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.