The clarity of the Gospel

Saturday of Thomas Week

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In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the holy apostles remind the Jewish Sanhedrin that our duty is to God first before any earthly authority:  

And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told, Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.  Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow. Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.  Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.  When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. – Acts 5: 21-33 

St. Theophan the Recluse, commenting on this passage, reflects on the continuity of the apostolic grace in the Church through all ages until now:  

What Peter and John first said to the authorities, later all the apostles said to the authorities: We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him (Acts 5:29–32). What sincerity, fullness, definiteness and clarity of confession! God arranged in such a way for the Crucified to be our Saviour through the forgiveness of sins in repentance. The witnesses are the Apostles as observers, and the Holy Spirit, manifestly acting in the apostles and in all believers. The same witnesses are powerful through to our own days. What the holy Apostles say is the same as if we ourselves saw and heard it with our eyes and ears. And the Spirit of grace acts uninterruptedly in the holy Church, in miracle-working, in the conversion of sinners, and especially in the transformation of those earnestly working for the Lord, in their sanctification and filling with obvious grace-filled gifts. The transformation of people gives great power to miracle-working, and these together are powerful in forming a firm conviction of the truth of Christ, in all truth-loving souls. Thanks be to the God of truth, Who hath revealed His truth to us so clearly! – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year 

St. Theophan characterizes the apostles’ witness by four qualities: Sincerity, fullness, definiteness, and clarity.  If our witness lacks these qualities, we will not partake of the grace of confession that is so abundantly available to the Church even to this day.  

“Sincerity” – The outward beauties of Orthodoxy can be misused by religious authorities, like the Sanhedrin of old, to hide behind, pretending that they are the real deal while they avoid preaching the hard truth of the Gospel, so that they will not be convicted of their sins.  Only relentless work on himself to do God’s holy, pleasing, and perfect will, and consistent following of conscience, will open to the preacher of the Word the power of the apostolic grace. 

“Fullness” –  Orthodoxy is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  If we are to inherit the apostolic grace with power, we cannot cherry pick the Church’s teachings to avoid offending people.    Christ will always be a rock of offense.     We cannot conceal any of that which we have received from Him without betraying Him.    

“Definiteness” –  “Definition” comes from the Latin word for a boundary.   The Greek word for the definitions of the councils, choros, also means a limit, a boundary.    The Holy Scripture, viewed through the lens of the God-inspired Holy Tradition, has given us the boundaries of the language we are allowed to use about God, man, creation, redemption, and sanctification.  When we depart from the definite language of Scripture, replacing its simple and concrete terms with the complicated and abstract language of modernist theology, lessening its power to convict men of their sins and ignorance in order to avoid being rejected by them like the apostles and martyrs, we have lost the power of the apostolic preaching.  

“Clarity” – With definiteness comes clarity.    “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (I John 1:15).”  Godly, truly apostolic preaching sheds God’s light on all the dark places of our soul, making clear our sins and passions, and cleansing them by the power of that light.   Beneath this searching and purifying light, nothing can be hidden and all will be revealed.   May our sins be revealed in this life, unto forgiveness and eternal life, and not in the next, unto condemnation and eternal death!  

At the end of today’s passage from Acts, we read that the Sanhedrin was “…cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay…” the holy apostles.     Thus it has always been:   The true prophets, apostles, and martyrs of the Lord will always face the threat of persecution, imprisonment, torture, and death at the hands of the the powerful of this world.  Yet they have boldness in the face of death, because by obeying God rather than men, by doing the will of God, they acquire infinite divine power, the power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the definitive and unanswerable conquest of sin, the devil, death, and hell.     

May this grace be ours, with all the sincerity, fullness, definiteness, and clarity of the Gospel preaching and the Gospel grace, which the Lord desires to give us in all abundance.    

Christ is Risen!  

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