A Fragile Stone: pg. 32-25
"So Much More Than A Nickname"
September 11th, 2019
Often commentaries seek to explain the titling of Peter as Jesus merely bestowing a nickname, as he did when he called James and John the "sons of thunder." But Jesus is up to infinitely more. This is not simple camaraderie; it is the call. The new title contains a prophetic promise. It could have only been finally affirmed after Peter's statement of faith in who Jesus is. His confession was the necessary indication that Peter was indeed the first stone to be laid. Now that this confession has been spoken, Jesus will begin to build.
Though Jesus bestows the new title of "Rock" (Cephas in Aramaic), he will never call Simon by that name because it is, after all, not a proper name. He is always Simon to Jesus. Only later, in Acts, will the name Simon give way to Peter, in the same way "Christ" is a title that later became a part of Jesus' name. Jesus Christ. Simon Peter. So Peter (Cephas) is not merely an affectionate nickname but a prophetic title that describes who Simon will, by grace, become, a new name signifying a new life.
This is not the first time God called an ordinary man to an extraordinary future by giving him a new title. "When God looked on Abraham who was to appear, he said, 'Behold, I have found a rock on which I can build and base the world.' Therefore he called Abraham a 'rock'" (from an ancient Jewish commentary, called a midrash, on Isaiah 51:1-2).
"Consider...the rock from which you were cut...Abraham," Isaiah had proclaimed six hundred years before. Abram, the one who was called, renamed and given a promise that he would build a holy nation, provides the true Old Testament background for understanding the new title Simon receives.
Jesus' pronouncement concerning Simon Peter sounds hauntingly similar to the words of the rabbis when they sought to explain Isaiah's statement in their commentary. The character of Abram has nothing to do with the reference to the rock. He is not particularly strong or steadfast. In fact, the record will reveal quite the contrary. What is significant about Abram is the God who calls him. It is all about the fact that God is building something - a new nation - and he has graciously determined to use men and women as building stones. The result was that the nation of Israel eventually found their corporate identity in Abraham. Later they would identify corporately with a series of priests and kings. All the while God would long for them to find their identity in him.
In the same way Simon will become for the followers of Jesus what Abraham was for Israel: a foundational leader for the community by virtue of a divine call and a confession of personal faith. In time the disciples of Jesus will find a corporate identity in Simon Peter. They will come to him to ask Jesus to clarify his sayings. Jesus will speak to the Twelve often by addressing only Simon. When the tax collectors want to collect the temple tax from Jesus, they will come and ask Simon. When the Three fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus will correct only Simon. Not by any virtue of character or accomplishment but solely because of the call of Jesus, Simon will serve as the representative of the Twelve whose head and leader is always unquestionably Jesus.
After Jesus returns to the Father, Simon will be the vital bridge between two disparate worlds: the world of a physically present, perfect Leader and the other world of diverse and decidedly imperfect leaders.
Like any building the living structure Jesus proposes to build has a door. That door requires a key, and Peter is promised that someday he will receive that key. Once more we are in the Old Testament territory, again in the book of Isaiah. The prophet tells of a divine oracle who promised that his authority (symbolized by keys) would pass to a man named Eliakim. "I will give him the key to the house of David - the highest position in the royal court. He will open doors, and no one will be able to shut them; he will close doors, and no one will be able to open them" (Isaiah 22:22).
As Simon's identity becomes solidified in Acts, we will see several instances of his "unlocking" the door of the kingdom. Through his healing people and speaking the word of Jesus, the door of the kingdom will eventually be opened to the Gentiles and to the whole world. The Pharisees, Jesus would say, "shut the kingdom of the heaven in men's faces" (Matthew 23:13 NIV). Peter and his followers would, by grace, unlock and open wide that door. The process of unlocking and opening the kingdom's doors will continue on until the end of time (Revelation 1:18; 3:7; 21:25).
But all of that lies ahead of this simple, confused fisherman. For now, he is still standing beside his familiar lake. He is holding not keys but smelly, soggy nets in chapped hands. Before him stands simply a new friend who seems to see him with understanding and sympathetic eyes. It is one of those ordinary, earthshaking, timeless moments when two lives intersect. Simon Peter has no idea what lies ahead.