Peter and Paul: Proclaim the Name
Verse: Galatians 2:1–2:21
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
I would like to introduce you to my grandmother, or at least a portrait of her. I don’t know exactly when this portrait was taken, but judging by the hat and clothing, I would say sometime in the first several decades of the 1900s. There is something timeless and classic about black-and-white photos and portraits that draws our attention. Today we begin a summer series in worship and Sunday Bible study called “Portraits of Faith” that will look at different people from the Bible in both Old and New Testaments. These men and women, flawed and sinful though they were, were used by God in their generation for his own good purpose. Their response of faith to God becomes a model of faith for us today. So, week by week we will look at people like Daniel, Lydia, Hezekiah, Timothy, Esther, Elijah, Simeon and Anna, Bartholomew, and Gideon. Today, we begin with two towering figures of the New Testament era, Peter and Paul, whom the Lord used in powerful ways to establish his church and spread the Gospel message. On the church’s calendar, June 29 is the Festival of Sts. Peter and Paul, and so our “Portraits of Faith” series begins with them under the theme “Peter and Paul: Proclaim the Name.” May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
As important as the portrait itself is the frame surrounding it. The frame accentuates the picture inside, giving it depth and perspective. So, when we look at Peter and Paul, what's the "frame" surrounding their portraits? We find very different backgrounds framing the lives of these two men. Peter, whose real name was Simon, was the son of Jonah. He was re-named Peter by Jesus after his confession of faith about who Jesus is (Matt. 16:17-19). The name Peter comes from Petros in the Greek (Cephas in Aramaic), meaning "rock." Peter was from up north in Galilee and was a fisherman, working in partnership with James and John, sons of Zebedee on the Sea of Galilee. Peter was a family man, married, and we read that his wife accompanied him on his missionary travels (1 Cor. 9:5). Peter was a blue collar, ordinary kind of guy. Paul, on the other hand, came from a very different background. His Jewish name was Saul, but he is better known by the Greek form of his name, Paul. He was born in the city of Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia, at the far southeastern corner of modern-day Turkey. Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin, probably attended the local synagogue school, and later studied under the well-known rabbi Gameliel in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). Paul had his feet in two worlds: the first world was strict adherence to Jewish law and life through the party of the Pharisees. The second world was as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29). Paul was given this privilege by birth through his father, and so was cosmopolitan in outlook, having been born and raised outside Israel and being exposed to Roman and Greek culture and learning. Paul was a tentmaker by profession (Acts 18:1-4), a single person - never married (1 Cor. 7:8-9). His dramatic conversion to faith in Jesus changed the course of his life, from persecutor to proclaimer (Acts 9:1-19; 22:4-16; 26:9-18). Two very different people, Peter and Paul - very different backgrounds that framed their lives, but God had a plan for both of them to use them to proclaim the name - the saving name of Jesus to their world and their generation.
Peter had a special place among the apostles chosen, called, and sent out by Jesus. He, along with James and John, was Jesus' inner circle, and often served as spokesman for the Twelve. After Pentecost, he emerges as a confident missionary whose outreach work was among his fellow Jews. The Scriptures are silent about his later years, but tradition holds that Peter left Antioch around 55 A.D., and went to Rome. It is widely believed that Peter is the source behind Mark's Gospel, and that it was in Rome that Peter dictated the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to John Mark, whose name has come to be associated with the second Gospel in the New Testament. Peter is known as the apostle to the Jews, and Paul is known as the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul traveled throughout much of the Roman Empire on three missionary journeys as an ambassador of Christ, preaching to whoever would listen about Jesus, establishing churches wherever the Spirit directed. Like Peter, Paul ended up in Rome, having appealed to the Roman emperor about the charges against him of provoking riots. From the earliest days, it has been believed that Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom on the same day, June 29 in the year 67A.D. Tradition asserts that Peter was crucified upside down on what is now Vatican Hill, and that Paul was beheaded near the Via Ostia, south of Rome. Two churches in Rome, St. Peter's Basilica and St. Paul's outside-the-walls, are said to contain the tombs of the two apostles.
Looking at Peter's and Paul's portraits of faith, we might think: "There's no way I can measure up against these two. They are apostles, but I'm not." Compared with them, we feel small and inadequate. We think that our response of faith pales in comparison with all that they did for Jesus. Comparisons get us in trouble on all sorts of levels. The point here is not for us to compare ourselves with Peter and Paul, or any other disciple of Jesus for that matter. The point is for us to see how God used flawed and sinful people to do great things for his kingdom. God used impetuous, stick-your-foot-in-your-mouth Peter to boldly speak for Christ. God used someone like Paul who was dead-set against the Gospel, actively working against it, persecuting followers of Jesus with a passion, to become a passionate spokesman for that same Jesus, transforming him into a model missionary. These were imperfect people who didn't have it all together, or who thought they did, and were dead wrong. If the Lord Jesus could use people like Peter and Paul, don't you think he is able to use people like us today? That word "apostle" does apply to us. We often use the word apostle only in reference to Peter, Paul, and the others who knew Jesus and lived with him. The word apostle literally means "one who is sent." My friends, we are sent out today just as Peter and Paul were in their day. We are sent out in Jesus' name with Jesus' power to share the good news of Jesus life, death, and resurrection to a hurting world that so desperately needs Jesus. That same Lord Jesus who gave his life upon the cross for this hurting world can use each one of us with all our inadequacies, flaws, and imperfections. He is more than able to shape us, mold us, and use us to be his sent ones today.
And so we give thanks to God for Peter and Paul this day, and their portrait of faith for us today. And we give thanks to God that even as he used Peter and Paul in their day, so he desires to use us in our own day, to proclaim the name - the saving name of Jesus. Amen.