Jesus in John’s Gospel : 13 : Jesus, transformer of people
Jn 1:42 Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
When we look at someone we tend to see, quite simply, the exterior and observe that person’s body language and appearance (1 Sam 16:7), but when God looks at someone He sees everything about them, their thoughts, their feelings, their past and their future, everything is revealed. In our verse today we go to the heart of the effect of the Gospel: Jesus transforms people!
Simon comes to Jesus and Jesus looks at him with the eyes of God and sees his potential and knows his future. We sometimes say, “God loves you just as you are, but He also loves you so much that He will not leave you as you are but will change you into someone much more wonderful.” Commentators are sometimes somewhat chary of implying too much into the names here, but some suggest that Simon means a stone, while Peter (or Cephas) means a rock. If that is so it is a good picture. Simon, the man who stood in front of Jesus was a rather hasty, easily moved, impetuous man. By the time God had finished with him, he was truly a rock, one who was steady and unmovable, one who could be relied upon.
Names in the Bible were often highly significant and name changes even more so. Abram (exalted father) was changed (Gen 17:5) to Abraham (father of many). Jacob (twister) was changed (Gen 32:28) to Israel (he struggles with God). The name change implied a new relationship with God, and certainly a new phase or new understanding about that person’s life. At the very least a name change here means a life-implication change. Jews were initially identified by their father, so Simon was son of John. Thus he was identified according to his past. There is a sense when Jesus simply says, “You will be called Cephas (Rock)” that it is like he is saying, “Your past doesn’t matter. You won’t be known by someone else’s name. You will stand alone, known for who you are, because of what you are.”
There is a great truth here. We are not a Christian because our parents were Christians. There is even a sense that to become a Christian we have to be separated from our parents to enter into a greater relationship with God. In the same way that a man leaves his parents to be joined to his wife, so the same is true of becoming a Christian (Eph 5:31,32). When we become a Christian we become a new person and our old life now no longer counts: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). Any status we had from being part of a particular family doesn’t count in the kingdom of God, only our relationship with God. Similarly our past failures don’t have to impinge on the present (only crimes that we may not have confessed, or sins we may not have acknowledged against other people). We become a new person forgiven and cleansed by Jesus’ work on the Cross, energized by the Holy Spirit, and adopted into God’s family by the Father.
See also that Jesus knows what we can be. Peter is a wonderful example of someone who was accepted in his raw, rough state by Jesus but was transformed into one of the leading apostles moving under the power and authority of God. Remember, that that end result was despite the many times Peter opened his mouth and got it wrong, including the time when he denied his master. Jesus is in the business of transforming us!