September 28, 2017
This week on the blog, it’s volume 2 of “The Sermon You’re Not Going to Hear on Sunday.” The question: does God sometimes keep us in the dark on purpose? And if so, what purpose does that serve?
This Sunday we’re going to be looking at four quick stories from Luke chapter 9, and whenever I tackle that many stories in one sermon there’s inevitably some interesting stuff that I can’t dig into because it’s interesting but irrelevant to the argument I’m making.
In my prep this week, a comment Luke makes in verse 45 stuck out at me. Here it is in context (v. 43b-45):
But while they were all marvelling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
In the gospels, the disciples don’t always come across as intellectual giants. They struggle to comprehend Jesus’ work, they get into silly arguments, they say silly things, and they generally seem to be a bit slow on the uptake.
But it’s really hard to fault them for not understanding something when they were being prevented from understanding it.
What’s fascinating about this text is the paradox it presents. Jesus is clearly expecting them to be able to understand. He tells them to let his words sink into their ears. And the disciples are clearly at fault for not asking him to clarify his statements because of their fear (of what?).
Our instinctive reaction when we read this (and other passages where the same thing happens) is to bristle against how unfair it seems. How can God find us culpable for our actions when he’s not giving us the information we need to make informed choices? How can the disciples be liable for their failure to let his words sink into their ears when the meaning of those words is being hidden?
It all comes down to the question of what we deserve. The Bible’s story is straightforward: we were created in perfection, but we chose to rebel against God’s wise rule and install ourselves on the throne of our lives instead. We chose to move away from God. We sinned. We cut off the supply line.
An action like that has consequences, one of which is that we lost our conduit to God. Our understanding is veiled and incomplete. But that’s on us.
God owes us nothing: no life, no revelation, no communication—nothing. Anything that we know and understand about him comes from his gracious choice to reveal himself to us.
It’s God’s right to decide how to reveal himself, when, and under what circumstances. He’s the king. And sometimes he chooses not to.
Is that unfair? Not remotely. What’s unfair is us insisting that God do something for us that we don’t deserve, like telling us everything that he’s doing.
Let’s get back to the story in Luke 9. When Luke says that the meaning of Jesus’ statement was concealed from them, he doesn’t mean that Jesus took away something they deserved to have. That would be mean, and Jesus isn’t mean.
What he is saying is that the disciples didn’t yet have the maturity necessary to understand what Jesus was saying. They needed more help. And help was right there. The problem isn’t that the meaning was concealed; the problem is their failure to ask clarifying questions.
So, let me get back to the questions I asked in the teaser line. Does God sometimes keep us in the dark? Yes. It seems clear from Scripture that he does, in fact, choose not to reveal certain pieces of information to us.
What about the other question: what possible purpose does that serve? I think there are three.
First, when God chooses not to reveal something, it reminds us of the fact that he’s God and we’re not. And that’s important. It’s easy for us to think that our proximity to God has earned us the right to be in his inner circle, as though he’s obliged to repay us for our years of dedicated service. But he’s not. And the more we remind ourselves of that, better our humble kingdom service will be.
Second, when God chooses not to reveal something, it causes us to press more closely into him. Instead of shaking our fist at the clouds and decrying the injustice of it all, we behave more like Jacob in the OT, wrestling with God and refusing to let go until we come to a better understanding.
Third, when God chooses not to reveal something to us, it increases our longing for the coming day when all will be revealed. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, we now see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known.
Our veiled understanding is temporary, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We have everything we need from God to do exactly what he’s called us to do right now, and he’ll increase our understanding as we need more understanding and as we cultivate the capacity to handle his revelation. And one day, the veil will fall away completely.
That’s the sermon you’re not going to hear on Sunday. As for the one you’re going to hear, I hope to see you then.