Posts by Peter Eng

What Awaits a Person who Commits Suicide?

Christians believe that suicide is a sin.

Any sin, large or small would disqualify us from belonging to God who is holy.  We instinctively recognize that not all sins are equally heinous. While any sin remains sin, some sins are indeed worse than others. We can say that in most instances, a sin of commission (the wrong we do) is worse than a sin of omission (the right we fail to do) in most instances.  For example, if you can save a life and you fail to do so (omission), it is not as bad as you take another person’s life in murder (commission).  Both are wrong, but one is more evil than the other. (The Bible has a lot to say about sins of commission, speaks of omission rarely, James 4:17.)

Suicide is the deliberate action of taking a life. In that regard it is sin.  But there are many instances of taking human life.  The most heinous is murder, the pre-meditated, or the intentional and deliberate taking of human life.  Even for murder, we have different degrees of evil. For example: a serial killer is worse than a one-time murderer; a deliberate killing of a wounded person in battlefield so he will not be additionally tortured and then killed by the enemy is intentional and is murder, but it is usually classified as “mercy-killing,” and usually regarded as less heinous.  In the event that one acts to remove life-support from a terminally-ill patient but does not accelerate death, that deliberate act to remove life-support is not considered murder, and is not a sin.

Most Christians do not suffer angst over what happens to a person who commits suicide. Christians generally place suicide as one sin among many.  But this is not true for the Roman Catholics.  Popular Catholic belief is that if a person commits suicide, that person goes straight to hell.  The entertainment industry continues to encourage this representation, and it is not without some basis. I like to help my Roman Catholic friends understand the subject a little better, and bring comfort to all Christians everywhere who have suffered the pain of a suicide among their loved ones.

The Roman Catholic Church classifies sins into two categories: mortal and venial (big sins and little sins).  A mortal sin is one that leads to eternal death unless that sin is forgiven.  The word “mort,” in the Latin based languages, means “death,” referring to eternal death.  That is to say, by the very definition itself, all mortal sins are sins that cause a person to go to hell. Such a sin has to be forgiven through the Roman Catholic Church process that procures forgiveness as last rites before death (extreme unction). Since a suicide is the last act a person commits with no opportunity to procure forgiveness, a person who commits suicide (mortal sin) goes to hell. (There is an exception clause which the Catholic Church under-represents so as not to encourage the use of this exception clause; Catechism #2282.)

What happens to those who commit suicide is tied to the Christian view of sin and forgiveness. Christians outside of the Roman Catholic tradition reject the classification of mortal or venial sins because such a classification is not found in the Bible.  Instead, we believe that all sins, regardless of degree of evil, condemn us to eternal separation from God.  If we use Catholic terminology, we will say all sins are mortal sins because all sins lead to eternal death; all sins bring us to hell; there is no venial sin.

Christians believe that forgive- ness of sin in procured by Jesus Christ on our behalf through his death on the cross and resurrection thereafter.  Forgiveness of sin may be declared by one believer on another, and it is the affirmation of a reality, to bring assurance and comfort. Such affirmations do not confer forgive- ness.  That is to say, no priest, or pastor can either grant or withhold forgiveness. Whether or not we gain eternal life is not dependent on any last rite that forgives us of our sin so we go into eternity with a final forgiveness (as suggested by the Catholic Church).

Our place in the Kingdom of God is secured by faith in Jesus Christ.  This faith is expressed in confession of sin and baptism, and this faith subsequently lived out as a citizen of God’s Kingdom. We ought to seek holiness throughout life and enter eternity into the presence of God with no known sinful habit. Our citizenship in God’s Kingdom is secure unless our way of life denies what we confess in prayer and baptism. If we live by the rules of the kingdom of the evil one, we do not belong to God’s Kingdom. The confession of this or that sin in a final rite is totally irrelevant to our eternal standing before God.

When a believer commits suicide, it is a serious sin, for it involves the willful taking of a life. The Bible has six known instances of suicide or expedited death by request: Abimelech had his armor-bearer kill him (Judges 9:50-54); Samson killed himself while killing his enemies (Judges 16:30); Saul fell on his own sword when his armor-bearer would not kill him (1 Sam 31:2-5); Ahithophel hanged himself in what he knew as a failed coup attempt to depose David (2 Sam 17:23); and Zimri, a wicked king burned himself in a citadel when all hope was lost (1 Kings 16:17-19); Judas Iscariot (Matt 27:3-5). Some of these involved the wicked; some are actions involving not dying under enemy hands.  In the case of Samson, a case can be made that he was carrying out God’s will; and in the case of Saul, his vacillation between faith and failure makes it hard for us to say where he stood with God, but the act of suicide in itself was not singled out for condemnation.

The Bible does not single out suicide as an unforgivable sin on account of some technicality about a rite that cannot be performed before a person dies. It is also against the character of God to be so petty as to penalize a person on account of the failure in one missing rite.

We all enter eternity with sins known and unknown; sins committed and omitted; sins in thought, word and deed.  Where we spend eternity is vitally important, and it depends not on last rites, but on whether we belong to God’s Kingdom. 

The Good News of Jesus Christ is that God’s Kingdom has come and you are invited.  Have you accepted that invite? PE

Apostle Peter 07: Jesus, My Incredible Deliverer (Part 2)

Bible Reference: Mark 2:1 – 3:6

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Apostle Peter 07: Jesus, My Incredible Deliverer (Part 1)

Bible Reference: Mark 2:1 – 3:6

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Promises in God’s Name

Once upon a time, long, long ago, a poor monk named Martin decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome, the holy city, the capital of the Roman Catholic Church, which was the only church in all of western Europe.

On his way to Rome, he  met many other monks and would stay over at their monasteries. Martin was shocked to see that other monks did not live like he lived. To be monks meant they were to give up all money and luxury and live a simple life so they can better serve God and the people.  Martin tried to live that way. But many monks he met along the way lived the opposite of how they were supposed to live. They were cheating the people in the name of God. These wicked monks took the people’s money and lived in luxury on money meant to do God’s work.

Martin hoped the Roman Catholic Church would clean up its act, but it got worse. The church began selling certificates for the forgiveness of sin so they could make even more money.  The people from the RC Church even sold forgiveness for future sins.  So a person could buy forgiveness, then go and do the wrong and use that certificate as God’s promise of forgiveness. The RC Church gave false promises on forgiveness, in God’s name, and that was how they made money.

Martin protested against the Church making false promises on God’s behalf. From this, the Christian Church was born. Eventually, the Roman Catholic  Church cleaned up their act because everybody got to know their swindling of the people in God’s name. In the meantime, some chose to remain   Roman Catholics, and some became Christians.

Today, some so-called Christians are doing what the Catholic Church used to do. They make false promises on God’s behalf and ask for money in return.  The false promises they make in God’s name are not limited to forgiveness of sin. They promise health and wealth to the person who would give one tenth, and more, of what they make.

They  use  the  money  the  people  give to live a luxurious lifestyle exactly like the wicked monks during the time of Martin. They live in luxurious homes and do it openly, saying that it is the right thing to take the money people give to live that way. They say it is like a business. Since their church is big, it is like a big successful business and the one who makes the business successful deserves to get more money.

Dear children, people forget the past and repeat their mistakes. There were many willing victims during the time of Martin as there are many willing victims today. Do not believe any false promises given in the name of God in exchange for money. Seek out the true Church of Jesus Christ and enjoy your Christian life there.   PE


Peter’s Home, Jesus’ Base

We don’t usually pay attention to place names in the Bible because there is no image in our mind’s eye when these places are mentioned, and we do not move from one place to another as we read the story.  If I were to tell you I left Pasir Ris and went to Tampines, those of you who know these places would know it is only one subway stop. But when we read that Jesus left Capernaum and went to Bethsaida, it makes no impression on us because we don’t know these places.

When you read the gospels, you will constantly come across the town called Capernaum.  This is because it was Jesus’ home base when he first started his ministry. When Jesus began his ministry, he spent time in Capernaum and Nazareth (his own hometown). But the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus (Luke 4:23ff; Matt 4:13).

Capernaum was the hometown of many of his disciples. From what we know, it was the hometown of Peter and Andrew, James and John, Matthew, and others.

What escapes some of us is that Jesus was operating from the home of Peter, the leader of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

In Mark’s gospel, you will notice a constant reference to Capernaum. This is because Peter was recounting the things closest to his heart and home.

Peter and Andrew were not rich people. They shared a home, which was usually not large.  You should not expect anything larger than a two bedroom apartment of today. Andrew was probably not married but Peter was. We do not know how many people lived in this house, but we know Peter’s mother-in-law lived there with him.  His father-in-law might be expected to live there if he were alive. Perhaps his own parents also lived there. Perhaps Peter had children and they also lived there. At least 4 adults lived there (Peter, Peter’s wife,  mother-in-law, and Andrew), perhaps there were as many as 7 adults.  If Peter had children, say 3 of them, with 7 adults, the home could have as many as 10 people (Mark 1:29f).  

It is almost certain that the place Jesus used as home base in Capernaum was Peter’s home.  It is therefore likely that Jesus lived in the home of Peter and Andrew and the ministry of Jesus operated mainly from Peter’s home.

After Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, we notice Peter’s home became the place from which Jesus taught and healed (Mark 1:29-34).  When  he   left   and  returned  “the house he was staying” probably Peter’s home, became packed with people (Mark 2:1-2).  So the story of the men who dug a hole through the roof to let in their invalid friend, dug through Peter’s roof (Mark 2:1-5).

We do not know all the details in Peter’s home.  Perhaps we can indulge in a little imagination.  

Peter’s mother-in-law might have been quite pivotal in how the home was used.  She was severely sick with fever and after Jesus healed her, she was so well, she got up and prepared food for Jesus, and his disciples. If she had objected to the intrusion into their life, we get the sense that from that time, she facilitated the use of Peter’s home.

There is an important take-away for us.  In Singapore, we are limited in how we can use our homes for religious purposes.  But the lesson of Peter was how his home became a vital resource in Jesus’ ministry.

We can imagine Peter telling Jesus, “Come to my home and stay with me. Use my home as the base for your teaching.”  Peter did not emphasize his sacrifice but we can see that he was leading the others by example of how he used his resources to promote Jesus’ ministry.

Gaulanitis Capernaum Bethsaida— Click on map to get clearer picture —

Capernaum, in Galilee was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, the Herod who executed John the Baptist. Bethsaida, Peter’s  hometown before he moved to Capernaum, was in Gaulinitis, under the jurisdiction of Herod Philip.  Antipas had stolen Philip’s wife and you can guess that they are not on friendly terms. When Jesus wanted to get out of the way of Antipas, he would go to Bethsaida  which was under Philip’s control. PE

Apostle Peter 06: Jesus, my Saviour’s Secret (Part 2)

Bible Reference: Mark 1:21-45

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Apostle Peter 06: Jesus, my Saviour’s Secret (Part 1)

Bible Reference: Mark 1:21-45

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Not Praying your Request

“Please pray that I win the lottery.” “Please pray my son will recover from his illness.” “Please pray the grading machine will mess up so I can pass even though I don’t know the answers.” “Please pray that my abusive neighbor will die.” “Please pray for the conversion of my spouse.”

You will see legitimate and less-than-proper prayer requests on that list.  When someone makes a prayer request of you, he is assuming that you will pray, and that you will pray according to his request.  You will often hear what the person wants, and that is about it.

We allow people to give us requests as though they can write (almost) anything on a blank cheque. And we politely agree because it is the politically correct Christian action, and promptly forget the prayer request, more quickly than the person who asks you to pray.

Genuine, heartfelt prayer takes a lot of energy and time.  That means it is a limited resource.  Just think of it as money.  Even if you were a rich man with lots of money, you do not give it to whoever asks you for some.  In fact, the way people ask for prayer from other people suggests that prayer cost you next to nothing.

Nothing is further from the truth! If I pray for you, I am denying myself in many ways.  I have less time for work, or rest, or time with family, or personal pleasure, etc.  My time is a non-renewable resource.  Once I spend it on you, I cannot spend it on anything else. 

I don’t accept prayer requests willy-nilly.  I impose conditions when I pray for a person. (1) You must pray yourself. (2) I need to know as much as possible and engage with you on the request, because I may be praying for what you do not want.  You may want me to pray that your nasty in-law keels over and die, and I may pray that you get the wisdom  to  know  your  own  faults, how  to handle your in-laws, and transformation in your heart. (3) This is to say, I may not pray your request.  My prayer must be according to what I know of God’s character and will.  I cannot pray something against God’s character or will. (4) You must be willing to do something about the matter.  If you want me to pray for the salvation of your aged relative, that is naturally a good item for God is not willing that any should perish.  But you must be willing to be the agent of good news to that relative.

We carry over too much of pagan thinking into Christian prayer.  Pagan prayer allows us to pray for anything, and by ritual or words, we harness the forces of nature and the gods to do our bidding.  Coming into the presence of our all powerful God is a different matter. We make our needs known, and surrender our will to his.     PE


Mark’s Gospel & Apostle Peter

There is significant early Christian record that Mark’s Gospel was a record of Peter’s preaching in Rome.  Early Christian tradition is not to be regarded as the Word of God, or to be totally reliable.  But they give us the background to things that the Bible does not talk about.

Mark_4x6 Papias was the Overseer of the church in Hierapolis, and he died as a martyr in Smyrna (AD 155).  Many of his writings are no longer extant, but he was cited by Eusebius the church historian (d. circa AD 340) concerning Mark’s Gospel:

The Elder (John) said this also: Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards, as I said, he had followed Peter, who used to compose his discourses with a view to the needs of his hearers, but not as though he were drawing up a connected account of the Lord’s sayings. So Mark made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them. For he was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statements therein. (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15)

We do not know who the Elder John was.  Some believe it was the same person as John the Apostle, or it could be John Mark himself, or some unknown John. But this represents very early tradition. 

There was strict journalistic rigor in the  first centuries about representation, unlike the liberties some journalists practise today.  The     recording    was     not    chronological probably because they were Peter’s preaching, which would not be chronological.  But when the gospel was written, Mark did place the events in general chronological order.

We are told that Mark’s job was as an interpreter to Peter.  It could well be that Peter did not speak Latin and Mark did. 

When I preach with an interpreter, I give him a detailed outline so he knows ahead of time what I will be saying.  Perhaps Peter did that also.  If so, Mark would have the preaching notes of Peter.

The Anti-Marcionite Prologue (AD 160-180) has a surviving fragment that reads:

“… Mark declared, who is called `stump-fingered’ because he had short fingers in comparison with the size of the rest of his body. He was Peter’s interpreter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.”

This tradition affirms Markan dependence on Peter and places the composition somewhere in Italy.

Irenaeus (c. AD 180) a church father when writing to refute heresies mentioned Mark’s Gospel thus: “And after their [Peter’s and Paul’s] death, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing the things preached by Peter.” (Contra Haereses 3.1.2).

When we read Mark’s Gospel with this awareness, it is really not difficult to see Peter as the content provider.  For e.g. Simon Peter was the first disciple in Mark 1.  This is Simon Peter’s point of view.

800px-Fra_Angelico_-_St_Peter_Preaching_in_the_Presence_of_St_Mark_-_WGA00464Fra Angelico’s depiction of Peter preaching and Mark taking notes.
Depictions are stylized, not period accurate.
Peter and Mark identifiable by their halos.

Questions we Should Not Ask

“The only dumb question is the one not asked,” a teacher once said to our class.  I was an impressionable teen, and quite taken to this simple, clean and powerful adage.  It changed the way I thought — until the found exceptions.  It is still a truism in a classroom context.  But it is not so true in life.

“Honey, am I the most beautiful woman to you?” a woman may ask in need of affirmation from her husband.  But it is a question fraught with danger.  Once, I was preaching, and I mentioned that many couples asked, “What if I had married someone else? What if I get to start my life over, will I still marry the same man or woman?” Several people immediately turned to their spouses with questions like, “Have you ever thought about that? Is that true for you?”

Such a question has only one “right” answer, and it may be a lie. We sometimes ask questions that compel people to lie.  If you have a missing cake that you think your house mates in college might have taken, you can go around fuming, “Who stole my cake? Did you steal my cake?” You know everyone will say “No” and one person will be lying. On the other hand, if you asked, “Did anyone take my cake by mistake?” You stand a much better chance of getting a confession.

I recall another time when I mentioned that some guys will keep a little something with them in their wallet just in case they get lucky with a girl.  I immediately saw a mother turn to her teenage son and ask, “Do you have one in your wallet?” Do we expect the son to say “Yes mom, actually, I have two”?

I like to suggest we have a responsibility as Christians to ask questions in such a way as to promote truthfulness.  We should not corner people to shame in confession.  It makes that confession much harder.  This forcing of a confession in the context of shame is the practice of communist China during the Cultural Revolution.  It is not Christian.

Christian confession is compassionate, sensitive, and seeks to point people to restoring their relationship with God.  Where there is wrong done to one another, it is always right to encourage the perpetrator to confess.  We can ask in such a way that promotes denial or repentance.  The choice ought to be clear. Christian confession is a product of repentance, not a result of accusation. Ask in such a way that produces repentance and confession.


Apostle Peter – The Fisherman

Peter and Andrew were brothers. James and John were also brothers. They were in the fishing business.  That is to say they were fishermen who owned fishing boats, not fishermen who were employed to catch fish.  In that sense, they were entrepreneurs or business owners.

We don’t know how many boats they owned, but there is a hint of it in John 21.  After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter wanted to go fishing.  It was night and about the right time to fish.  When Peter was following Jesus, it is likely they employed others to fish for them.  Alternatively, they could have leased out their boats to other fishermen.  In either case, Peter should have a vacant and fully equipped boat that he could just take and go fishing.  This suggests to us that he had at least one standby boat.

In this event, we learn there were seven disciples.  They went fishing with Peter.  This suggests to us the size of the fishing boats.  Some fishing boats could take only two people.  But this could accommodate at least seven people.

When Jesus was in a storm with his disciples, it is possible that this was a boat belonging to Peter and Andrew, or James and John (Mark 4:36-41).  This boat was big enough to have a hold where Jesus could sleep.  This boat cannot be an open boat for just two people.

1st century boat found

A first century fishing boat was excavated and it was length 26½ ft x width 7½ ft x height 4½ ft.  There   seems  to   be enough space for the description of  activities on the boats,   but   it   would   be   a   tight  fit.  Josephus,  the  Jewish  historian suggested that the boat can hold 15 people.  Perhaps our understanding of space requirements today is different from that time.

Is it possible that this excavated boat is still a little small, and there may be bigger boats?  For that we wait for future discoveries.

In Luke 5:10, we are told that Peter and Andrew, James and John with their father Zebedee were partners in the fishing business.

We do not have details about this business relationship, but it was a good relationship.  They were hanging out together outside of their fishing business.

When they left their nets to follow Jesus, it does not mean they sold off their business.  In all likelihood, they kept their business which provided a source of income for them and their families.

Reconstruction of Boat

God is Answering our Prayer Before we Know it

“Hi Melodie, how’s everything?” I greeted my daughter over the phone, around 12.05am on Saturday. She was 12 hours later than we are, should have arrived at the test center located in center city Philadelphia about 30 minutes before the test reporting time of 12.30 pm, Friday. If she does not make this test for any reason, she will have to wait another year. I have been praying and fasting for her for about 24hrs, and decided to phone so I can pray with her. The people @theWell have also been praying for her, but I had not asked anyone to fast with me. This test is important to us, but not something I was prepared to ask others to join me in a fast. Just two days earlier, I was also praying and fasting for Krystal (our second daughter) for her third teaching certification test. God heard our prayers and she has passed.

“We are still on the road,” Melodie said.

I prayed with her, and after the prayer, learned from the rather desperate sounding Lily in the background that they were in some sort of trouble.

“I-95 is shut down, and we are using local roads. We programmed the GPS to avoid I-95, but we are still stuck in traffic,” Melodie tells me, with only the sheerest hint of tension in her voice. “The ETA according to the GPS is 12.40pm.”

This is disaster!

It’s a good thing Melodie did not seem stressed out. The GPS gives minimum time assuming no traffic. She is to report 12.30pm for the test and they are very strict about timeliness. Late reporting automatically disqualifies test takers. First we prayed. Then I got online again searched for real-time Philadelphia traffic. So, I was on the phone giving directions to Melodie to relay to Lily (who was driving), to avoid traffic hotspots in Philadelphia.

I was waiting for my internet service to be installed. The ISP gave me a limited 3G data card which I could use while waiting for my service. Sister V learned of this and loaned me her dongle so the card could be used. A week earlier, mom had handed me a plastic bag of wires, and other electronic stuff. On Friday night, I opened it and found a prepaid phone card that was still valid. On a whim, I went online using the dongle and bought a prepaid card that allowed easy overseas calling. I was calling Melodie using that card.

Melodie then called the test center to explain that the Interstate 95 shut down due to an accident, and the resulting massive traffic congestion throughout the city as all cars diverted from the Interstate. And our great surprise, the test center said they will let her take the test if she makes it by 1.30pm! The traffic was brutal and it is by no means certain that she will make 1.30pm.

I stayed on the phone and online giving driving directions. When they had passed the traffic hotspots, I hung up and desperately cried out to God. I prayed for 3 things: (1) safety, as people in a hurry can become careless; (2) that she’ll get there on time and be allowed to take the test; (3) that she’ll pass the test (which we will know eventually).

I like to believe that my directions helped. By God’s grace, she arrived 1.20 pm and was allowed to take the test.

Serendipitous? I see the good and merciful hand of God already at work even before I knew it. Why should mom pass me the bag of stuff? Why did I open it after more than a week, but on the same night to find a valid phone card and a working phone? Why did the ISP provide a 3G card without a dongle? Why did sister V loan me her dongle? Why did the extremely strict test center reporting rules allow an hour delay in reporting? And how is it possible that I should be giving road directions here in Singapore to my wife winding through the streets of Philadelphia to get our daughter to her test?

This is the amazing hand of God!

But God is not done.

At about 5.40am, I got a phone call from Krystal. “Not so good,” she replied to my query. Mom is at Target and she is not able to start the car.”

“But that is good,” I replied. The car did not break down on the way to the test center; it broke down only when mom is on her way home.”

This is not life and death. Precisely because it is not life and death and I see God’s wonderful love and care for us, and his incredible concern for even the little things in my life that I marvel and praise him.

Thank you Lord! I stand amazed at how you work. You have answered my feeble prayer effort with marvelous goodness. Who can compare with you? I praise O Lord!

PE@theWell

(26 August, 2013, on the events of 16/17 Aug, 2013)

Arrive Safely at Death

“To arrive safely at death” is powerful irony. It calls us to the reality that we die.  It also calls us to the reality that too many live such timid lives as though by being timid we can avoid death.  Whether we march, dance or tiptoe to death, we all get there. The issue is not about meeting death.  The issue is how we have lived our life when we get there.

Afraid of failure. Afraid to work too hard. Afraid of any uncertainty. And for the risks we cannot avoid, there is an insurance company quite willing to bear that risk for you. We can tiptoe through life as though it makes a difference when we arrive at death’s door.

Christians can be among the most risk adverse people. We seem to think that when doing God’s work, we cannot risk failure.  In part, we are conditioned by the belief that if we are doing God’s work, we can never fail.  If we fail, it is not God’s work.  This leads us to a spirit of timidity. So we choose the least risk, and the options most likely to succeed and call it God’s work.

Jesus chose Peter to lead the twelve because he was bold.  He made mistakes and we mock his failures.  In part, it is because we are timid and are afraid of failures. Peter pushed himself to the limits of faith.  He is the one who asked Jesus to let him walk on water.  He is passionate about Jesus and eager to test what it means to trust in Jesus. 

Peter denied Jesus because he placed himself in the courtyard of the high priest when Jesus was tried. Only John was with Peter, and John was somewhat protected because he was known to the high priest. Peter took the most risk, and failed.  But it was part of God’s plan for Peter; that he will fail because he was tempted while the other disciples were not.

While Satan would put all the disciples to the test, Jesus said he had a special prayer for Peter, “But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32).

The tiptoeing Christian will not risk anything for God, will not invest in God’s work, will not stretch his faith even as God is calling him. He will never know victory because he never risked failure in spiritual battle.


Apostle Peter – Part 2

Bethsaida, about 2 km from the shore
Peter’s first hometown was Bethsaida (John 1:44; 12:21) before he moved to Capernaum (Matthew 8:5, 14).  There is both historical and spiritual significance in this.

There is dispute on the location of Bethsaida [Aramaic: House of Fishing].  The traditional site of Bethsaida (Julias) was under the jurisdiction of and raised by Philip the Tetrarch.  The chief problem with this site is that it is about 2 km from the shore of Galilee and it does not make a good fishing village.  Some have suggested Peter’s Bethsaida is a location yet not discovered, or not yet identified among the excavated sites, but one that is much closer to Capernaum where Peter eventually moved. There have been some suggestions, but none is confirmed. So for now, we will work with Bethsaida Julias as the site of Peter’s first home (that we know of). John is the one who recounts this detail. And John and James were fishing partners with Peter and Andrew. As far as John was concerned, Peter and Andrew were the guys from Bethsaida.  This suggests the move was fairly recent.  In any case, it suggests they were adults when they moved.

We do not know why Peter and Andrew moved to Capernaum.  If they had lived in Bethsaida Julias, it is unlikely that they were fishermen there as the coast was 2 km away. Of course it is possible that they were fishermen and were tired of making a daily commute and decided to move closer to the shore.

I like to suggest that when Peter and Andrew moved to Capernaum, it was somewhat   tied   to  their  entering  into   the fishing business with John and James, with their father Zebedee. Perhaps Peter and Andrew relocated to be closer to their business partners who had a better location than their own.  Perhaps they moved first and found James and John later.

At some point after they were business partners, Jesus called them to be his disciples.  We do not know the interval, but when we factor in Peter and Andrew’s move from Bethsaida and their fishing partnership, it could have happened not long before Jesus called them to follow him.

Peter and Andrew, James and John could view the call to discipleship two ways.  One is to argue that they have a newly formed and good business going on.  God couldn’t possibly want them to put that on hold, or on the backburner to follow Jesus.  The other way is to say that even though their aim was to build a business, and they came together for that purpose, God had a higher plan for them.  He was redirecting them to follow Jesus and put their fishing business on the backburner — they should follow Jesus and just wait and see what would happen to their business.

Bethsaida - The Fisherman House

We know they decided to follow Jesus. Their cost was to become absentee business owners rather than owner-operators. They had to let go of their business operations.  That too, was risk. That too was a step of faith. Especially for Peter and Andrew.  They moved from Bethsaida to Capernaum for a reason, and it wasn’t Jesus.  They had to make significant adjustments to follow Jesus.