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.
We are engaged in a spiritual battle. Jesus Christ declared that within this battle for the souls of every human is an evil force that seeks to blind people from the truth, hinder people from hearing the truth, and seeks to distract people from considering the truth. He said, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path” (Matt. 13:19). Jesus described the evil one as a murderer and liar (Jn 8:44) who comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” (Jn. 10:10). The evil one hates GOD’s image-bearers — but he especially hates young image-bearers (presumably because they have the most potential to cause him and his wicked schemes the greatest damage!).
There are some churches around the world that are world’s best practice. Their music is world-class. Their ‘customer’ service is second to none. Their preachers are more inspirational than the best TED talkers. Their facilities are better than the best Westfield shopping centre. They hold international conferences which attract thousands of delegates. As far as churches go, these are the best. But they only comprise less than 1% of all churches around the world. For the rest of us in the 99% of churches around the world, we may not be among the best, but we are generally comprised of those who are doing their best. And it seems that Jesus is still entrusting His mission to people like us – people who stumble and falter.
Peter and Andrew were small-businessmen. Along with their father, they ran their family business and had to work long hours just to make ends meet. But this all changed one day when The Messiah came along uninvited and uttered the words: Follow Me. There must have been a moment of dilemma for these hardened sea-farers. “Now?” perhaps they wondered, “It’s hardly a good time now!” But follow they did. Yes, to follow Jesus is to live a life of inconvenience. It really does seem that Jesus often – if not usually – interrupts a person’s life when it is most inconvenient! It’s not just that it seems inconvenient to walk through life with Jesus – it is! There is a cost to honouring Christ and it is counted in the currency of convenience.