Peter was someone who, I believe, understood what it means to struggle with your faith. I’m not talking about the times wavered between strength and weakness. I’m talking about the struggle of actually growing one’s understanding of what it means to be the people of God. Take a minute and look at how Peter grew. He was raised as a good Jewish man. He most likely knew the basic teachings of the Torah. He had been taught what the prophets had to say. Let’s say that Peter had a grasp on what his faith had taught him. Then he encountered the risen Jesus and everything began to change.
It started with the words, “feed my sheep.” Then on the day of Pentecost this man who tried to hide his relationship with Jesus stepped out in front of the crowd and shared the gospel openly. That day we are told a great many people decided to develop their own relationship with Jesus, (Acts 2). Can you imagine what it must have been like for Peter to take what he had been taught about the messiah and suddenly apply it to someone he walked with for three years? This first stretching of his understanding of what it meant to be a person of faith must have been amazing. It was a new step of faith that Peter did not take alone. He shared the message with others and they joined the journey.
The next stretch of Peter’s growth came when his friends sent him to Samaria to pray for the new believers in that region, (Acts 8) Good Jewish people avoided Samaria with all of their strength. And yet Peter went to the region. He prayed for the people and they received the gift of the Spirit, demonstrating that even outsiders, like Samaritans, were part of the family of faith.
Then there came Peter’s vision on the rooftop, (Acts 10). The struggle in the early church was about who should be considered insiders and who should be left out. If a gentile wanted to become a follower of Jesus, some said they also needed to follow Jewish law. This is when the third stretch came to Peter’s understanding of truth and what it meant be a person of faith. In the vision God told Peter that what God had called clean, Peter was not to call unclean. Immediately we see Peter going to meet Cornelius, and the way of Christ was opened to yet another group of people who some believed should be excluded.
I look at these three stories and the message I read challenges me.
- Peter allowed his understanding of truth to stretch and grow. I don’t think it was an easy journey. Seriously – how do you take what you have been taught since childhood and believe anything different? Yet the Bible is clear, Peter lived differently as he grew in his understanding and in his relationship with the risen Christ.
- As Peter’s understanding grew, he drew the circle of God’s love even wider. In Acts 2 he shared the message of faith with those who had been present at the crucifixion, with those who were strangers. In Acts 8 he prayed for the Samaritans. By the time you get to Acts 10 Peter’s message is that God does not show favoritism as gentiles are accepted just as they are.
What I learn from Peter’s journey gives me a sense of hope. What I was taught as a child and believed for so many years was important to me. As I encounter scripture, as I spend time in prayer, as I talk with people whose faith I admire, I find that Peter’s story gives me permission to stretch my faith, and at times even change what I once believed with all of my heart. I guess that is why I understand it when I read a Bible passage for the umpteenth time and suddenly hear a new message in familiar words. Has that ever happened to you?
During this Easter season let me ask you, “How has your encounter with the Risen One empowered you to grow in your understanding of what it means to live as the people of God?” Before you answer that question take a minute to look at your life. Are you more loving today than you were last year? Do you handle disagreements in a way that is more gracious today than you did last year? Do you face the future with more hope and joy today than you did last year?
If Christ’s resurrection is to mean anything, let it lead us into not only into new life, but let it help us to new people. Let’s continue to stretch and grow together. It will be an amazing experience.