Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Easter Changes Everything: Paul's Story

Easter Changes Everything:

Part Two: My Outlook on Life

This week, we continue the theme “Easter Changes Everything.” It really does! We saw that last week with the story of Thomas, the one apostle who wasn’t there the day that Jesus rose from the dead. But he had a total life makeover when he saw Jesus. He had dug in hi heels and said, “Unless I can put my hands in the wounds in His body, I won’t believe it.” Sure enough, when Jesus came a week after the resurrection, Jesus said, “Go ahead, check out the wounds.” But Thomas just fell down and said, “My Lord and my God!”

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, well, that really does changes everything!

How does that change everything? Well, if Jesus really did die on a cross, if He was buried, and then three days later rose from the dead, it really changes everything. Last week, with Thomas, we saw how it answers the question, “Who is my Lord?” Today, we’re going to take that a little farther and see how it completely changes our outlook on life. Next week we’ll see how Easter changes our relationships. The fourth is “My life’s passion” and the last week is crucial—it’s on “How I face death.”

Today the focus is how Easter changes our outlook on life. Wow, that covers a lot of territory. But again, I think we can illustrate this with how one person reacted when he came to believe in the risen Jesus.

Funny thing is, this happened about three years later. But when he tells the story, he tells his encounter with Jesus as a story of the resurrection. His name is the apostle Paul, and story of his conversion is told four times in the Bible—three times in the book of Acts (which was written by Luke), and a couple of times by himself. That’s a lot of times, so there must be something pretty special going on here!

In the one place where Paul tells the story, he says that he sees it as part of the resurrection story. You can find this in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8:

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

So when Paul described how he came to follow Jesus Christ, even though it was a couple of years later, he regarded that as part of the story of the resurrection of Jesus—part of the Easter story. He says he’s the last one to see the risen Jesus, “as to one abnormally born” which means that he understands his vision of the risen Christ was really out of the ordinary—that he didn’t see the risen Jesus the same way Peter and the apostles and James saw Him.

Paul’s conversion certainly was dramatic. The first time it’s told by Luke in the book of Acts, here’s what it says—Acts 9:1-9. (By the way, at this time he was still known by his Hebrew name Saul). Saul hated the people who were following Jesus. Luke tells the story of how he was on his way to persecute believers in Damascus when...well, let’s read it, Acts 9:1-9—

1Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

5"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6"Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

This is the original “road to Damascus” story. Paul had a complete turnaround due to this dramatic encounter with Jesus.

I can kind of relate to this. I wasn’t raised a Christian. I actually became an atheist in my early teen years and was dragged to faith by the persistent witness of some friends. I remember a conversation I had with one of the adult youth leaders at the church a year or two later…we were trying to get an outreach off the ground and he said, “You have passion for this because you’re like Paul—you had your own Damascus road.”

When the reality of God really hits you, it never lets you be the same again. Paul’s priorities and view of his role in the world changed after this. It took some time—he had three blind days to think over his life in Damascus, but even more important he had several years—three of them somewhere out in the Syrian desert—to fully grasp his changed life. When he emerged from this time, there was no question that his life’s outlook was transformed.

There’s another place where he went into some detail on this. Writing about 20 years after his conversion to the people in the church at the Greek city of Philippi—the letter to the Philippians—in chapter 3, vs. 2-11. OK, let’s take this section a lot slower than we did the passages we already looked at, because here we get a full account of how the risen Jesus changed Paul’s outlook on life, and how He still changes our outlook on life.

The first thing we see here is the changed outlook when it came to confidence. When Paul was charging off to Damascus to persecute believers, he was full of confidence. He had a Taliban-like confidence that he was doing God a favor by going after the Jesus heretics. But one of the first things Paul notes here is how Jesus changes the nature of your confidence.

Oh, a quick context note here. In this chapter, Paul’s heard that some people are trying to get the Christians at Philippi to follow the Jewish law—if they want to be really good Christians! Paul knew that would be a dead end for them, so the passage starts with some pretty tough words for the people who were trying to get them to be “Jewish enough” for God to favor…

From self-confidence to God-confidence

2Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

Paul knew all about religious self-confidence—it’s a bust. He was expert. He’d been the enforcer for the opposition, and, as he’s about to explain, has “been there, done that, got the T-shirt.”

This is what billions of people around the world don’t get, and what millions of people who go by the name Christian still don’t understand. Christianity is not a performance sport. We think that if I just try a little harder, pray a little more sincerely, worship a little more passionately, that God will notice and accept us.

That’s religious self-confidence, and it won’t work. It won’t work for the simple reason that God’s holiness is so far beyond us. We can’t measure up. God’s standard is “Be perfect” (that’s what Jesus says in Matthew 5:48). But we aren’t perfect—as a matter of fact, we can’t even see perfect from here!

So what’s the solution? Well, what if someone who was perfect were to do all that God asked of us, on our behalf, and then was able to give us that perfect standing before God? What if Someone were able to cover us in perfection the same way that you cover a bed with a sheet?

Well, that’s the solution that God offers—and the someone is Jesus, the perfect one, who pays for all of our sin and imperfect and brokenness by being broken for us on the cross. Then He caps His victory over sin by showing His victory over death—by rising from the dead.

Now the weight’s no longer on you to perform. Jesus did that. Now we accept that, and grow in that faith, and go and grow from there. We don’t have to live in the maybe zone our whole lives, hoping that maybe we’ve done enough for God to love and accept us. Our confidence is in God. Like the old hymn says, our confidence now rests “in Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

So the first big transformation in our outlook is from self-confidence to God-confidence. The second is…

From self-righteousness to God’s righteousness

Here’s what Paul writes in vs. 4b-6:

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Paul is saying, hey, if you someone who had spiritual bragging rights, I’m your man. I was circumcised when the law says to be; I have no Gentile ancestors; I was advancing in the most strict sect of Judaism, to the point of being a persecutor of the church. If you measured my life by the measures of religion, hey, I was top-notch.

Paul had a whole lot of religion. A lot of people have a whole lot of religion. It didn’t do Paul any good, and it won’t do you any good either.

We live on the idea that a lot of religion produces God’s good favor. God looks at us and says, “That’s a good boy” and gives us His love. The Bible calls that right standing with God “righteousness.”

500 years ago, the concept of God’s righteousness nearly drove young Martin Luther insane. He thought it meant that he had to become righteous through his own efforts to merit God’s love. But when he was digging deep in God’s word, he realized it meant that God was extending his righteousness to him by grace—that that right standing is a gift that comes to us because Jesus went to the cross.

From my plan to Christ’s plan

7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

For reasons I do not know, the text of my file ends abruptly here. I have a hard copy which continues for another page.

Summary: imagine the "great life" Paul gave up to follow Christ--well, he called that trash.

Our lives aren't ours now...contrast the lyrics of Billy Joel's "My Life."

So, it's much better to have a small part in the big plan of God than a big part in the small plan of me. So, follow the Risen One.

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