Changed by Jesus

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In our society, there is a lot of emphasis on change. People want to change their past, their identity, and their gender. They sometimes go through extreme measures to accomplish it. As Christians, we also face a life-altering change when we truly meet Jesus. Our priorities, identities, passions, actions, speech, loyalties, and life destination all change when we allow Jesus in our lives. Biblical examples of several men show us extreme change when Jesus met them and empowered change in their lives.
Saul was a man with an excellent background and a fine Jewish pedigree. He was taught in all the teachings of Moses, with all its traditions and additions provided by the Pharisees added to his résumé. Saul was intent on stomping out the strange new teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, Whose teaching upset the religious power structure and systematic rituals of the Temple system. He was a passionate man who knew what he believed and acted according.
Zacchaeus was a highly successful, financially secure businessman. Besides being rich, he was also knowledgeable about how to “pull the ropes” of society. Much like some men today, he knew how to make money and people work in his financial favor. The Bible tells us Zacchaeus was chief among the publicans and very rich.  Publicans in those days collected the Roman taxes, oversaw public construction projects, quarries and mines, and army supply contracts. Bribes and political connections were often to one’s advantage. Contracts were often won by deception; then excess profit was made by squeezing the taxpayers or workers. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in the Jericho region, which had an excellent balsam trade. This probably gave him high importance and would have created a lot of money. Being chief among publicans, he could also have been involved in other government contracts. Zacchaeus may have been crooked, but he had money in sufficient quantities to last a long time.
Then there was Nicodemus, a Pharisee. He sat with the Sanhedrin and helped to rule and direct the Jewish religious society. As a Pharisee, he would have stood against the worldly Greek influence. He no doubt maintained a very traditional Mosaic law approach to life. He probably felt secure in his current state of life. Being a rabbi, he was a ruler and possibly even a teacher, yet Nicodemus was puzzled about the new doctrine in the area taught by Jesus.
The man of the Gadarenes was dangerous, and the Bible gives him no name. He was a wild man who wore no clothes and lived among the dead. No man could chain him. The devil possessed him, and he needed Jesus to free him and change his actions.
Look closer at these four men from four different walks of life. Saul was actively “mopping up” those he considered bad actors. Zacchaeus was a very successful businessman. Nicodemus was a religious leader. The Man of Gadara was the outcast of society. Yet all these men had a void in their life. They each tried to fill that void by putting all their respective energy in their current ambitions. In their society, in their current positions, many would have said only the Man of Gadara needed a life-changing experience. But none of these men were exempt.
Then, even as now, no matter our religious background, business smarts, or leadership positions, none are exempt from needing a life change. Outside of personal choice, none of these men could claim any deeds which would alter the change that needed to happen. Sometime during the normal parts of their day, they met a Man that changed their lives for the better.
Saul was on a mission. He had the documents he needed to travel to Damascus to apprehend Christian men and women and bring them back bound. Driving distance today that Saul traveled would be approximately 209 miles. He was intent on following his plan through to the end. As far as the High Priest had jurisdiction, Saul would continue to bring people back to be dealt with. But Saul failed to consider that Jesus was watching him. Jesus met him on the road with a blinding light. His eyesight was taken from him for three days. Jesus told him in straight words that he was not doing what was right and sent him to a man that would show him the right way. The “leader of the pack” now needed to be led.
Zacchaeus was also tending his business as usual in Jericho when he heard commotion. He was told that Jesus was going to be coming by that way. He was a short man and needed to climb a tree to see Jesus. It was likely out of curiosity that he wanted to see Jesus. But when Jesus came by, Jesus knew where Zacchaeus was, and looking up in the tree, Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down because He wanted to meet with him personally.
Nicodemus sat with the religious leader of the day, debating things in real-time. We don’t know when he first heard about Jesus, but we know that this Stranger who went around doing miracles was a subject of discussion in the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus set out one night to find out for himself the teaching of this man. He knew that He was a man sent from God but did not understand the difference that Jesus could make in his life.
The man of Gadara was also living life normal for him. Cutting himself, hollering, and uncontrollable, he was fearful when Jesus showed up one day. He knew something major was going to happen to him if Jesus was going to be on the “same turf” as he.
Each of these men lived in different areas. Some put forth effort to see Jesus; others did not. Yet Jesus knew where they were. He knew their past life and their current ambitions. He also knew what these men could become when changed from the inside out. These men’s associates also knew a change took place. It was a radical change that could only happen from an external source and an inside change. Saul was led by the hand into the city of Damascus. One of the very men who would have been on his hit list came to see him and called him “Brother Saul.” Saul received his sight and immediately began to preach Christ. The Bible does not say what happened to the men that were with him on the road, but so vigorous was he in preaching that men in Damascus sought to take his life. He needed to escape over the city wall in a basket. The believers and unbelievers saw an immediate change. Saul, whose name later became Paul, went on to become very influential in the Christian churches. Even today, we read from Paul’s inspired epistles to the churches.
Zacchaeus came out of the tree when called and took Jesus to his house. People around murmured because Jesus would commune with such a crook. But by allowing Jesus in his home and life, when Jesus came back out, Zacchaeus was different. Imagine today if a large defense contractor suddenly closed operations because they were making unjust gains. Zacchaeus agreed that he was going to restore fourfold to the people from which he took wrongly. His business partners and people he had wronged knew a major change had taken place.
Nicodemus left Jesus that night and returned to his existing place in life. However, what he had learned that night must have burned in his mind. When the Sanhedrin, discussing what they should do to Jesus, Nicodemus spoke up and used the current Jewish law to defend Jesus. His fellows mocked him, but he now had identified with Jesus somewhat openly. When later, Jesus was crucified; the change in Nicodemus’ life became even more evident. When Jesus’ body was dead and needed to be removed, he came along with Joseph of Arimathea to take down the body of Jesus and lay it in the tomb. By identifying with the dead body, he was known to the others that he loved Jesus and believed that he was the Son of God. Even though this change may not have been as sudden as the other men, we see a continual working in his life that eventually caused him to fully embrace Jesus and give Him a decent burial.
The Man of Gadara cried out to Jesus. He did not want his life disturbed. But Jesus commanded the devil to flee, and the man was instantly changed. He was clothed and sitting in his right mind when the people of the city came to see him. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid (Mark 5:15). To the town folks who knew him, this was such a radical difference that they wanted Jesus to leave their coast. However, the healed man did not want Jesus to leave. He wanted to stay in fellowship with the source of power. But Jesus sent him back to his area to proclaim the good news of salvation to those around him.
These four men lived differently after they met Jesus and allowed Him to change their lives. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). We, as Christians today, say we know Jesus and that He is King in our life. But do our neighbors around us know that we have been with Jesus? Do our church family and close friends know that a power controls our life for God? Is it clear to people that the Holy Spirit lives inside us? Are we teachable? Are our goals and priorities now what Jesus shows us in the Bible? Is associating with God’s people our desire? Are we ready to go out and share what we have with those around us?
No man is exempt from a total change. A long faithful family pedigree, business knowledge, or religious zeal will not exempt anyone of us from needing the same touch and power from Jesus that the substance-abusing social outcast also needs. Unless we recognize that power, our own attempted change will be as filthy rags.