Simon Peter: Flawed but Faithful Disciple—Interview with Adam HamiltonPublished December 24, 2018
As senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, Adam Hamilton leads one of the fastest growing churches in the United States. His new book Simon Peter: Flawed but Faithful Disciple draws us into the life of this important bible character with fresh insights and lessons to deepen our faith.
WCA: According to your research, you say that Jesus routinely inconveniences his followers. Can you give an example of how he inconvenienced Simon Peter? Why is this important for Christians to understand?
HAMILTON: One of the first scenes involving Simon Peter in the gospels is early one morning when Jesus is teaching on the lakeshore at the Sea of Galilee. Peter has been fishing all night and caught nothing. He’s putting his nets away when Jesus steps into Peter’s boat, asking him to push off the shoreline so Jesus can preach without the press of the crowd.
We live in a world that values convenience. Jesus inconveniences us, but as we follow we find blessings on the other side of obedience.
It’s an inconvenience. He then tells Simon to head to the deep water and cast his nets. I love Simon’s response: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.” You hear the weariness in that statement. But Simon does as Jesus asks and catches a huge haul of fish.
This is emblematic of how Jesus works in Simon’s life, and in ours. We live in a world that values convenience. Jesus inconveniences us, but as we follow we find blessings on the other side of obedience. This theme is found throughout scripture.
WCA: Simon Peter has two names: his given name, Simon and his nickname from Jesus, Peter. What is the significance of his names and how do they fit him?
HAMILTON: Simon (Shimon) was a common name in the first century (two of the disciples bear this name). It is related to the Hebrew word shema, to listen or to hear. Despite his failures, Simon did seek to hear Jesus. Jesus gave him a nickname (as he did James and John). He told Simon, “I tell you that you are Peter”—a word that means rock. A petros was not a small stone, but more like bedrock upon which a house could be built. This name points to the fact that, despite stumbling from time to time, Peter and his faith and witness would be a rock upon which Christ’s church would be built.
WCA: Before Jesus dies, Peter denies knowing him three times. Jesus later asks Peter three times if he loves him, and to care for his lambs. You call this exchange a process of accepting grace. Can you tell us more about the importance of this process?
HAMILTON: Prior to Jesus’ arrest, Simon Peter swore to Jesus that, though the other disciples might fall away, he (Peter) would never fall away. He would go with Jesus to his death if necessary. But following Jesus’ arrest, it was Simon Peter who denied Jesus three times.
After the last denial and the cock’s crow, Peter wept bitterly and fled. In John we find the beautiful scene of Peter’s restoration. But it is a bit uncomfortable too. At times in the gospels, Jesus says to people, “Your sins are forgiven.” But with Simon Peter’s restoration, it is different. Three times Peter is asked about his love for Christ—he’s pressed for an answer, and it is easy to imagine the discomfort Peter must have felt. But in the questioning, Jesus is inviting Simon to self-examination, which is redemptive and healing for Peter.
WCA: Leaders often fear failure. How did God use Peter’s worst failures to build his best church?
HAMILTON: I love this about Peter’s story. The gospel writers put Peter’s failures on display for us. I suggest in the book that this is because Peter himself must have shared these stories of his failure in the thirty years between Christ’s resurrection and Peter’s martyrdom. In my preaching, I often find the most compelling personal stories I share with my congregation are not the moments when I got it right, but when I failed.
Peter’s failures in the gospels have allowed Christians throughout history to identify with him and to find hope for themselves. We are all faulty, yet striving to be faithful, disciples. Peter hesitates, he is confused, he focuses on the storm and not on Christ, he denies his Lord. We’ve all been there. But the stories of his shortcomings allow the church to trust when Christ calls; they allow us to try to remember to keep our eyes on Christ and not the winds and the waves; they move us to greater courage when we are tempted to deny Christ. And they give us hope even when we fall.
WCA: In Mark 16:6-7, the young man who meets the women at the tomb says, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” You point out that he said, “Especially Peter.” Why do you think he said this?
HAMILTON: I love this little line in Mark. It can easily be missed. It shows Christ’s particular concern for Peter who has been living with the guilt and shame of having denied knowing Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest. I love that this singling out of Peter was Christ’s way, through the angel, of expressing his concern for his fallen disciple. When I have ministered with people who have fallen, I remind them of this line noting that God’s mercy is “especially” for them. Christ knows our guilt and shame and is concerned for us even before we reach out to ask for his mercy.
When I minister with people who have fallen, I remind them that God’s mercy is “especially” for them.
WCA: The historical context you provide to the relationship between Jesus and Simon Peter adds depth and meaning to the stories. Can you describe your research process? What are some ways you can recommend that Christians can dive into a deeper understanding of the history in the Bible?
HAMILTON: Thank you. I love doing in-depth Bible study, and for me that includes looking at everything from the cultural and historical setting of the texts to the geography and places where the story occurred. As an example, in seeking to understand Simon Peter whose vocation was a fisherman, I began reading all I could get my hands on related to the role of fishermen in the first-century Greco-Roman world. I interviewed a middle-aged fisherman who has spent his entire life fishing on the Sea of Galilee to know more about fishing on that lake, and to understand his life and experiences on the lake.
These are just two of many examples. My hope is to offer this in all of my books. The Internet offers us so many opportunities for further research. One of the best resources for capturing some of this background is the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary.
To learn more about Simon Peter: Flawed but Faithful Disciple, check out the trailer and Session 1 of Adam Hamilton’s teaching on the book at Abingdon Press.
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About the Author
Adam Hamilton is senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, one of the fastest growing, most highly visible churches in the country. The Church Report named Hamilton’s congregation the most influential mainline church in America. Hamilton is the author of 26 books with his most recent being Simon Peter: Flawed but Faithful Disciple .
Years at GLS 2010