CAN ANYONE MAKE A COMPLETE TURN AROUND?
Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, Luke 24:36b – 48
April 13, 1997 by Tad Mitsui
In Christianity, we use the word "repent" often and believe that it is a very important element in our faith. The word means a complete turn around – about face, a u-turn. It was one of the first messages the disciples began to give as they came out of seclusion. They urged crowds to repent and to turn around to the faith in Jesus Christ. But repentance takes a great deal of courage. In fact, it is so difficult that one wonders if anyone can ever make a complete turn around. Just look around. How many people do we know who made a complete turn around, in their thinking and in their life-style? Not many.
As you proceed from the four Gospels to the first book of the rest of the New Testament – the Acts of Apostles – you can not help noticing big changes in the disciples. They suddenly begin to appear confident and to sound bold. Look at Peter in todays” reading, for example. People were stunned into silent astonishment, staring at Peter and John, after seeing a miracle they performed at the gate called the Beautiful Gate of the temple. Peter started to berate them: he accused them of murdering the son of God – Messiah. The tone of his speech is so accusatory that Peter sounds self-righteous and even arrogant. When I read this passage, at first I instinctively didn”t like the tone of his speech. I don”t like anybody accusing other people while ignoring one”s own less-than-honourable track record.
Peter was a man of many faults. He was a passionate man. But one trait got him into many embarrassing, if not disastrous situations. Often, he spoke too soon without too much thought, and ended up in great grief. The worst was the predicament he found himself during Jesus” trial. Only days before, when Jesus predicted his arrest and the crucifixion, Peter bravely declared that he would go anywhere with his master even if that would meant his own humiliation and death. But on the night Jesus was tried, whipped, and humiliated in public, Peter could not bring himself to be seen in public. He tried hard to hide himself. But curiosity got the better of him. He was one in the crowd in the courtyard of the building where his master”s trial was taking place. So a young slave girl found him and asked him, "Aren”t you the man who was always with Jesus?" He was not found by a mass of people or by an important official. Nobody noticed him except a slave girl. But he was scared just the same, and said, "No way, I have no idea who that man is." He said that three times during the course of one evening. He was so ashamed of himself, and bitterly cried as a cock crowed at dawn. An interesting thing is that he told this story to others later. Otherwise, how could this be a part of the Biblical story? He did not hesitate to expose his own mistakes and weakness, later. What made him so strong?
So what happened to Peter between those denials and that moment at the Beautiful Gate of the temple in Jerusalem? In between Peter experienced the grace of God shown in the incredible forgiveness of Jesus Christ. After all those acts of betrayal, when Jesus and Peter met face to face after the resurrection, Jesus still treated Peter as he always had, just like a friend. Peter also received the spirit as Jesus breathed over the disciples. In other words, he was met with love and was empowered by the spirit. And the love which was in that spirit gave him power to change. So when Peter charged people with complicity in the death of Jesus, his point was repentance. He was only expecting them to do as he had done. His intention was not to say, "See, you were wrong. And I was right." He was not vindictive. His idea was not to humiliate people. How could he? His own shortcomings were evidence of how weak people could be. But this self-knowledge also meant he could say without hesitation, "See how much I changed? You can change also."
Peter”s call for repentance of others meant he was no longer afraid to expose his past vulnerability and weakness. It took a lot of courage for Peter to expose himself like that. I am sure he was conscious of many people remembering vividly how pathetic Peter was before and after the crucifixion. He was not afraid to face public scorn. Our society has a rather cruel tendency not to forgive people, especially men, who expose their weakness. We discovered only after they were dead for some years that Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill both suffered many spells of depression. Churchill wrote about his "black dog" many times in his memoir. But their psychological problem was hidden from the public, as it would have damaged their credibility. In addition, you must remember those would-have-been good leaders whose credibility was destroyed in the eyes of the public, because they exposed their vulnerability. Edmond Muskie”s chance of being a Presidential candidate was shattered in New Hampshire primary when he cried in public. Jimmy Carter”s credibility was diminished when he confessed that he sometimes looked at women with lust. Thomas Eagleton”s political life ended when he admitted that he once consulted a psychiatrist. It takes courage to say to the public, "I was wrong, I was weak. But I changed. You can change, too.". Because they may not accept you. Peter took that chance.
Do you remember Charles Coulson? He was one of President Nixon”s advisers who was involved in devising so-called dirty tricks. He was found guilty of lying to the Congress of the United States and of obstructing justice. During his imprisonment, he repented and converted to become an evangelist. I don”t agree with his theology, but I do admire his courage to expose his past and publicly changed the course of his life. I wish that more people would follow an example like that in the Somalia Enquiry.
So it is possible to make a complete turn around. It is possible to repent. And the secret seems to be the intervention of the Holy Spirit that convinces you of God”s love. When you have such an experience, you feel empowered to expose your vulnerability and to speak to other people bravely about the need to make a radical change.