Some Reasons for the Second Half of the Cross 1

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”                                                              (Rom. 12:1-2)

The first half of the cross is obviously vitally important.

Eternal salvation and the Christian life begin with repentance and being spiritually reborn (Jn 3:3).

But it is the second half of the cross which sets up the framework for the Christian life after conversion.  It is the second half of the cross which enables the Christian disciple to enter into a genuine adventure of faith following Jesus, to match the lives of faith previewed for us in the Bible.

It is the second half of the cross that opens up the great lessons of truth to be discovered first-hand by the willing disciple, following the promised leading of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:12-15).

The second half of the cross identifies and exposes the basic human problem.  When we are sitting atop the throne of our lives as our own god, we are in an unnatural condition. When we are living as our own god, we are spiritually out of balance (Eph. 2:1).

God created us with the capacity to be human beings.  God did not create us with the capacity to be gods unto ourselves, outside of a relationship with Him.  In our unsaved condition, when we push God away and usurp the unearned and unqualified position of being a king atop the throne of our heart, we are in spiritual rebellion.  When we are in charge and in control, we have broken away into our own individual spiritual fiefdoms…within the borders of the realm of the king.

This is the basic definition of the spiritual condition called sin.  Only by stepping down off the throne of our lives, and reinstalling Jesus Christ in His rightful position as God and King in our hearts, is spiritual balance restored (Mt. 4:17).

This is one of the explanations for why newly born-again Christians experience an inward sense of joy, peace, and release.

Christians no longer have to continue the unnatural fiction of attempting to be the all-wise and all-knowing god that we were never created to be.  The blood that Jesus shed on the cross not only washes the repentant believer clean of the ill-effects of the rebellion of sin, but also sets in proper order and balance Jesus Christ on the throne of a person’s life.

Genesis 3:5 records Lucifer’s classically deceptive statement to Eve in the Garden of Eden: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

This was the start of the human problem.  Possessing the knowledge of good and evil has no correlation to the capacity to be an autonomous, independent god.  Knowing the difference between good and evil is indeed one attribute leading partially toward becoming godlike, but having this knowledge alone falls far short of the requirements to make a person a god.

This is the full-disclosure portion of the half-truth of Lucifer’s recruiting campaign that he deceptively left out of the temptation in the Garden.

The resume for being God runs much deeper than merely having one’s eyes open to know good and evil.  Trying to be a god is much more difficult than anyone thought.

Rebellion by itself does not equate to having the elevated capacity to adequately fill the top leadership position that a rebellion creates.  Mankind has been learning the reality of this difficult lesson the hard way for thousands of years.  The basic problem with our planet earth is that there are multitudes of people trying to be junior gods-in-training on their own…who do not have the super-intelligence, wisdom, divine foresight, and perfect character to fulfill that job title.

When Adam and Eve rejected the council of God and ate the fruit from the tree in the midst of the garden, which God told them not to eat, by their willful action they unwittingly said “we do not know or love God well enough yet…to take Him at His word…as opposed to this new enticing offer.”

By this distancing action they pushed God off His rightful place on the thrones of their lives, moved away from the bond of friendship with God built upon mutual trust, and thereby damaged the basis of their relationship with God.

In unspoken words, Adam and Eve said loudly by their action: “we will trust the word of this seemingly better informed serpent instead.”

This fundamental, ill-fated decision left mankind “high-and-dry,” having eyes now opened to the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:8), but without having the divine character capacity to independently be able to cope with the new position of being our own gods.

The unanticipated consequence of their action was to reverse the leadership orientation of their relationship with God…demoting God off the throne as sovereign King…and placing themselves in the top leadership position…now exercising autonomous individualism regarding the course and the direction of their lives…above God.

Lucifer successfully got mankind to join his rebellion, by cleverly tempting us with the seeming allurement of the power of possessing an upper management position over the destinies of our lives, which we are not qualified to occupy.

Because none of us comes with the Operator’s Manual of how we are individually and uniquely supposed to function, the knowledge of good and evil…without the Manufacturer’s Instructions…is essentially worthless.

The long, sad history of mankind struggling unsuccessfully to achieve peace, harmony, security, and happiness as the sole managers of the purpose and direction of our lives…is a manifestation of the unbalanced spiritual condition of mankind trying to live above ourselves as gods, instead of as the potentially wonderful and remarkable human beings that God created us to be.

The Genesis 3:5 temptation in the Garden of Eden had pinpoint accuracy.  Lucifer crafted a cleverly designed temptation of mankind that is still functioning well even today.  Sitting atop the thrones of our lives is still as strong a temptation as ever.

Lucifer knew where to attack non-divine human beings created with free-will.  Intellectually convince someone today that the gospel is true, and at the end of the discussion that person can still decide to reject Christ because they do not want to give up control over their lives.

The in-built drive for excellence that God placed within each human being…lies at the center of the enticing temptation Lucifer offered in his deceptive short-cut around God to obtain the position of being gods onto ourselves.

If our God-created inner drive for excellence was not so strong, this temptation to eat the forbidden fruit would never have gotten traction with Adam and Eve.  If the opportunity to jump at the chance to possess a knowledge of good and evil as our own gods was not so appealing, Adam and Eve would have brushed off this whole encounter with Lucifer in the Garden as nothing immediately important, and would have simply remarked that they would discuss this issue with God and then get back to Lucifer in the near future.

The temptation in the Garden of Eden was a brilliantly aimed, well-executed assault using genuine insight into the nature of superbly crafted human beings made in the image of God, possessing free-will.  This is why spiritual rebellion on earth is as alive and well today as ever.

Jesus 2

Another lesson that we can learn from the life of Jesus is that the quiet years from age twelve to thirty seem, according to conventional wisdom, as counter-intuitive.

We would think that God would pack as much ministry as possible into every minute of the life of Jesus on earth.  We would think that during this period of time all of the people living in the town of Nazareth and its environs would be saved, delivered, and healed of all maladies.  Jesus might even have prevented some destructive natural storms, or blessed the local crops and industries to miraculously prosper, or provided wise council regarding some local town issue.

We would think the legend and renown of Jesus would have spread throughout the region…long before the start of His official ministry.

The Son of God on earth, according to horizontally conventional wisdom, would be an invaluable asset to mankind that should be put into full use.  Yet the will of God the Father is just the opposite.  With incredible self-restraint the Son of God waits on the Father before beginning His earthly public ministry, to the point that the local populace in Nazareth is surprised and offended when He does step forward to assume His role as the Messiah.

They thought… according to conventional wisdom…that any true Messiah would have revealed Himself much earlier, by means of a grander and more spectacular entrance upon the world stage.

The silent years of the life of Jesus are an elegant display of the second half of the cross lived perfectly.

If Jesus had jumped the race starter’s gun and began His ministry a few years ahead of the appointed time according to some humanly expected timetable, Jesus would have been out in front of John the Baptist and would have ruined the prophetic sequence.

Yet all this time Jesus is holding back the ministering care that He could provide to loved ones and acquaintances in Nazareth, as the Son of God.

Jesus stayed within the parameters and boundaries of His calling, from beginning to end.  His will was subordinate to the will of God His Father in heaven.

This is another reason why Jesus is the moderating and balanced way, truth, and life for impatient and impulsive humans…like me at times…inclined to operate through self-energized action.

In the first century, Jesus is restoring sight to the blind, cleansing lepers, healing cripples, casting out demons, multiplying a few fish and loaves of bread to feed thousands, and raising the dead.  He is teaching like no other man has ever taught in history.  Multitudes of people are coming to see and hear Him from all over Israel and Jerusalem.

Yet Jesus has the enormous breadth of character to be able to have the worldly valued “pride of life” (1 Jn 2:15-17) crucified on the cross of Calvary, unselfishly for our salvation.

Jesus is able to span the highest elevations and the lowest depths of human experience.  Jesus can have thousands come to hear Him preach from a hilltop, yet the next moment humbly pick up His cross and head toward Golgotha for our sakes (Mt. 27:39-44).  Jesus suffers the worst possible outcome in life in the first century through Roman crucifixion.  Nothing outwardly epitomizes failure and defeat more than to end life on a cross in agony and shame.

Being a world-class heart surgeon will never exceed raising Lazarus from the dead.  Being a renowned lawyer arguing important issues before the United States Supreme Court will never surpass the instantly brilliant answers that Jesus gave to His critics in their numerous verbal challenges, which have intrigued skeptics and admirers down through the centuries (Matthew 22:46).  World-famous university professors and intellectuals cannot begin to reach the depth of insights in the teachings of Jesus (Mk. 1:22; Jn. 7:46).

Yet one of the most profound things about the character of God as revealed through the earthly ministry of Jesus the Son of God, is that the famous saying: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34), was put into practice and is in full operation at the beginning and throughout the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus knows the men of religious and political power who will eventually reject Him and bring about His death (Mt. 12:14-15; Jn 6:64; 7:19; 8:28).  Yet Jesus accepts invitations to eat in their homes (Lk. 7:36), teaches in synagogues throughout Israel and in the temple in Jerusalem, and has Pharisees and scribes around Him most of the time He is in public (Mt. 9:11; 12:2; 12:38).

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” was not just a moment of inspiration expressed from the cross, but was a part of the consistent character of loving outreach of Jesus Christ to every person alike during His entire ministry on earth.

The point here is that no one could invent Jesus Christ.  The huge character span capacity we see in Jesus is beyond the conception and creative imagination of human literary invention.  Jesus in the midst of His many challenges recorded in the gospels never falters or makes a mistake.  With Jesus there are no lessons learned the hard-way from past mistakes.

No one could invent such a perfect person.  What frame of reference could the gospel writers draw upon for inspiration to create the perfect person of Jesus Christ?  Not only could not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John invent the person of Jesus Christ, but no one in any century in all of history could make His story up.

The life of Jesus recorded in the gospels has a unique and singular context as demonstrated only through a perfect, sinless, divine Son of God at the pinnacle of character expressed in a human body, yet with the unfathomable capacity of unselfish love to become the physical sacrifice on the cross as atonement for the righteous judgment of God for our sin.

Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy, Tolkien, or Follett could not invent the person of Jesus, or the broad encompassing adventure of faith that Jesus modeled perfectly for us.

Such Knowledge is Too Wonderful (Ps. 139:6)

This breadth and depth of divine/human experience is how Jesus, and only Jesus, can craft individually tailored life-plans different for every Christian disciple.

Jesus can blend the heights of sublime achievement with the depths of divine humility through the cross, because He went before us in this regard to become the way, the truth, and the life…the author of our salvation.

Jesus Christ as Savior means both the elevated Light of the world, and the lowly sacrificial Lamb of God for our sins.  This means that the breadth and the depth of the opportunities for individual callings is almost limitless in our modern world.

Instead of being incorrectly viewed through fearful unbelief as a limiting and narrowing approach to life, a biblical journey of faith following Jesus Christ is the most broadly liberating adventure in life that is possible (Jn 8:36).  The part that is beneficially narrow…in going through the “narrow gate” of Matthew 7:13-14…is that our self-centered ambition and stubborn adherence to self-in-charge will not fit through the gate leading into this journey of faith.

The second half of the cross is not opposed to the fullest realization of our talents and abilities.  Jesus the Son of God spanned both the heights of divine achievement and the depths of loving self-sacrifice, combined together in perfect harmony.

The Bible is the unprecedented and uniquely singular record of God taking flawed and fallible people and crafting them through a journey of faith into the fulfillment of their created potential.

This is possible because Jesus Christ our Sovereign King fills all-in-all…the height and the depth of what any of us will ever experience in our individualized callings of God.  Jesus Christ fills all-in-all, from the low-point of the utter rejection of the cross (Isa. 53:3-6) to the high-point of the resurrection morning for the redemptive salvation of the world.

Amazingly almost beyond comprehension, flawed and imperfect humans even need God’s help to teach us divine humility through the experiences of the cross.

With the life of Jesus, the cross is not divided into a first and second half as has been done in this book.  Jesus experienced all parts of the cross in perfect totality.  The divine love of God demonstrated through Jesus Christ, is the whole of the cross in its entirety.  Even though Jesus Himself was without sin, He suffered the penalty for sin for us on the cross.  The second half of the cross—death to self-will, self-direction, and self-reliance in favor of God the Father’s will and plan, is integral throughout the life of Jesus from beginning to end.

Through Jesus we have an opportunity to see into the very heart and character of God.  In the life of Jesus, God is telling us that in His world where love and peace rule, there is no place for stubborn self-centeredness.

In the idyllic, morally perfect reality of God, even the eternal Son of God is willing to step down off the throne of His human life in favor of God the Father, in order to fulfill His appointed role and calling as the Savior for mankind.

Jesus 1

“But made of himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men;  And, being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”                                                      (Phil.2:7-8)

The life of Jesus does not exactly fit the pattern of any other person in the Old or New Testaments, because Jesus is in the perfect will of God from the very beginning of His life on earth.

There is no second half of the cross, no transformational journey of character growth for Jesus.

Jesus is the One who invented and personifies perfectly this concept of the second half of the cross.

Jesus as the Son of God does not need a change of heart to turn from a sinful life to a godly life, because He is thoroughly without sin.

Although Jesus was spotless as the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world, however, Jesus was still a human being that we can relate to.  The character of God shines forth from Jesus Christ through a human context.

All of the choices that Jesus made during His ministry, and all of His experiences recorded in the gospels, we can consider and emulate, because He was divinely perfect…as a human being.

One of the blessings that God gave to mankind is the fact that the Son of God had a humble birth and upbringing.  If Jesus was born in a palace surrounded by wealth and privilege, then common people would always feel that poverty was an impediment to a godly and holy life.

Not only did Jesus have a humble birth, but an unusually difficult entrance into life.  The gospels tell us that Mary is pregnant with the child Jesus before she has started marital relations with her future husband Joseph.  This opening crisis is solved only after an angel informs Joseph in a dream of the situation.

Next is the difficult journey to Bethlehem to be registered by the Roman government, at the very time that Jesus is to be born.

Joseph is not wealthy or influential enough to be able to secure a place to stay ahead of time in Bethlehem, and the inn is full when they arrive, so Jesus is born in a stable and placed in a manger where newborn lambs are placed.  There is no special welcome from town officials, or a delegation of rulers from Jerusalem, or a parade down the main street of Bethlehem.

If it were not for the angels notifying the humble shepherds at night to go into town and see the baby Jesus, no one would have known that the Creator of the universe had just entered the world as a newborn baby boy.

That Jesus entered the world at a low social level tells us that God’s idea of a human life for His Son is based upon the barest realities of human existence.  In the life of Jesus, God is telling us that He is prepared to enter into the deepest and most profound areas of human challenge, suffering, and sorrow, without any shortcuts or special favoritism.  He lets us know this from the very outset by placing Jesus in the home of a humble carpenter in a small, outlying town called Nazareth…in Israel in the first century.

Imagine for a moment the incredible fact that Jesus Christ the Creator of the universe, as a small infant was completely dependent upon His two human parents Joseph and Mary.

The humbleness of the manger scene is made infinitely sublime by virtue of the realization that the Almighty Son of God elected to enter life just like any other human being.  By doing this Jesus became the bridge between God and man.  Shakespeare or Dickens could not do full justice to this remarkable aspect of the depth of God’s divine love.

Handel’s Messiah comes close to capturing the magnificence of the Incarnation through music and lyrics.  The melodies and lyrics of some of our most famous, inspired Christmas carols and hymns also come close.

When Jesus was twelve years old, on the annual family visit to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem unbeknownst to His parents, to converse with the teachers of the law.  Joseph and Mary find Jesus in the temple sitting amongst these teachers, asking them questions and listening to their answers.  The gospel of Luke says that all that heard the young Jesus were amazed and astonished at His understanding and answers.

If true religion was just about great teaching, then Jesus at this point could have been universally acclaimed as a prodigy and then educated and nurtured along by these teachers in Jerusalem and elsewhere to become a great world philosopher.  But the Bible tells us that Jesus simply returned with His parents to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.

One reason that Jesus does not go on the international speaking circuit in his late teens or early twenties is that the plan of God for Jesus involves much more than teaching, although that is a vitally important part.  Jesus is not only the greatest teacher in all of history, but He is also the Passover Lamb of God that suffers death on the cross to take upon Himself the sins of the world.

Jesus can give us all of the parables and examples recorded for us in the gospels, but God knows we need forgiveness and cleansing from sin first…to become spiritually reborn…and then the power of the Holy Spirit to put into practice the teachings and commandments of Jesus.

God the Father knows that we need the cross and the resurrection of Jesus to put us back into proper spiritual balance before He can effectively work with us.

Jesus went back to Nazareth with his earthly parents, after this brief interlude with the priests and scribes in the temple, because His role as the Messiah and the Passover Lamb were equally important to His role as a teacher.

Paul 2

The second half of the cross is clearly seen in the life of Paul.

When Paul meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, after that Paul gives up all ties to the conventional Jewish life in Jerusalem.  Paul sacrifices family, friends, social status, political connections, moderate wealth, and a reasonably secure and comfortable life, to the cross of Christ.

On his final visit to Jerusalem many years after his conversion, Paul is nearly pulled to pieces by the Jerusalem populace who are offended by his statement that God sent him to preach salvation to the despised and loathsome Gentiles.

Even as Paul is writing some of his New Testament letters to the churches, which have been cherished by millions of people for nearly two thousand years, Paul is writing these letters from a prison.  From all outward appearances Paul is a failure, or he would not be in a prison after so many years of faithful missionary service.  Conventional worldly wisdom would say that Paul should have been by that time a successful and respected religious philosopher in a world class university in Rome, Athens, or Alexandria.

But the second half of the cross does not operate according to the standards of the world.  If God wants to provide quiet time for a few years for a chosen apostle like Paul to reflect and compose a portion of the New Testament, then it is not a shame to be performing this task within the cell of a prison or in a guarded, hired house in Rome.

Like Joseph in Potiphar’s house in Egypt, outward appearances are often of secondary importance in our walk with God.

The low road of humble obedience and service to God excludes all pretenders.  There is no end to the number of people who will line up to become Pharisees, teachers of the law, and Sadducees, as long as this comes with the appearance and seal of success, the respect of the world, the comforts of wealth, and the excitement of having real power and influence.

Paul as Saul the Pharisee had all of these things, but he let them all go after his conversion on the road to Damascus.  Paul the apostle suffered the loss of worldly reputation and respect to the cross of Christ, in response to the love and forgiveness shown by Jesus Christ to him on that road to Damascus.

The life of Paul is another example in the Bible of how the cross of Christ inspires unselfish love.  Paul responds to God’s love, in his own words suffering the loss of all things worldly, and through the course of his ministry to the Jews and the Gentiles is transformed day-by-day into a person who can not only write, but also live the verses in I Corinthians 13: 1-7.

Instead of arresting and killing Christian believers, Paul allows his self-in-charge nature to be crucified along with Christ in order to bring the good news of the gospel of God’s love to others.

We have a glimpse in the salutations recorded in Romans sixteen, of a small sample of the large number of converts, friends, and acquaintances Paul made in his missionary journeys, of a man who has not only learned to genuinely love people, but who is deeply loved by them.

Paul’s conversion to Christianity and his growth as a person has to be one of the great marvels of human history.

Paul 1

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”                                                 (Jn. 3:16)

The apostle Paul is one of the great examples of the contrast between our own life-plans and God’s plans.

Paul is the chosen apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) precisely because his original idea of how to serve God was so far off the mark… that after his conversion Paul could not possibly look down his nose at the Gentiles for worshipping dumb idols.

Any other highly educated Pharisee would have great difficulty accepting and carrying out the mission to convert the Gentiles to the Christian faith, but Paul after Damascus had no allusions as to the utter failure of his own well-intentioned but misguided plan to rightly serve God by persecuting the early church.

A highly-educated Pharisee filled with self-righteous contempt for the pagan Gentiles could never have successfully carried out God’s mission of loving outreach contained within the new gospel message of reconciliation and forgiveness through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But a Christ-transformed Saul of Tarsus fits the job description for a first-century missionary evangelist…perfectly.

The life of Paul confirms the incredible wisdom and foresight of God in being able to manipulate events to turn apparent defeat into victory.

Paul as Saul the Pharisee is the deadliest enemy of the new Christian church in Jerusalem.  Saul is arresting Christians, throwing them in jail, and having them beaten or in some cases killed (Acts 26:10).  Saul is the last person on the planet that anyone would think could become a convert to Christianity, let alone become one of its greatest champions.

Yet it is precisely this extremely misguided effort by Saul that allows God to flip Saul into Paul on the road to Damascus, thus creating in a moment an exceptionally qualified spokesman with unparalleled credentials to present the case to the world that Jesus is indeed the Christ.

Paul’s education at the “feet of Gamaliel” at Jerusalem, places Paul’s knowledge of the Law and the Prophets in the Old Testament above reproach.  Combined with the super-humility that resulted from experiencing God’s forgiving love, and the sensational nature of his conversion, this makes Paul a uniquely powerful advocate for the new Christian faith.

The forgiving grace of Jesus Christ that produces this quick turnaround in Paul’s life, allows Paul to look at the Gentiles and know that God can do the same thing with them as well, no matter how misguided, deceived, and outwardly lost they appear to be.

Paul’s past also uniquely prepares Paul to attack his new mission with the expectation that persecution would come to whoever the first evangelists to the Gentile world would be.  Paul had an insider’s understanding of the perils that lay ahead.  In one of his letters to the churches (Gal. 1:13), Paul says that he wasted the church in Jerusalem, hailing men and women into prison, causing some to blaspheme and putting others to death.

When Paul ventured out to spread the Christian gospel, he entered upon the mission field knowing fully in advance what could and probably would happen to him.

Paul was aware of the evil that the Jews could do to him for preaching about Jesus the Christ, because he had already done these same things himself to other believers before his conversion.  Paul knew intimately about the depth of animosity that some Jews would have against the new Christian faith.

Paul knew that he was not above being beaten by the authorities on several occasions, or being nearly stoned to death in Lystra.  While most people would wash their hands of this evangelical mission to the Gentile world after such a stoning by the Jews, and tell God to find someone else, Paul is not offended at God for his rough treatment at Lystra and gets up un-phased and undeterred to continue his missionary journey.

Peter 3

In our fallen condition of thinking, we cannot imagine that God would actually be way ahead of us regarding the ultimate outcomes we think are important in life.  After all, we think, how could “God” understand us?

Venturing out into a walk of faith, it is difficult for us to believe that at the end of the road, and at critical milestone junctures along the way, that an eternally ancient God could have an insider’s up-to-date viewpoint and actually come through with the unexpectedly brilliant, imaginative right answers.

For example, do we really believe that in a life lived with God, that the “good guy does not actually finish last?”  Do we really believe that God-inspired faith, compassion, mercy, and kindness win-out in the end over self-assertive competitiveness and aggressive self-seeking to “get ahead” in this world?

We must be honest with ourselves.  God is not fooled.  He knows our thoughts.  It would come as a surprise and a shock to most of us to discover that the God of the Bible is infinitely more savvy and “with-it” than we think, regarding the innermost desires and longings of our hearts.

It simply does not register with most of us that someone other than ourselves, especially a holy and perfect God, would actually know more about life, love, and true character, as they relate to our individual lives specifically, and on a higher level that is way above what we can imagine.

But this is exactly what Peter discovered when he first saw and spoke with the risen Jesus on Resurrection Day.

By all outward appearances, the Pharisees and scribes had their way with Jesus.  The Roman authorities crucified Him.  Peter was right about the bad consequences of Jesus falling into the wrong hands.

But when Peter saw the gloriously restored body of Jesus, he grasped the concept of the blood atonement for sin engrained in the Jewish religion given by God to the Israelites…going back to the beginning of the Old Testament.

Peter realized in a bright flash of spiritual understanding that God all along knew better than Peter could possibly have imagined.

It came as an enormous, life-altering relief for Peter to discover that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit had it all figured out, from eternity past, regarding the cross and the resurrection, and that Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard had no bearing whatsoever on the ultimate outcome.

In the new world of reality where Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, Peter no longer had to be afraid of anything or anyone, even the heretofore intimidating members of the Sanhedrin.  

The end of the spiritual road for Jesus Christ, while living as a human being on this earth, was a smashing victory over evil, in all of the contested areas of character and truth, yet in the most admirably understated and self-effacing way imaginable in keeping within God’s nature.

The surprising pay-off at the end of being crucified and buried for dead, seemingly in humiliating defeat, was a massively positive outcome orchestrated by God the Father, which Peter could not and did not foresee when he announced beforehand that he would not allow Jesus to be captured by His enemies, nor forsake Jesus under any circumstances (Mt. 26:33).

The cross and the resurrection revealed the right way to live, from a humanly unexpected direction.

This is the supernatural aspect of the transformation that Peter experienced in his fall in the courtyard of Caiaphas, and his subsequent glorious recovery upon seeing Jesus during his individual and very personal interview with Jesus on Resurrection Day (Lk. 24:34).

The passing glance that Jesus gave to Peter in the courtyard of Caiaphas (Lk. 22:61), pierced the very soul of Peter, and the gospel account records that Peter then went out and wept bitterly.  But when Jesus looked into the eyes of Peter on Resurrection Day, not only did this look contain loving forgiveness, but also the confident look of someone who knew all along the ultimate outcome of events.

When Jesus said to Peter “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Lk. 22:32), Jesus was not referring to Peter’s upcoming utter failure in the courtyard of Caiaphas, but in the hope that Peter would not completely lose faith in the ability of Jesus to overturn His crucifixion and burial into the resurrection He spoke about a few days earlier, despite the overwhelming negative outward appearances.

When Jesus shows the disciples His nail pierced hands and feet, and His spear pierced side, it is as much to say: “Look and see…I am God and one with the Father.  We always knew what We were doing and that victory was at the end of my road leading to Calvary.”

This incredible turnaround discovery for Peter transformed him into a fearless and powerful witness to the resurrection of Jesus for the rest of his life.

At critical points along the journey of faith in a Christian life, and at the final end of the road, lies the discovery that God is and was way out in front of us as to what is eternally important and fulfilling for our lives here on earth.

God really does know better than we do.

One of the scriptural lessons of the resurrection of Christ that is so beautifully illustrated in the transformation of Peter, from his precipitous fall in the courtyard of Caiaphas to his full recovery on the Day of Pentecost, is that in the adventure of a walk of faith with Jesus Christ, God sees to it that in the end the good guy does not finish last.

Peter 2

God’s ways, in this matter of the cross, were not only higher but infinitely better beyond reckoning.

We see the new, transformed Peter on the day of Pentecost, when Peter is among the other disciples in the upper room, as they are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking with other tongues.

Peter stands up physically and spiritually, and steps into the destiny of his life, as he boldly addresses the people and proclaims the gospel message that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  Weeks later, before the Sanhedrin, after the crippled man is miraculously healed at the gate of the temple, Peter speaks with such clarity, power, and conviction to the rich and powerful men assembled there, the very people he used to be in terror of, that even these members of the Sanhedrin were impressed with the courage and boldness of Peter and John.

In the beautiful and instructive example of this life-changing transformation in Peter, we see the contrast between our ways and God’s ways.  In his own strength, Peter cannot marshal enough courage during the intimidating circumstances of the midnight trial of Jesus, to acknowledge his relationship with Jesus to even an informal group of common people gathered around a small fire in the courtyard of Caiaphas.

Peter is experiencing what Christians today popularly call an “Ishmael”…the ill-fated doom of all self-generated plans…that go forward without the advance council or participation of God.

This is better articulated in another common saying: “Whatever man does without God will fail miserably, or succeed even more miserably.”

But then watch what God does next in this divinely salvaged story of Peter’s fall and recovery.

After the events of the resurrection of Jesus and the Day of Pentecost, Peter is now fully restored and correctly following the leading of the Holy Spirit as he was trained.  As Peter and John are walking into the temple early in the morning to pray for the strength and inspiration to fulfill their new responsibilities as leaders of the new Christian church, they perceive through the Spirit that God intends to heal the crippled man asking for alms.

Through a cascade of quickly unfolding events, this time engineered by Jesus Christ, Peter shortly finds himself not being challenged by a small group of common people standing around a fire in the courtyard of Caiaphas, but instead ably defending himself before the entire assembled body of the all-powerful, ruling Sanhedrin council.

In this second challenge arranged and empowered exclusively by the Holy Spirit, and not by his earlier inadequate self-effort in the courtyard, Peter successfully comes through this time with incredible Holy Spirit boldness in acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah.

Another important lesson can be learned from this inspired biblical episode in the life of Peter.  When we are operating according to our own plans and thinking, the glory of God is nowhere in sight.

Peter completely falls on his face in the courtyard of Caiaphas, because his plan to protect Jesus from physical harm is clearly off-track from God’s eternal plan of salvation for mankind.  But when we are operating within the will of God, God glorifies Himself in and through us.

When questioned by the Sanhedrin council about the miraculous healing of the crippled man, Peter immediately assigns the credit toward Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit glory of God on Peter and John boldly uplifts Jesus as the promised Messiah before these worldly powerful men.

God glorifies Himself in and through these two disciples, to the potential benefit of everyone present.

The unselfish love and pure righteousness of the glory of God transforms the miraculously healed man, emboldens Peter and John, further unfolds the truth about the identity of Jesus the Son of God hopefully to some open-minded members of the Sanhedrin, and blesses and instructs countless millions of people down through the ensuing centuries, reading this inspired account of the defense of the Christian faith at the dawning of the first century church.

The contrast between this God-composed and orchestrated event, and the earlier failed testimony of Peter in the courtyard of Caiaphas, is staggering.