nice house along Lake Galilee. My mother-in-law and my wife lived with me. But I was trained in the Law, like all good Jewish boys. And I also lived under the oppression of Rome and I wanted freedom. That was my life. Just like yours. There were the small things of my life being lived out beneath the big tent of the world with all of its problems.John the Baptizer had been preaching about repentance. Many were flocking to him, but not me. I had work to do, I thought, and my work was to fish. But Andrew went and heard John the day that John said, “Behold the Lamb of God” and pointed to Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus invited them to the place where He was staying. Then Andrew came to me and told me that we had found the Messiah. I will never forget how he looked at me. He spoke my name Simon. But then He said, “You shall be called the Rock.”I began to see things I could not believe, but they happened. Water turned to wine. Jesus started taking on the religious leaders of Jerusalem, the biggest muckety-mucks you have ever seen! He spoke with authority. I saw people healed, including my own mother-in-law. I heard demons speak, in my own synagogue I heard this. I saw evil spirits flee at His command. I saw poor people and wealthy people alike come to Him and follow Him. I saw poor people and wealthy people alike try to use Him for what they wanted, but didn’t really follow Him.Once He said, “I Am the bread of life, whoever comes to Me shall not hunger and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. (John 6.35).” As Simon I was hungry. I wanted the life He talked about. I followed Him wanting it. I believed in Him. But there was still so much Simon.When I was just Simon, I believed, but I didn’t know what or who I was believing in. He was like a fish I had on a line that was unlike any other fish. No. No, the truth is that I was the fish. And He had me on His line.”You are Simon, but you shall be…” “I will make you…” the words echo in my mind. I was a man in the making.So I will tell you how I began to be changed.

Simon Peter

Once the Master asked, “Who do men say that I am?” I answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus said that on this “Rock” (I was very proud when he said that)”¾”On this Rock”¾I will build My Church and the gates of Hell will not stand against it.” That was, I think, a good confession that marked a shift. I mean, when you read about me in the Scriptures, you read that I was there at the Transfiguration, when we the Patriarchs appeared and God spoke and said “this is My Son, listen to Him.” We were there. We heard Jesus say that I and the Father are one (John 10.30). We were there when they took up stones to stone Him. But I knew. I knew this was the Messiah. But the Simon in me was becoming Simon Peter¾two men struggling to become one new man. And that was my finest hour with the Master during His days upon this earth.But I did not only tell that to Mark when Mark wrote His Gospel. I went on to tell him what happened right after my great moment in the sun. Jesus began to speak about He was going to be rejected by the elders and the chief priest and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly. Too plainly for me. We finally had Messiah and now this was going to happen? I could see the shackles of Rome melting beneath His power! I could see the Kingdom I wanted for me to finally come in my way, in my time. So, I¾and I used this word to Mark¾I “rebuked Him.” Is there anyone here who has ever rebuked God? Well, I did. And His words back to me reminded me that I was still very much Simon:”Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”  Mark 8.33He then went on to say that a man must deny himself and follow Me. And whoever would seek to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me sake and the Gospel’s will save it.I felt in my heart that I had left all. I had given it all away. I was following Him. What more did He want? What more could I give?Things got worse. And just what He said would happen began to happen. Not that I ever doubted it. He was Messiah. I knew that. But a man can believe a lot of things about Jesus and still not know Him. I found that out.For instance, on that week, the week you call Holy Week, on that day you call Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, He began to wash our feet. Again, I burst out and told me that “He would never wash my feet!” But He told me that I was unclean. Not totally. But I still had filth in my life. I was Simon…Peter. Not all the way Peter. He spoke of betrayal. The one thing I was proud of¾and I was a proud man in so many ways¾was that I was loyal. I was dutiful. You could trust me. So, I told him that I would never betray Him. But He said, and you all know this, don’t you, He said, “Before the rooster would crow twice, I would not only betray Him once, but three times.Pride led to my fall. It is painful to speak of, but I denied Jesus. I stood up for Him, I thought, in the Garden, when I cut off Malchas’ ear. Jesus healed it. That was wasted effort! I followed behind that night to His arraignment. A young lass, a servant girl of the high priest, saw me and she asked me if I was once of His disciples. I lied. I said that I was not. I got away into the crowd. But the rooster crowed. I will never forget that sound. It was cold. Was I trembling then from the cold or from the lie? I warmed myself by a fire with others. A second time, I was asked if I was one of the disciples. Again, I said that I was not. The cold sent shivers. I denied my Lord. Then, of all things, Malchas’ relative recognized me. But I denied knowing Jesus. I swore and I cursed as I said, “I do not know this Man…” And the rooster crowed at the sound of my blaspheme of Jesus and my betrayal of His very name. The fire burned its heat on my soul and the sound of that confounded creature echoed like a demon from Hell into my very soul! I ran, I tell you, I ran! Have you ever denied Him? Have you ever denied Jesus with your words or with your life? Can anyone here relate to what I did?Somehow, my confession, all off the things I had seen and known and learned from Him, dissipated in that one moment. And then the crowing of the rooster, just like Jesus said. He knew me. He knew me better than I knew myself. I was crushed. Judas had denied him and his sorrow led him to suicide. But with me, I just ran away. But before I ran, they led me out and He looked at me. He looked at me and I remembered what He said I would do.[2] Jesus was always looking at me. He looked at me and said, “You are Simon. But you shall be called Peter.” I was on my way. I had confessed Him as the Christ. I stood with Him, but in this hour I learned that my faith was so much Simon and not much Peter. In this look, I knew I was not Peter. I was a failure.I would later write:[Trials] come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  1Peter 1.7And so a man who fails is not a total failure. A woman who is in the hand of the Master is not complete until Christ completes her. And He uses all things, including our own sins and our own weaknesses to bring us to a new place in life, a place where we lose our lives and find our Lord.So I was Simon. I was Simon…Peter. But how did He finally do it? How did I move to become the man who would one day die for my Lord? How would Jesus make me a fisher of men, a man called Peter?


On the first day of the week, it happened. I was locked down with the others because of fear, because pain, or maybe because of confusion. Do you know how it feels to carry guilt? To know that you denied Jesus Christ? Well, I do. And when Mary Magdalene came running to say that He was not in the tomb, I was dumbfounded. I took off running. John went with me. I was running hard, but John, who was younger, outran me. Let me tell you: I saw it. Jesus had been put in that tomb, with a stone guarded by Roman soldiers, but that tomb was empty. And then we saw it: the burial clothes. Have you ever seen the shell of a locust? That is what the sight reminded me of. There were the grave clothes and the head cloth was there and separate from the linen which would have covered His body. We went away again…in shock. But we knew. He had told us this would happen. But in between my own pride and my own desires, I missed it. Then Mary came running to us to say that she had seen Jesus alive! Later that evening, Jesus walked through the locked door, and walked through the locked door of our hearts, He walked through our fears, and He stood among us. I saw the nail scarred hands. I saw the nail scarred feet. I saw the wound in His side. And he spoke. He said, “Peace be with you.”I saw Jesus resurrected from the dead. And you say, “I too believe.” But let me tell you. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a shut and closed case. It is locked down tight. Over 500 saw Him at once. The disciples saw Him. I saw Him. But let me tell you. It is not just the resurrection that changes a man’s life. It is the heart of Jesus that lives on. And I experienced that heart of His.For I was guilty. The joy and amazement of His resurrection was subdued by my sin. So I became Simon again: Simon, the fisherman. And I convinced others to join me.We were fishing, see: fishing. But all the while He was on the shore cooking us a breakfast meal. While I was out there in my pain, He was preparing to feed me. Amazing. Well, we were catching nothing. Then He called out. And I have never known a carpenter to know as much about fish as Jesus. And as soon as He told us to throw our nets on the other side, I knew it was Him. This is how I first met Him. He called out in this way when He first called me. Then our nets broke and the boat sank from the weight of the fish. This time, we caught 153 fish, the nets held and the boat held. But I broke. When I met him I fell and confessed my sins and I followed Him. But this time all I could do was dive in and swim. Oh how I wanted him. I needed to confess of my confession. I needed to come face to face with Jesus. I cannot tell you how I felt. Can you imagine the build up of guilt and pain and then to hear His voice? We had breakfast first. I was nervous. I mean there I was in the presence of the resurrected King of Glory and we were eating together! But then He turned to Me. And He does that. In the midst of the Church, He turns to you, He deals with us as  His people, but He deals with each of our needs individually. And Jesus Christ turned to me. I can tell you, when the risen Christ speaks to you, when He deals with you one-on-one the white hot, searching light of His love blisters every ounce of pride away.Jesus would not call me Peter. He called me by my name Simon son of John. I began to see that all that had gone before was like chaff in the wind. I was just Simon. I was a sinner in need of grace. Then just as I denied Him three times, He questioned me three times. Do you love me like these? I had compared myself to the others in saying that I would be the one who would not deny Him, but I was a fool. You do not compare your life with another man’s in the things of God. And the word He used for love was the word agape, the word for covenant love, unconditional love. I said You know that I love you and I could not used that word. I said you know I love you, but I used a word for love like a friend. That was all I could do. I knew then that He could love like that but I could not. It had been all about me for so long. I was tired of it. He ten told me to feed His sheep. He was calling me to pastor His people. I was undone. I was not worthy. I was a sinner. He asked me again. I was hurt. He used the same word of love and I responded the same way. Again, he called me to feed His sheep. A third time He asked me. And this time He used the word for love that is a love between friends, the only word I could use. I began to see. I could not be His friend, until I accepted His unconditional love. I could not be used until I was undone with my sin. I could not be Peter until Simon was crucified.Then He said, “Follow Me.” I would later write in my letter for others, for each of you, to remember:”Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1.3)This is my story.”And this is how Simon became Simon Peter and finally Peter. God would have yet more work to be done in sculpting this Rock of a Christian. Peter would have to learn about how the Gospel was to go to the Gentiles. He would have to learn again, from of all people, the Apostle Paul, how grace is the key doctrine in the Christian life. But he learned well. And in AD 67, Peter, according to several accounts of the early church fathers, Jesus’ prophecy about Peter’s death came  true. He was crucified under Nero.[3] But, according to Eusebius the great church historian, his humility and brokenness before the Lord caused him to request that he be crucified upside down for he was unworthy of imitating Christ’s death.Yesterday, I went to an Easter Egg Hunt. And at the shout of “GO!” the children ran into the fields and scooped up all of the eggs and candy. It took only a matter of a minute¾possibly seconds¾and it was all over. I noticed one little boy had been beaten out. He must have been about 5 years old and was absolutely dejected. He had only two small pieces of candy in his basket. He stood, took off his little eyeglasses and started crying. It broke my heart. I called for my son, who was in the older age group, and explained what happened. He immediately ran over and offered his candy to the tike.For many, this Easter will be like that. In one fell swoop, there will be an Easter Sunday sermon, a nice Easter meal of ham or maybe lamb, and then some napping and it will be over. So before you go, I ask you: What shall you gather in your Easter basket from this message? May you hear the voice of the Scripture that it is not enough to simply believe with our minds in the reality off the resurrection. We must believe in our hearts that we are sinners in need of a Savior, and we must hear the voice of the Savior asking each of us: “Do you love me?” Then and only then can we know the living hope that the resurrection brings.Today, let no one go away dejected. Let the Gospel of His grace and mercy fill our empty baskets and comfort our trembling souls. And then go and share what you have received with someone else who needs it.He is risen. He is risen indeed.Amen.  Eusebius, of Caesarea Bishop of Caesarea ca, and Paul L. Maier. Eusebius–the Church History : A New Translation with Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999.Lockyer, Herbert. All the Apostles of the Bible; Studies in the Characters of the Apostles, the Men Jesus Chose, and the Message They Proclaimed. Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan Pub. House 1972, 1972. 

[1] The Anglican poet-priest, Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929)  in Herbert Lockyer, All the Apostles of the Bible; Studies in the Characters of the Apostles, the Men Jesus Chose, and the Message They Proclaimed (Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan Pub. House 1972: 1972).[2] The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”  Luke 22.61[3] Eusebius records this story, but says his source is from a church theologian named  Origen (who wrote about AD 230): “Peter appears to have preached through Pontus,  Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia, to the Jews that were scattered abroad; who also,  finally coming to Rome, was crucified with his head downward, having requested of himself  to suffer in this way” (Ecclesiastical History 3:1). See Eusebius of Caesarea Bishop of Caesarea ca Eusebius and Paul L. Maier, Eusebius–the Church History : A New Translation with Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999). 

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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