Even the apostle Paul had to admit that the true gospel in all its brilliant reality was like trying to see what he looked like in a blurry mirror. On the other hand he was also given a vision of the third heaven. It was only a glimpse, but in enough detail to show him the gospel message he was preaching – and the power and purpose behind it – were both real and true. And that’s what I got the other day too, a glimpse of the gospel’s reality and purpose in a vision – in my case on television.
It was an episode of Escape to the Country where couples in England seeking escape from crowded cities are given three houses in the country to look at for their dream home. And it was one of those couples that gave me just that briefest of glimpses, like Paul, of what the gospel is about.
The couple shone. They were young and not that well off, because they’d decided he’d keep working while she’d stay home for their young daughter. So the houses they were shown were small and odd. Did that make a difference to them? Not one bit. What they saw was a home for the three of them, because their vision of being a family was far more real and important to them than the cosmetics of a building. They had no nagging need for status or image or looking to be great entertainers of friends and family, wowed by how great their house looked.
They came across as so uncomplicated and “human,” and I couldn’t help liking them immensely. To me they were a glimpse of what God created us humans to be, and the goodness he made possible in us. And it’s a pity that such glimpses are so few, but Jesus only got a few glimpses of good people when he was here too. How many good people did he meet, for instance – other than his close companions and disciples – that really moved him to comment?
One story did come to mind, about the Roman centurion with a sick servant in Matthew 8 seeking healing from Jesus. The servant was “lying at home paralyzed and dreadfully tormented,” verse 6, and “at the point of death,” Luke 7:2. The need, in other words, was urgent. Matthew says the centurion came personally to Jesus to plead for his servant’s healing, whereas Luke says he sent Jewish elders. I like Luke’s version more because it describes the centurion. And what a man he must’ve been for Jews of importance to willingly and “earnestly” plead on his behalf to Jesus, saying, “This man is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation. He even built our synagogue,” Luke 7:4-5.
Imagine that; a despised enemy of the Jews building their synagogue in Capernaum out of his love for them. This was one extraordinary man. And Jesus certainly thought so too, and especially when the centurion also made it known he wasn’t even remotely worthy of Jesus entering his home, and that Jesus only had to “say the word” and the servant would be healed (verses 7-8). A Roman soldier – and one used to having authority himself too – not only respected Jesus’ authority but also his power to heal.
Jesus’ reaction was much the same as mine to the young couple: he “marvelled” and said to those with him, “Amazing, I haven’t found anyone with faith like that, not in all Israel.” There wasn’t even a Jew in the entire nation with the humility and trust, and the goodness, of that Roman soldier.
It gave Jesus a glimpse of what his life and message would do to people. It was just a glimpse, but even he marvelled and he simply had to express his delight. Because if people trusted him like that centurion this is what would happen to them. They would shine. They’d become uncomplicated. They’d be satisfied with what Jesus had come for, to do good and heal people, and they’d revel in that, just like the young couple revelled in their little family home.
It’s just a glimpse of what the gospel is about; it’s about making us into lovely, humble, trusting, shining people, the kind of humans that God designed us to be from the start, but we blew it and complicated life for ourselves instead.
It’s also a glimpse into why Jesus said we could be shining lights in a dark world, because that’s what the gospel is meant to do, make us shine so we become glimpses of the gospel to help it become real to other people too.