When I was a kid, the greatest magician in the world was David Copperfield. Forbes magazine called Copperfield the most commercially successful magician in history, his 40 million tickets sold and gross profits of over 3 billion dollars make him the biggest selling solo entertainer ever.1 Born only about 35 miles from here in Metuchin, he’s a local boy done good, at one point marrying Claudia Schiffer, perhaps his greatest trick. His success in doing things like making the Statue of Liberty disappear and levitating over the Grand Canyon made him a marked man of sorts, people wanted a piece of him, to reveal his illusions. If you google the variations ‘David Copperfield revealed’ you’ll get millions of results; people want to know what’s behind the curtain, they want all things to be revealed.
This weeks lessons are studies in revelation. Paul wrote to the Galatians to essentially defend himself and the Gospel against those who were attempting to add, subtract, or refute both Paul and the Gospel.
As Scott Hoezee tells us, “In his defense Paul begins with his premise. “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” There are some key technical words in that sentence. The Greek for receive is a word that connotes oral tradition. I didn’t get my understanding of the gospel by sitting around a campfire listening to people tell stories that they had heard from others. The Greek word for taught connotes formal instruction in an academic setting. I didn’t get my gospel by sitting at the feet of some expert like my former teacher, Gamaliel.
“My gospel came directly from Jesus himself by revelation. The word is apokalupsis, which means an unveiling, an uncovering of something hidden from human view, something inaccessible to ordinary human perception or reason. Paul says that Jesus broke through the normal barriers that separate God from humanity, broke through from the noumenal world to the phenomenal world (to use Kant’s categories), and revealed something that was new, and good. I didn’t invent the gospel I preach. I didn’t learn it from any other human being. I received it directly from Jesus by special revelation.”2 Either Paul was delusional or this revelation from Christ, this unveiling, makes Paul both very special and truly burdened.
The Gospel lesson for today is another study in revelation. Jesus had left Capernaum, where He had healed the centurion’s servant, and He headed into Nain. “The tiny Galilean village of Nain is remembered only because.. Jesus brought back to life a widow’s son as he was being taken out through the town gate to be buried. The place where the miracle occurred is 7km south-west of Mount Tabor, up a steep road. The village (also known as Naim) looks out on to the Plain of Jezreel. Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea, identified the location in the 4th century, noting that it was not far from Endor, where King Saul of Judah consulted a medium before his final encounter with the Philistines, described in the book of 1 Samuel. The first recorded account of a pilgrim’s visit is anonymous (probably by Egeria, who visited the Holy Land as a pilgrim around AD 380). It says: “In the village of Nain is the house of the widow whose son was brought back to life, which is now a church, and the burial place where they were going to lay him is still there to this day.”3
There’s nothing particularly special about Nain (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon called it “a petty village inhabited by few families); nor was there anything special about the young man who had died or his widowed mother. But they were granted something very special, revelatory even, in that Jesus decided, out of compassion for the mother, to reveal Himself, not in word but in deed, to the people of Nain.
Those people saw one of their native sons miraculously resuscitated that day, but today’s lesson is not resuscitation but revelation; of course Jesus can raise men from the dead and that’s awesome and all, but the really important thing here is that He chose to do it all. Jesus, in His godly compassion, in His mission to bring the Kingdom of God close to us, in His mercy for us reveals Himself to us, He makes Himself known in ways both small and great, both public and private, but always miraculous.
Somewhere amongst Paul, the people of Nain, and David Copperfield we can find ourselves, the people of God seeking the Kingdom of God, thankful for how Christ has revealed Himself to us, watching for the day when all things will be revealed.
1Wikipedia, David Copperfield
2Scott Hoezee, This Week