Tag Archives: Holiness

Be Holy

Meditations on the Psalms

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! (Psalm 4:1 ESV)

Jesus prays, speaking intimately with His Father. Jesus is fully human and without sin. God is His measure and standard of righteousness. As the Son of God, Jesus kept all of the laws of God completely, without fault, because He was our sacrifice. He took upon Himself our sin so He might cover us with His righteousness. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). When Jesus prays, He knows God will answer.

While Jesus taught in the temple during the Feast of Booths, the Jewish leaders declared Him a menace and threat. They sent officers to arrest Him because they thought He was deceiving the people. Jesus challenged those who accused Him of sin to tell Him the evidence. “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?”(John 8:46 ESV). They had no evidence. He healed a man on the Sabbath, which the Jewish leaders considered breaking the Sabbath law (see John 5). He declared He descended from heaven and was the One who gives life. “So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’” (John 6:41 ESV).Many asserted His sayings difficult and no longer followed Him (see John 6:60-66). But no one presented evidence He that sinned.

God does present the evidence that all people sin and rebel against Him. In the Hebrew Scripture and the Epistles of the New Testament, God commands us to be holy because He is holy. Jesus also declare we are to be perfect because God is perfect.

“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 ESV).

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV).

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV).

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV).

There are none, other than Jesus, who can declare themselves either holy or righteous before God. Holiness in an attribute of God, an eternal, essential characteristic, just as are righteousness and justice. Holiness means set apart for a specific use and function. When God created Man in His image, all people were set apart, or separated from, the rest of creation, to serve God in the tangible way of taking care of the Earth under His authority. Man was given dominion over the Earth.

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 ESV)

Because of sin, holiness, like righteousness, must be given and placed over us, because there are none who are either righteous or holy and all are facing God’s just wrath. God tells us throughout Scripture the people He created in His image are set apart for Him, for service and intimate relationship with Him. That none want or have an intimate relationship with Him is ample evidence for sin.

A war rages within each person. On one side is the image of God, the natural inclination to know God intimately and to do that for which they are created. Fighting against God, and the image of God within each person, is sin. Each person has, because of the rebellion of Adam and Eve, a sin nature which wars against the image of God. Though the vessel, the body and soul are corrupted by sin, the image of God is not and cannot be corrupted. People are torn apart by sin, which drives them away from God, while conscious of the tug and pull of the image of God driving them toward Him. People are aware of God until they drive out that awareness from their consciousness, refusing to acknowledge the guilt over sin brought on by the image of God in them. No one has the strength or disposition to fight this war. All cave to the sin nature and run away from God, while He constantly and methodically urges them to turn from sin and run toward Him.

He is the God of our righteousness when we abandon ourselves to Him and allow ourselves to be covered with the blood of His Son. Because Jesus is righteous we are declared righteous. We do nothing. He does everything.

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Righteousness and Justice

Meditations on the Psalms

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! (Psalm 4:1 ESV)

David pleads with God to answer his prayer. Before singing about God’s answer, He identifies God’s righteousness, an attribute integral to His eternal character. God is just and righteousness. Not only is God righteous but He is the One who makes the Psalmist righteous. David never says he is righteous in his own right, by his own thinking and deeds, but that God has righteousness placed upon him, covering him. He is the God of my righteousness.

Answer means to hear and respond, to testify verbally by speaking out loud. It is the same word used in Psalm 3. “I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill” (Psalm 3:4 ESV). To callmeans to cry out, to proclaim, emotionally ask loudly, especially for help. So, the Psalmist seeks God in prayer, loudly and forthrightly, imploring God to respond favorably. He knows God hears and that His response is righteous.

God speaks about righteousness in the Psalms. He first declares a separation of the righteous from the wicked. “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:5-6 ESV). Those who are righteous are those who do not rebel against Him. They are citizens of His kingdom, who do not follow the ways of the wicked, sinful, scoffers but are identified with the One Blessed Man, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Only God will make a sinful person righteous through Christ.

What is righteousness as an attribute and quality of God? The attributes of God are eternal characteristics of His divine being, which cannot be separated from Him, which works in conjunction with all of the other attributes. Righteousness implies there is in place a moral law, followed to the letter. God’s moral law does not reside outside of Himself but is a fundamental part of His eternal being. His creation, those created in His image and those created with an ability to intellectually and emotionally know His moral standard, follow that law. God’s moral law is a true law, a fixed statute or rule that must be followed. Breaking a moral law, unlike a physical or natural law, is possible, but has eternally damning consequences. Those creatures created with the nature of adhering to God’s moral law bend and break themselves when they violate His eternal standard found in His eternal being.

Righteousness is only one side of the coin. On the other side is the word justice. In the Hebrew and Greek, the word used for righteous also mean justice. Though the theological concepts are related and may be viewed as essentially the same, they have slightly differing applications. God is righteous and just, but He is also true and good and holy. His essential attribute of righteousness and justice cannot be divorced from His equally essential attributes of truth and goodness and holiness. God declares a person righteous when they meet, continue to meet, have always met, the just requirements of His moral law.

Righteousness is the measure God uses to evaluate and judge those who adhere and keep His moral law. Those who live according to the moral law of God are declared righteous. Those who rebel against God break His moral law and are declared unrighteous. Then God judges both, separating one from the other by separating those who rebel from Him.

Moses sings about God after leading the people to the border of the Promised Land. God is their immovable and unbreakable foundation because of His divine immutable attributes. “For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:3-4 ESV). God is just and will do nothing which violates His eternal character. So also, Abraham appeals to God’s justice, knowing intimately He will not inflict His wrath on those who have done nothing to deserve punishment.

 “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:23-25 ESV)

It is with confidence the Psalmist declares His trust in the God of my righteousness!  Being identified with God means He is declared by God to have fulfilled all of the requirements of the moral law of God completely and wholly. He is righteous and just because God is righteous and just.

God Blesses and Makes Holy

Studies in Genesis 2

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3 ESV)

This is now the third time God uses the word “blessed.” On the fifth day, when God created the sea creatures and the birds of the air He blessed them, saying they were to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22 ESV) and fill the earth. Then, on the sixth day God “blessed” Adam, Man, to not only fill the earth but to have dominion over all earthly living creatures. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). I think it of no consequence that God refrained from blessing the wild and domesticated animals and those creatures that creep. His blessing is to all earthly living things, that they are fruitful and multiply, according to their kind, and fill the earth.

“Blessing” means to kneel before and give that which cannot be had otherwise. Where God blessed living creatures during creation, here He blesses, not a period of time but the totality of the end result of His work of creation. If we read the first six days as periods of time with definitive beginnings and endings, then God’s seventh “day” has a beginning but no end. Or, the seventh day is the end of creation where all is accomplished according to God’s eternal purpose and He will do nothing else. God is eternal, unconstrained by time. For us to view Him in time helps us understand Him in a limited, space-time manner, but ultimately our understanding of Him will never define Him.

God uses His eternal character to define His blessing of the seventh day. He declares it “holy.” He set apart the seventh day from all the rest. He sanctified it and dedicated it to Himself. Holiness carries all of the eternal attributes of God for His use and according to His design and for His direction ad purpose. Nothing holy is defiled or corrupted, bent or broken, unable to fulfill its purpose and design because of a flaw. Nothing God creates is flawed or broken or unable to fulfill the purpose for which it was created. Holiness is integral to God. It does not surround Him, or direct Him or force Him to conform to its purpose. Holiness is God. All which God does is holy.

God’s Sabbath is holy and all created by God are designed to recognize Him as such. Holiness cannot be ignored. Man, created in the image of God for intimate relationship with Him was given an immediate and eternal disposition to love God and enjoy Him in peace and rest. Now, God tells Man to view and treat Him as holy and to keep, as a reminder and promise, the Sabbath set apart for intimate relationship with Him.

God’s Revealed Attributes

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. [Matthew 5:17-18 ESV]

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. [Genesis 1:27 ESV]

All God created was done according to His will and for His purposes. His purposes are mysterious but His will is not. Truth flows from God. Not only did He create all which exists He also sustains all which exists. He sustains the physical lives of those who war against Him. As the only One who intimately knows all which exists, insuring all which exists continues to exist, He governs all under His authority, guiding and preserving creation toward His ends, for His will, according to His rules. Only He gives purpose to creation. We do not get to make up truth. We do get to live according to truth.

We cannot constrain God. Perhaps we can say He is constrained by truth. Maybe it would be better to say He is free, unconstrained by anything which is not true. We live in a world of negative thoughts and concepts. We move between understanding more of the spiritual realm by describing what it is not because our sinful natures cannot grasp what it is. Paul, arguing for the gospel told the Corinthians the gospel was not the difference between positive and negative but always positive.

As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. [2 Corinthians 1:18-21 ESV]

God is the morphe of truth and goodness, complete in grace and peace, compassion and love toward all He has created. Everything He creates is perfectly good when He creates because He will not create anything which is not good. His uncorrupted creation is filled with grace and peace, compassion and love. Goodness is as integral to God as truth, as is His immensity, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience.

Truth and goodness in no way preclude justice and righteousness but require them. God’s justice and righteousness are filled with His truth and goodness. Truth is the foundation of justice and goodness is the evidence of righteousness. We show a complete lack of understanding God when we limit His justice to a legalistic interpretation of revealed law within His written Word. We sabotage righteousness when we give ourselves permission to sin because of a misperceived outcome of Christ’s sacrifice for us and our covering by His blood. His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf is meant to usher us into God’s presence so we can begin to understand who He is and be changed for eternity by His truth and goodness and justice and righteousness. Our relationship with Him is not just for the here and now but for eternity.

Being gathered into His presence by the scars of Christ means, by fulfilling the sentence of death in our place, we are no longer separated from God. We are declared holy. Holiness is an eternal characteristic of God, like truth and goodness and justice and righteousness. Sin separated some of His creation from Him and His holiness. We and our world are separated from God, unrighteous, under His judgment, not good, living a lie. By Jesus’ wounds, the shedding of His blood, a deep and eternal mystery, we are brought back as a new creation into His presence. We are separated from the world and from sin for Him. We are holy not to do anything we want but to be all He purposes for us throughout eternity.

He does not want part of each person. He wants the whole person for Himself. Here, the teaching of Jesus in the first 20 verses of Matthew 5 shows His will for each for eternity. As he is whole and complete so He will make those who are His whole and complete. We are fitted for eternity, recreated and designed in the image and likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Object of Persecution

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  [Matthew 5:10-11 ESV]

Persecution for righteousness’ sake is always undeserved suffering which means it is not deserved. Christ’s death was undeserved. This does not mean all violence against a Christian is because of God’s imputed righteousness. Christians are covered with the blood of Christ, the sentence for their sin placed upon His shoulders. But, Christians still sin. We still say things we should not. Do what we should not. Do not do what we should. Suffering which comes as a consequence of personal sin is not suffering for righteousness’ sake.

Suffering for righteousness’ sake does not come because of the Christian but because of Whom the Christian represents.

Living according to the righteous leading of the Spirit is the evidence of God’s blessing upon the Christian. Yet, God does not force the Christian to live according to the leading of the Spirit. Christians have wills. It is possible to grieve the Spirit of God by our rebellion. We must still obey as His servants would obey but often do only the bare minimum and sometimes not even that.

He tests those who are His. These tests are internal and external. How do we struggle against temptation and sin? Where is our resolve and our love for Him who redeemed us? Are we truly servants of the only God? Relinquishing control is internal, an act of the intelligence and the moral/emotional self shown through obedience which is shown in what we do daily. This daily living for Christ draws people to us, questioning our actions, forging opinion about why we do what we do. Our internal life is a preparation for eternity. Our external life is a witness for God who calls people to Himself.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV]

We are holy because of the God who created us, recreated us, and claims us for His own. If there is one thing Scripture teaches it is God’s holiness, His demand for holiness, and the complete rebellion of the world against Him.

Genesis 4 suggests there are only four people alive. They are Adam and Eve and their first two children, Cain and Abel. Abel offered a righteous sacrifice, according to the intimately known moral standards of God. Cain’s sacrifice was not righteous because Cain was not righteous. Cain killed Abel because God judged Abel’s sacrifice righteous, not because his brother was righteous. God’s work in us, in fitting us for eternity with Him, takes the murderous unrighteousness of Cain, found in everyone, and purges it through continuous testing and refining. We become obedient, leaving behind all acts of unrighteousness, embracing His holiness.

Yet, the world hates God’s holiness and His righteousness and all those who obediently follow Him. Being loved by God automatically means being hated by the world. Those who have rejected Him will reject anything which belongs to Him. The evidence of Christ’s life and sacrifice is neither meager or compromised but substantial and solid. We should never be surprised by the evidence of the world’s hatred for God. We should be concerned when the world does not “revile” and “utter all kinds of evil against you” because of obedience to Christ.

The object of persecution is not the Christian, even though it is Christians who receive the brunt of the physical, emotional, and intellectual violence. All persecution is directed toward God. Whether we admit it or not, everything begins with Him, revolves around Him, and ends with Him. We should not view ourselves but the God whom we serve as the object of persecution.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. [1Peter 4:1-5 ESV]

Pure in Heart: Introduction

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]

God tells us to live up to His standards which are based upon Himself, upon His character and personality. Here, Jesus tells us the “pure in heart” are blessed. At the end of Matthew 5 Jesus states “you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matthew 5:48 ESV]. God tells His people they are to be “holy, because I am holy” [Leviticus 11:44 ESV]. You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” [Leviticus 20:26 ESV]. Peter reinforces God expectations in his first letter. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” [1 Peter 114-16 ESV]. God’s expectations for His people were their separation from the world and the motives and activities of the world. Jesus describes the citizen of the kingdom of heaven as one who lives and acts like they belong to God. Peter encourages the church to be those who live in the world but belong to God.

Is God demanding we live to a standard which is impossible for us to attain? Yes. Why would He do this? He knows we cannot meet His expectations. Did He not create us for relationship with Himself? Yes. But we fell away, rebelling against Him. He did not turn us away or reject us. In His Son He redeemed us which means He bought us back and recreated us and is fitting us for eternity as citizens of His kingdom. When He created us in His image He had every right to expect our devotion to Him. We sinned making impossible for us any motivation and action which adheres to His expectations. When He redeemed us from sin He established His Creator rights over those redeemed to prepare us for eternity with Him.

God is just and righteous. His character and personality define the scope of all which remains in His known presence. He is good which includes His mercy and grace. He does not arbitrarily decide anything will be good based upon His will but created all things good because He would do nothing less. He is true and truth originates with Him. His creation exists according to and within the truth of the laws of nature and the spiritual laws of eternity. He is holy and nothing unholy may enter and remain in His presence. All of His creation and every being so created, whether seen or unseen,  physical or spiritual, radiates and reflects His being.

Yet, He allowed sin to enter His creation which corrupts, bends, twists and poisons through rebellion those so created. According to God’s eternal nature that which is so defiled cannot then become undefiled. His holiness must exclude from His presence any being who even rebels in, what we would say is, a mild and minor way for no rebellion is insignificant. One sin brings down God’s righteous justice because that one sin makes that which He created good not good, that which He created in truth becomes a lie, that which He created to radiate His holiness cannot.

Our concern is with His highest creation, those made in His image for relationship with Him. Here is what God says about people.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.[Genesis 6:5-8 ESV]

How can anyone, bent and twisted by sin, be considered “pure in heart” by God? How can anyone, born into Adam’s sinful race, be considered “pure in heart” by God? How can Jesus even suggest those who are His be “pure in heart?” There is nothing pure in that which is corrupted by sin.

Perhaps the best place to start is to understand the words Jesus spoke and then put those words in the context of the verse.

“Pure” means “without hypocrisy”, “single faced or single minded” and with “nothing hidden.” In the OT “barar” means to polish, purge, cleanse, make bright, test and prove, specifically concerning oneself and the tools one uses. In the NT “kathros” carries the idea of being clean, free from corruption, pruned of the unnecessary, unstained.

In Scripture the “heart” is the center not of the emotions but of the personality.  God looks to and judges first the heart. Notice Genesis 6:5.  It is the “thoughts of his heart” God examines because it is here the person’s motivations are found. In the OT the word “leb” means the seat of the passions which include the mind and emotions, reflection and inclination, determination and conscience. In the NT the word “kardia” means literally “heart.” It is the center of the person’s life and being and includes character, personality, motivation, purpose and all contained in “leb.” The evidence of a person’s motivations will come through every activity, every word and every thought.

Those who are pure in heart, then, are those who are motivated by a deep, passionate, genuine love for God. There is nothing of the world in them compromising or conflicting with their obvious motivation to obey God’s commands. Jesus gives a straightforward, unambiguous explanation of how we show our love for Him. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” [John 14:15 ESV].

But, doesn’t God say that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”  [Genesis 6:5 ESV]. Once corrupted by sin there is no possibility of removing that sin from the persons being. A drop of poison in a tank of water corrupts the whole tank. However, notice Noah found favor in God’s eyes in verse 8. The word favor, “chen”, is also translated grace. The implication is not Noah had done anything to curry God’s favor, but that God decided, for His own reasons, to extend grace and favor to Noah.

Here is the paradox of grace and God’s decrees. The implications of the context of Genesis 6 suggests either Noah was just like everyone else or He actually sought God while being just like everyone else.  The difference would be in his seeking God where others did not. His motivation, especially in obeying the command to build an ark, was to do what God wanted. This is different than everyone else in the world at that time.

Obedience does not make anyone pure in heart. Only God can do this. Obedience to God’s commands, however, is evidence one’s motivation is at least pointing in the right direction which is toward God. Reasons to obey include fear and respect. The greatest reason to obey is love for God.

New Testament Examples

God draws people toward Himself. Never will a person come to God otherwise. Instantaneous conversion is preceded by a long, hoary battle of the wills. Even when children “accepts Jesus” (a term which starts any disciple off on the wrong foot) the will must be broken by God. In fact, the will must be killed and recreated, something only God can do. Peter, Simon the Fisherman, often a disciple of Christ, and fallible Apostle of the early Church, lives the glaring need for action by God.

I like Peter. His first letter is a mainstay in my theological thinking, filled with mystery revealed. Peter’s journey toward Jesus is hard, starting and stopping and sputtering throughout the Gospels. Before Luke 5 Peter is an on-again, off-again follower. But Luke 5 is a turning, a sudden realization preceded by a long series of deliberate events, used by God to draw him close to His Son. I like Peter because I see myself in him even though I do not often like what I see, in either Peter or myself.

Peter knew Jesus. At least, he knew who Jesus was, a carpenter from the other side of the hill. Peter was a fisherman, worked mostly at night fishing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was a carpenter and worked mostly during the day. Jesus knew how to cut and shape wood. Peter knew the lake and how to fish it. Jesus knew how to attract people and talk to them in an attractive. More than likely, Peter wasn’t comfortable in crowds. He was a rough and tumble, rugged fisherman.

One time, after a long, frustrating, unsuccessful night of fishing, Peter and his buddies were cleaning their nets. This means they were done for the day and getting ready to go home. They hadn’t caught a thing. This means they had nothing with which to sell or to barter. He did not draw a salary or get vacation and sick days. If he didn’t work or catch anything he and his family may not eat.

Jesus walked up, followed by the usual crowd, and hopped into Simon (Peter’s) boat and asked him (Peter) to put out into the lake a little. This would keep the crowds away. Peter and Jesus knew each other well enough for Jesus to ask and Peter to comply. In my imagination I see Peter acting a little miffed. He’s worked all night. He’s bone tired. Jesus wants to use his boat as a floating soap box. Peter probably only half listens to what Jesus said. Remember, this is in my imagination. I’m not saying it happened this way.

After He is done speaking He looks at Simon (Peter) and says let’s go fishing. “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” [Luke 5:4 ESV] Peter is condescending in his response. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” [Luke 5:5 ESV] My imagination hears the heavy sigh coming from Peter’s face. The, they catch so many fish two boats are threatened with sinking.

Jesus’ presence does nothing for Peter. Jesus’ words did not move him one inch. Jesus’ request was outlandish. But something happened which changed Peter. He caught fish and Peter’s spiritual eyes were opened to who Jesus was. Peter probably didn’t realize Jesus had just done something only God could do. Peter did recognize there was something different, even holy about this man. Peter saw his sinfulness. “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’” [Luke 5:8 ESV] He saw his sinfulness because he perceived Jesus’ righteousness. “And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” [Luke 5:10 ESV] When God draws a person toward Himself He takes them out of one place and puts them in another. His call is always out of sin and into Christ’s righteousness, not self-righteousness.

Paul’s conversion is dramatic. Needless to say, most people do not have dramatic conversions. I don’t know anyone who was stopped in their tracks by a blinding light while on the way to capture and kill Christians.

That Christians are persecuted for their faith is an indisputable fact. Paul’s conversion was so dramatic he used it as a defense before the authorities who wanted to have him killed because he was a Christian and a Jew. Luke, the writer of Acts, relates “Saul’s” (who became Paul) conversion in Acts 9. Paul then tells us about his experience two more times, once in Acts 22 as he stands before an angry mob in the Temple Courts. They think he had brought Gentiles into their holy place. Then in Acts 26 he stands before King Agrippa after appealing to Caesar.

Before his conversion he was known as Saul of Tarsus, grew up in Jerusalem, joined the sect of the Pharisees and learned from Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3). Gamaliel made an amazing statement about the disciples of Christ and their preaching after Jesus was resurrected and ascended. Because they were Christ’s disciples they were being threatened, beaten, thrown in jail and persecuted because they talked about Jesus. Peter and the others were not intimidated. They would continue to preach because God had told them to do so. Standing in court Gamaliel said to his peers:

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” [Acts 5:38-39 ESV]

Shortly thereafter, Stephen was murdered, with Saul standing nearby holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen.

Saul learned Scripture from Gamaliel but did not learn to think until confronted by Jesus. Saul learned blood-thirsty action from those willing to murder for god. Had he paid attention to the lessons of his teacher and learned how to think from him he would have seen the wisdom in letting God deal with those who are against Him. Instead, Saul tries to control the situation for God through his violent actions.

Saul is a zealot for god (I use little “g” for a reason), letting his loyalty for the traditions of his elders control his passion for religion. Notice in Acts 9:1 Saul breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” and traveled out of country to capture those who were threatening his religion. Saul claimed to know God and God’s absolute will. He had spent his life learning … something. Studying god as an intellectual exercise, or the manipulation of people in god’s name, as an emotional point of pride, does nothing for the person’s actual relationship with God. In reality, both methods of learning about god are a cheat.

On the road, at noon-time, when the sun is the highest and brightest a “light from heaven flashed around him” and he fell “to the ground.” [Acts 9:3 ESV] A light so bright Saul could not see for three days. A light brighter than the sun at its zenith. Only God casts a light so bright.

Then God spoke. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” [Acts 9:4 ESV]

For the first time in his life Saul is forced to honestly listen to God. In response, he asks an honest question. “Who are you, Lord?” [Acts 9:5 ESV] He called Him “Lord.” Saul knew instinctively with whom he was speaking. The answer must have stunned the zealous Pharisee. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” [Acts 9:5 ESV] Paul later tells the Church Christ is the head of the body. When the individual Christian is persecuted Christ is persecuted. Not only does the Christian identify with Christ, but Christ identifies with the Christian.

Those who were with Saul saw the light, heard the voice and helped the handicapped Pharisee into the city of Damascus. We know nothing else about them. Jesus was after Saul. If He went after those other men you may be sure He got them.

In an instant, after a life of learning about god, Saul was broken and learned about God.

John was a disciple and apostle of Jesus.  Current popular thought portrays him as a mild-mannered, almost feminine looking young man. A recent novel fictionalized him as almost, though not quite, a homosexual. He was the disciple Jesus loved and leaned on Jesus’ breast during the last supper. He was the type of man the postmodern world wants a man to be.

Okay, enough of this pandering nonsense.

What was John like?  He was a fisherman, one of Peter’s buddies. Don’t think for one moment Peter would put up with the modern description of John. Peter and his brother, and John and his brother, were all “cut from the same cloth.” They were hard-working, rough around the edges people nobody in our day, in our country, would want to tangle with. Some go to gyms to get exercise. Their very existence was exercise. They could out-row, out-run, out-lift, out-work any muscle-bound gym rat in this country. 

John had a temper. He and his brother were called “sons of thunder.” One time, as Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be murdered, they passed through a Samaritan village. Unwelcomed by the people of the village these wandering Jews were going to a place they hated, Jerusalem. ”And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them.” [Luke 9:54-55 ESV] They were as tough as anyone living in Galilee or Judah at that time.

John followed Jesus through almost His entire ministry. He was one of the inner-three, the most privileged of disciples. He was the only one who came back after Jesus was crucified, standing before the cross with Jesus’ mother, staring the gut-wrenching spectacle of mangled humanity hanging before him. He was the one who Jesus appointed to care for his mother. He was there when Jesus died. In my opinion, John had a stronger backbone and stomach than any of the other disciples.

John’s gospel is unique, set apart from the three Synoptic gospels. He was intimately familiar with the life and ministry of Jesus. He gives insight into the Gospel of Christ and its impact upon the people who knew and heard Him necessary to fully understand God’s will. John knew, intellectually and intimately, Jesus.

John was the longest living Apostle. He not only wrote the Gospel of John, but the 3 Epistles of John and the Revelation or Apocalypse of John, the last book in the New Testament. ”The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” [Revelations 1:1-2 ESV] He was exiled to the Island of Patmos, probably as a political prisoner of Rome, for the remainder of his life. While there, Jesus, whom he had walked with on earth, showed himself to John and told him to deliver a message to the Seven Churches.

John saw God in his vision.  Remember Job?  He figuratively slapped his hand over his mouth to keep from spouting more self-righteous verbiage when he saw God.  Remember Isaiah?  He admitted his mouth and heart and the collective mouths and hearts of the nation were sinful when he saw a vision of God.  Remember Ezekiel?  He fell to the ground in a faint when he saw a vision of God.  All had seen a vision of God and all had reacted humbly, radically, honestly.

Peter knew Jesus nominally, until Jesus performed a miracle, doing something only God could do. Then he fell on his face and cringed over his sinfulness.  Paul grew up steeped in the Scripture, a knowledgeable Pharisee blinded by the brilliance of Jesus and knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus. John knew Jesus during His ministry on earth, and walked with Jesus and the Church for the rest of his life. It doesn’t matter how much or what kind of knowledge you have, when you are face-to-face with Jesus you will react.  When John saw Jesus he “fell at his feet as though dead.” [Revelation 1:17 ESV]

How can sin, and anyone corrupted by sin, stand before a just, righteous and holy God. They cannot. This means God has to remove sin from the person before the person can enter His presence. He will do this but not without us acknowledging the truth of sin.