A New Name for a New Life
Topic: Biblical Verse: Galatians 2:1–2:21
Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles
June 28-29, 2014
“A New Name for a New Life”
Everybody has a name, but do you know why you have the name you do? Sometimes there can be an interesting story behind our names. For example, did you know my name was supposed to be Robert? Well, that’s what my mom wanted my name to be, but my dad, like Zechariah in the New Testament said of his own son, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63). John was my dad’s name, and it was my grandfather’s name also, so I suppose my mom just threw her hands up in the air and gave in. My nickname, Jack, comes from my grandfather. At home and with family, I was Jack, but in school, I was John. It was interesting when my friends would call our house and say, “Can I talk to John?” And one of my siblings would say, “Sure – hold on. Jaaaack!” And to think I could have been Robert! Today, we have before us the two apostles, Peter and Paul, who also had different names. They were originally given good Hebrew names, Simon and Saul, respectively, but they were given new names after coming to faith in Jesus. Simon became Peter and Saul became Paul. They were give a new name for a new life! And that is the theme for the message this day: “A New Name for a New Life.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
On the church’s calendar, June 29 commemorates these two great apostles whose ministry embraced both Jewish and Gentile worlds. This day has been part of Christian devotion since the middle part of the third century, and so is one of the oldest of the days that commemorate God’s saints. We don’t know too much of the early life of either one of these individuals. 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 (Matthew 16:17-19), which we heard in today’s Gospel: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20), to which Jesus replied: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” On this confession of Peter, Jesus has built and continues to build his church. 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 together with his brother, Andrew, working in partnership with James and John, sons of Zebedee, on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11; John 1:35-42). Peter was married, and we read that his wife accompanied him on his missionary travels (1 Corinthians. 9:5). His mother-in-law was cured of a fever by Jesus (Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39). 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. He was cosmopolitan in outlook, having been born and raised outside Israel and was exposed to Roman and Greek culture and learning. Paul was a tentmaker by profession (Acts 18:1-4), a single person – never married (1 Corinthians 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). Peter and Paul were two very different people from very different backgrounds, but God had a plan for both of them to use them to proclaim the saving Name of Jesus to the world.
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 (cf. Mark 14:51; Acts 12:1-25; 15:36-41), whose name has come to be associated with the second Gospel in the New Testament. Peter is known as the apostle to the Hebrews, and Paul is known as the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul traveled throughout much of the Roman Empire on three missionary journeys (Acts 12:24ff.) 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 (Acts 25:1-12). From the earliest days, it has been believed that Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom on the same day, June 29, in ca. 64 A.D. The red paraments and vestments remind us not only of Christ’s blood which cleanses us from all our sin (1 John 1:7), but also of the blood of Christ’s people which was shed for bearing his Name. Tradition asserts that Peter refused to be crucified right side up as his Lord was, and so was crucified upside-down, giving his life for the One who gave his life for him. Paul is believed to have been 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 and Paul, 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 and with Jesus’ power to share the good news of Jesus life, death, and resurrection to a hurting world that 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. As with the first disciples, so it is with us today, as Peter declared in today’s first Scripture reading (Acts 15:1-12): “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus…” (Acts 15:11).
Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul – a new name for a new life. What about us? Do we have a new name? Yes, we do, by God’s grace given in holy Baptism where our sins were washed away and we were clothed with Christ’s own righteousness. It is Jesus’ holy Name that we now bear. We are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit for life eternal. Go and live out with a new life this Name of Christ that you have been given! Amen.