Selected highlights from this sermon.
Can human beings really change, deep down in their core? Yes. If you admit who you are, if you admit your sins to Jesus and ask for His help, He will transform you just as vacillating Simon was transformed into Peter, the rock.
Jesus wants to rename us just like he renamed Simon. If you think you’ve committed a sin too big for Him, think again—there is no sin so great that it can’t be cleansed by Jesus.
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The real question that society needs to ask and to find an answer for is, “Can human beings really change?” Can they really change? Is it possible to take a criminal and make him into a law-abiding citizen? Can you take a perpetual, habitual liar and turn him into a truth teller? Can you take someone who is immoral and cause him to live pure? Can human beings really fundamentally change?
In society there are several answers that are given to that question. One is behaviorism. And behaviorism says that we are really the product of our environment, and therefore if you have the right kind of a combination of rewards and punishments, you can make people change. But, of course, you and I know that that’s nonsense. There have been people in a very fine environment - Adam and Eve had a wonderful environment - and they blew it, much less those of us whose environment is just less beautiful than theirs.
There is some truth to behaviorism. That’s why we spank children. It’s because we think that if we make disobedience painful we might get a better response out of them. And that usually works when they are young. It works a little less once they are older and they become a little stronger than Daddy. Behaviorism is not the answer.
What about education? Plato said that the reason that people misbehave is because they don’t have enough information because people essentially keep doing what they think is right. Well, interpreted one way that may be correct if you say that people do what they think is right in relationship to their own selfish motives. But certainly people do not always do what is honorable, even though they know what the honorable path is because within all of us there are desires that sometimes are so strong that all rational considerations are thrown to the winds and we just do what we feel like doing regardless of the consequences. And so you can educate people but it still doesn’t change them.
I hope when you read the newspapers that you do so with a heavy heart. Society doesn’t know what to do. All that we can do with our rising crime rate and all of the abuse that is taking place in society and the breakdown of the family is to create more prisons with more court systems and fund more policemen because that’s all we can do. We are absolutely helpless apparently in seeing people change from the inside out, and yet that’s what Christ came to do.
And the passage of Scripture I want you to turn to is the first chapter of the Gospel of John – John 1. Today I am beginning a series of 12 messages on the life of Peter, and today is number one. [And I hope from time to time I will publish in the bulletin the various passages that we’ll be looking at so you can read them in advance as we see all that God did in the life of this outstanding, difficult servant called Peter.}
In context in chapter 1, verse 35, John is next to the Jordan River. And as he was standing there, two of his disciples looked upon Jesus as he walked, and John said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Previously in verse 29 he had said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
But back to verse 37: “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. (They spent the day with Christ and they were converted. They became believers.) One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter)(or rock).”
I want us to see this passage because it is a very important statement regarding Christ’s ability to change people and to change them forever. Remember that John was baptizing and Andrew was one of his disciples, Andrew, of course, being the brother of Simon Peter. I don’t know of anything in the New Testament that gives us the birth order of these two boys, but my guess, if the Lutzer family is any gage as to which person may be the firstborn and which may be the second or the third born, is that Peter was undoubtedly the firstborn in the family. Peter asked more questions than all the other disciples put together. When you read the Gospels you can see that. He’s the one who attempted to walk on water. He’s the one who made that great confession. He’s the one who says, “Though all men deny you, I will never deny you.” And he meant it when he said it, but then he failed. He’s the one who vacillated between great strong faith and much doubt. That was Peter. You always knew what he was thinking, because anything that he was thinking he was always saying.
Andrew must have been a third born. He never preached any sermons. He never did too much in life, but nevertheless he was always in the background bringing people to Jesus. Here he brings Peter to Christ. In the sixth chapter of John he brings the little boy with the lunch to Jesus Christ and a miracle takes place. In the 12th chapter of John there are some Greeks that are saying, “We would see Jesus,” and who is it that brings them to Jesus but Andrew? And someday when we substitute the smog of Chicago for the glory of heaven we’re going to find that Andrew is going to be up there receiving many of the great rewards that God has for faithfulness. Sometimes there are organizations that begin a process called Operation Andrew. It means that we should bring people to Christ just as he brought them to Christ, and here we see in this passage the greatest privilege, namely to bring somebody to Jesus, and the greatest miracle when you bring the person there.
Cain asked in derision, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I always have to say that statement very slowly because I always get it confused with what the monkey said in the zoo. He said, “Am I my keeper’s brother?” I need to keep those straight. But in derision Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And what he meant was, “Don’t look to me for responsibility.” But Andrew realized that he had a brother and he was his keeper, and he brought his brother to the right place – to Christ. He didn’t bring him to the Jordan River to be baptized, though John was baptizing. He didn’t bring him to Moses, which represents the Law. He brought him to Jesus.
And now let’s look at the text and see how Jesus introduced himself to Peter. Verse 42: “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon.’” There are three truths that you need to know today that I want you to remember.
The first is Christ knows who you are. That means Simon really comes from the Old Testament name, Simeon, which means to hear. And so what he’s saying is, “Simon, I know your ordinary name, the name that your parents gave you, but I’m going to be renaming you in just a moment. And I know the significance of that name.” By the way, the Greek word for Simon evidently means flat nosed. I don’t know whether that has anything to do with the way Peter looked, but Jesus said to him, “You are Simon. I know your name in advance.”
Did you know that Jesus knows your name too? He knows your character. He knows all of the hurt that you have endured, all of the injustices that have been done against you. Christ knows you thoroughly, totally and completely. He understands and knows the harassment that you sensed this week, even from satanic powers. He knows all of the things that you think may be hidden from Him, or all of the things that you tend to hide from others. Jesus knows it all through and through. He says, “I know you, Simon.”
He even knew Simon’s background. He said, “You are Simon, the son of John.” Jesus knows your genealogy. Some of you perhaps were brought up in a home where there was no father. And you may not even know who your father is if you are adopted, but I want you to know that Jesus knows who your father is. He knows the circumstances of your birth. He knows all things, and I want you to know that His loving providence and his grace is great enough to include you in His purpose and in the privileges of belonging to Him forever. Christ knows you and He knows you intimately.
Remember when the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir was here and they sang so beautifully, “When He was on the cross, I was on His mind.” Just let that sink in for a moment, would you, because some of you have gone through an incredibly difficult year? Some of you have gone through an incredibly difficult week, maybe even a difficult day. And your heart seems to be breaking and you say, “Oh God, where are You in my need?” I want you to know that Jesus knows you completely. He knows all of the circumstances that have brought you here. He understands your background and He knows who you are.
But then secondly, Christ knows what you can become, and here the text says, “You shall be called Cephas.” Cephas is the Aramaic word for Peter, and the word Peter, as you know, means rock. What Christ is saying is, “Peter, I’m renaming you.” Now you know, in the Bible, God frequently renamed people whenever He changed their character, or whenever He gave them a promise and gave them a greater goal to live toward He would rename them. That’s why He took Abram and renamed him Abraham, the Father of Many Nations. And you remember Jacob in the Old Testament when he wrestled with God. That word Jacob means cheater. Jesus said, “I am renaming you. You are no longer going to be called Jacob. You are going to be called Israel,” which means Prince with God.
Jesus said, “Peter, I’m going to give you a new name – Rock.” What comes to mind immediately, of course, is strength. Peter is going to be the one who is going to bless many. There is going to be such a transformation of character that will take place that Peter will impact tens of millions of people throughout all generations. After all, he’s not only the one who preached those great sermons that are recorded for us in the book of Acts. He’s not only the one who was involved in so many different missionary journeys, but also he’s the one who gave us 1 and 2 Peter, books that have blessed the Christian Church throughout all of these generations. And Jesus saw it all and said, “Peter, right now you may be a sand dune, but you are going to be a rock,” and Christ gave Him something to live up to, something to look toward, and some hope in his need.
What else do we think of when we think of a rock? We think not only of strength but also permanence. Rocks are around long after the sand washes away, aren’t they?
Let me ask you this. If I were to say to you, “When is the last time the name Peter occurs in the New Testament?” you might say, “Well, of course, it occurs in 2 Peter because after that Peter is no longer mentioned in the Bible.” What you are saying might be quite right technically, but I want you to know that Peter’s name, even though it is not written out does occur even in Revelation, chapter 21. Just write this passage down for now, but think about this.
In Revelation 21 we have an awesome picture of the glorious Holy City that comes down from God out of heaven. And it says in verse 14: “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations (stones), and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Isn’t that great? Do you know that someday when we are in the New Jerusalem and we see it, we are going to notice the twelve foundation stones, and Peter’s name will be there? Talk about permanence! Forever and ever in the Holy City! Peter’s name is there as one of the foundations. And, of course, Andrew’s name will be there. The name of Judas will not be there, however, because Judas was a spurious apostle. He was not a real apostle. He never really believed in Christ, and that’s why after he died they had an election to take his place because there were supposed to be twelve. And those twelve names will be there, and Peter’s will be there among them.
Now just think of it. Here is Peter being brought to Christ by Andrew. And when Jesus says to him, “You are Peter,” what Christ already knows in His heart is that He can already see Peter and his name as one of those foundation stones in the New Jerusalem.
Let me ask you something. Why is it that Jesus told Peter that? Why did He rename him? It’s because Christ was saying, “Peter, I want to give you hope because there are going to be times when you are awash with guilt. There are going to be days of failure and days of need, and I want you to know that I have a plan for your life that is great and wonderful, and that plan will be accomplished. Peter, I believe in the transformation that I’m going to bring into your life.”
One of our problems is we sometimes see people only at a specific point of time, and we have no idea who and what they eventually will become within the will and the plan of God. Did you know that it is impossible to predict whom God may mightily use in the future? If you were to have a classroom of children, there would be no way that you could predict how God is going to use some of these children. Some of the least likely may become the most important in God’s Kingdom because Jesus sees things in people that others may not see.
So first of all, Christ knows who you are. Secondly, He knows what you can become, and thirdly, He has the power to make the difference.
One day Seneca, one of those ancient philosophers, cried up in his desperation and said, “Oh that a hand would come down and rid me of my besetting sin. I need some help.” Jesus is able to do that, and He can do it because of who He is. First of all, it says in verse 29, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And again, of course, you’ll notice it was repeated – “Behold the Lamb of God.”
In the Old Testament many lambs were slain, and there were lambs slain for Israel, but there was never a lamb that was slain for the whole world. You see, there were lambs that were slain that covered sin. There was no lamb that was ever slain that could actually take sin away. And the Bible indicates that our greatest problem is sin because we are cut off from God. We are separated from the Almighty. There is moral distance between God and us, and we need someone to wipe the slate clean. We need someone who can take God and man and reconcile us because there is a huge gap of stain between us. And only Christ is qualified to do that. But He can come and He can wash us clean, and He can speak us clean so that we can belong to God forever and become one of His family members.
Remember Pierre Burton in Canada asking Billy Graham that trick question. He said, “Billy, are you saying that if Hitler received Christ as his Savior before he died he would go to heaven, whereas a good sane decent person who doesn’t accept Christ is going to go to hell?” It was designed to make the Gospel appear ridiculous. What could appear to be more foolish than to say that a good sane decent person who doesn’t accept Christ is lost forever when a wicked tyrant can be saved just because he believes in Jesus Christ as his Savior?
But the answer to that question is yes. And the reason that it is yes is God says, “I think so much of the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world, and I think so much of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that I can even forgive a Hitler who believes in Him. But I cannot forgive a good sane decent person who doesn’t believe in Him.”
“Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world!” Some of you have come here today burdened by sin. There is an answer: the Lamb of God that takes it away! Even awful sin!
Because Dorie Van Stone has been with us during the last few days I’ve been thinking about abuse – child abuse and sexual abuse. And we talk so much about those who are the victims, those who go through life emotionally crippled because of their past. But we need to remember (and she brought this up in one of our discussions) that there are many people who are also the offenders. They are the ones who have victimized others. There are those who are listening to this message who have abused children. And I can say to you on the authority of God’s Word that God can forgive that sin too. Now having said that, I hope that in addition to receiving His cleansing and His forgiveness, you get some help from those who are able to guide you through the process of deliverance. But let me tell you that there is no sin that you can commit that cannot be cleansed by this Lamb and so by who Jesus Christ is.
Then secondly, Jesus Christ has that ability because of what He is able to do in our lives. Notice it says in John 1:12, a very familiar passage of Scripture: “But as many as received him to them he gave the right to become children of God (Seneca, here is your hand that has come down from heaven to deliver you from your besetting sin), even to those who believe on his name.” There’s a transformation, there’s a power that can be brought about through responding to Christ and receiving Him.
You see, Jesus wants to rename every one of us, just as He renamed Peter. And the way in which He does it is to get us to admit who we are so that He can change us into who He would like to see us become. I mentioned a moment ago the story of Jacob. One of the reasons that the angel wrestled with Jacob is that Jacob was finding it so hard to say who he was because the word Jacob means cheater. And that’s difficult to admit.
You see, as we are willing to admit who we are, as we are willing to admit our sins and open our life to Christ, it is then that piece by piece He can take all of that ugliness and replace it with Himself, and He can give us hope in the transformation process. I know I may be speaking to some who say, “Well, Jesus just doesn’t work. I’ve tried Him. I’ve even called upon His name.” But let me tell you something. Jesus Christ receives and He cleanses those, first of all, who come to Him, and that is a crisis. Getting saved is a crisis. The new birth is a crisis. Just like the natural birth happens in a moment of time, so the new birth happens in a moment of time, but after the crisis comes a process. And the process, as we shall see in the life of Peter, involved many years and many different circumstances and situations where Peter was constantly being exposed to who he was so that he would recognize and admit those areas in which he needed divine help poured into his soul.
Do you know why God sometimes doesn’t seem to change us? I’ve thought about this a lot because I’ve known people who have cried to God and have said, “Oh God, help me,” only to go out and commit the same sin, or even the same crime again. Usually it is because there are pockets of resistance in our life that we have been unwilling to face, and because of that dishonesty we repeat the same sin over and over again.
You see, for Christ to change a person, and He does change people, He is saying that what we need to do is to open our life to Him in all honesty and admit who we are so that then He can make us who we should really be. But that honesty is lacking, and so we go on continuing to impugn the power of God and say, “It’s His fault.”
What is your name? Last week after the service (Remember I spoke on how to find a stream in the desert), a visitor came to me and said, “You know, I have a good job. We have a considerable amount of money, but even so my wife is just absolutely overtaken by anxiety.” And I asked whether she was a believer, and he said yes. And I said, “Do you know what you need to do? You need to tell your wife she needs to repent of that anxiety and treat it just like you would any other sin.”
Isn’t it interesting, by the way, that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter how secure your position, anxiety is something that comes to people indiscriminately. And sometimes it’s not tied even to difficult circumstances. You see, it’s not enough to simply say, “Oh, God, help me in my anxiety.” It is when we come and we say, “God, my anxiety means I am not trusting You; this is sin and my name is Anxiety,” that Jesus can say, “I’m going to rename you and call you Peace.
Or there may be somebody else to whom I’m speaking who says, “My name is Addiction.” And Jesus said that the minute you begin to get very honest and give all the pieces of your life and all of the things that have caused those addictions to Him, and you finally come clean in honesty before Him and before His representatives, it is then, you see, that Jesus can say, “I’m going to rename you, and your name is going to be Freedom.”
Somebody else to whom I’m speaking today says, “My name is Rejection. All that I ever received from my parents and society is rejection and hurt and pain. I don’t feel as if I belong.” And Jesus is saying, “You come to Me and you let Me change you, and you deal with all the bitterness that may reinforce that rejection, and I will give you a new name and it will be Acceptance, and you will be beloved.”
Perhaps I’m speaking to somebody else who says, “My name is Bitter.” Is your name Bitter today? You are angry with God. You are angry at circumstances. You are angry with people who have done you in, and you are going to retain that in your soul. Why don’t you admit it to Christ today? Why don’t you say, “Jesus, I am bitter and I can do nothing about it. I’ve thought about the same thoughts over and over again, and the same bitterness continues to erupt in my spirit. Jesus, there’s nothing that I can do. This is my name.” And Jesus says, “I’m going to change your name and I’m going to call you Beloved, and I’m going to call you Free.”
Somebody else to whom I’m speaking perhaps says, “My name is Fear.” You know exactly what you are supposed to be doing but you are scared because you are being intimidated by others, and intimidated by your circumstances, and intimidated even by those near you to do the wrong thing. Why don’t you tell Christ? Say, “Jesus, my name is Fear.” And Christ can change you and He can say, “I’m going to give you a new name, and the new name is Courage. You can do it.”
Last, but not least, there may be somebody who says, “My name is Guilt. I am awash with guilt.” I remember years ago right here in this church, just off to my left on the other side where the organ is today, meeting a man who said, “I am so polluted from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. I don’t know what to do.” In fact, he said to me, quoting the words of Cain, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” And I was able to share with him just like I can share with you today. Your name may be Pollution but Jesus said, “I will change your name to Clean.”
Christ can do it. His arm is not shortened that He cannot respond. His ear is not deaf that He cannot hear. But what He is waiting for us to do is to admit to Him who we are so that He can transform us into who we should be. And all of us have defenses and denial mechanisms that are very carefully laid over a period of years until it becomes impossible for us to see ourselves in the light of His holiness and in the light of His presence. Jesus can change you. He knows who you are. He’s got you cased. He knows what you can become. He wants to give you a new name.
In Revelation 2:17 the Lord says: “If you are faithful I will give you a name, a new name, that will only be known to the person to whom I give it.” There are some of you in the private struggles of your soul right now. Nobody knows the depth of your need. Nobody knows what you’ve been through. Nobody knows the hurt and the pain and the agony and the battle of the soul. Nobody knows, and the reason they don’t is because you feel that if you told they couldn’t believe it and identify with it. Jesus said, “Tell Me who you are. What is your name? You are but you shall be.”
Let me say a word to those of you who think that you’ve met Christ and have never been born again. The name John Wesley is a very famous name in church history, a great revivalist in England. He had a terrible marriage to a woman by the name of Molly. He should never have married her. She gave him more grief than all the problems in the world put together. I can’t tell you stories of how he ended up marrying her, but he did. In fact, when she died he never even attended the funeral because he did not know that she had died. She had gone off to live somewhere else, and I think that Wesley interpreted that as a sign of God’s blessing unfortunately.
But remember when he came here, he was preaching to the Indians in Georgia, and he was not having results at all. He wanted to see the Indians changed, and nobody was being changed. And then on the way back to England on that boat when they came across that big storm and the Moravians were singing songs, you remember Wesley said to them, “Are you not afraid to die?” And they said, “Thank God, the answer is no.” And he began to see that they had something he didn’t have. And he went back to England disillusioned, seeking peace and transformation. He walked into a church where Luther’s preface to the book of Romans was being read, and while it was being read he believed and said his heart was strangely warmed. And Wesley, the man who was preaching to people that they ought to be converted, was finally himself converted.
Did you know that it is possible for some of you listening to this message, even now where you are sitting, in the balcony or in either of these sections down in the lower area, to say, “Jesus, you know who I am and I admit who I am, and in this moment I believe. I trust you fully as my own. I receive you into my life and heart.” That’s for those of you who have never received Christ. For those of you who have, why don’t you just admit who you now are today, and say, “Jesus, at all costs, change me?” You are, but you shall be spoken by somebody who can make the difference.
Why don’t you just pray, first of all, wherever you may be in this auditorium today, or listening on the radio? Why don’t you just open your heart to Christ and say, “Lord Jesus, I am a sinner who cannot save myself. Just as Andrew brought Peter to Christ, so at this moment I am being confronted by Him. I admit my need and I believe on Him as my Savior.” Would you tell Him that?
And now for those of you who know Christ as Savior, why don’t you tell Him where you are at today? Is your name Anxiety? What is your name? Is your name Fear? Is your name Anger? Tell Christ your name. Ask Him to give you a new one.
Father, we need an outpouring of your blessing because we need lives that are lived miraculously by Your power. We desperately need believers who have experienced the transformation of Christ that cannot be explained through behaviorism or education or human resolution. Therefore we open our lives to You at this moment and say, “Jesus, knowing us, come. Change us. Grant us the grace to be honest.” In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
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