THE GOSPEL IS FOR DUMMIES
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)
ALL OF THE PIECES OF STAND-ALONE INFORMATION
- Jesus spoke these words after he had said the things about the Galilean cities referred to in the last section and needs to be understood in that context.
- Jesus openly praised God because for making the message accessible to people with the least understanding.
- The fact that the message was accessible regardless of the amount of learning meant that the so-called “wise” people were capable of missing it.
- This level of accessibility was exactly what the Father intended.
- The responsibility of offering the kingdom message was given to Jesus by God the Father.
- The Father is the one who has full knowledge about the nature and purpose of the Son.
- The Son is the only one who has full knowledge of the nature and purpose of the Father.
- The Father will not be known unless people see Him as revealed in Jesus.
- Sadly, access to God had become a burdensome process courtesy of accumulated religious traditions.
- Jesus was making God known in such a way that would bring people to a place of rest, not greater toil and burden.
- Jesus likened the process of knowing God through him to the idea of teaming with him in the way two animals are yoked together to pull a cart.
- Jesus invited people to learn from him by watching what he did, and the way he did it, just like a younger bullock would learn from an older bullock by being teamed together.
- Jesus added that people who learned from him in this way would find him a gentle and humble teacher.
- Jesus also said that the reason he was gentle and humble was that what he was doing and the way he was doing it was such a well-tailored fit that the work was made easy and the burden he carried was light.
THE MESSAGE OF THE STORY
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”
As I commented in the previous section, it seems strange that these two portions should stand in the text, one following the other. They seem to be expressing opposite sentiments. The fact is that Jesus makes this second statement in the context of the previous one.
I have observed elsewhere that when we see something in the gospels that doesn’t make sense to our normal way of thinking, it is often a sign that what we are being shown what the kingdom of God is like. We are being challenged to embrace the revelation and allow our thinking and our actions to be shaped by what God has said rather than how we have learned to think from within our culture.
I have already made the suggestion that the “woes” directed at Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were not outbursts of divine resentment, but rather expressions of divine grief. What Jesus is about to say here makes that grief even more acute.
“…. you have hidden these things from the wise and learned …” I see no reason to suspect that this is talking about God’s proactive selection, in fact, quite the opposite. Here is my paraphrase of the sentence to show what he is saying, “I praise you Father…..because you have made this message accessible and available to absolutely everyone regardless of their education or lack of it. In other words, you have made it possible for very young children to get this message. As a result, the very simplicity of the message has caused some of the so-called educated and so-called wise people to miss it because the sense of arrogance they have developed based on their education has been the very reason they miss what is being said.” In other words, when a message is made accessible to the least it becomes harder for those whose consider themselves to have greater knowledge and wisdom to see simply take in what is before their eyes.
I have observed in life that it takes great intelligence and high levels of education to produce people who are capable extreme stupidity. Ordinary people can be foolish, but you have to be well-educated and very intelligent to attain the highest levels of stupidity. The reason for this is the fact that super-intelligent people with high levels of ability and education can convince themselves and others of things that ordinary people wouldn’t be capable of justifying. Extreme stupidity is like a lot of things. It takes greater levels of skill. We live in a society that had made such virtue out of education that we think it is the answer to every problem. I have worked with drug addicts in one way or another for most of my professional life. I know of few human conditions that are more blatantly destructive. Not only do individuals destroy themselves but they wreck their parents, their marriages, their families and their opportunity to have any meaningful life. When I hear politicians and other saying that the answer is more education I feel like throwing up. Addictions rob people of their capacity to think, reason and decide. But because our culture has a kind of a mantra that all human ills will be solved if more money is put into education that is the myth that determines many countermeasures.
Anyone who has had a close association with academic life will confirm that universities are often plagued with arrogance, pride, ego-driven ambition and a whole range of social ills. Academic excellence and the academic environment produces more than the average number of dysfunctional human beings and dysfunctional relationships. The level of learning doesn’t guarantee a person will be a more successful human being. I am not denigrating academics here, just pointing out that learning in and of itself doesn’t run parallel to moral excellence.
It is a sad fact that the western church has produced more Christian academics than any other culture. Before Constantine, the church adopted the Greek philosophical mode that eulogised the academy as the pillar of society. We now have churches and church denominations where the fitness of leaders has been measured by their academic ability rather than their call and anointing. In fact, the way we do church has drawn more of its culture from the Greek academy than anything else. The Enlightenment supercharged this model, and the presumption is that theological education in the style of the academy is the key to success. It is assumed in many churches that ordinary people can’t read and interpret the Bible for themselves. They must depend on the professionals. This takes the very opposite position. Jesus tells us that it was the Father’s express intention to make the message simple enough to be accessible to the least qualified. How arrogant of us to presume otherwise. Let me repeat. There must always be a place for concentrated learning. I am saying that the basis for accessing revealed truth not the same as academic study. We embrace revelation through faith and obedience. We will gain more understanding from doing what Jesus said than just studying it.
There is no such thing as theoretical Christianity. I don’t think it is possible to know something God has said unless you take seriously the closing instruction of the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus says those who hear but don’t put into practice are like people who build a house on sand. Jesus models the life of a practitioner – without exception. Where do we get the idea that a teacher was just someone with more information than others and that teaching was imparting information. It was never the case on any day during the three years of Jesus’ ministry. We will only embrace revelation when we have exercised faith obedience so that it has led us to personal testimony. God’s story has then become our story. Jesus says it this way, “Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
The opportunity to hear or see and respond is available to anyone who wants to simply take the message on its face value and follow up with actions that indicate obedience based faith. We need to understand enough of what the text says in order to obey. A lot of the questions that consume hours in Bible studies don’t make any difference once the Bible study has finished. We would be better off spending the time figuring out what we need to do to obey what Jesus has said, and then getting on with it and helping each other get on with it. This is the major disconnect.
It makes the issue Jesus described in Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum all the more culpable. The message they had seen and heard over and over again was able to be received and responded to by the least qualified people – but they still didn’t get it. Sounds like a lot of churches on a lot of Sundays to me.
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
What are the “all things” Jesus is referring to? If we allow the context to be our guide, it will make the most sense to see that Jesus is talking about the message he has brought. It is represented in his life, his teaching and preaching and his deeds. He is the message. What he says and does are the expressions of who he is. They carry the motive force. They make the message transferrable and tangible. There is no greater expression of the message than that which is represented in a Person whose name is Jesus. I love what Bruxy Cavey keeps on saying: “We believe in the inspired, infallible word of God; and his name is Jesus.” And I would add, “We believe that the Bible is inspired to provide infallible testimony to Jesus.” In other words, we discover Jesus as we read the Bible and we discover the Father as we discover Jesus.
This is the reason why the next two statements are true. You have to go and read the Gospel of John to get a fuller download. Let me try and explain it in an easier way. Think of Jesus standing with the disciples and other people as he was saying these words. When the people who just showed up on the day saw and heard Jesus, they were privy to a few pieces of revelatory information. There was so much to see and know in Jesus, but they were just getting started. The disciples who had been with Jesus for some time saw much more, but still had all kinds of questions and equations in their heads that didn’t add up. The only Person who looked at Jesus and knew everything about him was the Father. These statements are another way of saying, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) Jesus is the full revelation of the Father because there is nothing about the Father that Jesus is unaware of. At any point his actions are totally consistent with all that can be known about God. Jesus is the only one. So he is our window to the Father, God.
This is the reason why the message of the good news of the kingdom is accessible to children. They just have to look at Jesus and respond to whatever they see. Jesus said that very thing: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15) That’s what the first disciples did on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. They looked at Jesus and saw the Messiah, the Son of the living God. They didn’t understand everything. In fact, they didn’t understand much. They followed by what they saw and heard. Much later in the piece when things are getting more controversial, and Jesus starts saying things they don’t understand, many people who had followed Jesus start leaving. Jesus asks the twelve if they are also going to leave. Peter simply says, “Where would we go. You alone have the words of eternal life.” (John 6)
“Those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” There are wonderful followers of Jesus who think that God has favourites and picks some people who can’t NOT follow Jesus, but leaves other people, who, no matter what they do or don’t do CANNOT follow Jesus. They see this verse as one that supports that view. There is no example in all the record of Jesus’ ministry where this happened. So I am going to accept that evidence and assume that Jesus is simply talking about the fact that when people get to see and hear him, they get the best chance to know what God is really like. Remember that Jesus was living at a time where the religious tyranny of Israel had railroaded their calling to make God known to the world. Jesus was the faithful son of Abraham who fulfilled the covenant obligation. In a life of thirty-three years, he gave the disciples, and other followers, a clear picture of what God was like and what God intended. The fact that Jesus chose to go to every part of Judea and Galilee and the fact that he expressly commissioned his followers to go into all the world means that he intended everyone to get that same chance. We are called to be and do that in our generation.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This is the crunch point of this whole discourse. Chorazin and Co. chose to continue with the wearying and burdensome task of obligation to a set of laws that were hard to keep and didn’t get them any closer to God. In fact, it locked them away from God. The wise and the learned of Jesus day were the religious leaders who protected positions of power, influence, status and sometimes wealth by keeping people controlled under the weight of those burdens. In a harsh hierarchy of superficial religion, people were either accepted or rejected, tolerated or hated on the basis of a myriad of traditional human interpretations of a Word from God that was meant to produce life. The wise and learned looked at Jesus, and because he didn’t tick any of their self-generated boxes, they could only presume that he was doing what he did by using demonic power.
By contrast, the children or the unlearned and the people who were considered to be sinful and alienated in the eye of the religious establishment looked at Jesus and loved what they saw. They travelled for days and stayed listening for days without caring to eat just because they liked what he said. They were discovering the “rest” that Jesus refers to here. This needs to be a sign of orthodoxy. If the gospel doesn’t produce “rest” for the souls of those who respond it is not the gospel. That rest comes from making a decision to be “yoked” to Jesus. This is as clear a message of the gospel as we will find anywhere in the whole Bible.
- Come to Jesus. This is about a personal relationship, not a Christian organisation or a set of religious practices. It is a personal relationship with the Son of God. It is a spiritual relationship of course, but a relationship with a person nonetheless. I am constantly surprised to discover people who have a commitment to Jesus but have not discovered the relationship dimension that should be the product of that commitment. We all need to hear these words of Jesus again and again: “Come to ME” so that we will set our hearts on finding out how to discover that and maintain it as something of primary importance for everything else we do. Our direct response to such an invitation from Jesus will make so much difference. If we take our significance from Jesus and our relationship with him, we will avoid the extreme vulnerability that comes when our sense of significance is linked to our performance, other people’s opinions or to the work itself.
- Follow Jesus by becoming teamed up with him like bullocks yoked together pulling a heavy load. When I think about this metaphor, my mind always goes back to the farm, in particular training a young sheep dog. There was always two parts to the training. One had to do with making the dog familiar with the sounds of various commands and knowing what they meant. The second was out in the paddock with a mob of sheep. We would tie the young dog to an older one with a short rope. It was always funny to watch. The older dog did things instinctively and always caught the young dog by surprise. The young dog had any amount of energy but didn’t know what to do with it. Often the rope would suddenly tighten through the instinctive movement of the older dog, and the young dog would be heading in the opposite direction, and they would both end up rolling around on the ground together. It didn’t take long before the young dog was getting the moves as instinctively as the older one and they would move together without testing the rope.
We don’t have a literal yoke to pull us into line with the direction Jesus is instinctively moving, but the metaphor holds true. In fact, Jesus talked about doing only what he saw his Father doing. That’s the same as a ‘yoke.’ For us, much of this will start with the commands of Jesus and the modelling he provided as recorded in the gospels. These need to be the yoke that is strong enough to help us to go in the direction of God’s heart and purpose. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we will get to know how that feels and what it accomplishes until we are, like the young sheepdog, starting to gain an instinctive sense of what to do and how to do it.
- Learn from the one who teaches with ultimate patience and without an ego to defend. There are many people around me who know a lot more about a lot of things than I do. There are some I am a little more reluctant to ask for guidance or assistance. It has a lot to do with how the advice is offered. There are some among them whose ego almost explodes every time, and you have to survive that explosion to get the assistance. It is much harder to learn in that environment. There are others who offer great advice born of long experience, but without the attending ego. I love learning from those people. When I mess up, they encourage me, and when I ask a question they don’t know the answer to, they say so. The others give an answer whether they know or not just because their pride or insecurity demands that they put on a show. Jesus is the ultimate expression of the marriage between wisdom and patience. Learning in his presence will always be inspiring and encouraging. I had a piano teacher like that at one time. I used to go to lessons with the intention of telling him I was giving up. He so loved piano and music that I would come away determined to practice four hours a day – his passion inspired me so much.
- Discover a way of living that carries the burden of love without feeling the weight. This is such a massive sign of the genuine Kingdom of God process. I talk with a lot of Christian leaders, and it seems that so many have not discovered this aspect of the Jesus journey. Jesus so loved his Father’s purpose that the burden of it became a joy and a privilege. It’s like playing footy. I loved footy so much I would bust myself training and at the end of a game be battered and bruised and have nothing left in the tank, but always with great joy and satisfaction ( a bit less when we got beaten). I just loved playing. I think the same experience is possible at the heart of the task of serving Jesus and the kingdom. It is so unspeakably worthwhile and such a profound challenge. When we learn to team up with Jesus and allow the yoke to be our guide, we can put all of our efforts into the task and know that we will never do anything that will be wasted. In my way of thinking, this is reflected in the words of the twenty-third Psalm: “He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies, and my cup runs over.” There is always a feast to be had, right in the middle of the battle-field.
IF THIS WAS COMPLETELY FULFILLED IN MY LIFE WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?
- I would be reading the Bible, not to answer every question that was raised or get into disputes over deep philosophical issues. I would read to obey with faith. I would take the simplest meaning of the text and start doing it rather than creating confusion with long convoluted discussions that produced no plan of faith/action.
- I would be less dependent on the idea that academic study and professional opinion was of more value than a simple desire to do what God said.
- I would keep my focus on the fact that Jesus is the revelation of the Father and seek to become more Jesus looking as a constant goal and as the chief source of satisfaction. If I became more like Jesus, I would be happy, and if something were not going to help me become more like Jesus, I would avoid getting embroiled in it.
- I would constantly be committed to learning from Jesus and measuring what I am learning by the “rest” it produces rather than striving and comparing myself to others and trying to compete with them. I would make it my practice to make Jesus the first port of call when there were questions to be answered and issues to be resolved, and I would encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.
HOW THE GOSPEL WAS PROCLAIMED THROUGH THIS INCIDENT
I have only now realised how powerfully the gospel is proclaimed here. Jesus made himself known to three groups of people referred to in this incident: the people of the three Galilean towns, the people who were supposedly wise and learned by the standards of that day (and this) and the unschooled and unlearned people who are represented as “children.” They all saw Jesus, heard what he said and watched what he did. The first group accepted the ministry but remained committed to their traditional ways. The second watched from a distance and rejected everything. The third group responded simply and fully to everything they saw and heard because they immediately equated it with the nature and work of God.
This incident is a reminder that the gospel is the message of the Person of Jesus Christ. When we share any of the stories about Jesus we are sharing the gospel. We are giving people the same opportunity as was given to those groups of people. We don’t have to defend Jesus, just proclaim him. It is people’s response to HIM that makes the difference, not a response to an argument, debate or philosophical explanation. We can preach the gospel by sharing one of more of the stories of Jesus. We should practice so that we become skilled at doing just that so that we have the tools available when we need them.