Many biographies begin with the record of the physical birth of the person being written about. But in our study of the life of Peter, we begin with the record of his spiritual birth. We cannot begin sooner in his life, for Scripture is silent about Peter’s early life. When Scripture brings Peter on the scene in his conversion experience, he is already a married adult (Matthew 8:14), a fisherman by trade (Matthew 4:18), and living near the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee in the city of Bethsaida (John 1:44). But to begin Peter’s biography with his conversion is not a bad place to start, for real life does not begin until one is saved.
Peter’s conversion experience was not a spectacular event which would turn the heads of those who might witness it. It was simply a quiet encounter with Jesus Christ. But though a quiet encounter, it was still an event of tremendous magnitude because of what happened to him. As is the case in every conversion, that which happens to the person is the greatest thing that can happen to any person—a sin corrupted soul is saved from the damnation of hell and given eternal life in heaven. No event is greater for man to experience.
To examine the conversion of Peter, we will consider three things which the Scripture specifically reports were involved in his conversion. They are the concern by his brother (vv. 40, 41), the communication about his Messiah (v. 41), and the change in his name (v. 42).
A. THE CONCERN BY HIS BROTHER
Peter was brought to Christ by his brother Andrew. Andrew and John (the writer of the Gospel of John) were pointed to Christ by John the Baptist (John 1:35–39). After the two had spent some time with Christ and had become acquainted with Him, Andrew set out to find Peter to tell him about the Lord. "He . . . findeth his own brother Simon . . . And he brought him to Jesus" (John 1:41,42). It is a simple, yet inspiring and instructive, account of a brother bringing a brother to Christ.
Dr. Plummer says, "In Church history St. Peter is everything, and St. Andrew is nothing: but would there have been an Apostle Peter but for Andrew?" Andrew did not write any books of the Bible, and he was not one of the main leaders of the early church, but a tremendous work occurred because Andrew went after his brother Peter and brought him to the Lord, for he brought to Christ a man who became one of the greatest of the Apostles. The same can be said about those who have won a Moody or other great man of God to the Lord. These folk are unknown for the most part, but their faithful testimony to Moody and others resulted in a great work of God. It is not necessary to be a great and famous preacher conducting city-wide campaigns to accomplish much for the Lord. Andrew did a tremendous work by just bringing his brother to the Lord.
In noting that Peter was not the first of the twelve disciples to be saved (he was actually the third of the disciples to be saved), Matthew Henry says, "If Peter had been the first-born of Christ’s disciples, the papists would have made a noise with it; he did indeed afterwards come to be more eminent in gifts, but Andrew [and John] had the honor first to be acquainted with Christ, and to be the instrument of bringing Peter to him."
To examine the concern Andrew had for his brother Peter to come to Christ, we will note the reason for the concern, the responsibility for the concern, and the resoluteness of the concern.
1. The Reason for the Concern
That which inspired Andrew’s concern for Peter was his personal acquaintance with Jesus Christ. Once Andrew came to know Christ, he set out to bring Peter to Christ. Andrew had come to know the One Who was above all others. He had become acquainted with the Messiah. It was such a great experience that he had to tell others, and the first he sought out to tell was his brother Peter.
The first prerequisite for telling others about Christ is to know Christ yourself. Andrew was able to bring Peter to Christ because Andrew had first of all come to Christ himself. As another said, "To get other people as far as Peter, we must first of all have got as far as Andrew ourselves" (D. Young). All the training in the world will not make up for the lack of personal experience in knowing Christ. And, on the other hand, a great deal of training is not necessary for one to bring another to Christ. Andrew had not been to any special school; nor had he been given special instruction and authority by some synagogue to engage in evangelism. He had simply come to know Christ himself, and that moved him to tell others of Christ. Training is often very necessary for other areas of service, and we do not negate the value of training for the Lord’s service. But the lesson here is that a genuine salvation experience is the one essential requirement for encouraging others to come to Christ. When a person is saved, no matter what his gifts or abilities, he can at least do as Andrew and go to others and simply tell them that he is saved (or as Andrew said, "We have found the Messiah") and then take them where they can learn more about Christ. But he cannot do this if he is not saved himself. The motivation, the inspiration, the desire will simply not be there.
In view of this primary requirement for evangelism, it is no accident that apostate churches do not preach the Gospel and do not evidence concern about evangelizing the souls of men. They have never tasted of salvation themselves and, therefore, lack the primary ingredient to motivate them to tell others of Christ. Many in our fundamental churches give evidence that they, too, have never been saved; for they seem very disinterested in the work of getting out the Gospel message. Church to them is merely a social center—a place for suppers, games, parties, and get-togethers. They are very interested in that part of the church; but when it comes to proclaiming the good news that Jesus Christ is the sinner’s great need and hope, they fade away. Such folk may have been on the church membership rolls for decades, but they obviously are not born again.
However, when a man comes to know Christ, he will have a built-in interest in seeing others come to Christ. Yes, he may backslide and have his zeal diminished by disobedience; but the desire for others to know Christ will never be taken completely away. Salvation brings a built-in concern to spread the Gospel. Some may manifest the concern more than others, but all the redeemed will have the concern. It comes with salvation. Lacking it says one just may not saved.
2. The Responsibility for the Concern
Andrew was wise to be concerned about Peter. In fact, that is where his concern for the salvation of others should properly begin. To be concerned about the salvation of one’s own brother—which in principle is to be concerned about those closest to you—is our first responsibility in proclaiming the Gospel. Missions begin at home. It does not stop at home, of course; and we remind our readers of that fact lest some conclude that foreign missions are not our responsibility. But what we are saying here is that our first mission is to those right around us. Christ emphasized this truth when He told the disciples after His resurrection that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached . . . among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). First it is Jerusalem; then it is Judea and Samaria and the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). The maniac of Gerasenes was also taught this truth by Christ. He who roamed the tombs of Gerasenes met Christ and was dramatically changed. He then wanted, quite understandably, to travel with Christ; but Christ told him to rather "Return to thine own house, and show what great things God hath done unto thee" (Luke 8:39).
There are some who are always talking about evangelism overseas and in far off places of the world who never seem very interested in evangelism at home. For these folk distance seems to lend enchantment for proclaiming the Gospel to others. Many pastors have struggled with congregations like this to get them burdened to reach their own community. Such a church talks much about missions, nearly idolizes missionaries, and views the mission budget as sacred ground. But try getting those folk to spend money on reaching the folk around them—such as in a local radio ministry or visitation program or articles in the local newspaper or a distribution of Gospel literature to homes in the area of the church or other local efforts—and they suddenly grow indifferent and tighten their purse strings. We commend their interest in reaching distant lands with the Gospel, but to fail to have the same zeal for reaching the local area really condemns them. The same condemnation exists for those people who claim they are called to be missionaries in foreign lands who evidence little evangelistic interest and activity in their own church. They seem enchanted with the idea of going overseas to tell others the Gospel; but if you ask them to teach a Sunday School class or give their testimony in a jail service, they are full of excuses. But Andrew was a different story, he had his priorities right—he started with his own brother in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. The Resoluteness of the Concern
Andrew’s concern for Peter was very strong. Two words in our text demonstrate the resoluteness of his concern for Peter’s conversion. They are "findeth" (v. 41) and "brought" (v. 42).
"Findeth" indicated that Andrew had to look for Peter. He had to put forth considerable effort to find Peter. And he looked for Peter until he did find him. He was so resolute in his pursuit of Peter that he would not stop until he had succeeded in finding his brother. Therefore, Andrew’s zeal was not a temporary, spur-of-the-moment thing. It would endure time and effort. Unlike some people who get all excited in a church service about spreading the Gospel but whose zeal diminishes as soon as they walk out the church doors, Andrew’s desire was lasting.
"Brought" indicates that Andrew did not stop at just the telling of Peter about the fact that he and John ("We" [v. 41]) had found the Messiah. He pursued his objective of bringing Peter to Christ until he was able to get Peter to come with him to see Christ. The word "brought" comes from a Greek word which according to Thayer means "to drive, lead . . . to lead by laying hold of . . . to lead by accompanying." A. T. Robertson says the use of the word could indicate that "Andrew had to overcome some resistance on Simon’s part." Whether Peter resisted a great deal or just a little bit, the word "brought" shows the resoluteness of Andrew in wanting to see Peter come to Christ. To put it in today’s language, he did not just tell him to go to church and hear the Gospel—he took him to church himself to make sure he got there and heard about Christ.
Andrew’s resoluteness reminds us that in proclaiming the Gospel we must have dedication to keep at it steadfastly if we are going to succeed in telling others of Christ. Not only do we need resoluteness in a case like Peter where the person comes to the Lord, but we also especially need it when folk do not respond well to the Gospel. Today, most people that we tell of Christ will not be like Peter; for most people are totally disinterested in the Gospel. In fact, they are so disinterested in the Gospel that faithful witnesses feel much like Noah who only got eight souls in the ark and one of the eight was himself. With that sort of response, one can become discouraged quickly in proclaiming the Gospel and, therefore, will need much dedication in proclaiming Christ if he is going to be a faithful witness for Him. Of course, we have those who tell us that folk on every hand are ready to accept the Gospel message if we just present it to them properly. But those who proclaim the true message of salvation and who understand the Biblical description of the day we are living in know such an idea is not valid.
B. THE COMMUNICATION ABOUT HIS MESSIAH
When Andrew found Peter, he announced to him, "We have found the Messiah" (v. 41). It was a simple and short message, but it was a message which communicated to Peter the most important news possible.
In looking at this communication to Peter about Christ, we will note the greatness of the communication, the enthusiasm of the communication, the knowledge in the communication, and the dogmatism in the communication.
1. The Greatness of the Communication
To find the Messiah, to find the Savior of our souls, is the greatest discovery of all. Man gets all excited when he discovers gold or silver or other precious metals in the earth’s soil. He also gets very excited when he discovers oil, especially in our day when oil is so needful in society. But these discoveries, as important as they may seem to be to mankind, all pale into insignificance in comparison to the great discovery of Andrew and John in finding the Messiah. After all, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:36,37). Nothing matters so much as our soul salvation.
The word "found" in our text (John 1:41) comes from the Greek word "eureka." Because of the significant repetition of the words "findeth" and "found" (John 1:41,43,45) in this first chapter of John, this chapter "has been called the chapter of the Eurekas" (Marvin Vincent). The eureka statement and use of the word in our text reminds us of Archimedes’ famous "eureka" when he discovered how to find the weight of gold in the king’s crown. But as H. R. Reynolds said, it is a "more wonderful Eureka than that of Archimedes." Indeed, there is no comparison.
2. The Enthusiasm of the Communication
The original text of Scripture does not have punctuation, for the Greek language did not use it. In our English translations, we wisely insert punctuation to help us better read the text. Here, an exclamation point needs to be inserted after the great statement by Andrew. It should read, "We have found the Messiah!" Andrew did not yawn through this statement. He (along with John) had spent much of one day in the presence of Jesus Christ, and the experience so inspired him that he immediately sought out Peter to relate the great news.
The great hope of the Jews was wrapped up in the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, to say that one had found the Messiah could only be said with great enthusiasm. It was exclamatory news! For millenniums Israel had looked and waited for the Messiah. Now He is here.
While we decry artificial and fleshly emotionalism in our services, it needs to be said, on the other hand, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ ought to be proclaimed enthusiastically. Can we expect the unsaved to get interested in that which is not presented with enthusiasm? An insurance salesman or car salesman or clothes salesman, as an example, will demonstrate great enthusiasm when trying to sell you his product. If he doesn’t, we will not be encouraged to buy. Furthermore, he dishonors his product if he does not show enthusiasm for it. In like manner, a dull and indifferent proclaiming of the Gospel not only can disinterest the listener; but it will also dishonor the message. Of course, the world and carnal Christians will criticize when the preacher gets excited and preaches with enthusiasm. But that is the only way to proclaim the Biblical message. It is "we have found the Messiah!" with an exclamation point.
3. The Knowledge in the Communication
To be able to say that you had found the Messiah meant that you knew what the identifying marks of the Messiah were. Andrew had to know Scripture to know the facts about the Messiah and, therefore, to know if a person was truly the Messiah or not. To his credit he was well versed in the Old Testament. He had to have meditated and pondered well the Scripture regarding the Messiah.
Andrew’s knowledge of the Word of God rebukes the experts. Though he was just a fisherman, yet he was able to recognize Christ when he met Him. How often it is that the commoner, the ordinary citizen, such as a fisherman or farmer or carpenter or plumber, is much better versed in the Word of God than the one in high position and the one viewed as the expert. Even the religious leaders of Andrew’s day evidenced considerable ignorance regarding the Messiah which the common folk did not. Christ was right in their midst, and they did not recognize Him. They could have examined the Scriptures and confirmed Christ’s claims; but they chose to remain in self-imposed spiritual ignorance, a condition that really curses the soul.
Many folk complain that they cannot know Scripture, for they have not been privileged to attend Bible college or seminary. But all such complaining is simply not valid. Especially so is it not valid in our day, for we have so many opportunities right close at hand to learn the Word of God no matter who we are. In Andrew’s day the people did not have nearly the advantages to learn the Word as we do today. They did not have copies of the Scripture laying around their houses plus access to all sorts of commentaries and sermon books as we do. Scripture portions were scarce; books were nil. Yet Andrew, the fisherman, knew about the Messiah. So you do not have to attend Bible college or seminary to be well versed in the Scripture. College and seminary are fine opportunities, but they are not requirements for knowing well the Word of God. We have seen ordinary laymen in our churches excel far above their peers in Biblical wisdom and knowledge even though they had never attended a Bible college or a seminary. What they had done, however, was apply themselves diligently and regularly to the study of the Scriptures; and it paid off in great spiritual dividends for them. Spiritual ignorance is definitely not a result of a lack of formal training; rather it is generally a lack of spiritual interest and dedication.
4. The Dogmatism in the Communication
Andrew gave no uncertain communication to Peter about the Messiah. He was very dogmatic. There was absolutely no doubt whatsoever in his statement. It was not "We think we have found the Messiah," or "We hope we have found the Messiah," or "We may have found the Messiah." No, it was an emphatic "We have found the Messiah!"
We have just noted that enthusiasm and knowledge are very important in proclaiming the Gospel message. Here we note that dogmatism is also very essential in speaking about Christ. No one will proclaim well the message about Jesus Christ who is not dogmatic about the Gospel. You will not help anyone to be convinced that Christ is the answer if you do not evidence you are convinced. If ever a message needs to ring with certainty, it is the message of salvation. However, those who are dogmatic in proclaiming the Gospel message will encounter many critics. The critics will insist one cannot be certain about the matter of salvation and that, therefore, those who proclaim the Gospel dogmatically are presumptuous, arrogant, and overbearing. But these critics want dogmatism in other areas—they want the banker to be dogmatic about their finances, the doctor to be dogmatic about his diagnosis, and the pilot to be dogmatic about the destiny of the plane. They justifiably do not want any uncertainty in these and other areas, that’s for sure. But in the area of salvation, the area where we need certainty more than in any other area, they criticize dogmatism. But we must not so criticize great certainty in the Gospel. Paul said, "I know whom I have believed" (2 Timothy 1:12) and the Apostle John said, "These things have I written unto you . . . that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (1 John 5:13) to inform us that we can know in the area of salvation with great assurance; and, therefore, we can and should testify with dogmatism. The idea we cannot be sure of our salvation or of how to be saved is simply a lie from Satan who does not want certainty in this area at all. Satan majors on doubt. But the Gospel majors on dogmatism.
C. THE CHANGE IN HIS NAME
When Peter came to Jesus Christ in his conversion experience, he was given a name change. Heretofore, he was known as Simon, the name his parents gave him. But now he is going to also be known as Peter (or Cephas in the Aramaic); for when he came to Christ, Christ said to him, "Thou art Simon, the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, (which is by interpretation, a stone)" (v. 42).
The last statement of this verse which we have put in parenthesis (which is not part of the statement of Christ but an explanatory statement by the writer of the Gospel) should be translated in our English versions as "which is, by interpretation, Peter." This rendering would make it much clearer that the name Peter is involved in the change; and that the change is from Simon to Peter, not from Simon to "A stone." No less a respected authority than Henry Alford insists the translation should be rendered "Peter" instead of "A stone." He says, "The rendering of Petros in this verse should be as in the margin [of the original kjv], Peter, not. . . . a stone." Elsewhere in Scripture, such as in Acts 9:36, this form of translation is wisely used in regard to names. If the text in Acts 9:36 was translated as the John text is, it would be rendered, "which by interpretation is called a gazelle" instead of what it is rendered, "which by interpretation is called Dorcas." This illustration alone should show the need of using "Peter" instead of "A stone" in our text. Furthermore, the Greek text does not have an article before the word "petros" as the translation "a stone" does. So what Jesus is saying here is that Simon’s name is being changed to Peter. A correction in the translation would make this much clearer and would put it in conformity with other texts in Scripture, such as, Luke 6:14 which says, "Simon (whom he also named Peter)," and Matthew 16:18 in which Christ says to Peter, "Thou art Peter," not "Thou art a stone."
The change from Simon to Peter will not occur overnight but will take time. In the Gospels, it will still be Simon many times. Christ, as an example, never addressed Peter personally as Peter but always as Simon. Sometimes, however, you will see in the Gospels the name Peter used before he was regularly called Peter. The reason for that practice is that the Gospels were written a number of years after all of these things took place. Hence, when the writers referred to Simon in the writing of the Gospels, he was referred to as Peter; for by then he was generally known best as Peter.
This changing of names had great significance. At least two very important truths were indicated by this change. They are the authority of Christ and the alteration of character.
1. The Authority of Christ
Naming someone indicates the authority of the one doing the naming over the one being named. The authority of God is seen in His changing the names of others. He changed the name of Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel. The authority of Pharaoh is seen in his changing the name of Joseph to Zaphnath-paaneah, and a later king of Egypt demonstrated his authority in changing the name of Eliakim to Jehoiakim when he made him a vassal ruler of Judah (2 Chronicles 36:4). Babylonian kings also showed their authority when they changed the names of those they appointed vassal rulers of nations they had conquered. As an example, Nebuchadnezzar changed the name of Mattaniah to Zedekiah when he appointed him the vassal king of Judah (2 Kings 24:17). The authority of the husband is also seen in the fact that the wife has her last name changed to that of her husband. Of course, this authority is not esteemed well today, especially among the women’s lib movements; and this disesteem is demonstrated by women who though married continue to go by their pre-marriage last names.
This truth about authority being involved in changing names indicated that in changing Simon’s name to Peter, Christ declared to Simon the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Because of Simon’s nature, he especially needed the authority of Christ impressed upon him. Headstrong and hesitating not to later rebuke the Lord (Matthew 16:22) and to argue with the Lord (John 13:6–10), Peter needed to be instructed from the very beginning as to Who was going to be Boss in this relationship. The name change drove the point home.
The authority of Jesus Christ needs more emphasis today. Too often Christ is presented as nothing more than a fire escape from hell without the fact that He is also Lord of our lives. But "ye are not your own . . . ye are bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19,20); and, therefore, you belong to Christ; and that makes Him your Lord. He paid a tremendous price to redeem your soul. Dare we think that we are our own master and that He is not the Master? Our life must instead be lived as He wants it lived. This, however, is something not many professing believers are doing.
Failure to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ will cause one to have trouble submitting to authority elsewhere. The rebellion that characterizes the world today is rooted and grounded in failure to recognize and respect the authority of God, His Word, and His Son. The lack of respect for authority in the church, especially for the authority of the pastor, is caused by the failure of the church people to be properly submitted to Christ in their lives. But let one bow down to the authority of Christ, and that one will have no trouble demonstrating proper respect for legitimate authority.
2. The Alteration of Character
The most obvious lesson from this name change is the change in character that Peter would experience through coming to Jesus Christ. Names in the Bible reflect character. They are not just some cosmetic tag of identity stuck on a person by the whim and fancy of some parent or other person. Therefore, we are justified in seeing this name change in terms of Peter’s coming character change. Bishop Ryle said, "If it be asked why our Lord gave Simon this new name, the best answer appears to be that it was given with a special reference to the change which grace was to work in Simon’s heart." Simon was most deficient in many areas of his character when he came to Christ. He was rash, headstrong, proud, impulsive, unstable, and had trouble with his mouth. But the name Peter, which meant rock, spoke of firmness, stability, strength, faithfulness—all a contrast to his character deficiencies. In the New Testament we see both the Simon character and the Peter character in this man. Especially after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ does the Peter character begin to stand out prominently. Prior to that, Peter was seen frequently as rash, headstrong, proud, impulsive, unstable, and often saying the wrong things. But once we get to the book of Acts, we see a different man. There he is seen as a strong saint with a vibrant testimony for Christ, a courageous leader of the early church who stood firm and faithful regardless of the circumstances. W. Herschel Ford sums it up when he says, "When Christ finished with him, he was like Gibraltar. The night before His crucifixion he was afraid to tell a servant girl that he knew Jesus. After the resurrection, he could stand before thousands of people and say, ‘You crucified the Lord of glory.’"
This change in Peter’s name not only speaks of the change which came to Peter because he came to Christ, but it also speaks of the change that occurs to every soul that comes to Christ. Maclaren says that in this change of name is "preached to him . . . and to us this great truth, that if you will go to Jesus Christ He will make a new man of you. No man’s character is so obstinately rooted in evil but that Christ can change its set and direction. No man’s natural dispositions are so faulty and low but that Christ can develop counter balancing virtues, and out of the evil and weakness make strength."
Many folk mistakenly feel they must clean up their act before they come to Christ. But they have it all wrong—they need to come to Christ to let Him clean up their act. He alone can do it. He made dramatic changes in Peter and in Paul, as an example; and multitudes of others have also been changed by Christ as by no other. Men try in countless ways to change themselves for the better, but it is all a vain attempt at lifting one up by his own boot straps. It simply cannot be done. Only Christ can bring to man the changes he needs. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17). "In Christ" is the key. Leave that out and it is the same old person.