After the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, on the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and preached to a crowd that had gathered in Jerusalem for the harvest festival.
The Bible says that 3,000 people became believers that day (Acts 2:41). That is some Billy Graham-level preaching right there.
Nowhere does it say that Jesus ever converted 3,000 people in one day. He was more of the one-conversion-at-a-time kind of evangelist.
So, what was so special about Peter? What made him the rock upon which the church would be built (Matthew 16:18)? What made God choose him for this special assignment?
If we look at the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – we learn that:
Peter was a fisherman. As a fisherman, he worked nights, so we regularly see him falling asleep when he is supposed to be keeping watch for Jesus.
Peter is clearly a workaholic, because as soon as the tomb is empty, Peter is right back to fishing.
Peter had a brother named Andrew, and a dad named Jonah (is that a fishing joke?).
Peter was married, and a homeowner.
Peter was a sinner. We don’t know the exact nature of Peter’s sins — Was he a liar? A cheater? Did he disrespect his parents? – Only that when Jesus caused Peter’s nets to overflow with fish, Peter was humbled, and “he fell at Jesus’s knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5:8).
Later, Jesus called him “Satan” and a “stumbling block” (Matthew 16:23). Ouch.
Peter had issues with forgiveness. He thought it was merciful of him to give his brother Andrew seven chances to stop getting on his nerves, but Jesus tells him to keep forgiving until he gets to 77 (Matthew 18:22).
Peter was Captain Obvious. When Jesus was walking through a crowd of people and asked, “Who touched me?” (Luke 8:45), Peter responded, “Um, everyone?” Later, after Jesus cursed a fig tree, Peter walked by it the next day and said, “Hey look! It really did die!” (Mark 11:21). Yep. Captain Obvious.
Peter could go from faith to doubt in no time. In Matthew 14:29, Peter walked on water. Holy faith! But the next verse says he started to sink. Jesus had to rescue him and called him out as “ye of little faith” (v. 31).
Peter was uneducated. Jesus calls him “dull” (Matthew 15:16). The people call him “unschooled” and “ordinary” (Acts 4:13).
Peter liked to help others but wasn’t good at receiving care in return. Luke 22 says that he and John made all the preparations for the Passover meal – all the cooking, cleaning and setting the table for Jesus’ Last Supper – but in John 13 he freaks out when Jesus tries to wash his feet.
Peter was reactionary. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden, Peter pulls out his sword and cuts off a guy’s ear. Calm down, Pete.
Peter was dramatic. He told Jesus he would never – not in a million years – disown him. Spoiler alert: Peter would disown Jesus three times by morning.
In summary, Peter was a brother, son, friend and fisherman. He worked third shift and barely graduated high school. He was dramatic and reactionary and not very good at sports (see John 20:4). He could walk on water and still have doubts. He had a hard time forgiving people, especially his siblings, and had some other sins in the closet that we don’t need to bring out.
So, back to the original question: What was so special about Peter?
Not a whole lot by the world’s standards. He really wasn’t any different than you and me.
His life was consumed with his job and his relationships. He wanted to believe in and serve Jesus with his whole heart, but often got distracted by doubts and human concerns, aka “real life”.
He was an ordinary man, and yet he had an extraordinary calling on his life.
That, right there, is the key.
It wasn’t anything that Peter did or said that made him extraordinary. In fact, he wasn’t extraordinary at all. That line about him being an “unschooled, ordinary” man was said AFTER his preaching had brought in a harvest of 3,000 new believers!
Peter was ordinary, but what God did through his life was extraordinary.
God still can and does want to do extraordinary things through ordinary people today.
If your heart is willing, even if your flesh is weak, God can do extraordinary things through you!
Katie Ubry-Terrell is a member of the Religious Society of Friends/Quakers and serves as Coordinator for the Wilmington Yearly Meeting.
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.