REVELATION TO THE TRUSTINGLY DEPENDENT
Sermon delivered on the 4th Sunday after Trinity, the 9th July 2017 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.
Scriptures: Zechariah 9: 9-12 Romans 7: 15-25a S. Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
S. Matthew 11: 27 Jesus said, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”
Scholars have called this verse of Jesus' teaching from the Gospel according to St. Matthew the “Johannine thunderbolt”, and I have also read of it referred to as an “erratic block of Johannine rock”, as if it were a meteor from space landing upon the earth. This is because the style of its teaching is like what we often encounter in the Gospel of St. John, and yet here it is found in the Gospel of St. Matthew. It probably provides corroboration that Jesus did indeed sometimes teach in the style that St. John's Gospel depicts. Certainly it is not the only place in St. Matthew's Gospel in which the terms “the Father” and “the Son” are used in the absolute manner they are used here.
REVELATION TO BABES
“All things have been delivered to me by my Father”, says the Lord Jesus. You may remember that the force of this statement was confirmed by the resurrected Lord at the end of S. Matthew’s Gospel, where He states: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” The Father has complete authority as the “Lord of heaven and earth”, and He delegates that to the Son. The meaning of Christ's words and deeds is shown here as the key to the Father's revelation of Himself, and it is not the “wise and understanding” - i.e. those who, being schooled in the literature and concepts of the age are such by human standards - that have the advantage over others in receiving and elucidating Christ’s revelation through His words and deeds. In verse 25 Jesus says “I thank thee ... that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.” “Babes” – or in the English Standard Version “little children” - means those who are trustingly dependent enough to be able to receive the words and deeds of Christ. And this describes one of the great mysteries of the manner in which the Christian faith is propagated to others and advanced in the individual soul. It happens not by cleverness or ingenuity, scholarship, street-smartness or brute force, but by trust and dependence. In the Gospels Jesus demonstrated over and over again that those to whom He revealed the works of the Father were those who trusted Him, listened to Him and discerned the truth. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” The sovereignty of the Father is shown by the “gracious will” with which He reveals to those who are spiritually discerning, truths that He does not reveal to the thoroughly indoctrinated or forcibly reeducated. The sovereignty of the Son is shown in the choices that He makes of whom to reveal the Father to.
THE HUMBLE MESSIAH
One of the greatest pictures of the divine sovereignty is what is provided by our first lesson today from the prophet Zechariah, the Palm Sunday snapshot that we are most familiar with from its use by our Lord in His final entry into Jerusalem. In Zechariah we read “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.” There are inscriptions on ancient artefacts telling of what this or that ancient king did to his enemies when he was victorious, and historically the ideas of triumph and humility do not always go together by any stretch of the imagination: but here in prophetic scripture the overall picture of the triumphant messiah decidedly does include concepts such as humility and righteousness and graciousness to the poor and disadvantaged. If you add to these the prophecies of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah and bring those also into the Messianic framework, the image of the person we have come to know as the Christ is compelling indeed. Finally we begin to understand that in truth there is no real sovereignty or triumph without suffering, humility, righteousness and graciousness, and all these are components of one character, and that character is that of God Himself, revealed fully in His Son.
RESOLVING THE DISCORDANT HUMAN CONDITION
In the second lesson today from Romans 7 St. Paul describes what we can regard as the basic discomfort of the sinful human condition, the discordance between what, on the one hand, we have an appetite for and what, on the other hand, our mind, conscience and will know to be right. There has been many a discussion on this passage along the lines of whether Paul was describing his life before or after his Damascus road experience. The key passage here is, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We have been looking at the other Scriptural passages today in the light of divine sovereignty and human trusting dependence, and it is helpful also to apply the same general method to this one. In his typically explosive fashion, St. Paul can be seen to be placing the discordant human condition, which he writes of himself as personifying and exemplifying, under the sovereignty of the Father and the Son. He has identified the cause of the discord as due to the tendency of the bodily appetites to seek satisfaction independently of and contrary to the law of God which in his inmost self he delights in, and he now comes out with an explosive expression of trust, that this contrary element in the human condition, which he characterises as “the body of this death”, has its hold over him or over humanity finally broken by the deliverance of God through Jesus Christ. And if the basic fault-line within all of humanity can be closed by this deliverance, so can the fault-lines of our individual experiences of life be similarly healed.
THE EASY YOKE
Our faith that arises from Christ's redemptive work is our faith in a sovereign Father and a sovereign Son, but sovereign in a manner that is not in any way overbearing or in betrayal of human trust. Jesus said, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” The dark side of Church History is displayed whenever the Church has projected a supposedly divine sovereignty that does not reveal also the divine trustworthiness. As we have seen, the true sovereignty of the Father and of the Son delights in the cooperation of human trust. That is why the character of the divine sovereignty differs from the “yoke of the law”, as the Rabbis referred to it. In contrast to that yoke, Jesus says, “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.” Like St. Paul, with this yoke that marries human trust to the divine sovereignty, we who are His “babes” or “little children” will ultimately be rewarded in our undertakings.