At my lowest, I turned my back on God, proclaiming He did not exist and to believe He did proved the ignorance of the believer.
At my highest, I felt the physical and spiritual rush when Savior and sinner collide. “Cheryl, meet the Holy Spirit. He’s here to make sure you truly grasp with whom you are dealing.” To know this unspeakably transforming feeling is a mere taste of what is waiting beyond this life. It’s why I have been “ret ta go” ever since.
No one. I repeat. NO ONE is too far gone for redemption. No one is beyond mercy and forgiveness. If you think your past makes you ineligible for heaven, you have it all wrong and I can prove it.
Yes, I was a poster child for lost causes. But I admit, although I was certainly vile in my rebellion, I was by no means the worst of the worst. The good news is that God specializes in taking the worst of the worst and transforming them into something new for His glory. I have a great example of this to share with you. I mean to tell you, this guy was a SUPER creep! Talk about someone who took being bad to the extreme and ENJOYED it. He did plenty of damage, but just when it looked like he was actually going to succeed and destroy everything and everyone he could, a miracle happened and turned this despicable jerk into an amazing, positive role model and proponent for GOOD. What?! Oh yeah. From darkness to light in the blink of an eye.
Please bear with me while I give you a little background information on this guy. You need to know where his head was before I tell you about the wretched things he did. He was in his twenties during Jesus' ministry, however he was not a follower nor did they meet while Jesus was alive. He was a Jew, but not just any Jew. He was extremely proud of his lineage. He was a Hebrew born of Hebrews; a freeman of Tarsus who was also a Roman citizen and both afforded him certain privileges. He was also a Pharisee.
You may recall that Jesus went head to head with the Pharisees many times during His ministry. They were constantly testing Jesus and trying to trick Him into saying things to get Himself in trouble with the Law - the “Law” being the “Law of Moses”, which Pharisees followed in the strictest manner. This guy was one of” those guys”. Highly intelligent and a skilled debater, he was also arrogant. In spite of being disliked and feared by many, he was respected for his abilities and powers of persuasion.
He considered himself superior as a Jew and a human being, which is typical of a Pharisee. He followed the letter of the law, fasted weekly, performed his daily prayers in exact progression and number, and engaged in all the ritual cleansings. He really wanted that prominent seat in the synagogue and for people to respect and admire him.
To give you an idea of his "holier than thou" mindset, let’s just say that this guy would have totally agreed with the Pharisee who deemed Jesus immoral and a fraud rather than a prophet because He allowed the prostitute to wash His feet with her tears. Jesus’ very attitude towards her was proof enough that He could NOT be a man of God. Well, this Pharisee had that much right because He was so much more; He WAS actually God. Joke is on you, fool!
The man I’m telling you about was the same type of person. Narrow minded and full of himself. He had it all figured out. The way to God was clear and it was only one way. First you had to be a Jew (he had that covered). You had to obey the Law’s every detailed (check that one, too). And you had to go through the rituals (nailed it!). The process was the process and would always be the process, so said this fella. He was sure he knew everything and was bound and determined to be the holiest Jew walking the earth. Well… that Jew had already walked the earth so too bad he missed the boat on that one.
Okay, so far this guy is just an egotistical, judgmental, narcissistic creep, right? That doesn’t necessarily make him evil or the “worst of the worst” as I described earlier. Well, if you will stay with me, I’m getting to that. This guy was not just full of himself, he had a self-righteous mind-set like you wouldn’t believe. You need to know this so you can understand how he came to instigate a murder.
During His ministry, Jesus told a story about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector in order to illustrate the difference between someone who appears to do all the right things and be holy and someone who appears to be unholy. Here it is.
Luke 18:9-14 New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Our guy was exactly like the Pharisee in the parable. “Oh thank you God for making me so superior to everyone else. I’m so awesome. I’m so glad I’m better than everyone including this low life tax collector.” When a person is so full of himself and convinced that he is right and everyone else is wrong, he can become detached from humanity and also from God. Combine this with someone of extremely high intellect and you have a recipe for disaster. You see, smart people are sometimes intolerant of those they consider of lesser intelligence or even moral fiber. Indignant rage can be the result. This guy was doing his thing after Christ’s life on earth had already come to an end but His believers and His church were still growing day by day. He found them and their sharing of the "good news" to be offensive and sacrilegious, to say the least. He hated them and all they stood for but he surely hated Jesus the most.
One of those believers was blessed with a gift much like our guy. He was very intelligent and articulate and a persuasive debater. It would seem each had met his match in the other. When our guy and this follower of Christ came together for a debate, the result would set in motion jealousy and vindictiveness that would end in the murder, torture, or imprisonment of anyone who believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.
(To Be Continued in You Thought YOU Were Bad? Part 2)