by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

April, 2024

Recently I was surprised to learn that the late folksinger John Denver—born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr.—had been the subject of an FBI file ( It seemed to be quite a contrast to his wholesome image with its contemplative songs that evoked the American southwest.

Denver first came to the Bureau’s attention when he appeared at an anti-war rally in Minneapolis, MN in May, 1971. Although he was never officially under investigation, his mere appearance at the rally made him a focus of scrutiny. The second entry came in December, 1979, when a German woman called the FBI numerous times saying her mother’s boyfriend intended to kill Denver. The final entry originated in 1991, when his name came up in connection with the Sicilian Mafia! Fortunately, an investigation revealed no connection between the folksinger and organized crime.

John Denver wasn’t the only innocent person who came to the attention of the authorities. Even though Jesus was completely without sin (2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Pet. 2:22), the religious authorities of his time considered him a threat, probably because he shone a light on their sin (Matt. 23:1-36). Shortly before he was arrested, Jesus told his disciples, “‘For I tell you that the scripture which says, “He shared the fate of criminals,” must come true about me, because what was written about me is coming true.’” (Luke 22:37 Good News Translation). After he said this, he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (vs. 39-46). When he was finished praying, the authorities came to arrest him (vs. 47-54). In the end, governor Pilate acceded to the mob’s wishes, and sentenced Jesus to death on a cross (vs. 22-24). Fortunately for us, his story doesn’t end with his death. On the third day after he was crucified, he rose from the dead (Luke 24:1-8).

Even after the resurrection, though, the spirit of the mob was still alive. In the days of the early church, the religious authorities still thought of Jesus and his followers as lawbreakers. A man named Saul was especially convinced that believers were a threat to the “correct” order of things. He went from house to house, dragging believers to prison (Acts 8:3). Finally, he approached the high priest and obtained letters—essentially arrest warrants—that would allow him to go to Damascus, seize anyone who followed what was known as “the Way,” and bring them to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2).

Along the way, Saul had his own encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 9:3-19), and embraced “the Way” himself. Because of his own work spreading the Gospel, Paul himself was arrested at least three times (Acts 16:23, 21:33; Col. 4:10). But he knew he was innocent before God (Eph. 1:4). As “Paul,” he wrote to the Christians in Colossae, “God forgave us all our sins; he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13b-14 GNT).

James wrote that “Whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all.” (Jas. 2:10 GNT). The Law of Moses was based on being obedient enough—but since no one could obey every provision of the Law, everyone was condemned. Fortunately, Christ’s resurrection renders us blameless before God (1 Cor. 1:8). Paul wrote to the Galatians, “For the whole Law is summed up in one commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ . . . If the Spirit leads you, then you are not subject to the Law.” (Gal. 5:14, 18 GNT).

If we are living by love, according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our sin has been forgiven, and when we do sin, Jesus himself is there to defend us. The author of 1 John told his readers, “I am writing this to you, my children, so that you will not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have someone who pleads with the Father on our behalf—Jesus Christ, the righteous one.” (1 John 2:1 GNT). That’s good news and well worth sharing.

“Who will accuse God’s chosen people? God himself declares them not guilty! Who, then, will condemn them? Not Christ Jesus, who died, or rather, who was raised to life and is at the right side of God, pleading with him for us!” (Rom. 8:33-34 GNT.)

Copyright © 2024 by David Phelps