The Open Secret of The GOSPEL

It could easily be argued on the basis of the content of the New Testament writings which became the basis of Christianity that these two Apostles contribute a major part of that faith-tradition. In addition to the fact that both were Orthodox Jews and began their lives in the bosom of that faith-tradition, what was their relationship to Jesus of Nazareth?

scrollOne American churchman who understood both men and their contributions more clearly than most in the Twentieth Century, gave them a prominent place in his 1950 exposition of the New Testament Gospel in a classic called,The Kingdom and The Power“. (reprinted in 2004, Westminster John Knox Press)

He began that exposition by considering these two men as ‘prisoners of the Lord’, late in life writing to their respective Christian congregations for the purpose of strengthening their fragil faith for the battle they saw just ahead. The Apostles themselves were very aware they were passing beyond this present age into the age to come and out of the context of their beloved churches. The two letters are known to us today as The Revelation and The Epistle To The Ephesians.

I can not do justice to Minear’s full thesis here, but see if you can catch the sense of the strategic contribution they were intended to have in their original context as messengers of the Head of The Church himself to his faithful, tempted followers.

Whatever may be the reactions of the reader to the visions in Revelation and the beattitudes in Ephesians, he should remember that these are messages from prisoners who are risking life itself for these convictions. In their minds, they are words whose truth measures the distance between irretrievable ruin and indestructible hope.

Even their adversaries must admit that there has never been a claim more colossal in its audacity than such claims by the prisoners of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of these claims may hold little meaning for many readers, whether ancient or modern. Some may appear entirely unjustifed. For one reason or another, men have hesitated to accept their truth on the basis of these ancient documents alone. But these hesitations should not conceal the fact that these are the claims and that they are expressed with complete confidence not only by these two prisoners but by the New Testament as a whole. Whether it be trusted or not, their proclamation is as astounding as any that has ever been uttered.

If this seems an exageration, consider again the facts. Each of these prisoners was powerless, despised, and alone. Yet each announced that God had committed to him a secret hidden from the beginning of time. He insisted that others might grasp this secret only on the terms that God had laid down. He declared that the character of this secret had been unveiled in the crucifixion and resurrection of an obscure Galilean. He asserted, with unwavering conviction, that all future developments and all human situations lie within the span of this one mystery.

What daring! What madness! How unprecedented! How offensive! Each prisoner knew that the Lamb had been slain by the powerful and the wise. He knew that the Lamb’s followers received little but ridicule and resistance. (His imprisonment kept him from forgetting that.) He knew how intolerant it sounded to exclude unbelievers from this saving knowledge of the eternal purpose of God. He knew that others viewed the glorious dreams of the Church as pathetic megalomania. Nor was he himself immune to the arrows of doubt and the torment of aloneness. The stronger his faithfulness, the more it was tested by the tensions in the midst of which he lived. Yet he was qualified by the testing of his faith to write to other disciples who were caught in the same dilemmas.

Those who first read the letters of John or Paul stood on the same battle line between Christ’s Kingdom and the world. They had accepted the fact that the Lamb had suffered for them, but they had not yet fully understood that the disciple of this Messiah must suffer with him. They did not relish the way in which the cross continued to tear them loose from the world. They were unnerved by a gospel that made them the object of derision and ostracism. Their hearts needed a daily ration of iron because what happened to their leaders might quickly happen to them.

The author of Ephesians is therefore impelled to urge his readers “not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory”(ch.3:13). Realizing that such courage can be nourished only by a power not their own, he prays that God- “may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

This correspondence between the two prisoners and their friends serves to define the frontier that separated them from their contemporaries. On the one side was a tiny group of men united by loyalty to the Lamb. Their tangible resources were quite inadequate for carrying on a global conflict. But their intangible resources were known to be sufficient:  God’s Spirit in the inner man, Christ’s presence in the heart, a love that surpasses knowledge, a power to comprehend the heights and depths. Over against them as enemies stood everyone else, supported by tangible resources and made confident by the wisdom of the world.  – Paul S. Minear,  The Kingdom and The Power, pp.34-36

I highly recommend to everyone who loves the Gospel and the Lamb, these two New Testament letters, and this book which comes as close as any I know to capturing the original sense of their divinely inspired intended purpose among the churches.

See my tribute to Paul Minear in The Saints’ Gallery,Part 2

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