Out of the twelve disciples, Simon is undoubtedly the one with the most depth. He is mentioned more times in the gospels than anyone except for Jesus. He isn’t always mentioned as Simon of course (which is probably helpful considering another one of the disciples is also named Simon) In John 1 Jesus says His first words to the disciple; “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). Indeed, this God-given name is the name we more commonly call him today.
The verse by itself doesn’t offer us much explanation for why Jesus decided to change Simon’s name or perhaps more accurately, give him a nick name. We are left to ask, what did Jesus see in Simon? What did He envision in Peter? Fortunately, for us, the gospels give a glimpse into both the Jekyll and Hyde.
In Luke 5 it was Simon who got frustrated when Jesus said to cast the net out into deep water in the middle of the afternoon (perhaps understandably as most fishing was done at night in shallow water). It was Simon who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus was praying just before the crucifixion (Mark 14). It was Simon who Jesus forgave three times for denying the son of God three times(John 21). Simon. You can almost imagine Peter getting frustrated whenever he hears the name; he knows a mistake has been made.
It kind of reminds me of when my friend and I play old school Nintendo 64 games together. Pixelated graphics fill a modern flat screen as we revel in the memories of our youth. Admittedly, he is way better at it than I am. He is one of those guys that has a natural ability to be fairly decent at anything he puts his mind to. While he fights for 1st place in the Mario grand prix, I fight just to stay on the course. Occasionally, he’ll hit a digital obstacle or take a turn too fast and wind up in the water. Whenever that happens he’ll say “boy, I pulled a real Matt Wyatt there.” Of course it’s all in good fun, but it’s not too far off from what Jesus was saying whenever He called Simon by his birth name; “boy, you pulled a real Simon there, Peter.”
In contrast, in was Peter who got out of the boat and walked on the water with Jesus (Matthew 14). It was also Peter, not Simon, and his faith who Jesus built the very foundation of the church upon (Matthew 16). It is this kind of faith Jesus knew Simon had the capacity to develop when properly discipled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It was the person Jesus envisioned when He called him Cephas. The truth is we all have the opportunity to become what God sees in us. Think about it, what nickname would He give you? What does Jesus see when He looks at you?