Peter appears to have been the first one to put it all together. He declared that Jesus was the Messiah.
We often look back at Peter, thinking, “Well, that was obvious!” There were actually a number of people wandering around saying they were the messiah. Jesus wasn’t the only one.
The other (false) messiah’s had followers, a lot of them. Some of the false messiah’s sought to overthrow the Roman government. They and their followers were killed (crucified) as rebels.
The religious leaders weren’t any better than the Roman government, as many of them were in league with them. Also, the religious leaders had certain expectations of the messiah (some Scripture-based, many not) that no one could fulfill (and note that Jesus didn’t fulfill all of theirs).
Peter’s declaration of the Messiah was a big deal. He assembled the “clues” together. Despite the failures and deaths of other messiahs, Peter still declared it. There would be a cost for that.
It doesn’t matter whether one takes Jesus’ statement about “the rock” as literal (i.e., the Roman Catholic church), a figurative based upon Peter’s declaration (most Protestant traditions), or the fact the Peter was the first leader of the church. Peter’s place in Church history as both leader and declarer of the Messiah is undeniable.
Peter is also the one that was first called to reaching the Gentiles (non-Jews) with the saving message of the Gospel. Thus, as most of the Church is now “Gentile”, Peter’s place should be unquestioned.
The second person that was the greatest impact on the Gentiles for the Church was Paul. Paul was almost exclusively a missionary to and a leader of the Gentiles. He, like Peter, was accused of “watering-down” the Word of God by not requiring Jewish practices for the Gentiles.
Paul, more-so than Peter, could make a “Jew-of-Jew” claim. Paul did this so that his Jewishness would not be questioned, and neither would the grace, love, and mercy of God toward the Gentiles.
It is hard to imagine how the message of God’s love through Jesus’ death on the cross would have been shared and spread without these two. Both had significant flaws. In today’s overly sensitive world (in regards to all streams of politics to morality), both men would likely be attacked.
When following Jesus, sometimes our best path is to follow the guidance of those such as these two.
Father God, you have called many people to follow your Son. Holy Spirit, you have enlightened many to lead people to the Son. Jesus, you have many who are your followers. May we hear and obey the call, and being the light of the world. Amen.
1) What words would you use to describe Peter? How about Paul?
2) Why is it important to recognize not just their place as “doctors” of the Church, but also their humanity?
3) What do they teach you about being a follower of Jesus? What does it mean to follow a follower?