Simon, son of John, has come a long way since his younger days fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus of Nazareth had invited him to join His mission, nicknaming him ‘Peter’, the ‘man of rock’, promising that with people like him, people of firm, warm-hearted faith, the Lord would build His life-bringing Church.
Peter and his friends have for around three years now been in training, listening, observing, copying their Master. Now Jesus has suffered and died for human sin at Calvary, risen from the dead and returned to God the Father in Heaven, training is over. The Apostles’ mission of church-building has begun and the New Testament book of Acts relates how the early foundations were laid. And one of the central characters in the first fifteen chapters is undoubtedly Simon Peter.
Observe with me here three essential components in the Apostolic ministry that set in place the pattern for generations to come. We see Preaching, Practise and Fellowship.
Firstly we see that absolutely fundamental to the life and work of the Christian Church is the preaching of the Gospel, the sharing of the Good News of God’s offer of grace to the world through His Son Jesus the Christ. What makes us the Church is this unique revelation from the Creator. We are called together to ‘declare the praises of Him Who brings us out of darkness into His wonderful light.’
Here in Acts 2, on the symbolic occasion of Pentecost when Israel celebrates the first fruits of harvest, we’re told Peter and the others are baptised and filled with the Holy Spirit as they’re praying together. Inspired by Jesus’ recent resurrection, and now spiritually equipped for ministry, they come out of hiding into the crowded streets and public areas of Jerusalem and start preaching fearlessly!
Peter takes the lead, quoting Scripture and speaking clearly about Jesus, particularly His death and resurrection. He boldly declares that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, the one Saviour and Lord given by God. He urges his listeners to repent of sin and publicly profess faith in Jesus by being baptised with water which symbolises cleansing and new life.
2000 years later this essential message remains the same. Our deepest human issue is not identity or environment but our rebellion and alienation from our Maker! But God so loves the world he gave His only begotten Son to suffer and die as the perfect offering of atonement so that whoever trusts in Him will not perish in judgement but receive the gift of life eternal! The veracity of this message is authenticated in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the life-transforming work of God the Holy Spirit in His followers.
It remains the duty and the joy of every Christian to share this most positive information as widely as we can until our Master returns in glory!
The closing verses of Acts 2 show us that the ministry of the Apostles was not just words. The preaching was accompanied by the dedicated practice of all Jesus had taught. So we find them sitting loose to material wealth, generously sharing with anyone in need. They worshipped constantly and practised the highest ethical standards. They showed compassion to the poor and sick, and on occasions were enabled to bring about remarkable healing in Jesus’ name, just as He had often done.
The Church of Jesus through the centuries has prompted many positive cultural and social changes worldwide as Christians continue to practise love and kindness in our Master’s name. The abolition of slavery, the establishing of human rights, justice, education and healthcare, all of these owe much to the permeating influence of Christian values.
We’re not always understood or appreciated. Sometimes we are slandered and badly treated. Note how Peter and his friends were willing to suffer the prejudice of the world just like Jesus. These chapters record how they were threatened, flogged, imprisoned even killed and yet these first Christians rejoiced to be identified with their Lord in similar unjust suffering.
The common message and cause, the Spirit indwelling them all and possibly too their solidarity in suffering encouraged the infant Church to become a close fellowship, gladly obeying Christ’s command to love one another with His quality of sacrificial love.
And this is where we find Peter’s leadership so crucial in a radical policy of inclusion. It began on the Day of Pentecost when all these Jewish visitors from Parthia, Media, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Asia and Libya are welcomed into the brotherhood, but it doesn’t end there. In chapter 8 Peter and John welcome Samaritans into the Church.
Samaritans – if you were a Jew, these were the neighbours you resented and distrusted because even though you were distant relatives with some shared heritage, divisions in the past made you sworn enemies and jealous rivals. Like a family feud that goes on for generations. But the radical fellowship of Christ’s Church which Peter and John were building is open to ‘whosoever’ trusts in Him.
This radical diversity continues in ch 10 as Peter accepts a Roman centurion as a fellow believer. We’re told he also accepts former persecutor Saul of Tarsus as a brother in Christ.
Now here is a true Christian and Apostle! A true follower of Jesus, laying a firm and Christlike foundation, loving enemies, forgiving persecutors, demonstrating the grace and mercy and welcome of Jesus by opening the fellowship to every kind of person whatever their background. And here is the original diverse and inclusive society, the Christian Church!
It’s not that the Church welcomes sin, we’ve already seen that where people are doing what God says is wrong they must repent and seek forgiveness. But those who are already Christians and Church members must be careful not to restrict God’s grace with our traditional limits and borders and prejudices. We are to welcome in Jesus’ name everyone who turns from sin and trusts in Him.
Peter has learned a lot from His Master and he’s putting it into practice. He’s laying a foundation with the other Apostles that will last generations, centuries, a foundation on which we’re still building today!
He’s preaching the Good News, practising the teaching of the Lord, building a radical fellowship of those forgiven, saved and renewed by grace.
Insofar as Peter and others have learned from, followed and glorified Jesus let us learn from them and follow their example.