One of my favourite stories of concealed identity hiding in plain sight is from Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Les Miserables, where the escaped convict, Jean Valjean, is pursued for years by now retired Inspector Javert. As it turns out Jean Valjean, who had changed his name to M. Madeleine has now become a successful business man and the Mayor of Toulon. Javert arrives in Toulon and is immediately recognised by Valjean. But Javert does not recognise the now clean-shaven, genteel aristocratic Mayor of Toulon as his nemesis. But when he observes the compassion of M. Madeleine he recalls the time in prison when Jean Valjean had also displayed a similar extraordinary compassion for unfortunate fellow prisoners. The more he observed such acts of kindness and generosity from M. Madeleine the more Javert became convinced of the true identity of Madeleine. There is something about this idea of concealed identity that comes from the story of Christ. The prophet Isaiah foretold that when the Servant of the LORD would appear He would be largely unrecognised – there would be no form, no beauty, that we would desire Him (Isa. 53:2). But how on earth was this possible? How in God’s Name could those who were created by Him in His image not recognise Him for who He was? The answer to this great puzzle lies in one word: the kenosis.
It is too easy to think of a Spirit-filled, on-fire church as large a congregation with great music, great facilities, great programs, and great preaching. And, to be fair, it could be. But those things would be incidental not causal or resultant. Conversely, it would too easy to think of a small church in a small town with no worship band, no building of their own, no paid pastor, and no programs as “dead”. And, to be fair, it could be. But those indicators may just be incidental to its death, not the cause of it. A Spirit-filled, on-fire church can be either large or small, found in a large city or a small country town. It could have great music or no music at all. It could have a gifted dynamic preacher as its pastor, or it may have no pastor at all. But without exception, all Spirit-filled and on-fire for God church have three essential qualities.