“Changed: Fearless to Tearless”
April 17, 2016
By John Partridge*
From time to time I find myself visiting sites on the internet that are storehouses of famous (and not so famous) quotes. Usually I go there looking for something in particular but often end up reading longer than I intended simply because they are fun and inspiring to read. This week, as I prepared today’s message, I was propelled into exactly this sort of adventure. I began by looking for several quotes that I vaguely recalled and found several more that were quite good as well. I can’t use them all today, but we begin with a quote that many of us have heard before.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
But even though we begin that journey, it is important to know where we are going. In his recent book, publisher, author, and blogger, Michael Hyatt said, “People at any stage will profit by taking the wheel and getting pointed in the right direction.”
If we want to reach a particular destination, we must not only begin taking steps to get there, we must take those steps with our destination in mind. C. S. Lewis put it this way:
“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” –
In our journey to follow Jesus, nearly all of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves headed in the wrong direction. Whenever that happens, the wisest course of action is to cut our losses, make a course correction, and get going once again on the right road.
The reason that this is important to our Christian journey is as important as repentance itself. John the Baptist’s entire ministry was focused on repentance, and Jesus often mentions it as well, but what does it mean? The Greek word, metanoia, which we normally translate as repentance, literally translated, means a change of mind, but there is more to it than that. Because throughout ancient Greek literature, whenever the word metanoia appears, it describes a change of mind that is so compelling that it changes the actions of those who experience it. It isn’t just an acknowledgement of new information; it is a change of heart that changes what people do and how they act.
But, humorist Will Rogers reminds us of something else.
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” – Will Rogers
Following Jesus begins with an act of repentance, a moment when we realize that we have been going the wrong direction and choose to follow Jesus instead. It is at that moment when we change directions and adjust our course to follow the path that Jesus reveals to us in scripture. But following the path of Jesus involves more than just sitting still, it is a journey of a thousand miles, a constant struggle against desires that pull us in the wrong direction, but it is never a life of sitting still. “Following” is an action verb and by definition it implies action and motion. A life following Jesus is rarely a life that stands still; it is filled with movements that lead us closer to the life that God intended for us.
That life of motion began with Jesus, and it is Jesus that gives us the confidence that we need to take risks as we follow him. In John 10:22-30, we hear this:
22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
This is one of the many passages that give us the courage and confidence to follow Jesus even when we know that we are so prone to making mistakes and wandering off in the wrong direction. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus also tells us that “I and the Father are one.” Together we understand that Jesus wields the full power and authority of God, the creator of all that is, and he intends to use his power so that no matter how much, how badly, or how often we mess up, we cannot accidentally, unintentionally, or against our will, be taken away from God. Because of this we have the courage to struggle and to launch out in new directions when God calls. Because of this, we have the confidence to follow Jesus even when he leads us in unfamiliar and frightening directions.
In Acts 9:36-43, we hear a story that reminds us how our journey begins as we follow Jesus.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.
There are two changes here and the first is obvious. Tabitha was dead and prepared for burial, but when Peter commanded her to get up, she did. Although our first step was less obvious, our journey to follow Jesus also began with resurrection. At the moment we put our faith in Jesus, we became alive and gained eternal life. But this story also shows us something else that is just as important, but easily overlooked. Peter was a devout Jew. Peter had to be told by God three times that it was acceptable for him to eat food that the Old Testament taught was unclean. Even as a devoted follower of Jesus, Peter regularly did everything that he could to live a life of purity and follow the Law of Moses. But at the end of this story, we find Peter staying in the house of Simon the tanner.
And that is a big deal.
Much like shepherds, only more so, tanners were people who lived on the outside edges of Jewish life because their daily living involved handling dead animals. Because of what they did, they lived their lives in an almost constant state of unclean-ness and as such, if they were Jewish at all, they often couldn’t go to the temple or even associate with other Jews. A good, observant Jew like Peter wouldn’t even set foot in a tanner’s home because to do so would make him unclean. But what Peter’s experienced, while following Jesus, changed him. Peter’s life has been transformed and by the time we encounter him in this story, he is not the man that he once was. The Peter that we meet in this story not only enters the house, but shares food, and lives in the house of Simon the tanner. This Peter is unafraid to strike out in new directions and to do new, previously impossible things, as he follows Jesus in unfamiliar and frightening directions.
Meeting Jesus and believing his promise of eternal life caused Peter’s life to be entirely transformed.
Where before Peter was often afraid of trying new things, afraid of what others thought about him and, quite naturally, afraid for his own safety, now, Peter was fearless.
This is the path of transformation on which God desires to lead us… all of us. God intends to completely transform our lives… if we will let him.
But the transformation from fearful to fearless is only one of the first transformations that God has in mind. There is another, greater, transformation that awaits us.
In Revelation 7:9-17, we hear these words from the Apostle John:
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
In his vision, John is shown the very throne room of God and in it he sees a multitude of people from every tribe and nation, from every language and every corner of the world worshipping God and praising his name. But while he is watching, one of the elders asks John if he knows who these people are. John does not, but he knows that the elder who asked the question must know the answer. John is told that these are people who have endured great trials and great suffering but are also people who have been purified by the blood of Jesus Christ so that they may now come into God’s presence, worship him, praise him and serve in this throne room. They serve, not because of who they are, and not because of what they have done, but because they have been purified by the sacrifice of Jesus.
But more than that, these are people who have been transformed. They have been transformed by purification, but also because they live under the protection of God. Never again will they experience hunger, or thirst, or suffering. And, I think most important of all, as people who have experienced great trials, and who have suffered greatly, God himself has tenderly calmed their fears and wiped away their tears.
Following Jesus is a process of transformation.
When we choose to follow Jesus, we are transformed and purified in the eyes of God.
As we continue to follow him, we are transformed so that we become fearless in our faith and obedience so that we are willing to answer his call no matter where it may lead us.
And we look forward to the day when, regardless of the difficulties, trials, pain, and suffering that we endure during this life, God will comfort us, in person, and wipe away our tears.
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