I remember that day like it was just yesterday. It was late in the afternoon. The sky was clear, the sun shining brightly. I was sitting outside mending a net, getting ready to spend another night fishing. And my brother andrew? No place to be found, as usual. He was off following some strange teacher from the desert.
I hummed a tune as I finished up the repair work and was putting the net away when Andrew come around the corner of the house. There was a spring in his step and a smile on his face. “Brother!” he said, embracing me. Then he took a step back, put his hands on my arms and said, “We have found the Messiah!” The Jews have been waiting a long time for our Christ. Now my very own brother is standing here telling me he’s found Messiah. “You must come and see him!”
I love my brother. But did he really believe that he had found the Christ? Was it possible? Or was this desert “prophet” filling his head with nonsense? “Andrew, it’s getting late. It will soon be time to go out on the water,” I said. He would not be denied. “Brother, please. Just come see Him,” he implored. What can I say? He’s my brother so I went.
As we walked across town to the place this “Messiah” was staying, Andrew recounted for me the day’s events. He had been out with this prophet, John, when this “Messiah”, named Jesus, walked past. As this Jesus passed by the prophet looked at Him and said, “Behold! the Lamb of God.” Andrew and his friends followed Jesus and had spent the rest of the day with Him. We finally come to the place Jesus was at and as I approached He turned and looked at me. “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas.”
At that moment several different thoughts went through my mind. This is our Messiah? He was smallish in stature and in no way attractive. This was the one who would lead our people out from under the oppression of the Romans? This was the one who would restore our nation? And how did He know who I was? Maybe Andrew told Him to expect me. And why did He say that I would be called “The Rock”?
It didn’t take long for this Jesus fellow to stir things up around here. I heard that He was healing and casting evil spirits out of people. I have heard of men claiming to be healers in the past but they have always turned out to be fakes. I have to admit though, there did seem to be something different about this Jesus. Andrew was certainly convinced that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. And I remember that day that Andrew took me to meet him. Something about His eyes. When He looked at me it was like He could see into my very soul. That was a little unsettling to be honest. I had been thinking a lot about Him since then. He definately was more than some traveling snake charmer looking for attention. But the Messiah?
A few days later I ran into Jesus again. My partners and I were washing our nets after a night of fishing. A particularly long, unproductive night of fishing. He had come to the shores of the sea of galilee to teach and the crowds had followed. The crowd kept growing and before I knew it Jesus was sitting in one of my boats asking me to take Him out a little way from the shore. As I said, it had been a wasted night of work and I was tired and wanted to go home to rest but I was more than a little curious about his man so I jumped in and took Him out from the shore.
By now I had heard that He was from Nazareth, the son of a carpenter. He had lean, muscular arms and strong-looking hands. Now, carpenter isn’t much higher than fisherman on the social scale and I doubted He had much, if any, formal education. But when He spoke the words flowed gracefully from His mouth. He spoke with power and authority like no one I had ever heard before. He was certainly well versed in the Holy Scriptures and the crowd, including me, hung on His every word. Some of the folks in the crowd were just here to see what all the fuss was about. But I could tell that others were really listening, soaking up the amazing message like dry ground soaks up water.
When He had finished His teaching He turned and looked at me with those dark, soul-piercing eyes. “Put out into deeper water and let down your nets for a catch.” He said. Those eyes now had a little sparkle in them and I thought I saw a hint of a grin on His face. Now, I may not be much else, but I’m a pretty fair fisherman and I know that if we didn’t catch anything at night, we sure weren’t going to catch anything now. Plus, we had already cleaned and stowed our nets and throwing them in again meant more work before I could go home for some rest. My brain was saying “no” but my heart couldn’t resist. There was something to this man. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was but I knew He was different.
“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets,” I said. We lowered the nets kind of half-heartedly, not at all convinced that we would catch anything. But we did it anyway. I looked up at Jesus as we lowered the nets and He had a big smile on His face. Like He knew something that I didn’t. Who was this man?
My wonder was interrupted by the shouts of my men. They were pulling up the nets and the nets were so full of fish that they were breaking! I quickly signaled the other boat for help and we eventually had so many fish on board that I thought the boats would sink. Again I turned to this strange man. He was still smiling and He had a little bit of that “I told you so” look on His face. Then it hit me. Right there on a boat so full of fish that I didn’t think we’d make it back to the shore, it hit me. This man was who He claimed to be. He was the Messiah. All of a sudden my own sinfulness and unworthiness washed over me like a giant wave. Right there in the boat I fell to my knees. “Go away from me Lord. I am a sinful man,” I muttered. I couldn’t even look at Him.
Jesus knelt and lifted my face and looked at me with those eyes and said, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” When we got to the shore I left it all and followed Him.
It’s been three years since that day on the boat. To say that I’ve seen and been a part of amazing things would be an understatement. My friends and I have followed Him everywhere, watching Him do miraculous things, listening to His teachings and trying to understand His message. He has healed more people than I can remember of every kind of disease and deformity. I’ve seen Him change water into wine and feed thousands of people from a single meal. I’ve watched Him attack and break down social barriers and stereotypes. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Him go toe-to-toe with the greatest religious minds in our nation and send them away muttering to themselves, defeated and embarassed. I’ve even seen Him raise the dead.
But that’s not all. One night He and I actually walked on water. It was incredible. He told me to step out of the boat so I did. Unfortunately, after a few steps my brain reminded my body that a man can’t really walk atop the waves and I began to sink. Then there was the day that Jesus took me and James and John to a mountain to pray. As Jesus prayed an amazing thing happened. His clothes became so white that we couldn’t hardly look at Him and before our very eyes He stood talking to Moses and Elijah! I said something kind of stupid and then a cloud came down around them and God Himself spoke. Then, as fast as it started, it was over.
I believe Jesus is the Son of God. But why does He talk about having to die? And where is it that He is going that we can’t follow? He is supposed to be our Messiah, our Savior. How can He save us if He is dead? I’m scared and I’m very confused. I don’t know what to do.
Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. A rooster’s crow. How many countless times have I heard that sound and thought nothing of it? A normal, everyday sound. But not this day. This rooster’s crow brought with it the crushing reality that I had just denied the Son of God, my friend. At that moment Jesus was being led through the courtyard I was sitting in. He had been arrested by the chief priests and the temple guard officers. I had tried to stand up for Him then, only to be rebuked by Him. Now as He was being dragged away amid the mocking and jeers of the crowd, Jesus turned and looked right at me.
Those dark, soul-piercing eyes that once sparkled with delight now seemed sad. Our eyes met only for a moment before He was pulled away. Away to His death as it turned out. Just a few hours earlier we had gathered in an upper room; the Master and His twelve. We had reclined at the table and eaten the Passover with our Lord. I had told Him that I was ready to go anywhere with Him; even to death. That’s when He told me that before the rooster crowed I would deny Him three times. I didn’t believe Him. I would never deny Jesus! This one time Jesus was mistaken. Yet there I stood having done exactly what He said I would do. How could I have done this? He is the Christ, the Messiah. I know He is. Yet at the moment of truth, I failed Him. We all did. Not one of us passed the test.
It didn’t take long for the eleven of us to come together. Judas was not with us of course, having betrayed our Lord. We were scared. We were confused. Why was this happening? We heard rumors that Jesus was being crucified. Would we be next? The morning was spent in silence and reflection.
Around noontime the skies began to darken as if the sun were burning out like a used up candle. An eerie quiet accompanied the darkness that enveloped the city. A while later the ground began to shake and rumble. Then, as quickly as it started, the shaking stopped and the darkness lifted. Some of the women who had followed Jesus came to us to report on what had occurred. Our Lord, our Savior, was dead. As if the darkness and earthquake weren’t strange enough, it was being told that the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. What did all this mean?
The Sabbath day passed and the next morning we were all still together, still wondering what to do. We had followed Jesus for three years. Always with Him where ever He went. Now He was gone.
About mid-morning some of the women came to us with an unbelievable tale. According to them, Jesus’ body was gone! They had gone to the tomb to tend to the body but they said the stone had been rolled aside and the Messiah’s body wasn’t there. How could this be? I had to see for myself so I ran straight to the tomb.
As I arrived at the burial site, I could see that the stone had indeed been moved. A glance inside confirmed the women’s story. The body was gone. The strips of linen remained as did the cloth that was wrapped around His head. It was folded neatly and set aside. Had someone taken the body? Who would have done that? Why? What was going on?
That night we all gathered again, full of fear and confusion. Lights were dimmed, doors locked, conversations hushed. In the blink of an eye, Jesus was standing among us! “Peace be with you,” He said in His quiet voice. A ghost! That was my first reaction. How else could He have gotten through a locked door? He had been crucified. Could this be true?
Sensing our reluctance to believe our eyes He showed us His hands and feet and assured us that ghosts didn’t have flesh and bones. Pure joy and wonder ran over me like water poured over my head. Jesus was alive! Then He told us again what He had tried to tell us when He was among us. That the Scriptures written about Him had to be fulfilled. As He spoke my mind was filled with understanding. He had to suffer and die and be raised from the dead so that I could be saved. His spirit came over me and just as suddenly as He had appeared, He was gone.