Experts And Authorities

Wouldn’t it be great if every Christian could be as articulate and knowledgeable about the truths of the Christian gospel as their well-educated pastor? We rightly honor the men and women who have gone to seminary, engaged with other bright and Jesus-loving professors, who understand much more of the depth and impact of what God has done in Jesus. Like most things, the more you know about the gospel of Jesus, the better it gets.
“… and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 3:9-10 ESV)
So, the job of telling the good and important information about Jesus turns out to be an intense duty. The gospel about Jesus is part of God’s previously-unknown-information (“mystery”) plan that has been around forever. Then the apostle Paul tells us that the obvious wisdom of God would be proclaimed, by way of the human church, to ‘heavenly realms and authorities.’
As I’ve shared before, this is the dignity, privilege, and worth of God’s image: humanity. That is all of us. Believers in Christ, having been redeemed – being put back where we belong in a right relationship with God – we then tell heaven what God has done and how it is wise.
Contrary to some strains within Christianity, we are not worms; though we were made of the same stuff. As God’s “image,” we were made to be God’s ruling representatives on this world – God’s “icons.”
That’s a tall order and a big responsibility – and we seem so unprepared to take it on. Especially in comparison with Jesus who we are supposed to be representing. Still, while we may be weak, slow, stupid, and broken – we know God’s love, mercy, reconciliation, and wisdom. That’s our advantage.
Do you know the difference between an “expert” and an “authority?” And expert knows and understands the theoretical and intellectual information. They have read, studied, and perhaps even observed. They know a lot about a subject.
An “authority” is different. An authority may not know as much as the expert, but they have practiced the subject. They have lived it. They can speak from the authority of their personal experience.
When I was born, there was one expert and one authority in the room. The expert was the Obstetrician. He was a medical doctor who knew a lot about giving birth. Also in the room was an authority, my mother. She was actually experiencing childbirth. Her obstetrician was an expert, but he would never be an authority!

And that is our story, as well, when it comes to the gospel. Sometimes we get intimidated because we don’t know as much about the gospel as our seminary-educated pastor. But. We have actually experienced the grace of God in our lives because of what Jesus has done. We know the gospel! Maybe not as ‘experts,’ but certainly as ‘authorities’ and we can tell what we know.

Bearer Of Good Tidings

Have you ever been called upon to make a presentation or important announcement? If the situation was a happy one, to make the announcement is both a great responsibility and a huge honor. Even if the situation was unpleasant, the responsibility to break bad news is a big responsibility.
The apostle Paul felt that sense of occasion, honor, and responsibility when it came to telling people about Jesus.
“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles-- assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery.” (Eph. 3:1-9 ESV)
There are several interesting thoughts, here. The use of the word, “mystery” (something previously unknown or hidden); some of the nature of being an apostle; and the new relationship that Gentiles (non-Jews) have with God through Jesus.
But what arrested my attention was Paul’s phrase, using a different translation: “God gave his grace to me … to preach the gospel.” As Christians, we do not seem to give any appreciation for the unusual privilege it is to tell the gospel.
Even today there is a certain sense of responsibility or honor (depending) that is implied by telling either bad or good news. Who tells a political candidate that he has lost the election? Not some random flunky. It will be the candidate’s campaign manager. The manager, who shares the responsibility for how the campaign turned out, will be the bearer of bad news. Who tells the candidate that they have won? Again, not some flunky – the manager, the candidate’s spouse, or someone very important because it is a great honor to tell that good news.
When the nation was told that President John F. Kennedy had died, it wasn’t the desk nurse of the Pediatrics unit – it was the highest ranking available Press Secretary. When a man landed on the moon, it wasn’t a NASA press release, it was “Uncle Walter,” the network anchorman Walter Cronkite, who most of us were watching.
The giving of important news is a profound honor.
The gospel of Christ – the good news about Jesus – is the most important news in history. And we, as Jesus followers, are allowed to give it. The apostle Paul called this a “grace,” an unmerited favor, something good that he doesn’t deserve. And that is our situation, as well. We have the news about Jesus and it is our privilege and honor to share that information.

So, Paul’s response resonates with me and I feel God’s affirmation. God has given to me certain gifts, such as the privilege and responsibility to share the gospel, yet I am a very broken human being. I do not deserve that honor.


Unity After Separation

“Unity” is a powerful concept. That a group of people can be ‘unified’ is so difficult to imagine in these more recent days. Yet unity is what the church enjoys in actual fact. But it was not easy to understand, much less live out, back in the day.
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-- remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph. 2:11-22 ESV)
This is a much longer text than I usually process here. It is very rich, has many helpful ideas – both in doctrine and in practice. But one theme seems dominant: separation.
The text is clear: “separated in Christ,” “alienated,” “strangers,” “far off,” “dividing wall,” “hostility,” and “strangers and aliens.” There was something profoundly broken about our relationship with God and his people.
Now, just a word about “God’s people.” The apostle Paul, who wrote this text, knows his history and knows his current situation – as well as good theology! “God’s people” were the Jews. He is writing to mostly non-Jewish people. Anyone who is not a Jew is a “Gentile,” in Bible terms. Paul is affirming that Gentiles had no skin in the game in terms of a relationship with God. God had formed a relationship with this smallish people. The history of that relationship is found in what we call the Old Testament. All during that time, people like me – “Gentiles” – had no obvious way of being in a positive relationship with God unless we became Jewish. So, in the Old Testament situation, there were two kinds of people: God’s people (Jews), and everyone else. There was a clear dividing line between the two which was not merely symbolic but physical, concrete, and obvious.
In reading this section, it is harder to sense God’s presence. The text begins its attention on the separation that the readers – people like me – experienced with God.
Something happened.
Jesus happened.
Jesus broke down the separation, took people from the formerly two groups, and made a new people. No longer, after Jesus, is there Jew and Gentile. There is now Christian and not-Christian. This was hard for both (formerly) Jewish and Gentile Christians to fully understand, embrace, and act out. In several letters that Paul wrote, he focuses on the horizontal unity within the church. That formerly Jewish and formerly Gentile people were now, truly and in fact, one new people of God.

So, in reading a scripture text with the intent of meeting God, this text is harder to sense God because of the issue of division between Jew and Gentile. Until Paul gets to the point that the two are now one new thing.