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Nothing Ever Changes

03/05/17 - Pastor Young

This week at our family service at Suburban Baptist Church, we looked at Luke 5, and how Jesus called His first disciples. We watched as Peter encountered our Lord, and, though perhaps dubious at his request to let down his nets in order to catch fish, he fell to his knees in astonishment at the miraculous catch of fish that threatened to break their nets. Peter is told by Jesus that he will, in the same way, be a fisher of men.

From our perspective, perhaps we also have reason to be dubious. You may have heard of the way Peter, later in the very same gospel account that Luke is writing, denies even knowing Jesus (three times!). It was as though fear dictated Peter's actions, as though the same Lord who could miraculously call fish to do His will could not protect Peter from the judgement of the people that were confronting him. Later, in John's account of Jesus, we see Peter giving up fishing for men in order to go back to his former life of fishing for fish (John 21:1-8). 

Peter perhaps felt something we ourselves are familiar with: the indwelling and yet simultaneously hollow feeling of shame that accompanies the feelings of weakness and feebleness that come when confronted by our sin. We return to what we are familiar with at this point, for how could we bear to face the shamefulness of our own failure? 

I couldn't help but be reminded of a story by C.S. Lewis. In The Great Divorce, Lewis wonders, "what if those in hell were allowed to take a trip to heaven, and offered a chance even then to forsake their sin and accept the grace of Christ?" A bus takes these ghostlike people, and almost all of them freely choose to take refuge on the bus and return to hell. 

It seems that nothing ever changes. 

Peter's struggle with impulsiveness and a return to what he knows is familiar to us because we also seem to be unchanging in some ways. The same reason makes the story of the Ghosts in The Great Divorce compelling. But Lewis continues the story by presenting one Ghost who has a red lizard, representing sin and lust, on his shoulder:

A mighty angel approached the man and asked, "Would you like me to make the lizard quiet?" 

"Of course I would," said the Ghost.

"Then I will kill him," said the Angel, taking a step forward.

"Oh—ah—look out! You're burning me. Keep away," said the Ghost, retreating.

"Don't you want him killed?"

"You didn't say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that."

"It's the only way," said the Angel …. "Shall I kill it?"

"Look! It's gone to sleep of its own accord. I'm sure it'll be all right now. Thanks ever so much."

"May I kill it?"

"Honestly, I don't think there's the slightest necessity for that. I'm sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. Some other day, perhaps."

"There is no other day …."

"Get back! You're burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You'd kill me if you did."

"It is not so."

"Why, you're hurting me now."

"I never said I wouldn't hurt you. I said it wouldn't kill you."

[Suddenly] the Lizard began chattering loudly: "Be careful," it said. "He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you'll be without me for ever and ever. I'll be so good. I admit I've sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won't do it again …."

"Have I your permission?" said the Angel to the Ghost.

"You're right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature."

"Then I may?"

"Blast you! Go on can't you? Get it over," bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, "God help me. God help me."

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.

Then I saw, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the Ghost materialize into a man, not much smaller than the Angel.

At the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Suddenly I stared back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold.

The man, now free from his torment, climbed upon the stallion that had been his sin and rode into the glowing sunrise towards the Savior.

If nothing ever changes within us – we as temporal, fickle beings with affections constantly returning to former and lesser loves than God – in terms of our weakness and feebleness and sinfulness, we can be certain that, in a greater way, "nothing ever changes" within our eternal, gracious God when it comes to His forgiveness and redemption. He is there providing an escape in Lewis's allegory of a man who cannot help himself break free from his battle with lust; He is there providing redemption for Peter, so wracked with guilt from his denial of Jesus that he is back to doing what he knows; and He is here, in meeting you with grace and giving you what you need.

As you trust in God, you'll be asked to give up what you want by destroying the idols of your desires. For Peter, this meant letting go of his brash self-sufficiency and guilt. For the Ghost, it meant letting go of his lust and even accepting some pain. Both Peter and the Ghost trusted in God and received what they needed purely by grace.

Jesus provides for us. He has given what God requires at the cross, and you now have what God has graciously provided. 

 

Praying for the encouragement and gratitude that only God's providence can give,

Pastor Young