Thought for the Day by Hilary Larkin (St Chad’s)
Peter and Paul (Apostles)
Today is the feast day that honours St Peter and St Paul, the two main leaders of the early Christian Church, who’s teaching led to the worldwide growth of Christianity. They were both martyred in Rome by the Emperor Nero between AD 64 and 68, though not on the same day and probably only actually met each other once.
Peter was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, he was always eager to serve Him and recognised Jesus as the Messiah, was impulsive, passionate and sometimes full of doubt – he denied knowing Jesus after His arrest on Good Friday, and wept bitterly with remorse and shame when he realised what he’d done. Despite his failings Jesus gave him the name Peter, meaning a rock, and commissioned him to found the early Church, which he did after Pentecost. Peter endured much for his faith and teaching, was imprisoned in AD44 and eventually executed by crucifixion in Rome around AD66.
Paul, earlier known as Saul, before his conversion was a very religious and legalistic Jew who persecuted and tried to prevent the early Christians from teaching about Jesus. After his dramatic conversion, on the road to Damascus in AD35, he repented and devoted his life to bringing people to Jesus. Paul, who was the younger of the two, took on the mantle of leading the early church when Peter was aging and imprisoned. He put himself in great danger on his Missionary Journeys in Asia Minor and Europe being imprisoned and persecuted for his faith and teaching and was executed by being beheaded with a sword around AD63.
Some of the early Christians had felt that a Gentile convert needed to become a Jew first, which meant being circumcised. They also saw the sharing of food that was not kosher to be unacceptable. In Acts11 we see Peter carefully explaining step by step an earlier vision he had had that led him to having a change of heart about the Gentiles. He convinced these critics that they could share food with the Gentile believers and also did not need to be circumcised first, as Christians were baptised by the Holy Spirit. Those that had been disapproving of Peter were led to see that God had broken through to other nations and opened them up to the Christian Life.
Paul too instructed Gentiles into the church. Both Peter and Paul fulfilled the call of God in the second servant song, which we read in Isaiah 49, the servant was to be a light for all nations and God’s salvation was to be global. This is also taken up by Simeon (Luke 2 v32) who sees the fulfillment of Isaiah’s servant to be the infant Jesus Christ who will become ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of the people Israel’.
Our Christian faith owes a lot to Peter and Paul. They both allowed God to lead them and to have a change of heart when they saw their ways were not God’s ways. They led the early church to see that following Jesus and becoming a Christian was offered to all people of all nations. And that slavishly obeying traditional rules and habits does not in itself earn God’s approval. Christ has set us free and we are saved by God’s grace.