The Primacy of Peter
John 21:18
Truly, truly, I say to you, When you were young, you gird yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old…

The career of St. Peter is a striking instance of elevation from obscurity to fame. From a Galilaean fisherman he was promoted to the leadership of the college of apostles, and has for centuries been revered by a great part of the Christian world as the earthly head of the Church. The ardor of his love and the boldness of his confessions endeared him to the Master; yet his self-confidence and his temporary unfaithfulness grieved the Master's heart. In the singular alternations of feeling and conduct he reminds us of David in the older dispensation. Both have gained a position in human regard which the cold and blameless have failed to reach.

I. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG THE FAVORED GROUP ADMITTED TO WITNESS CHRIST'S GLORY AND HUMILIATION. Peter, James, and John were the favored three who beheld the glory of the Son of man upon the Mount of Transfiguration, and his woe in the garden of Gethsemane. Not only is his name mentioned first, but precedence in action is on both occasions referred to him. It was he who exclaimed upon the mount, "It is good for us to be here," proposing that tents should be reared for the illustrious visitors and for their Lord. It was he who, when the foes of Jesus would have arrested him, drew the sword in the Master's defense.

II. PETER WAS THE FIRST TO BEAR WITNESS TO THE LORD'S DIVINITY. What the others thought of Jesus at the time when he asked them, "Whom say ye that I am?" we do not know; but it is recorded that Peter promptly and boldly replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." His ready apprehension of his Lord's nature, dignity, and office gave rise to the cordial acknowledgments of him to whom he testified.

III. PETER WAS THE FIRST OF THE APOSTLES TO BEAR WITNESS TO CHRIST'S RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD. When on the evening of the day the disciples met, the subject for wonder and for rejoicing was that the Lord had appeared unto Simon. And Paul tells us that after his resurrection Jesus was seen first of Cephas. It is recorded that, upon receiving tidings from the women, Peter with John hurried to the empty tomb; it must have been soon after this that this apostle was favored with the interview twice referred to in the New Testament.

IV. PETER WAS THE FIRST, AFTER THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO HIS FELLOW-MEN. The record in the Book of the Acts is explicit upon this point. Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and spake forth to the people, proclaiming the Lordship and Messiahship of the Risen One, and announcing through him remission of sins to the penitent and believing. In this be was the mouthpiece of the Christian community, and the leader of the great company who published the Word of the Lord.

V. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG CHRISTIAN CONFESSORS TO ENDURE AND DEFY THE RAGE OF THE PERSECUTOR. In the fourth and fifth chapters of the Acts we have the record of this apostle's boldness when confronted with the enmity of the rulers among the Jews. How dignified was his demeanor, how faithful was his testimony, how patient was his endurance of hostility and of persecution for Christ's sake, the author of that book makes abundantly apparent to every reader.

VI. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG THE TWELVE TO WELCOME THE BELIEVING GENTILES INTO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. First in the case of Cornelius, and then upon the occasion of what is called the Council of Jerusalem, Peter proved himself to be possessed with the Spirit of his Lord, in whom there is neither Jew nor Gentile. It was he, occupying a position of peculiar authority and advantage, who may be said to have thrown open the gates of the Church to those of Gentile descent. Paul was indeed the apostle of the Gentiles; but if we turn aside from the speculations of the "higher criticism," and confine our attention to historical facts, we shall see it was Peter who made it possible to widen the foundations of the Church, and, without endangering unity, to receive the believers in Christ from every race and nation into the enjoyment of equal privileges and hopes.

VII. PETER WAS THE FIRST CONCERNING WHOM IT WAS FORETOLD THAT HE SHOULD SUFFER A DEATH OF MARTYRDOM FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST. It is certainly very singular that our Lord should choose the moment when Peter made protestation of his love and devotion, and when he himself formally entrusted Peter with authority to feed the spiritual flock, as the moment for predicting his martyrdom, particularly foretelling by what death he should glorify God. His Epistles assure us that this language was not lost upon the faithful servant, but that he learned to rejoice in the prospect of partaking Christ's sufferings. - T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

WEB: Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don't want to go."

The Leading of Peter
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