(This post is based on a message that I delivered at Pastor Eli’s church in Shinyanga on Sunday)
When we read the Pauline gospels, we find that two churches clearly backslid: the Corinthian church and the Galatian church. Apparently, the Jews also – to whom the Book of Hebrews is addressed (probably the Jerusalem church) – had also begun to lose steam.
To the first two churches, Paul bluntly pointed out the singular gospel that he had preached to them. To the Corinthians he said: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
To the Galatians he wrote: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (Gal.1:1).
Notice the singular message that had been preached to these churches.
And to the Hebrews he wrote: “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; 33 Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. 34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance” (Hebrews 10:32-34).
When the Hebrews first heard the gospel they had joyfully borne their cross and followed after Christ. But apparently, they needed to be reminded once again to crucify their lives.
In my earlier posts I have made it abundantly clear that the revelation of the crucified Christ that Paul and the other apostles received was more than the basic understanding that Christ died for our sins on the cross. It was an understanding of how we, too, have been crucified with Him on that cross.
I find myself captivated by the singularity of the gospel that Paul preached. He did not preach ‘around the world’. He focused on one thing: the cross.
Let us pause here and ask ourselves: How can we preach any other gospel other than that which Paul and the other apostles preached? Can we truly?
Maybe we think it is important to show God’s power in the miracles He works in our midst. Paul was a man who performed many miracles in the course of his ministry. But you can hardly find him mentioning any of that in his epistles. Through his ministry many people were healed. But he desists from harping on that, too. He barely – barely – mentions these things in Galatians chapter 3.
In fact, on reading through Paul’s epistles, you would think the power of God was lacking in his life. His closest associates were getting ill and almost dying!
On his part the Apostle Peter even raised the dead. But you will not find that mentioned in his letters.
Today, there are ministries built around miracles and healings. God is at work in all this, of course, but we should want to know what it was that so concerned the early apostles that they desisted from basking in these things but instead chose to talk about one thing: the work of the cross in a man’s heart.
The apostles, however, were following in the footsteps of Jesus. In John 6:14 and 15 we read, “Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.”
In other words, those men wanted to make Jesus king solely on account of the miracle they had seen Him perform. But Jesus withdrew himself from them.
The next day Jesus confronted them and told them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (Joh 6:53).
And the Bible records that “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66).
How sad! Jesus wanted to inform them about the gospel that had the Life in it. But they did not want that. They wanted the miracles! (In a way miracles minister to the flesh; Jesus told them to “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you” – Jn. 6:27).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is about healings and miracles all right; but it is certainly more than that. That “more” is what the church has always needed to understand – and more so today when dark spiritual forces are pressing ever so hard against the gates of God’s Kingdom.
When Lazarus was raised from the dead, I am sure he did not walk about like a hero or something of the sort. Somehow, Jesus must have made him to understand that he needed to take up his cross and follow Him just like everybody else, raised from the dead or not.