God is prepared to set the final segment of His salvation outreach in motion. His Son will be sent to live as a human on earth shortly. Before sending His Son, He calls a conference of righteous people to explain what is about to happen. You are one of the righteous God calls to attend the conference.

God speaks. "Here is what I will do and what I will begin. Soon I will send my Son to earth. He will be born as a person and named Jesus. As an adult, he will have a ministry in Israel that reveals the coming of My kingdom. His ministry will be devoted to two purposes. First, he will challenge Israel to understand the priority I place on mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Second, he will prepare the Jewish people for the coming of my promised kingdom.

"This spiritual kingdom will be brought into existence by My Son's death. In death he will give his blood to atone for all sin. Then I will raise him from death to be Lord over this new kingdom. All who will place their trust in him, redirect their lives away from sin, and participate in his death and resurrection through immersion will be citizens in My kingdom. Anyone on earth who accepts forgiveness and submits to his Lordship can be citizens in that kingdom.

"Are there any questions?"

  1. There are a lot of questions and comments.
    1. One question is asked that was on many righteous people's mind.
      1. "The Jewish community is basically a closed, isolated community that is not really open to outsiders."
        1. "They are not going to be thrilled about the fact that your new spiritual kingdom is available to everyone."
        2. "Obviously, after Jesus dies and is resurrected he will need to use a human spokesmen to tell Israel what You have done and to tell the world what You have done."
        3. "Those critical roles are sensitive and extremely important. Who do you have in mind to do this?"
      2. God responds, "Men by the names of Peter and Paul will serve those purposes."
    2. How do you feel about Peter and Paul functioning in such sensitive positions?
      1. Because we are Christians who live about 2000 years "after the fact," our likely initially reaction is, "God really knew what He was doing when He used Peter and Paul."
        1. Both men did incredible work.
        2. Both men functioned in the way God wanted.
        3. Looking back, it is easy to see that.
        4. I do not think I ever heard a Christian suggest that God could have done a much better job if He had used men other than Peter and Paul.
      2. But this is the truth of the matter: if it was our decision to make today, right now, most of us would not use Peter or Paul in the role they served.
        1. Why?
        2. Today we would say that it was a matter of credibility, that such was not in the best interest of the church.

  2. Why would we feel that way about Peter?
    1. There are a number of things that we admire about Peter during the time of Jesus' ministry.
      1. We admire that fact that he left his occupation to follow Jesus as a disciple to learn (Matthew 4:18-20).
      2. We admire the fact that he became one of the closest disciples to Jesus during the time of Jesus' earthly ministry.
        1. "Peter, James, and John" occupy a special relationship with Jesus as disciples.
        2. When Jesus selected some disciples to share a special moment with him, he commonly selected Peter, James, and John (the transfiguration --Matthew 17:1; the "in the garden" time of prayer--Matthew 26:36,37).
      3. We admire the fact that Peter would drop the nets because Jesus asked him to lower them (Luke 5:1-11).
      4. We admire the fact that Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water (Matthew 14:24-29).
      5. As a disciple while Jesus lived, we admired his determination, his single-minded devotion, and the strength of his commitment.
    2. But there is some thing we do not admire about Peter.
      1. We do not admire Peter's reaction to stress when the unexpected and undesired happened in the moment of great crisis.
        1. The last night of Jesus' life, prior to his betrayal, he told his disciples that all of them would stumble that night because of him (Matthew 26:31-35)
          1. All of them said they would not stumble because of Jesus and they would die if necessary.
          2. Peter was quite emphatic in his denial: "If everyone else does, I will not."
          3. Jesus replied that Peter would deny him three times before the roster crowed.
          4. Peter replied, "Even if I have to die, I will not do deny you."
        2. When Jesus was arrested, Peter was ready to die (Matthew 26:47-56).
          1. When a single fisherman engaged many Roman soldiers in a sword fight, the fisherman was ready to die (John 18:10,11).
          2. He would die fighting, but not standing there.
          3. He and the others fled into the darkness leaving Jesus alone with his enemies.
        3. Before the roster crowed, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, the last time with cursing and swearing (Matthew 26:69-75).
          1. Right after the third denial, the roster crowed.
          2. Peter left the courtyard crying bitterly.
    3. If we were on a search committee looking for a man to explain God's work in Jesus Christ for the very first time, we would not select Peter.
      1. The first sermon was to be preached in the same area of the denial, and some of the people who heard the denial likely heard the sermon in Acts 2.
      2. We would reason that Peter's denial destroyed his credibility, and the occasion was much too important to risk Peter being the speaker.
      3. Honestly, most of us would not do it that way.

  3. Why would we feel that way about Paul?
    1. In the Churches of Christ, Paul is one of the most admired people in the New Testament.
      1. He was probably one of Jesus' greatest missionaries.
      2. He made incredible personal sacrifices to teach others about Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-33).
      3. Almost half of the books in the New Testament were letters send by Paul to congregations or individuals.
      4. He was executed for his faith in Christ.
    2. Yet, before he became a Christian, Paul was one of the greatest, most feared enemies of Christians.
      1. By his own words, he was violent, he blasphemed, and he persecuted (1 Timothy 1:13).
      2. In an attempt to destroy the church in Jerusalem, he made a house to house search for followers of Christ, and when he found men or women who were Jesus' disciples, he dragged them out of their homes and put them in prison (Acts 8:3).
      3. He threatened Christians with murder (Acts 9:1).
      4. In his own words, "I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities" (Acts 26:11).
    3. If we were on a search committee to find a man to share Christ for the first time in areas that never heard of Jesus, we would not select Paul.
      1. We would reason that if anyone ever learned of Paul's past that it would destroy his credibility.
      2. We just could not risk a man with Paul's past being a missionary.
      3. In all honesty, we simply would not do it that way.

  4. "So what is the point? The people who have the most troubled past should be our leaders? The people who have experienced the greatest turmoil and struggle should be our leaders?" No, that is not the point.
    1. There were reasons that God could use Peter and Paul so powerfully.
      1. Before they were broken, Peter and Paul were committed, aggressive, determined, confident men.
      2. Before they were broken, both men placed their primary confidence in themselves, their drive, their understanding, and their personal strength.
      3. Before he was broken, Peter knew his capabilities; he had great faith in his own personal drive.
      4. Before he was broken, Paul had great faith in his knowledge and in his being correct.
      5. Both men were driven and were self reliant.
        1. Before either man could be of maximum usefulness to God and His purposes, each had to fail.
        2. Each had to fail in ways that completely disillusioned them.
        3. Each had to fail in ways that transferred their confidence and dependence completely away from self and totally to God.
        4. Ironically, both men were certain they did depend on God and not themselves.
        5. Though both men were absolutely confident they were depending on God and faith, both men were wrong in their assessment of themselves.
    2. "In your understanding, David, what was the basic reason that these two men who failed miserably were able to be useful in such key roles?"
      1. They placed no confidence in themselves or their abilities.
      2. They placed total confidence in what God did in Jesus Christ.
      3. Their spirit and attitude completely changed when they stopped trusting themselves and placed all trust in God.
    3. The point: God makes powerful use of broken people who totally depend on Jesus Christ.
      1. "Why?"
      2. The answer to "why" is found:
        1. In understanding what brokeness does to the heart and the spirit of the person.
        2. In understanding the power that exists in appreciating forgiveness when the person knows he received mercy.
      3. God uses His strength to work through human weakness so that people respond to the God of strength, not a person of strength.
    4. If we want to utilize people who can accomplish significant things for God's purposes, we must learn to look at converted hearts, not messed up pasts.

Does this mean that a godly person capable of great leadership and service is a perfect spiritual person with all understanding and wisdom? No. It certainly did not mean that for Peter. Doing exactly what God wanted in the teaching of Cornelius cost Peter his position in the Jerusalem church and made him afraid of a group of Christians in that church (Galatians 2:11-13).

If we are to achieve God's purposes in Christ, we must learn how to be led and taught by Christians who have great hearts. Christians who have great hearts have learned how to depend on God and not themselves. Often they have learned that lesson through weakness and failure.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 20 May 2001
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