This is a story about a man who was struck by a power that changed the whole course of his life, a man called Joe. Joe grew up in Kingsport, and he and all his buddies worked shift work at Eastman. He had a comfortable job and a comfortable life.
But something happened to Joe, something he didn’t expect. And although he never went past high school, never had any other formal training, within a few years he was speaking to thousands, writing books, traveling internationally, and leading a large organization. What was this one remarkable thing that happened to Joe?
Before we look at this one remarkable thing, let’s rearrange our story a little. “Joe” actually didn’t grow up in Kingsport, he grew up 2000 years ago along the Sea of Galilee. And Joe’s shift work wasn’t at a factory, it was out on the lake in a fishing boat. And Joe’s name wasn’t “Joe”– it was Simon Bar-Jonah. And this ordinary fisherman, who became known as Peter, had his life completely transformed through one remarkable thing: faith in Jesus.
Faith in Jesus took an ordinary man and transformed his whole life, and through that transformed life Peter helped change the world. Faith in Jesus can take our lives and transform us to make a difference in our worlds too.
An Unpromising Start
Peter’s start with Jesus didn’t look all that promising to the outside eye. The first time he was with Jesus the two words that best described Peter would have been “fearful” and “unworthy.” (see Luke 5:1-11) But God’s ways are often not our ways, and the potential that God can see in a person is often far greater than what they can see in themselves. Jesus could see greatness in Peter, greatness that Peter could not see in himself, and Jesus knew that faith was the key to unlocking that greatness that lay within. And so Jesus struck back at his fear by telling him not to be afraid, and struck back at his feelings of unworthiness by inviting him to follow Him.
But Peter was not alone in having a rather unpromising start. If you look at the story of Moses, in his first encounter with God he desperately tries to convince Him to send someone else. Gideon kept asking God “Are you sure You’ve got the right man?” The bottom line is that it matters not to God who you think you are, or what you think your limits are. Through faith God knows your life can be transformed into something extraordinary.
Faith Transforms Us to See Jesus
The Bible records three great ways that faith transformed Peter’s life. Faith transformed Peter to see Jesus as the Christ, to trust Jesus in every circumstance, and to be faithful to Jesus in every trial. In Matthew 16:13-18 we see how faith transformed Peter to see Jesus:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Let’s look at three lessons that this passage teaches us about faith. First, the passage teaches that seeing Jesus as Christ is the rock of our faith– the foundational transformation of faith. Jesus refers to this realization that He is the Christ as the rock that he would build his church on– the foundation that would withstand any storm or attack, the foundation that all the rest of the Christian life is built upon.
Second, faith is spiritual certainty. Look how although Peter accepted that Jesus is the Christ by faith, it wasn’t a leap of faith or a blind faith. No, Peter KNEW, he knew more surely than anything he had every known before– he was committed to that truth, he would later die for that truth. And that’s what genuine God-given faith is, it’s spiritual sight. When Paul says in 2 Cor 5:7 that we walk by faith, not by sight, he didn’t mean we walked in blindness, or in optimism “Well I sure hope that Jesus is the Son of God and He died for my sins.” No, no, a thousand times no! Faith is certainty, faith is truth, faith is reality, as Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is spiritual certainty.
Third, see how faith is the gift of God. How humbling this is, both for Peter and for us. Look at Peter. Here was a man who lived with Jesus, walked with Jesus, heard Him teach, saw Him heal the sick, raise the dead. If any man could ever come to know who Jesus was by his own devices it was Peter, and yet Jesus tells Peter that even all his experience as a disciple could not reveal to him that his rabbi was the Son of God. Only through the gift of the Father could Peter be transformed by faith to see Jesus as Christ, and only through the blessing of the Father can you and I be transformed by faith to see Jesus as Christ.
Faith Transforms Us to Trust Jesus
The next passage from Peter’s life of faith we’ll examine is from Matthew 14:22-33:
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
In this passage we see that faith transformed Peter to trust Jesus in any circumstance. Here again, let’s draw out three truths regarding how faith transformed Peter, and transforms us to trust Jesus.
First, faith has the opportunity to transform us when all we have is faith. When it’s bright and sunny and everything’s going great there’s no need for faith. Why did Jesus say that it was harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? Entering into the kingdom of heaven requires giving over all your life to trusting Jesus by faith, and humanly speaking many rich people don’t have a need to give over their life to anyone— they can take care of themselves just fine, thank you. But when the wind and the waves start blowing, and we desperately look around for anything to steady us, and we see Jesus, then is when faith can work a miracle in us.
Second, trusting Jesus by faith means trusting Him as Lord. This is actually the first time in Matthew that Peter addresses Jesus as “Lord.” It’s actually a great word study to study the situations where people address Jesus as “Lord”— the overwhelming majority of the time it is when they want something out of Him, usually in great distress and desperation. Jesus eagerly waits for us to trust Him, but honestly not just as a friend or the man upstairs, but as Lord.
Third, we can only trust through faith or doubt through unbelief– we cannot do both. Peter found this out in a split second— that the human mind can focus on only one thing— either trust or doubt. It’s like there’s a single parking spot in our soul, and only one vehicle can fit into it at a time. You can park trust in there, or you can park doubt, and it’s your choice. But— the choice you make— trust or doubt— will dictate everything else in your life. Peter chose to trust Jesus, and he was enabled to walk on water. But when he took his eyes off the reality of King Jesus, when he abandoned his spiritual sight and started using his physical sight instead, in an instant he moved trust out of his parking space and moved doubt back in. That is the value of keeping our minds continually attuned to the presence of God, so that our lives can be ruled by faith and trust, not by doubt and unbelief.
Faith Transforms Us to Be Faithful to Jesus
Finally, the life of Peter teaches us that faith can transform us to be faithful to Jesus in every trial. In Luke 22:31-34 we see the prelude to the great stumbling of Peter’s faith, before he denied Him:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.
The Bible has a lot to say about faith and trials. The first principle that we should know is that faith is the answer to every trial. When you’re in a rough time, or even a desperately hard time, it is not knowledge or cunning or strength or any other ability that will enable you to prevail, it is faith. Look carefully at James 1:2-4:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James clearly sees that it is faith that will see us through any trial, and will result in our soul becoming fully mature.
Second, the Bible shows us that faith transforms us to walk as children of God in any trial. When the way is dark and we can’t see how a trial will end, how will we respond, how will we keep going? That’s what faith is about, about transforming us to keep walking, to keep responding in love, trust, & courage when we can’t see the path. Look at a passage from the life of Paul in Acts 27:21-25:
Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.
Here is Paul, a prisoner on a ship that is in the middle of a fierce storm that has lasted for weeks. Even the captain has no idea of where they are or where land is. But in the midst of this hopeless situation Paul shines as a beacon of light because of his faith. Through faith, we don’t have to respond in fear, despair, anger, or any other negative emotion, through faith we can walk in the light and the life of God.
Finally, the Bible teaches that our faithfulness is guaranteed by God. Just like Peter, we all will stumble in our faith, we will all bitterly disappoint ourselves. But Jesus never gave up on Peter, and he will never give up on us. He calls us all his sheep, and teaches in John 10:27-30 that…
My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail (Luke 22:32), and Jesus prays for you and for me. Our faith can never fail because of Jesus.
The Rest of the Story
There is one more passage from Peter’s life worth looking at. As the radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, there is a “rest of the story” for Peter, after the bitterness of his denying Christ. It happens in Acts 5:27-29—
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Here Peter is at another trial of the Sanhedrin, the same ruling council that a few years earlier had condemned Jesus to death. But this time Peter is not just an observer, he is the man facing death. And what is his response at this trial? Does he out of fear deny Jesus? No, he leads the rest of the apostles in affirming the truth in courage. Here is the ordinary fisherman, transformed by the power of faith in Jesus, stunning the rulers of his day.
Faith had done its work, transforming Peter to see Jesus as the Christ, to trust Jesus, and to be faithful to Him. This same faith, this same Jesus, can work the same transformation in our lives today. It is all available to us, as we put our faith in Him.