Peter’s great recognition of Jesus as the long-promised and expected King (Messiah) is a turning point in each of the first three gospels (Matthew 16:13-20). It brings into the open – though only for the disciples at first – the most important truth. For us, who sometimes think “Christ” is Jesus surname, we wonder at the significance. (Christ is actually the Greek form of the Hebrew “Messiah”, literally anointed one, so King).
We might see its importance for us by looking at Peter. Peter was a tough fisherman, who took time to take Jesus seriously, and then personally. Luke tells us how (Luke 5:1-10), after Peter lent his boat for Jesus to preach from, a big catch of fish taken by following Jesus’ instructions led to Peter’s admission of sin and failure. Jesus doesn’t go away as Peter suggests, but commissions him as a fisher of men. Freed from the guilt of his past failure, Peter is also freed from being “just a Galilean fisherman”. He becomes a leader of apostles.
Many Christians have found the freedom of faith liberated them. Some were aware that guilt crippled them, and forgiveness made new life possible. Others concentrated more on the acceptance and dignity that God gave to lives lived in difficult or demanding circumstances. No one else might know or care what happened to them, but if God did, they could walk on, and walk tall.
Peter’s trust in Jesus wasn’t just an escape from guilt and a limited life. It brought his a freedom to serve. At Caesarea Philippi, he recognises Jesus as the promised Messiah, the fulfilment of what the OT looked forward to – and he has the courage to say it. (Of course, he hasn’t become infallible – his next line will be mistakenly telling Jesus that he doesn’t need to suffer!). This is the pivot of the gospel because it makes clear that Jesus is Lord. Not just a teacher, explaining a theory, nor just a miracle worker.
Again, after Jesus Resurrection and Ascension, Peter has seen James arrested and executed. But he is set free by an angel (Acts 12:1-12). He won’t escape execution for ever, but he has years of service to give first, travelling, teaching, telling the world about Jesus.
Perhaps the freedom to serve is something we are not so good at. We want to be free from things that limit and diminish us, but are not so good at understanding what use to make of our freedom. Peter shows us how a life in Jesus’ service might indeed be the intended use of freedom. If the picture we get from Peter is freedom from sin, guilt and the limitations of a small life, it is also of freedom to serve, grow, and for him to be a leader and pioneer. Peter is a good example of Christian life!