The nature of God’s revelation to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ is a good place for us to begin as we explore this issue. In Jesus, God is fully revealed to us; he is the Word of God which became flesh and dwelt among us. Is it the humanness of Christ, however, that reveals God to us? Or does His humanness act as a veil? When the Word becomes flesh, it does not stop being the Word. But one must not forget that when the Word becomes flesh, the flesh does not become the Word. Therefore, as Karl Barth argues, the flesh acts as both a veil and a means of unveiling: “But this very veiling, kenosis and passion of the Logos, has to take place in order that it may lead to His unveiling and exaltation and so to the completion of revelation” (CD I.2, p. 36). Therefore, it is important to realize that God is not revealed in the humanity of Jesus Christ, which is actually a veil, but in his divinity.
It was possible, therefore, to meet Jesus Christ in the flesh and yet to deny his divinity. In other words, it was possible to experience Jesus during his life on earth as any other man. Not only was this possible, but it is quite apparent from the Gospel accounts that this is what actually happened some, if not most, of the time. Pilate was able to look Jesus Christ – God’s own Truth – squarely in the face and question, “What is truth?” As Trevor Hart points out, for revelation to take place, “the particular form of Jesus’ humanity is necessary but not sufficient. The veil must become transparent.”
This takes place through the ongoing revelatory work of the Holy Spirit. Without the flesh of Jesus, however, without his humanness, without his personality he would not have been present to be revealed. To turn Hart’s statement on its head, while the humanness of Jesus was not sufficient to reveal the truth, it was necessary. This is the miracle of the Incarnation, that God’s revelation — God’s Truth — was mediated through the unique personality of Jesus Christ.
Likewise, the four Gospels each have their own style, their own voice, their own personality. One is not more true than the others because of its unique personality. No, God’s truth is mediated through the unique personalties of each author. This is true of the prophets of the Old Testament as well as the apostles of the New Testament. The personality of Elijah is different from Paul, or David, or James, or Jeremiah; their personalities are not God’s revelation to humanity, they are not God’s timeless truth, but in obedience they allowed their styles, their voices, and their personalities to be mediators of God’s truth.
As preachers we must spend regular time participating in both private and public worship that molds us, conforms us, and prepares us to be purveyors of the Word. This will ensure that the focus remains the Truth and not the personality.
If we are careful to keep our personalities subservient to the Truth, then as we get to know our congregation and its personality and as our congregations get to know us and our personalities, a unique opportunity is created, a window is opened, a trust is developed. Through the power of the Holy Spirit this opportunity is used to communicate God’s timeless truth to a particular congregation at a particular place and at a particular time.
May The Father, through the power of the Spirit, use each of us and our unique personalities to reveal the Truth of the Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Kerry L. Bender is the pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.