Not necessarily something new here, but still a few thoughts that occurred to me.
One of the ways Jesus saves us and redeems our lives is by turning our stories of pain, suffering, and hardship into pictures of Jesus. Our epistle lesson in the liturgy yesterday was from 2 Cor. 4, and Paul seemed to be making that very point about his own apostolic ministry. As the apostles preach the gospel they are proclaiming the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…” When the apostles preach, they preach Christ Jesus, and that declaration somehow participates in the original creative command that “light shine out of darkness” such that hearts that are filled with darkness can at the proclamation of the gospel be suddenly filled with the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4-6).
The very next line is Paul’s point: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7). Paul goes on to describe the sufferings and hardships of the apostolic ministry, but he insists that it is through these hardships that God is “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). In the present circumstances of life whether there be pain or suffering or confusion or heartache, Paul insists that the face of Jesus is being revealed so long as the gospel is being proclaimed and the resurrection is kept in view (2 Cor. 4:4, 14).
And this has two implications: First, it is because of the incarnation that this is even possible. That our lives can be pictures of the life of God is only possible because God has become flesh and dwelt among us. He has a story of suffering, hardship, rejection, and death. Because of the incarnation, our stories of hardship become icons of Christ.
And the second point has to do with icons. Paul tells us here that the glory of Christ, the face of Jesus is seen in “earthen vessels” that are hard-pressed, perplexed, forsaken, struck down, in individuals who carry about in their bodies “the dying of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:10). Paul says “for we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Here again, we have the apostle insisting that if you want to see Christ, if you want to see the face of Jesus, look at faithful missionaries who are persecuted throughout the world, watch a faithful wife who dies for her husband and children, watch a faithful deacon whose life is poured out for the sick, the disabled, and the poor of his community.
True icons are not serene, glowing faces of men and women floating in a sea of warm, ethereal gelatin. Icons have scars and fears, they are earthen vessels with bodies that are perishing, and most importantly, they are alive, carrying around in their bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in their mortal bodies (2 Cor. 4:10-11).