The Right Way to Be Wrong

Are you wrong? No?

Are you sure? Is there a chance you could be in the wrong in some area of your life?

Why would any writer start an article by asking such questions? Are we trying to lose readers here?

Being told we are wrong can cut us to the very heart. We have a nature that wants to believe we got it right the first time. None of us enjoys being confronted with proof that we did not. Still, we know the possibility exists, because our human nature fights to have its own way.

Remember the poet Alexander Pope’s famous quote? “To err is human;to forgive, divine.” It’s just part of who we are.

That is not to excuse our being wrong. A cross stands at the dividing line of history, giving us power to turn our wrongs into right, to bring them to an altar and have them covered by the blood that was shed for our sins. If we repent, we can be forgiven, and if we obey His Word we can forever leave those wrongs behind.

Not alone in being wrong

In the Bible, some people were glaringly wrong in their ideas and actions.  The difference in the failures of the villains and the failure of the heroes is whether they ever saw themselves as wrong, and if so, what they did about it.

In this post-Easter week, we continue to reflect on our Savior’s life, teaching, death, burial, and resurrection. There are some key actors in His story whose wrong choices were what put Him on that cross.  Truly we understand that our own sins were the reason He had to die, but the story of how it came to pass involved real, flesh-and-blood people who made wrong choices. Some realized they had chosen badly. When did they realize they were wrong what did they do? Let’s look back a little, shall we?

The Rulers of the Jews

The Council of Jewish leaders, as a group, were looking for a way to get Jesus off their hands. Multiple scriptures refer to their taking counsel (meeting to discuss) how to have Him put to death. One of their number, Nicodemus, had the courage to come to Jesus by night (see John chapter 3). Remember his opening statement? “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles which thou doest, except God be with him,” (John 3:2). Did you hear that? “We know…,” he said. Was he not referring to the council in which he served? At least some of them knew they were doing wrong, yet they continued.

They, as a group, eventually had their way, when Judas betrayed Jesus to them and He was arrested and crucified, but Nicodemus never voted “yes” to the plan. He would later provide a hundred pounds of spices to anoint Jesus’ body in a show of his devotion. He was part of a group that was wrong, and when he had the opportunity to do right, he did. Other than Joseph of Arimethea, who also refused to consent to their deeds, and took it on himself to bury the body of Jesus, I find no record of a member of that council admitting they were wrong.

Judas

The disciple who betrayed Jesus saw Him being led away to be crucified after the mock trials, and realized the thirty pieces of silver that had looked good to him (he could have betrayed Jesus for free, but chose to get something out of the deal) was the price of blood. He had betrayed an innocent man. He chose total despair over true repentance and took his own life before Jesus ever shed His blood to cover even that sin.

Peter

Peter, the disciple to whom Jesus had given the very keys to the kingdom, when he stood outside the site of Jesus’ mock trial, cursed and swore repeatedly he never even knew Jesus. His fear of what was going that night, and what would happen to him if he were truly identified with Jesus, overwhelmed whatever desire he had once had to be brave on His behalf. One look from Jesus, paired with the sound of a rooster crowing to fulfil Jesus’ prophecy to him of a few hours earlier, brought him to the point of going out and weeping bitterly.

He also could have ended up like Judas, but Peter chose to go back to where Jesus’ followers were. We find him later in the upper room when news came that Jesus had risen. We find him running with John to view the empty tomb, and later being present when Jesus appeared to His disciples. Peter was later allowed to make things right with Jesus when he was asked, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” — the same number of times that he had denied him.  He would go on to fulfill the task Jesus had given him when He placed the keys to the kingdom in his hands.

The thief on the cross

When Jesus was on the cross, the two thieves crucified on either side hurled the same insults at Him in their agony. But somewhere after he heard Jesus cry, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” one of the two realized he was wrong. He even rebuked the other thief, confessed that he was a sinner, asked Jesus for mercy, and received one of the most famous pardons in history (Luke 23:40-43). (Note that his pardon was issued before Jesus’ death, which ushered in the birth of water and Spirit as described in Acts 2:38.)

The Roman centurion

This centurion helped oversee the crucifixion of Jesus, as he had done for many bad men in Jerusalem. He no doubt assumed that this Jesus, despite His previous popularity, had simply turned out to be another one of those. But as he watched Jesus die, something changed. He heard Him say things no man had ever said while hanging on that torture rack. He must have been shocked to the core when he heard Jesus voice forgiveness for His killers. He saw Him forgive the thief who repented. He heard Jesus make provisions for His mother after His death. But when Jesus said, “It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost,” (John 19:30), and the centurion realized that Jesus was dying at the point He chose to die, and not a moment before, it broke him. “Truly this was the son of God,” he said. He had willingly carried out Pilate’s sentence against an innocent man. What he did with that knowledge we are not told. There were many Romans who came to the knowledge of the truth when it began to be preached by the apostles, and this centurion could well have been one of those, but God didn’t choose to reveal that in His Word.

The crowd that cried, “Crucify him, crucify him!”

Though stirred up by the jealous rulers, they played a powerful part in convincing the Roman ruler Pilate to go against his own judgment (and his wife’s dire warning and prediction) to send an innocent man to a brutal death. Pilate’s questioning them, his bringing Jesus out to them — bloodied and disfigured from the horrific scourging — could not move them from the course they had chosen. The more Pilate reasoned with them, the louder they cried out for Jesus’ death, even crossing the line to shout, “We have no king but Caesar,” and “Let his blood be upon us, and upon our children.” They were fully convinced they were right, and in the heat of that moment, no one would change their minds.

Then came Jesus’ bloody form struggling through the streets up to Golgotha, His being hung between Heaven and earth on a cross, and His choice to forgive, which provoked the repentance of the thief and the confession of the centurion. How many of that crowd were humbled by what they saw? Three days later, stories that this Jesus was no longer in the tomb began to circulate through the area, stirring something inside those who had cried out for His destruction, no doubt. Yet they still were left with the unclean, guilty, sin-blackened hearts they had in the moment when they got their way with Pilate.

Move ahead fifty days.

One hundred and twenty of Jesus followers, who had seen Him after the resurrection and witnessed Him ascend into Heaven, were obediently waiting and praying in the upper room at Jerusalem.

“And when the Day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all in one accord in one place. And suddenly there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire sitting upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and spake with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance,” (Acts 2:1-4). We are not told the makeup of the crowd who witnessed the one hundred and twenty stumble out of the upper room on the Day of Pentecost, full of “new wine.” We are only told they were “Jews, devout men, of every nation under heaven.” Did you read that correctly? They were “devout men.” But listen to the rest of the story.

The multitude that came together saw and heard something unimaginable: people speaking languages they hadn’t been taught, and these men of different countries (gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost) heard them in their own native tongues. What they saw and heard had so far gotten their attention, but it only brought curiosity, not repentance. After all, verse 5 says they were “devout men.” Why would they need repentance? Keep in mind that this scene is still in Jerusalem, where days earlier a blood-thirsty crowd cried for Jesus’ death. Did both crowds contained some of the same people?

Peter, standing up with the other eleven apostles, told the crowd what it was they were seeing and hearing: “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel…I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,” (verse 17). Then Peter, the one to whom Jesus had given the keys to the kingdom, preached to them. He began to tell them Who it was they had crucified. Yes, these devout men were told they had crucified Jesus by wicked hands. Devout men or not, they were wrong in what they had done.

As he continued to preach, Peter told them, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ,” (verse 36). There it was, the accusation flying in their faces that they had crucified the Lord of Glory. How devastating, as conviction fell on them with this news. How would they respond?

What is the right way to be wrong?

“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart…” (Acts 2:37). They became convinced they were wrong. That in itself is the beginning of the turning point. You can be told you are wrong all day long, but until you receive that information, you are perfectly capable of believing you are only being  unjustly accused or simply insulted. What was they key to this crowd receiving it?

They had just witnessed the power of God falling in a way that had never before occurred in human history. Then the man of God, chosen to preach that first message to them, had shown them in the Word of God where they were wrong.

What they did next was key: “they… said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They sought help for their condition.

Not only did they ask, but they received the answer on good ground.  Let’s hear the rest of the story:

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:38-41)

Three thousand souls! Did that include everyone who heard? Apparently not, as it said, “Then they that gladly received his word…” (verse 41). But somebody listened. Somebody accepted they were wrong. Somebody asked what they were supposed to do now. Somebody obeyed what they were told. They repented. They found forgiveness and cleansing when they were baptized in Jesus’ name. Somebody was filled with the same Spirit, the Holy Ghost, that had just filled the Apostles and the others. (Note that the original group was of one hundred and twenty people, including Jesus’ mother, as detailed in Acts 1:13-15. Let no one tell you this was just for the Apostles.)

In fact, thousands miraculously received forgiveness and remission of sins in the name of Jesus Christ by obeying the commandment, even though they had cried out for His death when Pilate would have let Him go.

What will you do?

What sin are you harboring that you’re sure couldn’t be forgiven? Or what nagging doubt are you trying to ignore, plodding along, looking only with a shallow glance into your heart and soul, hoping things are somehow OK, and that what you have will be enough good in you to get you into Heaven? Are you excusing some sin because “everybody sins”? Could you be wrong in your thinking?

We have seen that just being convinced you are right does not make you right. Where do you stand with the Word of God, with what Peter preached? If you suspect you are wrong, can you choose to be wrong in the right way? Can you have the courage to ask, and to obey the answer, as the crowd on the Day of Pentecost?

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, ” (Acts 2:38).

The crowd to whom Peter preached could have chosen, one by one, to slip away with the knowledge they were condemned.  Worse still, they could have stiffened, squared their shoulders and stalked off with a “How dare he?” in their hearts. But many chose otherwise.

How will you respond?

The answer Peter gave still applies today. For those who obey it, the Holy Ghost is still being poured out. If the question is the same, the answer is the same, and obedience brings the same outcome, will you trust anything less than that to be right?

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