Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Independence Day weekend may seem like an unusual time to start a sermon by talking about Christmas. But I’m hoping that you’ll give me a bit of latitude for a moment or two. You see, as I was reading today’s Gospel text, I was struck by the contrast between how God hides gifts and how people hide gifts.
For example, when I was growing up and Christmas was on the way, my parents were always pretty quiet about what the presents were going to be. Maybe one of us kids had expressed a strong interest in a particular gift, but my parents never seemed to have any reaction to that. They didn’t promise that we’d get it, nor did they usually come right out and tell us, “No way!”
We’d just have to wait until that special morning to find out exactly how we were going to be blessed that year.
Another thing my parents did very effectively was hiding the gifts from us until they were completely wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree. I don’t remember ever being successful in searching them out in the house, garage, or attic. After a while we all just gave up and accepted the fact that the wise and learned would always be able to keep the gifts hidden from the little children.
As clever and as silent as my parents were, and as much fun as it was to be surprised by their gifts and their skill in hiding and then revealing them, their methods were nothing like how God does things.
JESUS WILLINGLY REVEALS THE HIDDEN GIFTS OF HIS KINGDOM TO US
That’s the primary thrust of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson. And this primary thought breaks down into three key elements: The hiding, the revealing, and the giving.
These words from Jesus come right after He had declared His condemnation upon the cities where He had been performing many miracles. These cities were populated mostly by Jews who were the ethnic and religious descendants of the people of Israel. To them and their ancestors, God had revealed His plan of salvation through many prophets over many centuries.
Yet, when confronted directly and clearly by the One who was the fulfillment of all the prophecies, God’s gift of a Savior remained hidden from them. They had been blinded by pride and ignorance. They had been led astray by those who should have been seeking the true signs of the Messiah, not rules and regulations with which to burden them.
Jesus declared that even pagan and evil cities such as Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have been more willing to repent of their sins and receive Jesus than were the cities of Galilee.
So the promised Savior remained hidden from these children of Israel. The promise had, of course, often become hidden to Israel. This was not because God was making it obscure or difficult, but because the people themselves were too proud, too independent, too stubborn, to see what God wanted them to see—His providence, His mercy, His grace, and His salvation.
His truth remains hidden even today from most of the worldly wise and learned. Human science would have you believe that life itself came about by chance. That the order and beauty and complexities of this universe, this planet—even your own bodies—are the result of nothing more than a long series of lucky accidents.
Human law would have you believe that it is OK to starve the helpless, to join man with man and woman with woman in marriage, and destroy unborn children who have no voice. The wisdom of a fallen world suggests that the very essence of God’s created order and His revealed intentions can be swept aside for the sake of convenience and human desires.
Human reason would have you believe that worshipping anything and everything is equally valid. That any and all gods are true gods if you believe sincerely enough. That you can save yourself if you work hard enough at being good. Human reason will tell you that there is no god, or that if there is one, He does not really care what we do. According to this, no one will be saved, or else all people will be saved because a merciful God would do nothing else.
These are lies that Satan and our human minds concoct to make us confident in ourselves. Lies to lead us astray. Lies to hide God’s truth and make all our evil and unbelief and self-delusions seem OK. Because of this, God remains hidden. Christ remains hidden to far too many of His creatures. Forgiveness, and salvation, and eternal life remain not only hidden, but inaccessible.
How odd, then, that today we hear Jesus praise the Father for keeping these gifts hidden from the wise and learned. And it’s more than just that… the text actually says that Jesus confesses to that; He agrees and concurs wholeheartedly with the Father’s intentions to keep it hidden from some. The proud, the smart, the logical, the wise… they cannot accept God’s plans and desires for them. They cannot grasp the gift of faith laid freely before them by a merciful, but holy and just God.
Yet Jesus also praises and agrees with the Father for His revelation to the little children… to the “infants,” to take the Greek word literally.
For it is only to those of us who realize that we are helpless as infants, and admit that we can do nothing for ourselves, that Christ is revealed. Only by those who cry out in need, are Jesus’ words of comfort and care rightly received.
This great contrast—the hiding of things from the wise and learned, and their revealing to those who are like little children—confirms again that it is by faith, and not our works, that we are saved. If it were logical that God would wipe away our sins on account of Jesus, if this could be proven, then the entire world would flock to Christianity because it would make sense. But forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting life through faith alone do not mesh with our fallen human minds; so many reject it because it is illogical. And yet it pleased God the Father to reveal this plan to those whom He would.
Jesus says in verse 26 that it was the Father’s “good pleasure” to do this. Interestingly, the word used for “good pleasure” here is very similar to the word used by the Father at Jesus’ baptism, when He was “well pleased” with His beloved Son. It is also very similar to the words used by the angel to tell the shepherds that God had goodwill toward men, with whom He was “well pleased”. God’s good pleasure is a tremendous blessing. With Jesus as the lens through which God sees us, His good thoughts are directed toward us, but only on account of Christ and not our sinful selves.
Jesus goes on to say that only the Father knows the Son, and only the Son knows the Father. Jesus could make no higher claim of equality with God, of actually being God, than to say this: That He and the Father alone fully know and understand one another. Coming from a mere man, this would have been not only arrogant, but blasphemous.
The world does not know God, but Jesus does, and only through Jesus can we truly know God and understand Him. In Jesus, God is made known. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit continues to make Him known, so that the Father’s love for the Son is passed along to us. Like the Son knows the Father, the sheep know the Shepherd.
What a precious privilege it is to have the Father revealed to us! Though the scribes and Pharisees thought themselves to be the keepers of scriptural wisdom and the knowledge of God, they were self-deceived. They had closed their hearts and minds. Sadly, many today still put themselves in that position. They depend on their own knowledge and logic and willpower to decide whether or not they believe in God, and then how they will choose to see God, understand God, and follow God.
But we must reject everything we bring to the table in the way of knowledge and suppositions, and accept only that which God has shown to us: The Word made flesh, given to us through the living voice of Scripture. We are to remain, like little children, naïve in spirit and growing in trust…innocent as doves toward spiritual things.
With God’s message hidden from the wise and learned, the Son reveals it to those whom He chooses. And who are these to whom He chooses to reveal it? It is to us, His chosen children. It is we who by the gift of faith hear His call to come to Him. We who are burdened by sin, weary with guilt, and placed under the curse of both divine law and human regulation, are granted rest and relief.
Psalm 116 tells us:
The Lord protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, He saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.
For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death…
This rest, we must understand, is not that eternal rest we will receive in Him when we leave this life to dwell with Him forever in heavenly glory. But it is a wonderful refreshment of our spirits which forgiveness provides. For Jesus makes it clear in today’s Gospel lesson that, upon being granted this rest for our souls, we will be granted a new burden. But it will not be a burden we will ever bear alone. It is not a suffering to which we are harnessed all by ourselves.
You see, there is a distinct difference between a harness and a yoke. A harness is for an individual. A yoke, however, is for two. A yoke attaches us and pairs us with Christ in His death, where our burdens are no longer difficult and lonely, but joyful. Christ has done all the hard work for our salvation, and now His burden is our privilege to take upon ourselves.
His cross, His burden, justified us. Our cross, our burden—carried in Him and with Him—sanctifies us. Rather than separating us from God’s love in Christ, the bearing of our crosses binds us, like a yoke, more closely to our Lord. We look beyond this world’s troubles: Not in despair, but with quiet and patient confidence that we have our rewards in heaven.
His most marvelous gift to us is not that light burden or easy yoke of discipleship, though. It is not even the gentleness and humbleness of heart which we are given in faith as we learn from Him to empty ourselves.
Rather, we rejoice that what the Father has revealed to the Son, the Son has revealed to us. We are not made sons and daughters through the knowledge or cleverness of this world, but by revelation—the plan of salvation given to us in God’s word. Our coming to know God—our receiving faith and forgiveness and life eternal—is not by happenstance, but by His design. It is by the will and good pleasure of God the Father, through God the Son, by the power of the God the Holy Spirit.
And let us not forget how these gifts still come to us today. For as Jesus said in verse 27:
“All things have been committed to me by my Father.
Likewise He also said later on in Matthew’s Gospel account:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
The Father has placed everything into the Son’s hands, including you. Some of this authority Jesus has passed along, through the apostles, to us, the Church. The authority to go where He will send us. The authority to make disciples. To baptize them into the Triune God. To teach them to observe and to treasure all that He has commanded us, including His Holy Supper and the forgiveness of sins.
What the Father has hidden from the wise and the learned, the Son has chosen to reveal to the little children. We receive, as His precious children, all good things, all good gifts. And most especially do we receive the precious gift of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus, to our eternal joy and salvation. Amen.