One morning in Jerusalem in AD 33, a man stood up and addressed a crowd. “Men of Judea and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you, and give close attention to my words. These men are not drunk as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2.14-16 Williams trans.).
The man, of course, was Simon Peter; one-time fisherman of Galilee, and more recently, follower of Jesus and leader of the fledgling Messianic community. The occasion? The Jewish festival of Shavuot, celebrated on the fiftieth day after Pesach (Passover), hence the name ‘Pentecost’ meaning ‘fiftieth’.
The Holy Spirit had just descended upon the followers of Jesus as they were gathered in prayer in an upper room, prompting them to proclaim the greatness of God in a variety of foreign languages. A crowd of people had gathered to investigate the source of this commotion. Astounded and bewildered, they were asking one another, “What can this mean?”
This was the moment that Peter had been born for. Everything that had happened thus far in his life now converged on this particular window of opportunity.
Empowered and emboldened by the Spirit, Peter stepped into the breach. With a loud voice he proclaimed, “What you are witnessing is the fulfilment of the word that was spoken by the prophet Joel.” Considering that Peter was a theologically untrained Galilean, this was a remarkable exegesis of prophetic Scripture.
This man, who only weeks before had grossly misinterpreted the purpose of his Master’s mission, thereby earning himself a stern rebuke (Mat 16.21-23), was somehow able to put the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into perspective for his audience.
This man, who had a penchant for ‘shooting first and asking questions later’, was somehow able to help his audience apprehend the ‘new thing’ that God was doing in their midst (Isa 43.18-29). “This…. is that.”
The effect on the audience was nothing short of electrifying. “When they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2.37).
Once again, Peter was ready with the appropriate answer. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
For Peter, this was indeed, “the day the Lord had made” (Psa 118.24). If Peter was to do nothing else in his life, his words and actions on the Day of Pentecost AD 33 would stand forever in the annals of human history. For wittingly or not, he had laid the foundation stone of the new temple of God, the “house of prayer for all nations’, the church of Jesus Christ.
For such a time as this
We find another example of walking with destiny in the Old Testament story of Esther. This narrative contains all the ingredients of a political thriller: love and intrigue, courage and betrayal, deliverance and vengeance. But more than anything else, it is a depiction of God’s faithfulness and His ability to turn what the devil intends for evil into ultimate good. It is also a demonstration of God’s sovereignty in human history, and His capacity to position people in the right place at the right time to fulfil His purposes.
A young, beautiful, orphaned Jewish girl named Esther found herself in the royal palace in the Persian capital of Shushan. Chosen by King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes I) to be his new queen, Esther was quickly engulfed in a maelstrom of conspiracy and espionage. Haman, the king’s second in command, was consumed by an intense hatred for the Jews and had cleverly manipulated the king to order their annihilation.
After learning of the plot, Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, urged her to use her position of privilege to intercede before the king for the deliverance of the Jewish people. When Esther protested that to appear before the king uninvited was to risk a death sentence, Mordecai replied with these immortal words:
“Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4.13-14).
The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “And who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this and for this very occasion?” In other words, “This is the moment you were born for. This is the reason God elevated you to this position of privilege and power. Step into your destiny.”
The rest, as they say, is history. The king extended to Esther the royal sceptre of favour and acceptance. Esther revealed Haman’s genocidal plot to the king. Haman was put to death on the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. The edict of extermination was revoked. And the Jewish people were left to celebrate the goodness of God in perpetuity in a Feast called Purim.
Your past life is but a preparation for this hour
To my knowledge, Winston Churchill was the first person to coin the phrase “walking with destiny.” In his memoir The Gathering Storm, Churchill recounted the moment on May 10th, 1940, when he was summoned by King George VI to Buckingham Palace and invited to form a Government of national unity.
The situation couldn’t have been much worse. German paratroopers had landed in Belgium and Holland. The Luftwaffe was bombing airfields in France and the Low Countries. German tanks and infantry were thrusting through the Ardennes Forest in south-eastern Belgium and northern Luxembourg.
Driving back to Admiralty House from the Palace, Churchill said to his bodyguard, W. H. Thompson, “You know why I have been to Buckingham Palace, Thompson?” The former Scotland Yard inspector said that he did, but added sombrely, “I only wish the position had come your way in better times, for you have an enormous task.” According to Thompson, Churchill’s eyes filled with tears, and he replied, “God alone knows how great it is. I hope that it is not too late. I am very much afraid that it is. We can only do our best.”
And yet, despite this sense of foreboding, Churchill wrote:
“I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. Eleven years in the political wilderness had freed me from ordinary party antagonisms. My warnings over the last six years had been so numerous, so detailed, and were now so terribly vindicated, that no one could gainsay me. I could not be reproached either for making war or with want of preparation for it … Therefore, although impatient for the morning, I slept soundly and had no need for cheering dreams. Facts are better than dreams.”
Churchill would go on to lead his country through the next five years of tumultuous conflict, culminating in victory in Europe and in the Pacific. His many faults notwithstanding, he is widely regarded as the greatest Briton of all time.
If nothing else, Churchill’s example demonstrates that all of life’s experiences, both good and bad, are but a preparation for “this hour and this trial”, as we find ourselves standing on the threshold of great opportunity and great responsibility.
The vision of the prophetic man
A few weeks ago I had an extraordinary spiritual experience while partaking of the Eucharist at my local parish. After going forward to receive Christ’s body and blood, I returned to my seat and began to pray. Instantly the power of the Holy Spirit fell on me and I was caught up in a vision.
I found myself sitting in an auditorium, listening to a man preaching the word of God. I didn’t recognise him, but I instinctively knew that he was a prophet. All of a sudden, he stopped talking and called me out. As I stood before him, he said these words:
“A day will come, in the near future, when you will say, ‘Everything in my life has been directed to this moment, everything has led to this point, this is the purpose for which I was born.’”
I knew then that my main work still lay ahead of me — the work God sent me to earth to do over sixty years ago.
However, as human beings we find it hard to see the wood for the trees. Like the blind man in the gospel of Mark, all we can see is “men like trees walking” — just a bunch of hazy shapes without form or distinction. But as Jesus restores our ‘sight’ (perception), we begin to see clearly. We are able to look back and perceive the purpose of God in everything that has happened in our life and circumstances.
Then, like Joseph in the Old Testament, we are able to say, “People meant it for evil, but God meant it for good to bring about a great deliverance” (Gen 50.20). And like the apostle Paul, we can declare with confidence, “Everything that has happened has fitted into a pattern for good to fulfil the purpose of God” (Rom 8.28).