WHAT'S IN A NAME?
"Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, 'We have found the Messiah' (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas,' (which, translated, is Peter)." John 1:40-42 (NIV).
Why did John go into so much detail in relating this little incident? Didn't Jesus call these two brothers from fishing in the lake to follow Him? I cannot answer these questions because the Bible does not connect the dots. However, we get some interesting insights into the character of these two brothers.
Simon and Andrew were two very different characters. Andrew seems to have been the more serious one, a disciple of John and keen to find out about the Messiah John was introducing. Together with an unnamed disciple of John, he sought Jesus out and spent the day with Him. Convinced that He was the Messiah, he hurried off to fetch his brother and bring Him to meet Jesus.
Andrew was more contemplative and less vocal than Simon Peter. He was very much part of the Twelve but stayed in the background while Peter was the spokesman and always in the forefront of the action. Perhaps, after this introduction to Jesus, the brothers went back to their nets until Jesus was ready to call them.
Jesus' response to Simon needs some comment. Why did He change his name? In Hebrew thought, a name was a prophetic utterance of character. Babies were often named according to the circumstances of their birth, or as an expression of their prophetic destiny. John the Baptist was not named after his father, Zachariah, but called John which means "grace".
He would be ushering in, through Jesus, a new era of grace. The name Simon means "to hear" or "reputation". Jesus saw him, not as merely a hearer but as a rock - Petros in Greek, Cephas in Aramaic -- one who would become steadfast and dependable. Isn't this typical of the way God sees people, not as they are but as they would become through His grace?
There were important implications for Peter in this way of viewing and treating him. Jesus had to endure some questionable ideas and behaviour from this volatile and outspoken disciple. He often spoke first and thought afterwards. He said the first thing that came into his head. He had inflated ideas about himself and then crumbled when the test came.
Jesus knew Simon. He knew his character. He knew the way he was thinking and the way he would respond but He also knew what he would become. On the strength of that, He renamed him Peter. On a few occasions, when Simon really exasperated Him, He would revert to his old name but, more often than not He called him Peter. Every time Jesus said "Simon", He was rebuking him and reminding him of who he was -- just a hearer. And that's what he often proved to be. Simon suffered from "selective hearing" just like the rest of the disciples did!
But it was not Jesus' intention to tie him to his past. There was no value in reminding Peter who he was. In changing his name, Jesus was declaring His intention to change his character, and every time He called him Peter, He was drawing him towards his future.
There are valuable lessons for us in the example of Jesus. First of all, we learn that God is more interested in what we will be than in what we are. He has called us His sons and daughters. Our role in life is to learn to become what we are -- holy and beloved children of God. True faith is taking possession of what we already own. We are heirs of all that God has promised. It is our job to inherit His promises with faith and patience (Hebrews 6:12).
The second lesson is equally important. Just as Jesus saw Peter as a rock, so we must view people according to their potential rather than their actual. Instead of criticising them for what we don't like about them, call them "Peter". See them as holy and beloved. That attitude will pull them towards their future instead of anchoring them to their past.
Release them from the past by cancelling their debt just as God has done, and they will be set free to become what God already sees them to be.
Will you do that? That's what Jesus did.
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