The Making of Peter – The Disciple

Sandeep Poonen

Peter was one of the greatest disciples of Jesus that we know. He is wrongly hallowed in the Catholic religion, but the Bible nonetheless identifies Peter as being the leader of the 12 disciples on the Day of Pentecost.
Yet, what I like most about Peter’s story is that we get to see his maturation over time. We get to see Peter’s highs and lows, so many can relate with Peter here. And if we look at his life in entirety, we see the shaping of one of the greatest disciples of Jesus that ever lived. When viewed as a whole, Peter’s life story is glorious, and we can readily imitate his faith (Hebrews 13:7). So over this year, I would like to look at various incidents in Peter’s life – and see the journey that his life took.
Let’s start with one of Peter’s earliest interactions with Jesus.
  • Disciples recognize their own sinfulness

One of the first words that Peter says to Jesus is, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). At first, this might not sound like the words of a future great disciple. But in fact, that very statement shows us the heart of Peter that Jesus loved.
Jesus had just miraculously given Peter a huge haul of fish, to where the boat started to sink. When Peter saw what happened, he fell at Jesus’ feet and said these words.
 When we think about this, Peter’s words are rather remarkable. Peter was a fisherman, so this miracle was like winning the lottery. Peter could have given 10% of his earnings to the Lord and kept the remaining 90% to buy a big house.
This would have been perfectly fine by the Law. But Peter saw something different in Jesus. He didn’t see Jesus as a way to prosper monetarily. Instead the miracle showed him the holiness of Jesus and his own sinfulness.
Imagine if this was Peter’s response: “Stay with me Lord, and let’s advance Your kingdom together. You can use my boat to preach, and then please fill my boat to overflowing with fish. People will see the wealth that I have and this will PROVE what You are preaching. People will also want what I have, and so will follow You!” If Peter had done this, he would not have been a disciple of Jesus.
Peter looked at himself and looked at Jesus and was blown away by the difference in holiness. So Peter’s honest response was: Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.
 Jesus loves those who have a true sense of their own need. Peter’s deep sense of his sinfulness was the exact raw material that Jesus was looking for in His followers.
 And we find that same heart repeated in various other stories in Jesus’ lifetime.
  • The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14):

 Like Peter, the tax collector said, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Jesus praised this sinful tax collector and even said that he went home justified; “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v14).
Jesus wanted nothing to do with Pharisees who might have done many lawful things, but then compared themselves to others and gloried in their righteous acts. Meanwhile, Jesus loved those who were honest about their condition and saw their own need. Such people could easily experience the justification of God.
 So even though the tax collector probably felt the Pharisee looked down at him with contempt, he didn’t despise the Pharisee. He didn’t worry about the sins of others; he was in the house of God and looked solely at God’s holiness and HIS OWN sin.
This is how we also must be if we want God’s full and free justification.
  • Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50):

We also see the same distinction in the story of Simon the Pharisee and the immoral woman who wet Jesus’ feet with her tears. One was at the top of the religious totem pole and the other at the bottom. But Jesus was unmoved by how people viewed the two. Jesus is never impressed by our past track record; He is only interested in the present condition of our hearts. Simon the Pharisee might well have started off with a sincere devotion to God. But somewhere along the way, he lost sight of who God was, and ended up as a self-righteous Pharisee. He was now so far away from God, that he didn’t even recognize that the Son of God sitting right next to him.
Simon the Pharisee’s great sin was the deep festering cancer of the lack of gratitude and service. The heart that lacks gratitude automatically negates a million kind deeds done. No amount strenuous physical exercise will cure lung cancer.
  • The Eleven Disciples and Judas (Matthew 26:20-25):

At the last supper, we find a unique difference between Judas Iscariot and the other eleven disciples. The eleven were deeply grieved at the thought of betraying Jesus, and called Jesus as their Lord. But Judas was not deeply grieved, and saw Jesus only as a Rabbi (a good teacher). Judas never came to view Jesus as his absolute Lord.
How is it with us? If Jesus is the LORD of our lives, we will be genuinely grieved at the thought of betraying Jesus. So when Jesus tells us that we would betray Him, we are genuinely grieved that we might betray Him– because Jesus is the Lord of our lives and a close personal Friend, so much more than just a good and wise teacher.
 But if we slip into a lifestyle that no longer grieves over sin, and we go away from a simple and pure devotion to Jesus, then we must recognize our true current condition. And we must re-surrender all of our lives to Jesus, so that He can be the undisputed Lord of every area of our lives.
  • Disciple ALWAYS realize that they are sinners saved by Jesus

Peter spoke these words when he first met Jesus. But the heart of seeing our deep sinfulness is not a one-time response. Look at Paul. At the end of his life, he writes to Timothy, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15). Notice the present tense: among whom I am foremost of all.
Paul doesn’t say these words when he had just been knocked off his horse on the Damascus road. Paul had established several churches and had lived with great integrity and devotion to Jesus. Yet, even near the end of his life, this was Paul’s genuine heart: Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and right now, as I think of all the sinners in the world, I still stand as the chief and foremost of sinners. I still see myself most in need of Jesus and His salvation.
Was Paul saying this because he kept falling into sin and didn’t live a victorious life over sin? Not at all; Paul sought to always live with a clear conscience before God and man (Acts 24:16). But yet, as he drew closer to the absolutely pure light of the life of Jesus, there was a greater awareness of the sin that still clung to him.
Sin is more than just doing wrong things and more than failing to do right things. Sin is best defined in Romans 3:23, where we fall short of the glory of God. So as Paul gazed and meditated on the glory of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18), he saw how far away he still was from the perfect life of Jesus. So yes, he was being transformed into the image of Jesus as he stood and gazed on the glory of Jesus. But that same gazing also brought a greater clarity to the immense gap between him and Christ!
I simply cannot think of a clearer litmus test for true holiness than what I infer from 1 Timothy 1:15. If I am not growing in the awareness of my deep sinfulness, I am not growing in the awareness of God’s deep love for me. And then, one who does not know God’s love will not grow in true holiness.
This is a key mark of being a disciple of Jesus that we must hold fast to. Peter’s awareness of his own sinfulness was what Jesus loved. Jesus did not judge Peter superficially by Peter’s words (“Depart from me”); He saw Peter’s heart that recognized his own sinfulness (Isaiah 11:3). Peter had that “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15) that was quick to recognize his own brokenness. Jesus recognized that Peter had the good soil in his heart that could one day bear much fruit for Him.
Thus began the extraordinary life of Peter the disciple.