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Following one of his breathtaking performances, the world renowned pianist Ignace Paderewski was told by an admirer, "Maestro, you are a genius." He replied, "Genius? Perhaps. But before I was a genius, I was a drudge." He was referring to the many years spent in endless hours of practice, unnoticed and unheralded. He wanted to make clear that however much his talent appeared to be inborn, it nevertheless took a great deal of work to develop.
In our culture, we have the phenomenon of the "overnight sensation." Sports legends, movie stars, and popular music artists burst upon the scene out of nowhere. We are ignorant of the years they spent honing their skills, paying their dues, and waiting tables.
Before Peter strode center stage on the floor of the Sanhedrin chamber, he had spent his life in the relative obscurity of a Galilean fishing village. But it was his brief, life-transforming time in the company of the Master - paying his dues - that prepared him for that moment in the spotlight.
It all started one day in the deserts of Judea, close by the Jordan River. Peter, whose name at the time was Simon, was going about his business as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. His brother Andrew - his fishing partner - had apparently been missing in action for a few days. Suddenly, Andrew appeared and out of the blue told Simon, "We've found him! We've found the Messiah."
What? Simon might have wondered for a moment if his brother had spent a little too much time in the wine cellar. But I'm sure Andrew went on to explain all that had happened in the previous few days. He had been following a mysterious prophet called John the Baptist, who was creating a stir down by the river. Born into a priestly family, John had exchanged the prestigious life of a priest for the hazardous calling of a prophet. (It was hazardous because the people had a nasty habit of expressing disapproval by stoning the prophets.) John had embraced a ministry of hard-hitting, challenging, prophetic preaching. His pulpit was a barren hillside, his sanctuary a desert wasteland. But his message was loud and clear: "The kingdom we've all been talking about is about to burst upon us. The Promised One we've heard about from our earliest days is about to appear. It's time to get ready - and that means a total change of heart. It's repentance time. Time to humble yourselves in public and confess that your lives need cleansing and forgiving. Time to decide whom you will serve."
This was radical preaching. Amazingly, the people flocked to hear John the Baptist even though he was rude and unkempt. People of social standing were not usually referred to as a "generation of vipers," but this is precisely what he called some of them.
An unknown carpenter named Jesus had joined the crowds and moved among them unrecognized. One day Jesus approached and requested baptism by John. At first declining, John finally agreed to baptize Jesus, and a remarkable thing happened. The Father's voice from heaven boomed out a powerful statement of approval of Jesus. There was a stirring in the heavens and the invisible Spirit of God assumed the form of a dove, resting intentionally upon Jesus, pointing out that Jesus was indeed none other than the Son of God.
Andrew and an unnamed friend were somewhere in the crowd, listening to John's preaching. They were there when John pointed to Jesus and proclaimed the stunning news, "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Everybody within the sound of John's voice understood what this meant. The sacrificial system of the time required a lamb to be offered as a substitutionary sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. To be told that there was a man in their midst who would become a sacrificial substitute for the sin of the world - that was mind-boggling.
Andrew and his friend heard, and they badly wanted to believe. They promptly followed Jesus, who invited them to where He was staying. It was late afternoon, but they spent time together, and during those minutes or hours - who knows? - something profound happened. The men became convinced beyond a doubt that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Lamb who would take away their sin.
So Andrew rushed to tell his brother Simon. The news must have resonated with Simon, because the two brothers immediately took off looking for Jesus. They finally approached him, only to be stopped in their tracks. As Jesus looked at Simon He said, "You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas." The Greek equivalent of Cephas is Petros, which in English becomes "Peter." And the meaning of all those names is "Rock." So without introduction or preamble, without ever having laid eyes on Simon before, Jesus got right down to business and said in effect, "I know who you are, and I know what you're going to become. You're going to be a rock."
Notice how Jesus phrased his declaration: "You are Simon ... you will be Cephas." Present tense, future tense. What is Jesus seeing in this man Simon? Potential. You are one thing now, but you will be something else in the future.
This encounter did not happen by accident. It was God at work, a divine appointment. It's important to recognize this because we need to be aware that God has his own perspective on our lives. He is looking at us, and He knows us in a way that no one else can know. Our friends and family and even our enemies have opinions about us, but the only accurate perception is God's. We need to be brought into the position where we're exposed to the divine perspective. Peter came face-to-face with the divine perspective on his life on the day that he met Jesus. But what exactly was it?
When Jesus lived in Palestine, names usually reflected the parents' hopes and aspirations for their children. When a new name was given, it usually spoke of an unmistakable change in character or direction. In Simon's case, when Jesus gave him a new name, it meant that Jesus had something special in mind for the fisherman. This man would become a rock in the plan of God for humanity.
It's interesting that we don't know how Simon reacted to his remarkable introduction to Jesus. He must have wondered what in the world this guy had in mind for him. But there is no doubt that when Jesus looked carefully at Simon, He saw right into the soul of the man and recognized something that others might never have noticed. He saw Simon's potential.
It takes a trained eye to see what others cannot see. It took a Michelangelo to look at a spoiled block of marble, on which others had worked to no avail, and "see" his famous statue, David. What others saw as a crude block of stone at worst, or an unmanageable project at best, Michelangelo envisioned as a figure of a young boy about to confront a giant. The fourteen-feet high masterpiece stands to this day in Florence, Italy, as a testimonial to the artist's skill and his eye for potential.
John tells us in his gospel that Jesus "did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man" (John 2:25). But what did Jesus see in Simon that led him to rename him Peter - Rock? He saw exactly what Simon could become in his hands. In addition, He knew what it would take to get him from where he was to where he needed to be. There was a possibility, a potential for all manner of things to happen in Simon Peter's life. This is true of us all.
Let's think about the sheer potential wrapped up in any individual life. Look at an acorn. It's packed with potential. It is just a little nut, but if you put it in the right place, under the right circumstances, and hang around long enough, it can become an oak tree. We, even more than an acorn, are packed with potential. Of course, this potential can take different shapes and different forms. There are four key words that explain the way God views the potential in human beings: creation, fall, redemption, and glory.
Every human being is created by God and is therefore of great value and significance. Unlike the rest of the created order, humans are created in the divine image, so we reflect the creative genius of God. We are invested with creative abilities which, when channeled correctly, produce blessing and bounty for the whole of humanity. What creative abilities did Peter have? He was a good fisherman, but beyond that, he may have been unaware of his God-given significance. The possibility of having a positive impact on the world was present, but hidden.
Because we are created, we have a vast potential for good.
After Creation came the Fall. This happened when humans decided we knew better than God, that we could function well independently. The result was certainly a degree of independence. Unfortunately, it was the kind of independence a ship experiences when it drifts from its anchor onto the rocks, or a teenager enjoys when he throws off the restraints of a loving home to end up disillusioned in a prodigal's pig pen. A person who throws off divine controls does not enter a spiritual vacuum called freedom, but rather a dominating environment fraught with evil. Peter would have moments in which he thought he knew better than Jesus, only to be severely reprimanded by the Master for his submission to the "things of men," rather than the "things of God" (Matthew 16:23).
Because we are fallen, we have a potential for evil.
The presence of the Son of God on earth speaks loudly of the fact that God is neither disinterested in the human condition, nor disengaged as far as a remedy is concerned. He sent his Son into the world to redeem the world. In New Testament times, the slave market was a familiar sight in many cities and towns. Wretched people who were regarded as pieces of property were stood up on blocks and traded like cattle. Occasionally, someone would take pity on a slave, pay the price to purchase them, and set them free. The word for this was "redemption." This word found its way into the New Testament to describe what happened when Jesus stepped into the slave market of human existence, where - at the cost of his own life - He purchased our freedom. If we acknowledge his goodness and accept his benevolent reign in our lives, we begin to discover that He frees us from fear, disillusionment, and despair and leads us into new vistas of hope. Peter's commitment to Christ allowed him to be redeemed even in the face of his own unworthiness, and a lifetime of incredible growth and significance followed.
Because we are redeemed, we have a thrilling potential for growth.
Because Christ's work of redemption is designed not only to rescue us from the consequences of sin, but also to eventually remove us from its presence and finally deliver us from its power, there are dimensions of redemption that will not be fully realized until we make it to glory. The redeemed person is always looking to the future, to the time when Christ will return to complete the work of redemption, with a view to what we will ultimately become. We have a sense of anticipation that serves as a challenge to reach ever upward and onward, and that brings peace and comfort when life is hard. For we know that there will be a brighter day tomorrow, and one day we will be home in the presence of Christ. Late in his life Peter would write, "The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast" (1 Peter 5:10).
Because we are bound for glory, we have a potential for joyful significance.
If we want to be fully the people we were created to be, we've got to think in terms of our God-given potential. We must choose whether the horizons of our lives are to be determined by our own ambitions or if we're going to open ourselves up to discovering God's perspective on our lives.
Sad to say, so often we fail to do that. As a result, it may be that vast potentials lie latent within the human soul. It seems to me that we often settle for considerably less than God had in mind when He created us. After all, as King David said, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). If that's true, we must have been made for some fearfully wonderful purpose. Do you have any idea of the magnitude of your potential? When Jesus made his startling declaration that changed Peter's name and his life, it was a beacon for us. The message is: Jesus knows the vast potential in all of us, even if we don't. He knows our ultimate purpose.
Like each and every one of us, Peter had a potential for good and evil, for growth and for significance - and it would all add up to his God-given purpose. What Peter had yet to discover was that he would have the responsibility of determining whether his potential would be fulfilled. If he followed Jesus and cooperated with him, he would realize his potential. If he chose not to, his potential would lie dormant. We will see that Peter's choice led him to fulfill a purpose far greater than anything he could have imagined. His decision to follow Jesus would be the turning point in his life, the beginning of the development of his true potential.
So the last we saw Peter, he was standing slightly bemused and confused before Jesus, who in one short moment had peered into his soul, looked into his future, and summarized his life by seeing his potential and declaring his purpose. "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas." Afterward, as Peter and Andrew made their way home along the banks of the Jordan, their minds were no doubt buzzing as they processed the dramatic encounter with Jesus. But on arriving home, things settled down, life returned to normal, and they took up their old routine of fishing in the beautiful Lake Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee), trading their catch, and washing their nets. Until one day, after an amazing miracle at the local synagogue, Jesus happened to stop by Peter's house, where Peter's mother-in-law was suffering from a fever. He immediately healed her, and following this miraculous display, He was swamped with needy people who cried out to him for help and comfort. I can just picture Peter standing by in quiet awe. Maybe He really is the Messiah.
After leaving Galilee for a time, Jesus returned and was again besieged by a mob who hung on his every word. They crowded around him to such an extent that He was in danger of being pushed into the lake. Peter was nearby washing his nets. Jesus climbed into Peter's boat, and asked him to put out a short distance.
Excerpted from Brave Enough to Follow by Stuart Briscoe Copyright © 2004 by Stuart Briscoe. Excerpted by permission.
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|Introduction: Unschooled, Ordinary Men||11|
|Chapter 1||It's All About Potential||19|
|Chapter 2||Fishers of Men||37|
|Chapter 3||Hillside Classroom||53|
|Chapter 4||Meager Resources, Divine Provision||71|
|Chapter 5||Sincerely Wrong||91|
|Chapter 6||Hard to Be Humble||109|
|Chapter 7||The Road to Jerusalem||129|
|Chapter 8||Ecstasy and Perplexity||145|
|Chapter 9||An Unbelievable Day||161|
|Chapter 10||Stricken Shepherd, Scattered Sheep||179|
|About the Author||205|