Tag Archives: Paul

Strangers in the World

Studies in First Peter

Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile (sojourning) (1 Peter 1:17 ESV)

Peter’s second section of his epistle, in 1:13-2:10, shows the work of the Holy Spirit inside of each Christian making them ready for heaven through the three-part process of sanctification. Peter uses the word paroikos, a different word than used in 1:1, to show the kingdom of heaven on earth and the power of the Holy Spirit to set the Christian apart for holy service. A paroikos is a person from another kingdom who lives in a place for only a short time in order to accomplish a specific goal or purpose. They are citizens of God’s kingdom and are simply passing through the world to their true home.

Paroikos is the second Greek word Peter uses and is also translated exile but actually means a person who is stopping over or staying for a short period of time as they travel from once place to the next. They may be a businessman or even a tourist. “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile (sojourn) (1Peter 1:17 ESV). Other writers of the New Testament use the same word in the same sense, referring to those who are simply traveling through a country for a short time, unlike the immigrant who will stay indefinitely.

During Paul’s first missionary journey, he traveled to various cities speaking to the local Jews and others who would listen. In Antioch of Pisidia, on the Sabbath, Paul gave those who were listening a history lesson about the nation of Israel. “The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay (dwelt as strangers, paroikia) in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it” (Acts 13:17 ESV). Stephen, before he was murdered, gave the history of Israel as part of his witness and defense of the gospel. “And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners (paroikos) in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years”  (Acts 7:6 ESV). Paul wrote to the Ephesians stating that where they had been estranged from God they were now able to live in His presence. “So then you are no longer strangers (xenos) and aliens (sojourners, paroikos), but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV).

Unlike the parapedemos, the alien immigrant, the paroikos, stranger,  has decided to be in the host country for a short, designated time. There is no thought of adopting the culture, language or identity of the visited country because they are not going to stay. They are a traveler, a tourist, a businessperson, who is only in the country to gain something the country has and then return to their own country. They may just be travelling through on their way to another place or on their way home. The may be visiting out of curiosity, for an experience. They may be on a business trip, to gain a product or a treaty. They are using the host country to meet their needs, wants or desires.

The Christian, not a citizen of this world, still lives in the world, and is extended rights and privileges commensurate with that standing.  Those who are reborn are no longer native-born citizens and therefore will not conform to the standards demanded by native-born citizens. The Christian is a foreigner, residing for a short time in a place not his home. God uses the world in which we live as a training ground for eternity, teaching us that which we need to know about Himself and His kingdom before He finally brings the Christian home. Christians are citizens of the kingdom of heaven in the world for only a short time. Life may seem long, but when compared with eternity, which is not constrained by time, is only a blip on the timeline of history.

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Stephen

Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. [Acts 6:11-15 ESV]

Stephen was a normal person while an extraordinary Christian. Probably one of the Grecian Jews (Hellenists) who came to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, he stayed when changed by the gospel and the teaching of the Apostles.

After the Church was formed it did not take long for a disagreement to arise about how the new converts received tangible care. Some widows were neglected in the distribution of needed food. He, and six other men, all Grecian Jews, were selected, appointed and blessed by the Apostles to fill this need. He was one of the first deacons. He, and the others, did more than wait tables. They were wise, full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and willing to obey God.

A quarrel arose between the Grecian Jews who followed the letter of the Law, against Stephen. They accused him falsely, claiming he spoke “blasphemous words against Moses and God” [Acts 6:11 ESV]. They could not stand against the Spirit in him and the wisdom given in his words, so they made something up, created a fiction. In the next accusation, before the council, they suggested they heard Stephen say Jesus would destroy their place (the temple) and would alter their customs. Threatened by the work of the Holy Spirit in those who belong to God, a Spirit they did not have and a God they did not serve, they ignored the law and falsely accused an innocent man.

Stephen’s response to their accusations is a classic example of confronting that which is false with the truth. He knew the history of Israel and the teaching of Moses. Nothing he said was disputed, until the end of his speech. He wanted to make sure they were talking about the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

He talked about Joseph and his brother jealousy, being sent ahead to prepare a way for Israel in Egypt. He talked about Moses, and a king who did not know Joseph. He answered their accusations about blaspheming God. He had not. About changing the laws. Jesus would not and he could not. Here is his answer about Jesus destroying the temple.

Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?” [Acts 7:48-50 ESV]

Is not the temple His to do with as He wishes? It cannot contain Him any more than the whole universe could contain Him. His will cannot be thwarted. But those who say they are His can rebel against Him and try to change His statements to fit their own desires. Stephen spoke the truth and exposed their lie.

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it. [Acts 7:51-53 ESV]

They murdered Stephen, who died at the feet of Saul, asking God to forgive the sin of murder so any might accept the offer of grace.  Eventually, Saul did, becoming Paul.  Those murdering Stephen could not murder God, though they tried. Death could not keep Him. Every statement of God exposed the rebellion in their hearts.

Suffering for righteousness’ sake is just that. It is righteousness standing before unrighteousness so those who are called may see their sin, repent of it and be changed by God. Suffering for righteousness’ sake does two things. It is used by God to strengthen the faith of His child in preparation for eternity and to witness to the world about Him.

And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” [Acts 7:59 ESV]

God’s Tenth Statement

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s. [Exodus 20:17 ESV]

“Covet” can also be translated desire, delight in, hold precious, consider delectable, lust for. There is a slight difference between the statement in Exodus and in Deuteronomy. And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house” [Deuteronomy 5:21]. Another word is used just before the list of valuables owned by your neighbor. “Desire” means to wish for or long after. You will not lust after your neighbor’s wife or wish for your neighbor’s possessions.

This is God’s last, but not final, statement to those who are His. Are these statements directed only at the people of the nation of Israel or toward all people? Though the statements were given to Moses, and the people of Israel required to follow them, the universal character of the statements demands they apply to all people.

All of the preceding statements point to the thinking of the heart in specific behaviors and how wrong thinking from the beginning brings rebellious activities. This statement lays bare the motivation of the heart, an indictment covering all sinful activity. Where there is one sin there is covetousness. Murderers covets the life of another while adulterers covet the spouse of another. Thieves covet property and liars covets control over truth. With covetousness comes all of the evidence needed to justify judgment, sentencing and execution of the sentence. This statement touches the fiber of every thought and act done by the person corrupted by sin.

Does not God begin these statements by driving home the reality that He alone is God, and that nothing and no one is to take His place? Are not every one of these statements designed to reveal God’s place and how His person, and our relationship with Him, is attacked and compromised or destroyed? You may have heard the worst sin a person can commit, the sin which was the downfall of Lucifer, the foundation for all other sin, is pride. It is not. God tells us plainly the motivation behind all sin.

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. [Isaiah 14:12-15 ESV]

Satan, Lucifer, the highest angel, wanted God’s place, which means he wanted God gone. His pride is evident but his desire and motivation is to usurp God and make himself higher than his Creator. He coveted God.

The thinking of our hearts are filled with the desires to have what is not ours, to be what we are not, to do what we cannot, to be held up as equal to God. We want to be self-righteous not poor in spirit. We want to be capable of controlling ourselves and our sin. We do not want to mourn over the reality and truth of the full extent of sin as it affects us and the world in which we live. Coveting is the illusion of control in out-of-control lives. It is the belief that only what we think and feel matters. It is the ultimate motivation behind all rebellion against God.

Paul writes to the Romans.

Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. [Romans 7:7-8 ESV]

Paul was the best Pharisee by his own admission. Yet, once redeemed by God, all of his righteous actions and attitudes he considered of no value for the sake of Christ. Why? Because he saw his life measured against Christ’s. He recognized the thinking of his heart was motivated by covetousness and every atom of his being was under God’s condemnation.

Those redeemed by Christ’s blood who remain in this world continue to struggle with covetousness. But our hope ceases to rest in our actions, our attitudes, the thinking of our hearts. Our hope rests in God’s grace. We are His testimony to the fallen world as He prepares us for eternity with Him.

Examples of Hungering and Thirsting for Righteousness: Luke

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. [Luke 1:1-4 ESV]

Luke wrote over a quarter of the New Testament, was a sometimes companion of Paul from his second missionary journey to his imprisonment in Rome. While Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years before appealing to Caesar Luke and had many opportunities to interview eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Though his relationship with Paul is understated he accompanied Paul on many of his journeys beginning from his trip from Troas to Macedonia. This verse changes from the third person to the first person telling us when Luke joined Paul’s company. “And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” [Acts 16:10 ESV]. After appealing to Caesar Luke accompanies Paul, who is in change, to Rome. “And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy” [Acts 27:1 ESV]. “And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him” [Acts 28:16 ESV].

Paul mentions Luke three times in his letters (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; and Philemon 24) but he never mentions his own name. When Luke wrote to Theophilus it was with the express intent to tell him the truth. He was not an eyewitness to the events recorded but painstakingly searched for and interviewed those who were. While Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea Luke had ample opportunity to travel throughout the country and collect his information. He interviewed eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. [Acts 1:1-3 ESV]

Luke obviously spoke to many people collecting stories about Jesus. While we don’t know much about the man himself we can see the quality of his work, of his research and writing abilities. He never claims to be an eyewitness but does claim to have spoken with eyewitnesses. He was a careful researcher and used the best Greek to express himself. He used medical terms liberally, words which would not have been used by a poor Jew of Galilee or Judah. He did not use slang nor quote from others. What he wrote was in his own style. His intent was to verify and validate the stories told Theophilus for his assurance.

While there are many stories in the Gospel of Luke found in Mark and Matthew and even John, there are also many unique to his gospel. Over and over he gives points of historical significance from a perspective of the Greek not the Jew. Many have tried to debunk Luke as the author suggesting His historical references are wrong. Over and again, as more evidence is discovered and collected, his historical references have been shown accurate.

While not a biography of Jesus the Gospel of Luke does have a unique vision of the man.  He collected and presented evidence which shows Jesus is who He says He is.

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory.” Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. [Luke 24:25-27 ESV]

Add to this the evidence of the growth of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles and you find a complete picture of Christ changing people and making them His own.

Luke did not do this work for himself nor just for Theophilus. He was driven needing to know the truth and to test that truth about the one called Jesus. He did not falter or plagiarize or make up a fantasy. He hungered and thirsted for righteousness by demanding of himself a knowledge of the evidence of what he believed.  He trusted the object of his faith, willing to associate and even care for Paul while traveling to hostile regions and sitting in jails and prisons. He obeyed the commands of his God even when it meant putting himself at risk.

He needed to know.

The Corinthians

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. [Matthew 5:4 ESV]

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. [2 Cor. 7:8-12 ESV]

Paul lived in Corinth for 18 months teaching these new Christians all they needed to know to live a righteous life before God in their world. He left, driven out by an unruly mob of Jews who accused him of teaching false ideas about God. When the Roman authority refused to do act against Paul the mob beat Sosthenes, the leader of the local synagogue. See Acts 18 and 1 Corinthians 1:1. 

Sometime after Paul left the city the Corinthian Christians wrote him a letter asking questions about eating  food offered to idols. Before he answered their specific questions he dealt with many others sinful actions into which they had fallen. He heard about their soiled reputation from the many people who traveled to see him who described the struggles with sin plaguing the Corinthian Christians.

Paul’s first letter was a deliberate confrontation of sin which compromised their redeemed character as Christians and sent a misleading message about Jesus Christ to the world. Their sin was blatant and demanded a rebuke by their spiritual authority. There is no teaching in the first letter to the Corinthians until you reach chapter 15 and 16 in which Paul is commending the Corinthian Christians. Not even chapter 12-14, Paul’s teaching on grace gifts of God is a positive reflection on the work of the Corinthians. They got just about everything wrong. God inspired  Paul’s letter designing the words to cause grieve, to cause mourning because of sin and then to bring repentance. His letter worked.

Two things happened when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians. He was grieving and mourning over their sin. At first his letter probably caused anger at such a sharp, documented rebuke. But finally his letter caused them to grieve and mourn. “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” [2 Cor. 2:4 ESV].  It was astounding to him they should sin so grievously. They argued and quarreled, they ate and got drunk, they took each other to court before the gentiles, they allowed sexual sin to occur unabated within their midst. Instead of going to them and rebuking them face to face, which would have caused much more grief he wrote them a letter outlining their sin.

Used here the word for “grief” or “sorrow” or “pain” is a verb denoting action on the part of the person. Paul wanted them to know the full extent of his grief and sorrow so they might identify with him. He wanted to test them to force them to look at themselves, to examine themselves and recognize sin. It is not the same word used in Matthew 5:3 for “mourning” but its effect is almost identical. They saw what they were doing and it caused them Godly sorrow.

God uses the Corinthian’s dilemma with sin as examples for us for at least two good reasons. First and foremost, we have the Word of God divinely inspired part of the Scripture. We also have a splendid example of how God wants the church to approach discipline within the Body of Christ. It is important the Church confront sin uncompromisingly. There can be no vacillating when it comes to sin within the Body of Christ. But this confrontation must be done in a way which allows God to convict the person, or group of people, breaking their will without breaking their spirit. We are His instruments. We do not wield ourselves against sin but allow God to wield us as He see fit. This is a difficult place and is only attained by having a right relationship with Him who directs.

Paul draws a distinction between godly and worldly grief. Godly mourning brings repentance. Worldly grieving brings remorse. There is a huge difference between these two words and the motivations they describe. Repentance is turning away from sin. Remorse is being hurt because of being caught. Repentance happens whether others know of the sin or not. Remorse always happens in a crowd and is more akin to embarrassment. No one feels remorse without being prompted. Only the Holy Spirit prompts to repentance.

We see in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians how they, touched by God, turned away from specific sins. There was one specific sin Paul confronted in his letter where he suggested they turn the evil person over to Satan so his flesh would die but his spirit be saved. “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” [1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV].  Here is another instance where God will allow a person to sin to a point but no further. God’s judgment against sin is death, which is separation from that which sustains life. All physically die because of sin. There is the possibility of being removed from the world through death because the Christian embraces sin to the detriment of the Body of Christ, to the questioning of their place before God. However, we know, because of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, God will not separate Himself from any He has redeemed in Christ. This does not excuse sin but demonstrates the limits to the divine patience.

As servants of God we are directed by Him to live His will in an intimate relationship with Him, not just do His will mechanically without thinking. Our lives are a confrontation of sin by a life of righteousness. Christians who confront sin in the Church according to the will of God, by His direction, will affect the one sinning.  Christians who do not confront sin in themselves and the Church will eventually cease serving God.  This is dangerous for God will not abide unrepented sin in His people.

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.