Summary: The central question in life, in the church, in every circumstance is - "Who do we say that Jesus is."
According to Hegessipus, an early Christian historian - Peter, having been urged to flee by the Christians in Rome, was on his way out of that violent city, when he saw a vision of Jesus. Peter asked the Lord where He was going and the Lord told him that He was on His way to be crucified again. That was the end of the vision, and Peter understood it to mean that he was to return into the heart of that tumultuous place, because martyrdom, for Christ’s sake, was waiting for him there.
He must have remembered, as he walked back into Rome that morning, another morning when he had encountered the risen Lord on the shore of Galilee. With the sun just beginning to rise - Jesus called to Simon, who was in his boat. Peter, could not contain himself, dove into the water – and swam to shore. Jesus welcomed Peter back as a disciple – this sometime after Peter had denied the Lord three times – and there, Jesus fed Peter, and warmed his body with a fire – and Peter’s heart with His words. Then, Jesus told Peter about the kind of death that he would die – the death that would propel him finally and forever into the arms of God.
Now in Rome – years later – walking the dusty streets toward that moment – Peter must have thought back over his own years of faithful service to Jesus. This Peter, a man recognized by all as one filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. This Peter, who had walked the far dirtier streets of the towns and villages around Jerusalem. Those streets had been strewn with people – on mats and crutches, sick of heart, body, and soul, those who were outcast and those who were dying. All of them edging in, trying to get close enough so that Peter’s shadow might fall across them, and heal them.
He probably recalled some of those moments
– trials before the religious officials, whippings, the many nights in prison,
– the baptism of the Holy Spirit – preaching from roof tops one morning when more than three thousand heard the good news about Jesus – and believed it!
An Origin of Faith
All of these events had to have an origin of faith. Somewhere along the way, Peter’s life changed dramatically - when he believed that Jesus WAS / IS the Son of God. A life lived so powerfully for God had to have a beginning in a confession of belief, as does every life lived for God.
I wonder if Peter also thought back to THAT beginning. I can imagine that he did. I can imagine that he recalled that morning with a mixture of gratitude and regret. Regret for not having understood clearly enough who Jesus was to save him from some later mistakes. But thankful to God for allowing him to begin to understand – thankful that God allowed this faith – faith in Jesus – to be birthed inside of him.
That, it seems, came in the region of Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus stopped their movement – their journey toward Jerusalem to pray – and to ask Peter and the rest of the disciples a very important question. A question that was to have tremendous significance in the lives of the disciples. The very simple question that Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?”