God is great at reversals; he can change disaster into rejoicing, mourning into gladness, death into life. Many of the Old Testament stories tell of eleventh-hour escapes, or of impossible situations resolving in the face of God’s intervention – Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, three Hebrews cast into a furnace and emerging alive, the Israelites pursued to the shore of the Red Sea and crossing it dry-shod to escape the Egyptians. Greatest of all, God raised Jesus to life after he had been crucified and buried. He turns “wailing into dancing” and clothes us “with joy” (Psalm 30:11).
After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples met him and knew he was alive. Jesus continued, however, to appear to them until his ascension, in order to reaffirm their certainty and faith. One such occasion is recorded by an eye-witness – the apostle John (21:1-9). It is an account of Jesus revealing himself to the disciples after a night’s fishing when they had caught nothing. He performed a miracle so that they finally had an enormous catch, but that was rendered almost insignificant when they recognised who it was standing on the beach. At John’s cry of “It is the Lord!”, Peter jumped into the water, leaving the others to struggle to shore with their almost-bursting nets (21:7). And there they found Jesus with a fire burning and fish and bread ready for a meal. It is a picture of life fully restored in a man who had been dead, but who now sat with friends enjoying a picnic.
There is another restoration too. Peter, who had denied the Lord three times (see John 18:15-27) is gently led to undo his denial by affirming three times that he loved Jesus. And there is the hint that Peter – who cravenly shrank from his allegiance to the Lord at his arrest – would one day face the same death that Jesus had endured. One can only marvel at the way in which this man rose above his natural fears and boldly proclaimed the gospel, knowing what lay ahead for him.
The vivid, radical, restorative power that was demonstrated in the lives and experiences of the new Christians was able to reverse the most obdurate and intransigent of people. In Acts 9:1 we meet Saul who had been present at the death of Stephen and “gave approval” (Acts 7:58; 8:1). Not content with the death of one prominent Christian, Saul “was still breathing murderous threats against all the Lord’s disciples.” (9:1). In his misplaced zeal, he set off for Damascus to seek out any Christians and make them his prisoners (9:2). However, Saul was a man whom God could use in his Church. He was well-acquainted with the scriptures, and dedicated to serving God. Possibly any Christian who had tried to reason with him would have found himself out-paced by Saul’s rhetoric and superior knowledge. God could reach him, however, and he did. Saul had a vision of the Lord Jesus that temporarily blinded him (9:3-6). In the few words that Jesus spoke to him, he experienced a complete reversal. He changed from a persecutor of the Church to one of its most articulate and vociferous proponents. He spent the rest of his life, sacrificing health and liberty, to take the gospel to as much of the known world as he could reach. He tirelessly maintained contact with the new churches, and wrote letters to them that form a large proportion of the New Testament, letters that continue to speak to and guide us today in our walk with God.
The most wonderful reversal of all, however, is the transformation of Jesus from sacrificial lamb to the one who receives worship from “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them”. From them he receives “praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever” (Revelation 5:13). No one – not even his closest disciples – who saw him beaten, crowned with thorns and crucified, would have envisaged a time when “angels, numbering thousand upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand” would “fall down and worship … the Lamb, who was slain” (5:11-12, 14).
By Susan Thorne