After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
“Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”
Through the Bible: John 6
If you are familiar with the New Testament, you probably are familiar with Peter’s confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi. It’s in Matthew 16. It’s where Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” And Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus responds by saying, “Blessed are you, Simon! I’m going to call you Peter, the rock. And I’ll build my church on faith like yours, and nothing will stand against it.” (That’s a paraphrase, but you can read it for yourself in Matthew 16:13-18).
That’s inspiring stuff. From Jesus’ question to Peter’s response to Jesus’ affirmation, this is like the general rallying the troops before battle, or the coach in the locker room at halftime. You’re ready to storm the castle, take the hill, protect the house.
But then we come to John 6. There’s another question from Jesus. There’s another response from Peter. And there’s another affirmation from Jesus.
But John’s account is different. Here’s a few things I see::
The Question is Different
Jesus’ question in Matthew is more about apologetics. A seminary professor would say, “Simon, please articulate your personal view on Christology.” (Footnote: I’m so glad Jesus wasn’t a seminary professor!)
But Jesus’ question in John is personal. It’s vulnerable. Jesus has just seen his megachurch of five thousand dwindle back down to twelve. And in His fully human nature, Jesus expresses uncertainty about whether the disciples will stick with Him: “Do you want to go away as well?”
The Answer is Different
At Caesarea Philippi, Peter was confident: “You are the Christ! The son of the living God.”
But on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Peter was uncertain. Jesus had just taught about eating flesh and drinking blood. He had just seen a great crowd walk away from Jesus, saying, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:61). So far from a confident assertion, the first part of Peter’s answer sounds almost defeatist: “Lord, where else can we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. We have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God”
Same conclusion as Caeserea, but a different path to get there. One comes from confidence, one comes from desperation. One lifts up Jesus as the son of the living God, one clings to Jesus as the only place to go.
The Caeserea Simon becomes Peter, the rock. But the Sea of Galilee Simon doesn’t sound very rock-like. He doesn’t understand all the talk about flesh and blood. Maybe he doesn’t like it. Maybe he hopes Jesus will clarify. At the very least, Simon hopes desperately that Jesus will explain it later when its just them. But he also knows Jesus doesn’t need to explain Himself. He is the Holy One of God. Simon doesn’t get a vote.
And it is the Sea of Galilee Simon I seem to relate to far more often than the Caeserea Simon. There are so many things I do not understand about God. There’s the big Job-like questions about why catastrophe comes to the righteous. There’s salvation questions about what happens to the man in Nepal who dies without ever hearing the name of Jesus. There’s cultural questions, like what’s the salvation status of a young man who grew up in your church that has now come out as gay.
And even when I understand what the Bible says, I don’t always like it.
I don’t like the fact that a compassionate, kind friend who dies without surrendering his life to Jesus faces an eternity separated from God.
I don’t like that God doesn’t prevent every instance of child abuse.
If we are being honest, most of us have things about the Bible they don’t like, and in our most honest moments we may not even agree with.
But we don’t get a vote. God doesn’t answer to us. The Lord does what He pleases. That’s one of the perks of being the Almighty. And at the end of the day, as a pastor I am responsible for teaching what the Bible says, not what I wish it said.
But I have nowhere else to go. There is no other belief system that has a better answer, or even an adequate answer. Jesus alone has the words of eternal life, and I have believed and have come to know that He is the Holy One of God.
There are confessions of faith that give you the courage to storm the gates of hell. That’s a “because” confession.
And there are confessions of faith that you wrap your arms around and hold on for dear life, because letting go of them would set you adrift. That’s an “even though” confession.
The fact that both confessions came from the lips of the same man gives me so much hope. No matter how I get there, when I confess that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, I have a foundation to build upon and an anchor to cling to.
Jesus, I need both.