Luke 10:21 “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, 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 was your good pleasure.’”
One of the books that I read this past week on my journeyings was entitled The Humanness of John Calvin. Its author, Richard Stauffer, is one of the great authorities on the Geneva preacher and he wrote of Calvin’s life as a husband, grieving father, pastor, letter-writer and friend. He begins the book by describing the sort of press Calvin has had over the centuries; he’s been attacked by both Roman Catholic and Protestant writers, one of these Protestant men named Alfred Franklin declaring, totally erroneously, “Calvin never showed any emotion. Did he ever laugh? Did he ever cry?” Richard Stauffer then proceeds to show Calvin’s tenderness and warm-heartedness, but if you throw plenty of mud then some of it will stick.
If a man is known to be a Calvinist then there is almost an unspoken expectation that he will be a dour, and a joyless man. That is OK. It is a caricature. When school children are asked to draw a scientist then nine out of ten of them draw a mad scientist! We live in a world of caricatures. The image of our Lord in so many paintings is of a gaunt and forbidding man – to an eminent degree. Yet the reality is that people clustered around him and followed him everywhere, even mothers bringing their children to him to hold and bless, surely indicates that Jesus cannot have been a dark and intimidating presence. One of his exhortations was that we are never to worry but to keep trusting in our heavenly Father. The God who knows everything that we need today and tomorrow will certainly provide for us all we need. The Saviour who taught us this fact practiced it himself. Without any worry or guilt, and never depressed – the Lord Jesus was the happiest of men. He rejoiced in God his Father; we are told in our text that he was filled with joy as he contemplated God to be the Lord of heaven and earth. But let us move on; we are told that he rejoiced even more as he considered God’s discriminating mercy.
1. OUR LORD REJOICED IN GOD’S DISTINGUISHING GRACE.
The Lord says, “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (v.21). “Does the Pope have any battalions?” asked Stalin scornfully. Russia had the Red Army while God has chosen a flock of lambs to become his people, that is, those who are largely insignificant men and women, mere youngsters who appear in the eyes of the world to be armed with home-made bows and arrows, and wooden swords. Though appearances can be deceptive yet we are certainly not people who wage holy war, and determine to assassinate men who’ve offended us. We are little children.
Corinth was a vast immoral seaport town, the Bangkok of the ancient world, but there God planted a church and gathered a people to himself. Whom did God choose as founder members of this congregation? Let’s read what Paul said to these Corinthian Christians in his first letter to them. Right at the beginning, in chapter one, he lays on them the fact that God had chosen them. He tells them three times in two verses this fact that God had taken the initiative: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called [Think! Use your brains! Who and what were you when you responded to the gospel? Consider the ethos of your congregation. What type of people are they who belong to your church? Has God gone for the eggheads of Corinth? Are you largely upper class, wealthy, smart, young people? What does he tell them?]. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth [You were in fact just ‘little children’ in the eyes of the world. No one looked at people like you and said, “Wow! I want to join those beautiful people. They are going places and I want to be with them when they get there.”]. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – [in other words, God chose kids] to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:26-31). So the people God had chosen to be his own in Corinth were a very ordinary group of men and women. Isn’t that typical? Aren’t we typical of the people of our town, a real cross-section of the kind of folk who live here?
That is God’s strategy. He sends us out as lambs amidst wolves. God chose a penniless teenage girl, Mary, from a one donkey cluster of huts called Nazareth to be the mother of our Lord as to his human nature. Not a Queen or an Empress but a girl who later married a carpenter and had a brood of children in an insignificant village. Jesus thinks of the men and women who are now following him, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth for doing that.” The Lord chose fishermen to become his disciples, not the philosophers of Greece or the poets of Rome. Peter and his brother had been working with their father, fishing, drying the fish, repairing the nets and then going off the next day. That was Peter’s life, and then the Lord Jesus chose him to follow him, and he made him a fisher of men. One day Jesus asked him whom did he think Jesus was, and Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus didn’t say, “No I am just an ordinary bloke like you. You mustn’t put me on a pedestal.” He said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). God in a singular exercise of grace had revealed to this fisherman’s understanding who was Jesus of Nazareth. All the scribes and Pharisees had the same Old Testament books that Peter knew, but understanding them was a gift of God. Certainly we long for you to come here week by week for the light of the Scriptures; you need to come, but a blind man needs more than light. He needs sight and that is a gift of God. Pray, “Reveal these things to me as you did to Peter.”
God reveals these things to children like Peter, and women like Mary Magadalene and others like her – a much married Samaritan woman who would speak to people in Sychar about himself. He does not reveal these things to philosophers and sophisticates, but it’s little children whom God has set his love upon. Jesus rejoiced in God’s choice; “I thank you,” he said “ . . . for hiding the glory from people who thought themselves to be so very wise, who felt that they had nothing to learn from Jesus, but who’d teach anyone their own religion, what they thought about God, religious know-it-alls like the Pharisees and Scribes and chief priests. Thank you, Father, for my fishermen disciples, and for the women who serve alongside them.”
Of all the boys in my school God chose me, a real wimp, skinny, never top of the form in anything, messed up, a weakling. Amongst the boys in our grammar school there was one who captained the British Lions; there were boys who went to Balliol College Oxford, and Gonville and Gauius, Cambridge; there were boys who became professors; there were boys who led the Labour party and today sit in the House of Lords and who this week spoke on TV about the death of labour leader Michael Foot; there were boys who today are millionaires. Some of them have their names painted in gold on the school notice boards. None of those was chosen by God to be his disciples, but he chose me a station-master’s son, and he chose my friend David, a butcher’s boy to serve him. God has chosen little children.
Again, let me say this, that there is no connection whatsoever with God choosing us to be his children and a mere handful becoming his servants. Some people think that immediately you talk of the choice of God that that means he chooses a small number of people. Why in the world should that be? When God promises Abraham that by his Seed, the Messiah, all the nations of the world are going to be blessed he talks in terms of the children of Abraham being like the sands of the seashore or like the stars in the heavens, a vast number. When John in the book of Revelation has a sight of heaven then the huge company that fill that place can’t be numbered. They are so many they you need a calculator to estimate how many are there. Every one of that innumerable company had been chosen and loved by God from before the foundation of the world. All those were people Christ had died for. They are not a small number at all. Where sin abounds grace much more abounds, even numerically!
Jesus not only agreed with his Father’s choice, he rejoiced in it. He triumphed in these boys of his. He had fellowship with his Father in all that his Father decided and did. Jesus looks today at the people who’ve become Christians and he notices that few of them have won a Nobel Prize: they aren’t walking the corridors of power. God has hidden these things from Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Let me turn that fact in this way, that we have to be careful in choosing a Christian to speak to us for the reason that that man had become famous for making a mountain of money, or he played rugby for Wales, or had become a media star, or because of any former notoriety he had. That is not the way God works. The gospel does not give glory to man. If God wants the gospel to spread he will use you, and your lisping, stammering tongue, and what you judge to be your uncharismatic personality. When you look back and ask who were the people through whom you came to trust in Jesus Christ then the answer is that they were very ordinary people. You would have been suspicious of orators and ‘personalities’ but you listened to people you felt you could trust. God did not need superstar men and women to persuade you that Christianity is true, and he never needs them.
Then I turn it this way. Jesus is humbling us further here. Do men and women who are not yet Christians imagine that it’s because of their superior education that they’re not following Christ? Do you think that it’s because you play chess, and like Mahler and Shostakovich, and are a professor, and have written a book, and are smart that you couldn’t possibly be a believer in God, that following Christ would be far below a great brain like yours? No. It is not that reason at all. This is all terribly humbling when I’ll tell you what Jesus says. Listen! Maybe this is the reason you are in unbelief, that God has chosen to hide the glories of Christ from you. God can do that. He has every right to do that. He had every right to harden Pharaoh’s heart. All the evidence of his power and glory was there in Egypt in plague after plague that came at an act of Moses, but Pharaoh spat in the face of them all. All the evidence for the livingness of God is there in Jesus Christ but you choose to ignore him. You want to be the one in control, the one who judges, who weighs it all up and concludes that there are certain things that you agree about and yet others you disagree with and that one day perhaps, when the things you agree with are more than the things you disagree with, that then you may decide to become a Christian. I tell you beware! If you say, “Back off preacher, and back off Christian Union, and back off evangelists. I may come to the Lord but it will be when I choose, when I am good and ready.” Jesus tells us that God has every right to hide all his salvation from Mr. Worldly Wiseman and simply treat him justly – as he treated the angels who rebelled. Be in awe of a sovereign God. Cry mightily to him and say, “Please do not hide your grace from me! Please save me,” and don’t stop crying to him until you know he has heard you.
The gospel is not proposed to you to ask for your vote. It does not stand or fall according to your decision. The gospel demands your submission. You are not qualified to judge and examine it by the light you have. You will find reason after reason to vote against it. In the ordinary concerns of life, like voting for a candidate in the coming General Election, then maybe your wits are sufficient. It is not so when Jesus Christ stands before you and says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” To leave your sin and unbelief and bow before him and follow him all the days of your life, never, never to part from him, you need God’s blessing, his help, the power of the Holy Spirit, the life from heaven that raised Jesus from the dead. Without that you will remain unpersuaded. You must begin by saying to God, “Show me my heart, and show me my Saviour,” and you will be heard and answered. You will grow in the knowledge of God, but if you think you can start this new life in Christ all by yourself whenever you choose then you will remain just where you are today.
You protest, “What if God hasn’t chosen me?” Indeed. What if he has not! What a solemn possibility! Don’t you tremble at that thought? Are you serious in being concerned about your helplessness before God? Doesn’t that alarm you? Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. If you are serious about that concern then you’d better ask him now to save you, because the answer to your trembling and uncertainty is his great free salvation. That is the only proof of knowing he’s chosen you. Don’t use his sovereign election as an excuse for fatalism and doing nothing. Don’t say, “Whatever will be will be.” Don’t murmur, “Oh well I can do nothing . . .” That is just an excuse. He will put you in hell for that. Go to him like a child goes its parent and sweetly asks for a good thing. In no way will that parent throw you out, or scorn your request, or give you a scorpion. He won’t pretend he hasn’t heard you. Go to God! Doesn’t he invite you, “Come unto me!” Then go to him. Do not delay. When you go and he gives you rest it is then that you will know that he has chosen you from before the foundation of the world long before you went to him. You cannot find out if you have been chosen by God in any other way than by giving yourself to God. If you refuse to have dealings with him and if you say petulantly, “Perhaps I am not elect,” and so do nothing, then you are disobeying the God who says, “Ask and it will be given to you.” Jesus rejoiced in God being the Lord of heaven and earth, and he rejoiced that God hid his truth from know-alls and revealed it to little people who just said, “I need your mercy. I need your love. Please become my Father.” Before they believed they did not know whether they had been chosen by God but they knew they had been invited!
So Jesus looked at those simple people who loved him and trusted in God and he rejoiced in them and he rejoices still. Some of them today have to take 25 pills or even 40 pills a day to keep going, but as they swallow them down they thank God for each tablet, and they ask God to bless the pills they take. Some of them are elderly and alone, and they ask God to look after them each night as they close their eyes. If they switch on the Archers they ask God to bless the radio programme. All their hopes of being with God in heaven are based on Jesus living for them and dying for them. “Forgive my sins for Jesus’ sake,” they say at the end of every day. They believe the Bible – just like Jesus did, and when they die their hope is that they will see Jesus. They were like little children. These were the people to whom God had revealed his own Son as Saviour.
Jesus was a joyful man. He didn’t sulk because God hadn’t chosen the Roman Emperor, and King Herod, and the chief priests to be his disciples, but rather these childish men who quarreled with one another as to who’d be the greatest in his kingdom. Jesus was totally content. He said, “Even so Father; for the choice you made was good in your sight and so it is good in my sight too.” We’ve made decisions based on what seemed good to us and we’ve made some terrible mistakes. We chose the wrong university, the wrong subjects to study, the wrong car, the wrong girl-friend, the wrong husband. It had seemed good in our sight but it turned out to be really bad! None of us have been all that clever. But if something is good in God’s sight then he’s not a God who makes mistakes; too wise to be mistaken, too good to be unkind. Our highest joy is learning to bow down before the will of God. If it pleases God then it pleases us. This is the road to contentment and peace and happiness.
The sovereignty of Almighty God over our lives is the best remedy to our difficulties, discouragements and disappointments, especially when we are involved in gospel work. In one way, looking back over these past 45 years in Aberystwyth, I might be tempted to feel that that is has been disappointing, but actually I never feel that. Christ has been leading me on in triumph year after year as he does all the church. I always have gone back to the first cause and prime mover in everything. Nothing could have happened without God, and so why should I get depressed? When Jeremiah had been complaining that his mission was too hard for him then the Lord sent him to the potter’s house. The potter said nothing to him at all. He had no message in words, but he had a message in actions. He took a piece of clay and he made from it a chamber pot, and then he also made from it a beautiful vase. From the same piece of clay, one article for a very common use, and the other a very noble use, and Jeremiah watched and he thought of that. It taught him to infer from the potter’s power over the clay, that God had every right to do what he would do with what belonged to him. If Jeremiah had a fruitless ministry, and if Isaiah said, “Lord, who has believed our report?” then that was God’s right to call them to that ministry. God will send one angel to govern an empire and another angel to clean the public toilets in a shanty town, just as the Lord of angels sees fit, and then the perpetual delight of the angels is to do the will of God.
The apostle Paul saw that truth, and it was his comfort too, and he wanted the whole congregation in Rome to understand this and get strength from it, and even every Christian from that time on including us today, and so he wrote to the entire church in the ninth chapter of the letter to the Romans and he said this, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’ But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (Roms. 9:18-24). If the Lord had been pleased to ignore you then he would not have brought you again and again here where his holiness and beauty are loved, in the midst of many people who have been transformed by his grace into such patient, joyful, kind and loving people. There was an occasion when Samson’s father thought that a messenger of God speaking to them meant that they were soon going to die, but his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have . . . shown us all these things or now told us this” (Judges 13:23). I can say with all the assurance of heaven that God desires you to become like the Christians here or he would not have baptized you into their company, but don’t let this providence make you presumptuous.
We are perfectly satisfied with this, with how God has dealt us over the past years, as individual Christians and as a church. We humbly bow before him who had the right to take from us our dear parents and husbands, our health and possessions, who one day will explain his reasons for doing what he did to our entire satisfaction. He will never wrong us and treat us maliciously or capriciously in anything he does but rather cause goodness and mercy to follow us all our days. I do not understand all God has done, but I rest in all he has done. It is well with my soul. The Judge of all the earth will do right always. God is light and in him is no darkness at all. What God wills for me and mine is just like his character, holy, pure, just and good and perfectly consistent with who and what he is. He has not yet given me a full account of his dealings, but heaven will not be a world of eternal perplexity. When the present imperfect state of things comes to an end, when the dead, small and great, are summoned to stand before him, then the great Shepherd will unfold his will and justify all his proceedings before the universe, and our feeble protests will be silenced, and every difficulty will be solved. We shall admire his wisdom and his enemies will acknowledge his justice. Every mouth will be stopped and all the world be silent before God. What we shall see then is our duty and comfort to believe now. The Saviour rejoiced in this here and now, through joy the Holy Spirit gave to him.
Let me turn this truth of these words of Jesus Christ in this way, that there is no possibility that the gospel of Jesus Christ can be preached without effect. Some people complain that nothing happens when the word of God is declared. It must have an effect and will have an effect on everyone who hears it. Many here will listen and receive the word; it is unmistakably the gift of a Father’s love to them and they will thank God for it. To them it will be the fragrance of life, refreshing and reviving, but to those who do not receive the word it will be the odour of death. When Jesus preached in Capernaum and Bethsaida and they rejected him his words were the scent of death in that place. “He that despises me despises also him that sent me.”
You who are Christians reading this, aren’t you glad that you understand a little of what I am saying, that you have some light? You were once quite blind. You did not know how stony your heart was, and you did not know the great Doctor from heaven who could cure you. You saw nothing of the beauty and excellence of Jesus Christ, but a great change has taken place in your life. Now Jesus Christ to you is the Altogether Lovely One. You have some understanding of the light of man and the mercy of God. Be thankful for what you understand. Accept it as a token for good. Don’t be discouraged that you’ve just made a small beginning and little progress. Wait on God. Ask him that you might grow in faith and love and every grace and don’t be discouraged at the way he answers your prayer and tests and strengthens you. Don’t miss any of the services. Christian growth is not on a conveyer belt; it is not instantaneous; others will be more aware of your growth than you yourself. Just be in earnest about wanting to be a real follower of the Lamb of God.
You protest to me, “Do you mean that everybody that believes anything different from you is lost? That the Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and atheists and agnostics and members of the cults are all lost and only the few who believe what you and your little church believe are going to be safe?” I will not answer that question. It is a prejudiced and self-justifying question. People came to Jesus and asked him a very similar question. I will tell you what he said to them; “Strive . . . do all in your power . . . to go through the narrow door and walk along the narrow path.” Don’t find any comfort in the fact that so many people with so many different labels are walking on the broad road without any interest in Jesus Christ. You make sure you are on the narrow path.
Become like a little child; your father seems to know everything and you know so little. Long that one day you will know so much more. Become like a little child; be teachable. Listen to your teachers and make notes, and read the books you have had assigned, and strive to pass your exams and do well. Become like a little child, conscious that you depend on your parents to survive. They will protect you; they will provide for you; they will love you. So remember what Jesus said, that God reveals his glory to little children. Go to God, to one who is the best of all Fathers and ask him for help; ask him to teach you; ask him to help you understand things you don’t understand now. “Reveal the things of Jesus to me, dear Father,” and pray that as you come to church on Sundays and as you read some verses from the Bible each day. There will never be progress without that.
2. OUR LORD REJOICED IN GOD’S GOOD PLEASURE.
Jesus said, “Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Are you like Jesus? Do you say, “Yes,” to God? Or are you saying, “No,” to him? What is it? It seems to me that everyone is saying either yes or no to God. So let’s consider him. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ claims to be the God who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. Do you say, “Yes Father”? He is the God who gave you your first breath and has sustained you until now. In him you live and move and have your being. Do you say, “Yes Father”? He is the God who has blessed you with every good and perfect gift – intelligence, natural abilities, kind parents, a peaceful land and much prosperity. You are in debt to God for all of that. Do you say, “Yes Father”? He is the God who determined the redemption of this huge number of sinners. He sent his own Son into the world to live the righteous life they had failed to live and also to die an atoning death in their place. Full redemption has been accomplished for them so that there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Do you say, “Yes, Father,” to that? He is the God who will receive all who put their hopes in his Son, Jesus Christ. He that comes to Christ he will in no wise cast out. Do you say, “Yes, Father,” to that? He is the God who will teach you how you are to live day by day. He will give you his commandments and tell you the sort of mother you ought to be, and the sort of father, and husband and child. He will tell you that you are to love your neighbour as yourself, that you are to turn the other cheek if you are provoked, that if your enemy is hungry you are to feed him. Do you say, “Yes, Father,” to that? He will give you strength by his indwelling Spirit to keep those commandments and help you to present your body a living sacrifice to him day by day. He will enable you to fulfil your chief end in life, to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. Do you say, “Yes, Father” to that? He will test you with trials and will ask you to count them all joy. He will give you a thorn in the flesh and ask that you glorify in your infirmities. Can you say, “Yes, Father,” to that? Jesus the author of our faith said to God, “Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” He knew that before him lay the cross and shame of Golgotha, the agony and the dereliction, but he said “Yes, Father.” He was saying what the hymnist later said:
Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care
Is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall:
And so to him I leave it all. (Samuel Rodigast, 1640-1708).
If you can say at the toughest times, “Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure,” Then you are a Christian. Not a perfect Christian but a real Christian because grace has been given to you to say Almighty God, “Yes, Father” to all that he is, and all his decisions, and all his demands.
7th March 2010 GEOFF THOMAS