“What is the real message of Jesus? That he came to earth to set up a ministry format so that this ministry would forever after point to itself as the only true ministry?”
One day you have an envelope delivered to you by a postman who insists that the letter enclosed is only valid if the envelope is white, the only correct colour for envelopes.
You take the pile of envelopes from the postman, select the white envelope and open the enclosed letter.
It reads “You know that this letter is correct because you got it from a white envelope.” The rest of the page is blank. You turn it over and check the back, which is blank as well.
“Where’s the message?” you ask. The postman looks dumbfounded.
“That IS the message!” he insists. “Look, it’s in a white envelope!”
“This message doesn’t tell me anything!” I cried. “How do I find out more?”
The postman scratches his head. “Um, well, I dunno. I guess you gotta subscribe”.
“How do I subscribe?”
“Well, I’m not really authorised to tell you. You’ll need to come down to the post office and they can explain it.”
“What will I be subscribing to?”
“The guaranteed delivery of only white envelopes. That way you can keep getting the correct message.”
“What do I do with all these white envelopes?”
“Keep them! Protect them and care for them. Try to keep them pristine. Find a place of reverence for them in your home. Prop them up on display somewhere important, where you can always be reminded of their presence.”
“I don’t understand. Will there be any important messages in the envelopes?”
“Um, as I said, I’m not sure I’m the best one to explain. But come along with me to the post office and they’ll tell you what to do next.”
The postman undertook to introduce me to his local postmaster.
“Ah, the white envelopes!” he exclaimed. “I’m afraid to say we don’t deliver those anymore. They’ve been re-routed to a special courier service.”
“But why?” I asked.
“They don’t want their white envelopes to be mixed in with the rest of the common envelopes” he chuckled. “I can refer you to their service for a subscription if you really want, but you have to be aware that you won’t receive anything other than their official, authorized envelopes. Their subscription specifically stipulates that you will completely cease the delivery of all other mail.”
I’m not sure why I felt compelled to explore this envelope thing further, but I had to admit that it had me intrigued. What was so special about these envelopes? Why could they come only through a special courier? Why did I have to cease delivery of all other envelopes? It was different, mysterious. I wanted to discover more about these envelopes.
Most helpfully, one of the special couriers came to see me personally, when he heard I was interested in the envelopes. He explained that there was no contract, and no cost for the special courier service, or delivery of the white envelopes. I didn’t even have to fill in any paperwork. Why not join up right away? It seemed harmless enough. I wasn’t signing anything or relinquishing any money or rights, so I went ahead. A verbal agreement and it was done. Maybe I could finally discover the secret of the white envelopes.
The white envelope delivery started almost immediately. I eagerly opened each one, only to be confronted with this message – “You know that this letter is correct because you got it from a white envelope delivered by a special courier.” I tried to be patient but felt I was ready for something more. I finally asked the special courier to come back and see me.
“Listen, I’ve been getting these white envelopes for a while, but I’m not getting any messages in them” I complained.
“There was nothing in the envelope at all?” he asked in surprise.
“Well, there was, but it just confirms that the letter is correct because it came in a white envelope by a special courier. What’s the real message?”
“But don’t you see? The message is the envelope! The envelope is the message!” he exclaimed excitedly.
“How can the envelope itself be a message?” I asked. “It’s simply a mode of delivery, a device for holding a message. I’m not getting anything out of this.”
“You don’t seem to be understanding the real spirit of this” he replied earnestly. “You must try harder.”
The very next day, another envelope arrived. I wearily tore it open and read the same old message. Wait … there was some fine print at the bottom of the page! It had never been there before. I squinted to read it. “To ensure that you are worthy to keep receiving the white envelopes, it would be best if your mailbox had some work. The delivery slot is a little too small. Your mailbox does not appear to have been cleaned for some time, and we want to set a good example by our recipients having the cleanest mailboxes. It may also have escaped your attention that we prefer subscribed mailboxes to be white.”
Well, I had persisted this far. I guess I had to keep going. Maybe there would be more to the message once I got my mailbox cleaned up and made right. Maybe I could prove I was a worthy recipient of the white envelopes…
My mailbox was cleaned into tip-top shape. Scrubbed inside and out, and painted white. Each day I waited for an envelope and felt a small thrill on the days when I opened the box and another one had finally come. I was still subscribed! As the days and weeks wore on, though, I noticed my box wasn’t looking so great. The white showed the dirt badly. I seemed to be trying to clean it all the time. The more I cleaned it, the more I noticed the dirt the next time I checked it.
And while I was doing my best to have a clean mailbox, and keep all the envelopes collecting pristinely in my house, the small print at the bottom of each letter started to vary a bit more.
“Subscribers are reminded that they must not accept the delivery of any unauthorised envelopes.”
“Subscribers are warned to dispose of any unauthorised envelopes IMMEDIATELY without opening them.”
“Subscribers are warned that the contents of unauthorised envelopes may be dangerous.”
This did start raising some interesting questions in my mind. I looked for an opportunity to talk to the special courier again. I asked him about his concerns with other envelopes.
“You have to understand that our envelopes are plain and humble for a reason,” he said. “They are just like the first, original envelopes – white. We don’t try to draw attention to ourselves with bright colours, or fancy designs and fonts. We remain the same, simple design as the very first envelopes – just plain white. You may think other envelopes are harmless, but the consequences for you could be dire.
People have been led astray by other envelopes. They have received invitations to raucous gatherings. Their envelopes have been printed in a variety of gaudy colours and designs. They just seek to draw attention to themselves. Some envelopes even contain letters asking for money. And it is a very sad indictment of our contemporary society that many people do not see the connection between the envelope and the message inside. It’s sad to say that some people just throw the envelope away without a second thought. We don’t want this happening to our subscribers, so it is just much safer to avoid all other envelopes, and dispose of them immediately if any come your way.”
My old friend Ed came to visit. I hoped he wouldn’t notice the envelopes, but he did.
“Hey, man, I don’t want to be rude, but … what’s with the envelope collection? It looks like the Spanish Armada advancing on your lounge room from the sideboard.
“They’re – well – something I’m subscribing to at the moment.”
“Cool. What do they tell you? What’s it about?”
“They’re – uh – authorised envelopes. The same as the very first original envelopes that were ever used. They’re about humility, and simplicity, and purity.”
“What’s in them? What do you get inside? The meaning of life?”
“Yes, but – well the messages always point back to the envelopes. I guess it’s more about the envelopes than what’s in them. It’s hard to explain.”
“Dude, that’s a bit …” he looked at me sideways.
“Well, weird. I mean, isn’t the whole point of an envelope the message it contains? If your envelopes always contain messages about the envelope they came in, isn’t that a bit of a circular argument? I mean it kinda sounds like you’re just chasing your tail.”
“The envelopes are … about more than the envelopes! It’s more like a new way of living. I get lots from it!”
“Well, for one thing, I bet my mailbox is far cleaner than yours! And I always look forward to them.”
“Listen, man, whatever. I just think you’re a bit obsessed with this envelope thing. Me, I prefer the banana to the banana peel. The chocolate to the wrapper. The birthday card to the envelope it came in. I love my coffee cup, but only because it holds coffee. I value my gifts more than their wrapping paper. If you’re collecting special edition or first edition envelopes, then that could be cool, but these aren’t them. They’re just plain white!”
“Of course, they’re just plain white!” I said indignantly. “The first envelopes were!”
“Actually, they weren’t. The first prepaid wrappers used as envelopes may have been white, but they had a fancy design on them. The British Government held a special competition for someone to design what would become the very first officially used envelope, in the 1800s.”
“That’s not true! It can’t be true!” I shouted.
“Yeah, well, you’re technically correct, but I was talking about the first PAPER envelopes. The VERY first envelopes were made of clay – the message was put inside on skin or whatever, and the damp clay crimped around it and baked hard. Pretty clever, really. You couldn’t get the message without shattering the whole clay brick it was baked in. You always knew if the message had remained confidential.”
“Thanks for the history lesson, but you don’t understand. These envelopes mean a lot to me.” I was upset now.
“Hey, easy, whatever floats your boat, man. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to sink your Armada … wait, the British already did that. Ironic that we keep coming back to the British. Look, forget I said anything. At least you’ve got a backup plan if you run out of toilet paper… sorry, that was insensitive. I think I might leave now.”
That week I had a visit from a pest inspector and received some very bad news. I had white ants [termites]. The place was riddled with them. “Severe structural damage, beyond repair” intoned the inspector mournfully. Or was it gleefully? The cost of house destruction and removal of the rubble would be immense, and would completely wipe out all savings. Worse, I’d still have the mortgage owing on the now non-existent house, while having to pay rent elsewhere. I could never afford to pay the mortgage, let alone get a new house. I was in despair.
When the courier came the next time, I was waiting at the mailbox and poured out my woes.
“Ah, it’s not so bad,” he said. “Everyone has white ants to some extent. You can do away with most of them and get the rest under control.”
“You don’t understand!” I wailed. “My house is condemned. The council will be setting a date in the near future for destruction, and it’s my responsibility to meet the cost! I’ll be deeply in debt for a destroyed house, and will never be able to afford another one.”
“I have a secret for you,” said the special courier as he leaned closer. “WE KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH THE WHITE ANTS!”
“Really? You do! That’s … great! I won’t have my house destroyed? How does it work?”
“These envelopes are all part of the process. They symbolise what is clean and white and pure and right and good. You’ve cleaned up your mailbox for them. But this is just the beginning. Now you can move on to getting the rest of your house in order. Clean everything. Whiten everything. Get rid of as many of the white ants as you can see, and then just keep painting white over everything, so that you won’t see the ones that are still there.”
“That won’t work,” I said. “The inspector will know I’ve still got white ants. The damage will still be there. The council will still destroy my house because it’s condemned!”
“No, no, people always overestimate the problem of the white ants,” said the courier. “If you try hard enough, you’ll get rid of the worst areas, and the rest will look ok.”
“How will I make up for the structural damage?” I asked.
“That’s not the point,” said the courier. “The inspector will see how hard you’ve tried. If it looks good enough, he just might accept it.”
“There are no guarantees, of course, that would be presumptuous. But if you do your best and it all looks as white as can be, that’s all anyone can ask. And, of course, you must continue with your subscription without faltering. It will be a constant reminder of everything that is important – the need to just keep on going, and not quit. Keep on with your subscription. Keep on trying to eradicate the white ants. Keep on with the whitening. Keep on keeping on!”
“About the envelopes …” I began nervously. “A friend of mine said that the first envelopes weren’t just plain white …”
“Why would you contradict what I’ve previously told you?” interrupted the courier angrily. “Do you know how much effort I go to, bringing you these envelopes? Day in, day out? Sacrificing my life as an unpaid courier, bringing you these envelopes without cost? Have you not read every message that the envelopes have brought you? That the message is correct because the envelopes are white?”
“Yes, but, I’m just not sure why I wasn’t told about the British Government’s competition that…”
“That’s quite enough.” The courier stood up to leave. “You don’t seem to appreciate your subscription. Perhaps you’d like it cancelled.”
“No, no!” I cried. “Please, I want to continue my subscription. I want to get rid of the white ants. I need more whiteness in my life. Please don’t leave me without the white envelopes.”
The following week I went out to check the mailbox. The courier hadn’t been for a few days, and I was worried. I opened the box and my heart leapt into my throat. A BROWN ENVELOPE! I stared at it, just sitting there in my box, contaminating the whiteness. I was almost too afraid to touch it. Who had put it there? Why?! What would I do about it?! What if the courier saw it??!! That last thought brought me to my senses, and I snatched it out. Straight to the outside bin, I wouldn’t even bring it into the house. There, gone. What a horrible incident.
A week later the same thing happened. Again, thank goodness I had seen it before the special courier delivery. I shuddered to think what would happen if he had come to deliver my mail and found an unauthorised envelope there. I put it straight in the bin again.
The third time, I carried it into the house and placed it on the kitchen table. What should I do about these deliveries? Maybe I should open just one and find out where they were coming from? Nooo! Don’t open it! It’s not white! I thought of all the warnings against opening unauthorised envelopes. It was probably a trick. A plant to catch me off guard, and prove I wasn’t loyal to the subscription. Maybe it was delivered by a rival courier service or even the post office to entice me back to the general mail service. I finally sat it on my bedside table, out of sight of visitors and far away from the collection of white envelopes. I looked at it but didn’t open it.
The fourth week, the postman turned up at my door.
“What are you doing here?” I whispered furtively, glancing out towards the driveway, desperately hoping the special courier was nowhere in sight. “I don’t get your mail anymore!”
“Have you opened any of the brown envelopes?” he asked.
“Of course not! I mean, no, I’ve been kind of busy.”
“It’s really important,” he said. “You must open one. It’ll save your house from destruction.”
“That’s ridiculous!” I retorted. “Anyway, my house isn’t going to be destroyed. It’s all under control.”
“Please, just open it and read the message” he begged. “You don’t have to believe it or do anything if you don’t want, but at least read it and then decide.”
I went to the bedroom and got the brown envelope. I brought it back to the door, opened it, and read it aloud.
“In the matter of termite infestation, all homeowners are invited to apply directly to the local council for full compensation of the destruction and removal cost of their condemned house. Furthermore, homeowners are guaranteed the reimbursement of all associated debt and will be provided with a completely rebuilt home. All associated costs will be met by the council. Please lodge your claim at the nearest post office.”
“This can’t be true. I mean it’s all too easy. Why would the council pay for the removal of my damaged house, pay off its debt, and provide me with a brand new house?”
“They only give it to those who want it. You still have to go and apply” said the postman.
“But why? What’s in it for them?” I asked incredulously.
“They understand the predicament you’re in. They know no man can solve the white ant problem himself, and no one can undo the irreparable structural damage. The house must be completely destroyed and removed to completely eradicate the problem, and the cost is too high for people to meet. So it’s an act of grace, I guess you could say.”
“But why haven’t I heard of this before?” I asked. “Surely if this were true I would have heard about it.”
“I guess you’d have to actually open and read the brown envelopes to know about it, wouldn’t you now?” said the postman. “Did you read the letters sent to you? Or did you ever try to find out what offers were available?”
He had me there. I hadn’t investigated anything.
“There’s just one problem,” I said. “The envelope is brown. Envelopes aren’t supposed to be brown. How do I know that the message in it is true?”
The postman raised his eyebrows. “You receive the best letter you’re ever likely to receive, and you’re worried about the colour of the envelope it came in?” he asked. “If you ask me, you can’t test a message by the envelope it came in. Test a message on its own merits – go and find out for yourself whether it’s true!”
A few days later I crept into the local post office. I stared at the vast array of postage packing in all shapes and colours. I looked at the different coloured envelopes and the bright postage stamps. I finally got up the courage to approach the counter.
“I, uh, got this brown envelope, and apparently I can apply for compensation for my condemned house here?” I asked hesitantly.
“You came to claim it! That’s great!” He smiled at me broadly. “Hand me your letter”.
I handed him the envelope and letter. He stamped the letter “authorised”, placed it in a folder and then crumpled my envelope in his hand before throwing it into the nearest bin. I stood completely still in shock for a moment, gaping at the waste bin and my crumpled envelope lying in it.
“That’s – my envelope you just put in the bin.” I gasped feebly.
“What? Oh, sorry” he said. He reached into the bin and took it out. He marched across the room and placed it ceremoniously into the recycling bin, and smiled. “You’re right, we should do better by the environment. You’ll receive your confirmation in the mail soon.”
I stumbled home in confusion. The brown envelope had proven to be the bearer of my most important letter ever, and it was lying crumpled and discarded in some recycling bin. I didn’t even have the letter that came in that brown envelope. I looked down at my empty hands. All I had was – the actual message itself. Not in any tangible form, but … a promise.
I went home and gazed at all my white envelopes on the sideboard. I gazed around at my white walls and floor and furniture. A white morgue full of tiny terminated and not-yet terminated termites. I wondered what the pest inspector would make of my eradication efforts if I tried to convince him that I had done enough to prevent the condemnation of my house. And I started to desperately hope that my confirmation letter would arrive from the council before the pest inspector showed up on my doorstep again.
I paced the house the following day, waiting for the postman. He finally came up the drive with a broad grin.
“Hey, a big manila envelope for you!” he cried. “It looks very important.”
I tore it open in haste. My letter! It was here!
“The Council confirms that the house of the address noted above is granted full compensation for it destruction and removal, mortgage and full rebuilding.”
I was dancing a jig with the postman and didn’t immediately notice the special courier making his way up the street. He stopped in front of me with a deep scowl as the noticed the envelope I waved in my hand.
“A MANILA ENVELOPE” he bellowed. “MANILA!” Of all the things to lead you astray, this is the worst. I cannot possibly put a white envelope in your mailbox now that it’s been contaminated in such a way.”
“Actually, that’s OK!” I said cheerily. “This is a special one-off envelope. I only need it once, and I don’t think I’ll need any white envelopes ever again.” I left him standing there and waltzed inside. I placed my letter carefully in the filing cabinet. I crumpled the manila envelope and placed it in the bin. I went into the lounge room and stared at the sideboard. Then I collected up all the white envelopes, one by one. It took several trips, but finally, they were all in the bin. The recycling bin, I mean.
The end. ®
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. ™. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblia, Inc .™
I hope you have enjoyed this story, where the white envelopes represent the ministry of the workers. In constantly pointing people to their ministry, they neglect the actual message of the gospel. The envelope has become far more important than the message it is supposed to carry. Somewhere along the way, the message has fallen out, and the envelope is now empty.
I’d love you to now read Hebrews chapter 7. It asks the important question – If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (the ministry of the Old Testament)…why was there still a need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron (the Levite)?
Who was Melchizedek? He appears in the Old Testament as a high priest of God. Yet he appears out of nowhere. He has been ordained and appointed by no man. He does not belong to any ministry or priesthood. He comes out of nowhere and blesses Abraham. Later on, the Levitical priesthood is established. It demonstrates that no priesthood can permanently atone for the sins of man. They offer animals as sacrifices year after year, but these sacrifices point ahead to a time when there will be another priest in the order of Melchizedek – a special priest, appointed by God himself, outside of any established ministry or human authority. Jesus was not from the priestly line. He was not a Levite. He did not come from the established ministry. He did not come to set up a new ministry, but to replace it completely – with himself.
“Now there have been many of those priests since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.”
The workers have sought to create another ministry. They have sought to become like the Levitical priesthood, standing between the people and God, “sacrificing” themselves to bring people to God, and trying, but their efforts and the efforts of the people, year after year, to make themselves good enough to stand before God. They have created the same type of ministry that Jesus came to completely do away with. By continually pointing to their ministry, they are continually pointing to themselves, and away from Jesus. To all who look at the workers and say “here is the way”, Jesus says no, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
By Elizabeth Coleman
November 2013, Rev 6/1/22