(First in a Series)
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Dear fellow saints in Christ Jesus, our Savior:
God has been served by a multitude of obscure saints about whom we know little. One Bible writer noted that “time would fail me to tell” about them (Hebrews 11:32); another felt there wasn’t enough paper to do the job properly (John 21:25). Yet we intend to take the time (and use the paper) to research the New Testament for a closer familiarity with God’s obscure saints, who look a lot like folks in the next pew.
We are struck by the number of God’s obscure saints whose names are recorded; in the closing verses of the Romans Epistle, for example, no less than thirty-two such saints are greeted by name; ten more at the close of the Colossians letter.
Those folks were tried and true supporters of the gospel ministry. Rank upon rank of good and faithful helpers kept close to the apostles especially during times of trial as they nourished one another with warm spiritual companionship. Those obscure saints meant a lot to Paul; he loved each and every one.
Many such names are tucked in here-and-there along the way as we travel through the New Testament, and as we get better acquainted with them, we acquire a better appreciation of the obscure saints in our own congregations and our wider fellowship.
We might expect to find obscure saints among Jesus’ friends and relatives, folks who learned the Bible forwards and backwards and were regular at church and Temple. Our heavenly Father applied His love to Jesus’ half-brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, besides His unnamed sisters (Matthew 13:55)—all younger than He, of course.
Were these among God’s obscure saints in Nazareth? Sad to say, they were not—at least not during the years Jesus lived at home with them, for the sacred record (John 7:5) tells us the sad fact that they did not believe in Him as their promised Messiah.
It happens that way in other Christian families—and how difficult life must be in such a household! How it must have pained Mary to see her own children react against her son Jesus with disbelief, and we sense the deep sorrow behind His complaint, “A prophet is not without honor except…in his own house.” And because His family members did not honor Him, “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:57-58).
If that were the end of the story, it would be a tragedy.
We must fast-forward to the days after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to see how wonderful are the ways of God with mankind! Apparently the Holy Spirit brought testimonies to Jesus’ siblings, and together with Mary’s good example and her simple faith had accomplished the miracle, for the sacred record tells us that after the Ascension, when the disciples were back home in Jerusalem in the company of those who “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication,” we find not only Mary, the mother of Jesus, but also His brothers (Acts 1:14).
Yes, His four brothers were converted! Converted from disbelief to conviction that Jesus was indeed more than a brother—He was their Messiah and Savior! That loving testimony, those prayers and encouragements had worked, and Jesus had His little family together again! How grand and wonderful!
And that’s not yet the end of it. One brother, James, went on from obscurity to the chairmanship of the Christian congregation in Jerusalem, about the highest status short of being one of the chosen twelve apostles. This same James is probably the author of the New Testament epistle bearing his name—so he didn’t stay obscure.
We sense that James spoke from personal experience when he affirmed that God deals in love with sinners by sending Christian friends to bring testimony. Perhaps some of his own biography is latent in the words, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 4:19-20).
It worked that way for James, John, Joses, and Judas—none of whom started out as believers, but all of whom became fellow-saints, members of the household of faith and joint heirs of salvation, for their big Brother and friends did not give up on them.
The motive behind all that is outlined in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: love is patient; love suffers long and is kind; love never quits (1 Corinthians 15:4-8) in doing what can be done to bring the wandering soul back to the Good Shepherd, to turn the sinner from the error of his ways and thus save a soul from eternal death.
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: This begins a new series of articles which were originally delivered as chapel meditations by Prof. Paul R. Koch while he served on the faculty of Immanuel Lutheran High School/College, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Now retired, Prof. Koch continues to serve his Lord as Assistant Editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. God bless us all as we ponder the rich contents of these Bible-based messages!
By most standards, you and I fall into the category of being God’s obscure saints in this part of the world, and let us never forget that God uses obscure saints such as you and me to save souls from hellfire by leading them to find Jesus as their Savior.
May God warm our hearts so as to spark us into being the kind of witnesses that He will use to bless our family, our congregation, and our neighborhood! Glory be to Jesus! Amen!