The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, "What are you seeking?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter). — Jn 1:35-42
I imagine Andrew running out to the shore, flailing his arms to get his brother's attention as he's fishing. Then grabbing his arm, saying, "We have found the Messiah", dragging him behind like a rag doll, to come to Jesus. This is all purely my imagination, of course, but Simon was a moderately successful Jewish fisherman (successful enough to have a two-story house), probably minding his own business that day, smelling like the sea.
If someone told me "We have found the Messiah"-- the one whom all our ancestors had waited, who had been prophesied about for generations-- I think I'd want to clean up. Kind of like a first date-- could this be the one?-- I always make sure I look my best (first impressions, people!). But in this scenario, I imagine Andrew dragging Simon straight form his boat, barely giving him a chance to bring it ashore, right up to Jesus, fish smells and all. And he comes upon a man who we have no physical description of, except through prophecy: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53:2) He likely looked like one of Simon and Andrew's peers, nothing particularly different about him. And yet, Jesus speaks first, telling Simon who he is, and who he will be: "You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas." (John 1:42) Jesus didn't need an introduction to Simon, because he already knew him, as we know from John 2:42- "and didn't need anyone to tell him what people were like, because he himself knew what was in every person." Even if Simon had washed up and changed his clothes-- Jesus wouldn't have needed that to know what he was really like inside.
So often, I try to clean myself up before I go to God. Not in a way that I am actually revering or honoring God, but more in a way of trying to appear as something other than who I am. I try to put on a good face, pray for what I'm supposed to pray for, read scripture, smile at everyone I see-- all a facade for the fishy smelling sin in my heart. "But God, see, I have done all these things!" I cry as I check off all my good deeds. In part, I think I do this because I don't believe that God will accept me as I currently am. But Jesus doesn't need my list of accomplishments to see straight into my heart, to know who I really am without having to tell him. He can see it for himself. He saw Simon and knew who he was, and all about his past. That's an intimidating first introduction. And yet, he also sees what he is becoming-- Cephas, or Peter, which both mean Rock.
What do you think Simon thought of being given a new name? We can't know the answer to this, either, but I would imagine it felt somewhat significant. Other people were given new names in the Old Testament, but surely the most prominent in the mind of any good Jew would be Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham by God himself. When God changes Abram's name, it's because he will change-- not because of anything Abraham has done, but all by God's work:
As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. "No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. "I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you... Genesis 17:4-6
"My covenant", "I will make you the father... I will make you exceedingly fruitful... I will make nations of you..."-- It's all by God's work that he's going to be transformed into this new person, Abraham. And so, too, I think we can say that something similar is happening here with Simon: Jesus is given him a new name, Peter, to demonstrate the work that Jesus is going to do in and through him to make him into the Rock of the Church. From this first interaction, we see Jesus cultivating a faith in Peter-- faith in the future, of who he would be. Not Simon the fisherman, but Peter the rock of the church. I think it's also safe to say that Peter had no idea what he was getting into when his brother brought him to Jesus-- a journey he'd continue on for the rest of his life. Jesus knew who he was when he came to Him, and He knew who he would be after Jesus worked on him.
Dear God, You see us to our core: our messy history, the parts we try to hide from you. And yet you look at us, and see what we can become through the transforming work of Jesus. Thank you for seeing our future! You are better than we can imagine. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Dig Deeper: Do you try to dress yourself up for God, to hide the blemishes and sins under good works? Do you believe that God can and will transform you into something more than what you are? What's holding you back from believing that, and letting Him do it?