Our messes ripple out and cause problems in our families, businesses, lives, friendships, purity, passion, churches, marriages, and dreams. We end up ashamed, demoralized, and embarrassed for what we have done. And if we are not careful, our spiritual life becomes a game of hiding and pretending. Then our wounds go underground and rip apart something inside us polluting how we view ourselves and our relationship with God.
Is there a way out of our messes?
Hmm, imagine what it was like for Saul of Tarsus — later known as the apostle Paul — on the road to Damascus when Jesus said, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4). He considered himself faithful to God, committed to Torah, passionate about holiness, and loyal to the traditions of his people. Suddenly, through a direct encounter with Jesus, he discovered that he was a murderer and persecuting followers of God's true Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, someone he had been calling a blasphemer.
Don't you think Paul saw the face of the dying Stephen as he waited in his blindness for three days to learn what he needed to do?
Don't you imagine him trying to figure out how to undo all the messes he had made because of his hatred of Christians and Jesus (Acts 7:57-60)?
Don't you imagine he heard the screams of the families that he tore apart as he arrested those who believed in Jesus (Acts 26:9-10)?
He wasn't using hyperbole, he was speaking from his heart when said, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:12-15). You can feel his anguish in Paul's words, even across the centuries.
How do you make your life count for God after you've made such a horrible mess of your life?
How do you turn your life around after doing such harm?
For Saul, it began with these words from Ananias, sent to show Saul his way back to the Lord:
"And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16).
The fuller version of the account goes this way:
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord — Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here — has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength (Acts 9:17-19).
What we see is God's forgiveness and power, given as a gift, to help fix the messes that Paul could never fix.
Now imagine the many Jewish men and women who loved God and prayed daily for the coming of the Messiah. They had made the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover and are back for Pentecost seven weeks later. They had heard rumors about Jesus' resurrection.
Then, on that first Pentecost after Jesus' rumored resurrection, they heard a mighty roaring wind and saw something like tongues of fire coming to rest on the apostles. Suddenly, no matter from where they had traveled, they began to witness the incredible miracle of hearing the message in their own home language. The once fearful followers of Jesus suddenly became bold, unafraid, and spoke with powerful.
As they listened to the message, in a thunderclap of horror, they hear the truth about Jesus and realize what they had done:
"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah" (Acts 2:36).
They realized that they were complicit in murdering the Messiah! Some of them had even yelled out, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" The words cut them to the core of their being and pierced their hearts with their rejection of God's Son and Messiah.
How could they make their lives matter for God after such a thing?
How would they turn their lives around and undo the messes they had made?
Amazingly, the answer is very much the same as what Ananias told Saul. When they asked what they needed to do, Peter replied:
"Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).And that's what they did (Acts 2:41).
So let's admit it again: we have made a mess of things! And for us, two questions remain.
How can I turn my life around after the messes in which I find myself trapped?
Weren't there a lot of "normal people" out there in the crowd at Pentecost — you know, everyday folks like us? And, weren't they promised the same thing, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit?!
"But, we don't really have the same power today as they did," some suggest.
Isn't the Holy Spirit Jesus poured out on them the same Spirit Jesus poured out on us? (Titus 3:3-7)
Aren't we promised God's "incomparably great power" from the Holy Spirit, the power that's like the might God used when he raised Jesus from the dead? (Ephesians 1:19-20)
Aren't we promised that this same power, the Holy Spirit at work in us (Ephesians 3:16) who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)?
"But I've already been saved and forgiven, but I still make messes!"
Yes, and so did Jesus' apostles along with those first Christians. And, God not only forgave them, he also cleansed them when they confessed their sin and returned to living for Jesus (1 John 1:5-2:2).
So the real issue for us is quite straightforward:
God wants us to hear him say, "My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). He wants us to know that we can be forgiven, cleansed, and empowered beyond our messes!