Galatians 1:23 | Evil Transformed

There is a narrative that Hollywood likes to write about around the idea that people don’t ever really change. Can the bad guy really become a good guy? Or are we bound by the nature of who we are? It is an interesting idea that plays out in real life. If the person known to be evil all of a sudden becomes nice everyone is immediately suspicious and starts to wonder what real motive or game the evil person is playing at. Another variation of the theme is the good person takes pity on the evil person, cares for him, and then the evil person repays the kindness with more evil.

But in real life do evil people become good? To answer that question from a Christian perspective look no further than Paul author of most of the New Testament Bible. Paul started as a person filled with violence and hate who eventually became a leader of the Christian church on par with Peter the most famous disciple of Jesus. What we see with Paul is that his transformation was not of his own doing but something miraculous occurs that alters his life going forward.

23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:23-24 ESV

Paul by his own words was a violent man who was sold out for the faith of his fathers.

13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. Galatians 1:13-14 ESV

Paul, also called Saul, was even involved instigating the first death of a Christian, Stephen, after the resurrection of Jesus.

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at [Stephen]. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. Acts 7:54-59 ESV

But something happened to Paul while he was trying to destroy the church of Christ.

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Galatians 1:11-12 ESV

Paul did not have a meeting of the mind with the church or the disciples. He was confronted by Jesus and forever altered moving from acts of evil to a life submissive to God. Luke in the book of Acts details how this happened.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:1-9 ESV

Paul was not a disciple of Jesus. He did not know Peter or the others in a personal way before his conversion. Paul tells the church in his letter that the gospel, the good news, he shared with them came directly from Jesus. History goes on to demonstrate how complete the change was for Paul. He wanted only harm for Christ in his youth yet in the end he authored most of the new testament and expanded the church beyond Jerusalem more than any other. Paul even willingly went to Rome giving his life to preach Jesus.

To the question Hollywood likes to write about. Can a person change? The answer is most assuredly people can change evil rebellion against God to powerful humility in service to God. But this change comes from God himself it is a miraculous event. We do not need to remain who we were before. Here is how Paul describes this transformation…

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

Even better we do not need to take Paul at his word. In any Hollywood story there is the good that must testify to the change that has occurred in the evil. Who better to validate Paul than Peter the most famous of the disciples?

15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV

The gospel Paul preaches is the good news that God wants to reconcile and restore sinners to relationship with their creator. God came to earth as Jesus and paid the cost of sin that we might be free. Through Jesus God offers new life. A restored life like Paul found on that road to Damascus.

John 21: A Confirmed Love for Jesus

Sea_of_Galilee

Chapter 21 is the final chapter in the Gospel of John. So much has been written and John has captured for history some amazing events. There are signs and wonders, changed lives, and Jesus himself resurrected. So what is left so share? What is next for the disciples?

3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. John 21:3 ESV

If I asked my closest friends, and coworkers to go fishing it would be considered a diversion or vacation type of trip. Fishing is a recreational event for me. However fishing for Peter was something more. It was a business and a way of life for Peter. Fishing was his profession from before he encountered Jesus.

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. Matthew 4:18 ESV

Peter has been through an amazing ride for the last several years seeing and hearing amazing things since that first day he abandoned the fishing business. But the ride is over. Jesus presented himself as a resurrected savior, and Jesus did not set up an earthly kingdom to overthrow the Romans so what was left for Peter to do? It is time to move on. Peter is doing what would only be natural and that is to go back to the life he knew before Jesus. The life of a fisherman.

Peter’s first day back in business is not successful and a stranger yelling from the shore tells the men to cast their net on the other side of the boat. They give it a try and the net fills to overflowing with fish. Having witnessed signs and been in the presence of Jesus for several years this unlikely catch of fish draws immediate attention of the disciples on the boat.

7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. John 21:7 ESV

Peter’s move to go back to the work and business of fishing was not born out of a passion or a heart to be a fisherman anymore. It was born out of a lack of any other direction for life. At the first mention of Jesus Peter abandons the financial haul of fish and jumps in the sea to swim back to shore. His passion and desire is still with Jesus whom has returned once again. This event is the third time Jesus has appeared to the disciples with the first two being in the upper room. The first without Thomas and the second with Thomas present. Jesus has a specific goal in this third appearance to restore Peter and give him a new mission for life that does not include the old life as a fisherman.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. John 21:15-17 ESV

Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him an obvious reference to the number of times Peter rejected Jesus at the crucifixion. It is clear from every move and word that Peter loves Jesus and it is obvious that his passion resides with his Savior. One can just see these men sitting around a fire on the beach eating some of the freshly caught fish. Jesus spreads his hand out to the fish, the boat, and the shoreline… “Peter do you love me more than these?” do you love me more than this life? Do you love what the world provides more than me? Peter with all sincerity answers that Jesus is his first love. He is not the same man that he was before when Jesus first encountered him on that shoreline.

Jesus as demonstrated from the opening of John as the Word made flesh through the crucifixion that he is in complete control of everything securing the will of the Father. Even when Jesus called Peter years before notice his prophetic message.

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:18-19 ESV

Jesus promised to give Peter a new profession. Jesus told Peter that he would be a fisher of men and here we are at the conclusion of John with Jesus giving charge to Peter to be head of his future church. Tend my Sheep and feed my flock Jesus tells Peter. Peter is forever changed and there is no returning to his old life. What about you? Have you encountered the very Creator of this world? Have you been born again as Jesus told Nicodemas? Have you believed in the resurrected Savior like Thomas in the upper room? Have you been given a new commission on life like Peter here at the conclusion of this Gospel? Now is the time to reconcile with Jesus, the word made flesh, the only name under heaven that can save us from condemnation, and Immanuel God with us.

John 18: Jesus Your Will not Mine

IMAG0845The end is drawing close and all that Jesus has been preparing the disciples for is coming to a conclusion. Judas having become disillusioned and realizing that Jesus was not going to make him wealthy has traded Jesus in for silver. But what is interesting here is that Peter is carrying a sword and he intends to start a war with it.

3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” John 18:3-11 ESV

Cutting off a man’s ear was not Peter’s intent. His intent was to kill. But Jesus in his final recorded healing restores the enemy. Jesus then asks Peter to stand down and put the sword away forever. The question then is why on earth would Jesus allow his disciples to carry swords? Maybe that was not a sword but a dagger or a butcher blade of some kind? A look at the Greek used here to describe the weapon Peter is carrying is the same Greek word used in other places to mean an actual sword. Look here for example in Acts…

27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. Acts 16:27 ESV

The roman jailer having let the prisoners escape pulled out his sword to kill himself. This is the same word used to describe the sword Peter carried that night. I wonder if the sword that Peter carried was even legal? In today’s context we might say that Judas brought the armed guard not with “lanterns and torches and weapons” but with guns and assault rifles. Peter in the context would not have drawn a sword to attack but a gun. Illegal in most circumstances and highly questionable for the follower of Jesus. Why then would Jesus allow it? Why did Peter have it? Peter kept the sword because deep down he still wanted Jesus to be king just like Judas had previously wanted Jesus to be king. Peter expected an armed uprising with Jesus being the victorious ruler of Jerusalem. Even the high priest expected that questioning Jesus about the same.

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. John 18:19-20 ESV

The priest needed to know from Jesus if the city would riot and had he planned an armed rebellion. Jesus just arrived into Jerusalem in triumph days before with the people crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9). Had he gathered an army? Was he poised to start war with Rome? Jesus assured the priest that he had nothing to hide. That all he had done was done in the open. Then Pilate asked Jesus for much of the same information.

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” John 18:33-36 ESV

Jesus told Pilate that if his kingdom was on earth at this time then Pilate would have already been removed from power. Pilate believed him and told the Jews that he found nothing to charge Jesus with. Everyone from Peter, to Judas, to the Pharisees, to even Pilate himself wanted to know or believed that Jesus was here to establish an earthly kingdom. Jesus never held that intention because his plan was greater than a single earthly kingdom. So then why did Jesus allow Peter to carry a sword?

To answer that question we need to go back to the last supper right before Jesus is taken to provide an answer.

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” Luke 22:35-38 ESV

Jesus used the sword to provide an object lesson to the disciples that they would remember in the future in context to a risen savior and he wanted the sword to fulfil prophecy (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus needed to be put to death by the most scandalous and lowly of means. Death on a cross. He needed to be hung on a cross between two thieves “and he was numbered with the transgressors”. Jesus looked at disciples when they showed him two swords and he replied that is “enough”. Two swords is not enough to start a war but it is enough to be looked on as a transgressor starting a rebellion.

John shows us in this gospel that Jesus is in complete control and moves about with a goal of reconciling men and women to himself. Everyone around Jesus wanted to use him for their own ambitions or they feared him because they were afraid we would undo their personal ambitions. Jesus demonstrates that we can submit our dreams and ambitions to him. His will is better than our best dreams. Do you trust him? Are you ready to serve him and be reconciled to him? Then repent and run into the arms of the reconciliation that Jesus provides.

Christmas: The World Blessed

After the fall of man and the entirety of creation falling under a curse, God chose Abraham to start the plan to restore the creation. God wanted to move forward with a grand plan to bless the world and He wanted to use Abraham to accomplish that purpose.

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

By way of Abraham God promised that all the families of the earth would be blessed. However the promise does not work out the way I or Abraham might have envisioned. The Old Testament documents the struggles of that chosen nation and only briefly in a few instances can we see where that vision for Israel to be a blessing or an ambassador of blessing is realized in some small way. Most of the energy of Israel is spent in rebellion refusing to be that blessing. God however being God has a plan that no child of Adam can undo and that plan is Jesus.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-20 ESV

Jesus is here to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham. Jesus is here to reconcile God’s creation to God. Jesus tells the people that it is in him that Israel will perfectly fulfill the promise of being the blessing to all nations and all people.

Peter one of the Disciples of Jesus and a thoroughly Jewish man grew up in that inwardly turned culture. In a famous narrative the Holy Spirit reveals to Peter a feast of food, animals that would not be acceptable in the Jewish diet. The Holy Spirit tells Peter that nothing is unclean that God has made clean and then the vision ends. That vision was preparing Peter not about food, but about being a blessing to other people and nations just as God had promised Abraham. After that vision Peter is asked to travel to a certain man’s home and breaking all social norms Peter enters the home of a Roman and is witness to God saving a non-Jewish family.

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Acts 10:34-35 ESV

Later Peter challenges the church reminding us that we are to be a blessing to all peoples of all nations confirming lessons he had learned and practiced throughout his ministry.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 ESV

This Christmas we remember that Jesus is God’s blessing and peace to all creation.