Jerusalem holiday crowd like to those Shimon Kefa preached to
Downtown Jerusalem moved with the normal busyness of a national holiday. It was a cloudless spring day. The city was energized by cheerful activity. Social upheaval had marked the previous festival time of Passover so her citizens were looking for a respite from violence and tension. Suddenly there was a roaring sound. Residents and visitors alike rushed to investigate. What was it? They arrived in time to see dozens pouring out of a large house, shouting in many languages. This arresting, confusing phenomenon drew the attention of a large crowd demanding to know why they were hearing “the wonderful works of God” described in their own tongues.
It was the first century, not the twenty-first. But perhaps we can overlay this scene from the Book of Acts on today’s Jerusalem and imagine the tension, interest and risk involved in what happened next. Shimon Kefa stood up with the eleven who had lived with Yeshua, and began to explain. “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem … Men of Israel … let all the House of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Yeshua, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” What extraordinary boldness and simplicity carried his message. Those listening were pierced in their hearts. Three thousand came to faith in Yeshua that day. Shimon Peter, went on to become the Lord’s primary messenger to the Jewish people.
1st Century Jewish Apostles – Our Inspiration
“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers glorified His servant Yeshua.” “You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with our fathers … To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Yeshua, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.” With such overt phrases the original Israeli disciples of Yeshua addressed their message directly to their fellow Jews. They spoke into the context of a common history and culture rooted in the Torah and the Prophets. The content of their message was equally clear. They declared Yeshua to be Israel’s Messiah, in fulfillment of the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh), securely tying their message to its authority.
“… those things which God foretold by the mouth of His prophets, that the Messiah would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.” (Acts 3:18)
I have become convinced that to fulfill our calling as disciples of Yeshua, having returned to Israel, we must recover the dynamic of the Jewish apostles of the first century. We need to preach the same message they preached, to the same nation they were a part of, with the courage and faith that propelled them. But what was behind that message? What prepared them for their calling as pioneers, as new leaders, as those intensely persecuted? By what path did Shimon Peter, the man who boldly stood in Yerushalayim to declare Yeshua, arrive as an apostolic messenger? This “mighty” Messianic Jewish preacher had not always been so. His formation as a servant of God can encourage and equip us.
Yeshua nicknamed him “Rock, Kefa.” From the moment he left his net, Yeshua captured and held Kefa’s heart. He is referred to in the Gospels more times than any other disciple (about 170). He is constantly quoted. We see him asking, answering, trying, failing, learning. His combination of zeal and shoot-from-the-hip honesty frequently backfired, leaving him to fall on his face. Once, fishing all night he caught nothing (Luke 5). At the Master’s word he launched out again and let down the net. Shocked at the bulging catch, Shimon fell at Yeshua’s feet, saying “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Instead, Yeshua called him to fish for men.
From Zeal to Shame and Back Again
Peter was the only disciple who walked on water. What a demonstration of zeal and devotion to the Messiah! Of course, once he’s on the water fear takes over and he begins to fall. Yeshua picks him up. It is so easy to identify with this man. He wants with all his heart to please the Lord and to walk with Him, but his natural self just can’t sustain it. Later he “gets it right” by identifying Yeshua as the Messiah (Matthew 16:16). But several verses after that he falls badly by rebuking Him for predicting His own death. Yeshua tells him “Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to me …” (Matt. 16:23). The “rock” is rocking from zeal to shame and back again. Remind you of someone? It reminds me of me. I too have my “elevated moments” of grasping divine truth. But I also have plenty of occasions of stupidity and spiritual denseness, where later I think, “How could I have been so blind?”
After zealously cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant (and again being reproved by Yeshua), Shimon denies the Lord three times in a startling display of disloyalty toward his arrested rabbi. Mere hours before, he swore readiness to give his life for Yeshua’s sake. This man is clearly constructed of the same material as you and me … flesh and blood, fear, inconsistency, inadequacy, insecurity. What future could there possibly be for this unpredictable disciple? Honestly, would he qualify for your leadership team?
Yeshua’s Response to Peter’s Fall
At the sea where Peter first saw Yeshua’s power and fell at his feet, he met Him again, resurrected. This was their first encounter after the betrayal. Why did Peter run toward Yeshua, not away from Him? I believe it is a message to us about how Yeshua relates to us after we fail. His words to Peter clearly contain a taste of disappointment. Yeshua asks him three times, paralleling the denials, “Do you love me?” What can the man say? What can we say? “Yes, Yeshua, you know that I love you. You know that I’m heartsick over failing you again. I don’t see how I can really serve you effectively, be known as your follower, or come anywhere near the potential you see in me.”
Then Yeshua comes back with the command “Feed my sheep.” If I’m Peter I’m thinking “What did I just hear? He really wants to use me to take care of His flock after what I did?” Yes. Look at what He did with Peter. After his many falls, the Galilean fisherman stood before Jerusalemites, the Temple crowd, the Sanhedrin Court and the house of Cornelius. He did not respond with natural strength or momentary excitement, but was filled with the Spirit of God and used mightily to bring salvation to his generation and beyond. He really did become a “rock.”
God’s Outrageous Plan to Use Fallen, Forgiven People
I want to encourage you right now with this same message. I have fallen many times since coming to Israel. Amazingly, Yeshua keeps picking me up, enabling me to stand again in His purposes. Whatever you have attempted that seemed to fail, whatever good-intentioned move you made that proved foolish, whatever blunder you later wished you could retract … Yeshua has not given up on you. He never gave up on Peter. He forgave him and, more than that, commissioned him to “Feed my sheep.” In spite (or because?) of his falls, Kefa was God’s first choice to proclaim Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah, on the Day of Shavuot (Pentecost). For what has He chosen you? If you have fallen, He will lift you. If you have failed, through your brokeness He will bring lasting success.
Who are we to follow in the footsteps of the apostles?? How can we dare to believe that our meager efforts and tiny movement will remotely resemble the society-shaking effect of the original Messianic Jewish communities in Israel? Our qualifications are the same as Shimon’s and the others in the Book of Acts. Of them (and us) Shaul said:
“… not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty … and the things which are despised God has chosen …” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).
He who falls will stand.