"A Gracious Discrimination"
(Delivered Sunday, April 30, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
As I read this morning's passage to you, I'd like to share with you a little bit of my experience of studying it last week.
As you may know, I often like to gather up a few books and study with a cup of coffee at the McDonalds restaurant down the street. (I do that so often, I'm afraid, that now - when they see me pull into the parking lot - they just pour my cup of coffee and have it ready for me when I come inside.) Earlier last week, I got my coffee and begin studying this morning's passage.
The passage concerns words that the Lord Jesus spoke to the proud Jewish people of His day. He had lived among them and performed many miracles in their midst; and yet, in spite of all that they saw, He found it necessary to rebuke them because they did not repent and believe in Him.
And then, we come to the remarkable words of this morning's passage. It reads as follows:
At that time Jesus answered and said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him" (Matthew 11:25-27).
I sat in the restaurant and reflected on those words for a while. They contain the words of a prayer. Jesus prayed this prayer to His Father with all sincerity; but He deliberately prayed them - it seems to me - in the earshot of those He had just rebuked. In fact, it says that He was "answering" in praying this prayer. It doesn't say that Jesus "prayed" - although that's clearly what He did. Instead, it says, "He answered, and said . . ." It's as if He was 'responding' to the response of those who heard His rebuke. It's as if He meant for others to hear what He was saying to the Father.
As I scribbled out my notes, I jotted that fact down. And I remembered a similar time when Jesus prayed deliberately to be heard. I opened up my Bible to John 11:41-42 - where it tells of the time when Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. We're told that - as He stood before the opened tomb, and just before He called Lazarus forth - He lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me"
Have you ever read Jesus' marvelous prayer recorded for us in John 17? It was the prayer He prayed just before He went to the cross for us. I praise God that He saw fit to preserve the words of that prayer for us. My heart thrills every time I read the wonderful truths that are revealed in it. How poor we'd be without the words of that prayer. Jesus - as the Son of God in human flesh - often prayed to God with the deliberate intention of being heard by men. Jesus did this, in part, so that men would understand divine truth of a profound nature as He communed with the Father. I'm convinced that He was doing that in this prayer as well.
Think of the occasion of this prayer. We're told, in verses 20-24,
Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you" (Matthew 11:20-24).
Then I looked at the words, "At that time Jesus answered and said . . ." And I took another sip of coffee and thought; "What question was He answering? It doesn't appear that anyone said anything." But I wondered if it could be that He was asking a question that arose, not so much from the mouth, as from the hearts and thoughts of those who heard Him. I wondered if they could have been saying to themselves - with almost a sneer and a scoff - "But how can it be that we would be judged more severely than the wicked cities of Tyre and Sidon and - of all places - Sodom? We are Jews! We are God's chosen people! We have Moses! We have the law! We are righteous before God - just because of who we are! We are in a state of favor before God simply because we know Him better than all people! How could it be that we - WE - would be judged more severely?"
I wondered if that was the unspoken question that Jesus was answering in this passage through His prayer. He answered by thanking His Father that He had hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and had revealed them instead to babes.
* * * * * * * * * *
Right about then, I took another sip of coffee and looked up. And I happened to noticed a man sitting a few tables down from me.
I recognized this man as someone that another Christian friend had been witnessing to. This other Christian (another McDonald's regular, believe it or not) had shared with me that they had struck up conversations with that man not long ago; and that the subject sometimes turned to the Christian faith. I have overheard this man talking to others; and I could tell that he was an exceptionally intelligent man. But I was made to understand by my friend that this man is armed with intellectual arguments against the faith and the morality of the Bible.
He got up from his table right then, and walked past me. We exchanged smiles; but to be perfectly honest with you, I felt a little self-conscious. I wondered what he thought as he saw my Bible and all my notes laid out in front of me.
And as he left, another family came in. It was a set of elderly couples; and it looked as if they were traveling from out of town and had stopped to have a snack. And with them was a young woman - apparently the granddaughter of one of the couples. Her back was turned to me; but I noticed that she was being led by the hand as she shuffled along awkwardly. And then, when she was sat down and I could see her face, I could tell that she was a young woman who was severely mentally retarded.
I tried to mind my own business; but I couldn't help but watch - from the corner of my eye - as this woman's grandparents very lovingly and patiently put a bib on her; and then they all enjoyed some ice cream together. All the other adults sat and chatted together; but the woman just sat and ate her ice cream with here eyes wide open and no expression on her face - understanding very little of what was going on around her.
I looked up at her, and she waved a very awkward wave at me - with ice-cream all over her face. I smiled and waved back.
Seeing her reminded me of something - something that I can't prove very easily from the Bible1, but that I believe very strongly. I believe that the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is sufficient to redeem people who - for whatever reason - are not born with the capability to understand the message of the gospel, and who cannot place a conscious, intelligent faith in the cross of Christ. I believe that the unborn child who dies in the womb is redeemed by the blood of Jesus. I believe that my wife and I have an unborn child in the presence of Jesus right now. I believe that the innumerable helpless infants who have died around the world are redeemed by the blood of Jesus. And I also believe that the severely retarded - such as the very sweet and quiet young woman I saw in the restaurant - are redeemed by the Savior and will be in heaven.
I tried to look at my notes; but I kept praying quietly, "Thank you, Father, that you love people like her. Can it be that I am looking at someone who will be the recipient of your amazing saving grace? Can it be that I will see that helpless little woman in heavenly glory - shining eternally as a trophy of your amazing grace?"
And then, the contrast struck me. One man walks by me who - in the eyes of this world - is wise and prudent. I'm sure that, on a strictly intellectual level, he could argue circles around someone like me. And yet, a little ways away from me sits a little retarded woman who - in the eyes of this world - is a mere intellectual baby. She couldn't possibly figure out how one plus one could be made to equal two. And once again I read those words of our Savior;
"I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to My by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him"
The point came home to me. It's not all about human intellect. It's not all about human wisdom. It's not all about human ability. Instead, its all about God's grace; and in a simple faith in what Jesus did on the cross. What a wonderful picture God gave me as a backdrop to my study of this morning's passage.
Sometimes, you get a lot more than coffee when you study at McDonalds!
* * * * * * * * * *
Let's consider the things our Savior says in this passage a little closer. First, notice that He teaches us a shocking and surprising thing about His kingdom; and that is that . . .
1. THE FATHER REVEALS KINGDOM TRUTH SELECTIVELY (v. 25).
Do you notice that God - if I may dare to use this word - 'discriminates'? He doesn't treat all people equally. There are some to whom He reveals truth; and there are others to whom He hides it.
I was reading a passage of Scripture the other day that truly surprised me. It's an amazing thing to think about. It's found in the fourth chapter of Mark's Gospel. Jesus had just finished teaching the multitudes that had gathered around Him in a parable. When He had finished teaching, and He was alone with His disciples gathered around Him, they asked Him about the parable. Others didn't seem to understand the things He was saying in it; and so they asked Him about it.
And before He explained the parable to them, He said,
"To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that'Seeing they may see and not perceive,
Are we reading that right? Is it actually true that God "gives" these things to some; but intends for others NOT to receive a clear picture of the mysteries of His kingdom, lest they hear and believe and turn to repentance? When I read backward in the passage prior to the one we're studying this morning, I find that certain works were not shown to cities that Jesus clearly knew would have repented if they had been - but were instead deliberately revealed them in cities that He clearly knew would not repent over them. Clearly God DOES discriminate! Clearly, He reveals kingdom truth selectively.
Now I would hasten to stress two things in this. First, God is never unjust in hiding His truth from some and revealing it to others. The fact is that, as fallen creatures in Adam, none of us would ever understand any of the truths of His kingdom in a saving way unless He had first taken the initiative to reveal them to us; and He is obligated to reveal saving truth to no one! If He reveals saving truth at all, it is as an act of His grace; and never because He is obligated to do so. If it has been revealed to us, and we believe, then our response should be to thank Him and praise Him for showing such grace to anyone at all - and especially to us!
And second, the Bible always holds unbelieving men and women responsible for their unbelief. This is a mystery - how those two things fit together; but it's true. Jesus told the Jewish leaders who opposed Him about how the Father had testified of Him; and said, "But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe" (John 5:38).
* * * * * * * * * *
Notice how God the Father is selective. First, notice that the Father "has hidden" what Jesus calls "these things" from some and "has revealed" them to others. I take the "these things" to be the truths revealed in the mighty works of Jesus that lead one to repentance and to salvation. Some could see those works, and be impressed by them, but not be led to repentance by them. Others could see them, have their spirits opened up to the truths implied in them, and believe unto repentance and salvation. To some, the saving potential of these things are "hidden"; and to others, the saving potential of these things is "revealed". And the choice of which is which belongs to God the Father.
Second, notice in whose favor God the Father has chosen to be selective. He has chosen to "hide" these things from "the wise and prudent" - or perhaps, we should say those who "think" themselves wise and prudent. And He has chosen instead to "reveal" these same things instead to "babes" - or perhaps better, to those who are "babes" in this world's estimation.
When I consider this selective act of God, I have grown to understand it in two perspectives. The first perspective is that of God's plan for the nations.
Jesus Christ came into this world as the promised King of the Jews. That, as you may remember, is the unique group for whom Matthew wrote his Gospel. But though the Jewish people heard Jesus' teaching and saw His mighty works performed in their midst, they did not repent and receive Him as their King. That's why He rebuked them.
But Jesus expresses no sense that the kingdom plan is somehow defeated. He loves the precious Jewish people; He grieved over their unbelief; but He does not act as if the kingdom is now forever lost. Instead, it is offered to someone else. Jesus will later tell the unbelieving Jewish people that "the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruit of it" (Matthew 21:43). The offer of the kingdom, then, became available to the Gentiles; and this is why Jesus was next able to say, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (11:28). He - the King - is now offered to all who will come to Him.
And did you know that that was God's plan all along? God has not cast His chosen people away. It's true that they fell as a nation; but that was only temporary, so that salvation could then be offered to everyone - believing Jews and believing Gentiles - of all nations.
As believers, we should never have anything but love for the Jewish people - even though they fell in unbelief. We should thank God that He had mercy upon us because of their unbelief; and we should pray for them that they too will come to believe! This was all in God's plan all along. In his letter to the Gentile believers of Rome, Paul wrote;
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:"The Deliverer will come out ofZion,
And so, one way I believe we should look at this morning's passage is through the perspective of God's plan for the nations. The Jewish people of the time were the "wise" and "prudent" ones who had possession of the law and saw the mighty works of God; but they did not repent. The truths of the kingdom were hidden from them. And instead, these truths were revealed to those who were outside of the covenants of promise, and who were ignorant of God, and who were not wise or prudent - to the Gentile nations, who were mere babes in comparison.
But another perspective from which I believe we should see this selective work of God is in respect to individuals. Even when it comes down to individual people, God hides His kingdom truths from those who think themselves "wise and prudent", and reveals it instead to those who are mere "babes" in comparison. He does this to make the wisdom of this world look foolish.
The apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Corinthians. They over-emphasized the value of human wisdom. But Paul wrote and said,
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God - and righteousness and sanctification and redemption - that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD" (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
* * * * * * * * * *
Well; back to my study at McDonalds. I sipped away at my coffee and read on; and then noticed why our Lord says that the Father reveals kingdom truth in such a selective way. And what I found was that He does it . . .
2. IN ACCORDANCE WITH HIS OWN GOOD WILL (v. 26).
When Jesus speaks of this to His Father, He thanks Him for it in such a way as to praise Him and worship Him; and He affirms it by saying, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight" (v. 26).
I was tempted to want a more satisfactory answer for why He does this. I wanted to probe for a reason that I can call "logical". But as I read our Lord's words, I realized that the only answer I will get from His prayer here in this passage is, "for so it seemed good in Your sight". I noticed that Jesus points out that His Father is "Lord of heaven and earth"; and that reminded Me that - as Creator - He holds the exclusive Creator-rights to do whatever He wishes with His creation in accordance with His own good will.
And I learned that the only thing I can do with this is bow to it. I realized that if I - or anyone else - might fight against it, and argue with the fact that God is selective in revealing His saving truth, I would have to stop and consider what our Lord did with that fact.
He thanked the Father for it in such a way as to give Him glory!
* * * * * * * * * *
The Father makes a sovereign choice in revealing the saving truths of His kingdom. He makes that choice, ultimately, on the basis of His own good will; and in no way is He unrighteous in doing so. That is clearly what the Scriptures teach. But though we may not understand the reasons for His choice, we can be sure that - when the dust is all cleared, and all of the facts are known before His throne, He will prove to have always been good, and righteous, and just in all His dealings. All His creation will acknowledge that fact, and will praise Him for it.
When I thought of this, I was reminded of what Paul said to the Roman believers. In the ninth chapter of Romans, Paul wrote these remarkable words about this very subject;
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (Romans 9:14-24).
We may have a problem with the idea of God's choice being strictly on the basis of His own good will. We may struggle with it. But in the end, we must also be humbled by it, and take notice of the fact that our Lord Jesus didn't struggle with it at all. He set the example for us in the fact that thanked and praised the Father for it.
* * * * * * * * * *
So then; I sipped coffee and saw from the prayer that our Lord prayed at this time that the Father reveals kingdom truth selectively; and that the selection that He makes is on the basis of His own good will. He is never unjust in the way He does this; and the best way for us to respond to this truth is to bow to it and thank Him for it.
But whenever we encounter this doctrine in the Scriptures, I'm always fearful that someone may misinterpret it. They may come away thinking that there's no way to know for sure that they are among those that God has chosen to reveal kingdom truth to in a saving way. They may come away with fears and doubts and uncertainties. That's why I was so grateful for what I found that the Lord said next.
Jesus - it seemed to me - ceases to pray; and then makes a set of affirmations before all that heard Him. And these affirmations show us that the Father sovereignly reveals kingdom truth, but . . .
3. IN SUCH A WAY THAT HE CAN BE KNOWN ONLY THROUGH HUMBLE FAITH IN HIS SON (v. 27).
And here, I felt that God's divine sovereignty and man's human responsibility met in a relationship with a wonderful Person - Jesus Christ Himself. When it comes to questions of "election" and "divine sovereignty"; Jesus gives us a wonderful answer. He just calls us to trust in Himself.
* * * * * * * * * *
Note that, in the first of these affirmations of our Lord, He speaks of His own authority. He says, "All things have been delivered to Me by My Father . . ." What a remarkable affirmation that is!
This speaks, I believe, of something that was done for our Savior in His pre-incarnate state. He dwelt in eternity past with the Father as the second Person of the Triune Godhead. And at some point in His relationship with the Father in eternity past, the Father - as Lord of heaven and earth - entrusted all things to the Son. The pre-existent Son of God tells us, in Psalm 2,
"I will declare the decree:
And after He came to this world and died on the cross, and just before He ascended to the Father, our Lord told His disciples, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). So; just as the Father is "Lord of heaven and earth", He has entrusted that lordship to His Son. He affirms that He is the final authority in all things - including the salvation of men.
A second affirmation He makes is, ". . . and no one knows the Son except the Father." Here, He speaks of His deity. He is not a mere man that is known by men in the same way men know other men. He cannot be known except by the Father revealing Him.
At His baptism, we're told that the heavens opened up, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove. And then, we're told that the voice of the Father spoke down from heaven upon the earth; and He said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). And to you remember that time when He was speaking with His disciples and asked them, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" They reported several of the things people were saying about Him. But when He asked Peter who he said He was, and Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God"; do you remember what Jesus said in response? "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17).
Jesus is the Son of God; and He is not known apart from the Father's gracious act of disclosing Him to the world.
But a third affirmation shows us that there is such a relationship of loving mutuality between the Father and the Son that, just as the Son cannot be known without the Father, neither can the Father be known without the Son. Jesus says, "Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son . . ." This highlights Jesus as the Mediator between His Father and us.
John, in His Gospel, tells us that "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him" (John 1:18). There is no relationship with the Father apart from the Son. And as Jesus once said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father . . ." (John 14:9).
What a wonder of God's grace it is, then, that the Father sent His Son to became a Man and walk among men; so that now, men can know the Father through the Son! And this leads us to a final affirmation; ". . . and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." This highlights our Savior's role as the mediator between God and men. There is such a mutuality between the Father and the Son, in fact, that the Bible can tell us, "[T]here is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all . . ." (1 Timothy 2:5-6a).
And look at that last thing that Jesus says. He says that no one knows the Father except the Son, "and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him". The Son exercises the same selectivity that the Father exercises. But He then goes on to say,
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
That's a genuine invitation. He who has all authority given to Him by the Father, and who is Himself known of the Father, and who Himself reveals the Father to whomever He chooses, and who possesses the exclusive role of Mediator between God and Man, says, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden . . ."
And if you take Him up on His offer, and sincerely come, then it is proof that you indeed are among those who the Father has sovereignly and graciously seen fit to reveal the truth to and bring to Himself in a saving way.
* * * * * * * * * *
The Father reveals kingdom truth selectively - in accordance with His own good will - in such a way that He can only be known through faith in His Son. And the Son gives the invitation to come!
Take His invitation; and thank Him!
1My strongest support for this belief is taken from Romans 5:14; where we're told that "death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come." Since Adam is a type of Jesus; and since Adam's curse reigned over those who had no ability to sin as Adam did, I take it that Jesus' sacrifice is able to redeem those who cannot place an intelligent faith in Him. I also affirm with Abraham, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25). I also have hope in the words of David at the death of his infant son; "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:23) - suggesting David's faith that his infant son was in heaven.
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