Jean’s Gospel: The Hidden Gospel
The Hidden Gospel
“At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over 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. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.’ ” (Matt 11:25-30)
What an amazing God we have, who hides himself so that He might save us. If you have ever wondered why Christ came for us in such an inauspicious and defenseless manner, our text this week provides us with the answer.
What has the Father hidden?
Jesus begins His prayer by thanking His Father for hiding “these things.” What are “these things?” “These things” pertain to the Father’s gracious will to reveal himself in Christ. Jesus said: “All things have been handed over 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.”
Jesus, the Son, has a divine relationship with the Father, hidden in His incarnation. As the Christ, Jesus is uniquely able to reveal God and communicate His mercy and grace to the world in ways which surpass Israel’s former temple worship, prophets and kings. In Matthew Chapter 12, Jesus says of himself:
- “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” (Matt 12:6) In Jesus, God is present with His people in a fullness and reality, surpassing the presence of God formerly associated with, and manifested in, the temple in Jerusalem.
- “behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matt 12:41) In Jesus, God’s Word comes to men more fully, more directly and more potently than it ever came by the mouth of any of Israel’s prophets.
- “behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” (Matt 12:42) In Jesus, the fullness of the kingdom of God is a present reality on earth, surpassing the kingdoms of Israel’s greatest kings.
But “these things” are hidden.
Why has the Father hidden “these things”?
Jesus thanks His Father, because by hiding “these things,” God’s saving purposes are made universal. Praying to His Father, Jesus said: “you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” At first glance this may look like the language of eternal foreknowledge or election, but that is not the point at all.
What distinguishes “the wise and understanding” from “little children,” is that only little children acknowledge their helplessness and submit to another for every good thing. This is how God’s grace must be received by mankind. We must be emptied of all pretenses that there is anything good in ourselves before God, so that Jesus may fill us with His goodness, that is, with forgiveness, life and salvation.
How are “these things” hidden?
Jesus says: “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” For a little child, or someone laboring under a heavy burden of sin, Jesus reveals God as a merciful Father who will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick (see Matt 12:20). But to the “wise and understanding,” Jesus is an offense. Although “these things” are the pearl of inestimable value, when they are present in One who is “gentle and lowly in heart,” they are incapable of impressing the wise the way the wise want to be impressed. Thus, Jesus’ warning is executed: “from the one who has not [faith in Jesus], even what he has will be taken away.” (Matt 13:12)
Some men saw Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard (Matt 11:19); others as a servant of Beelzebul (Matt 12:24). Most, however, simply refused to believe that the carpenter’s son from Nazareth could be the Christ. So hidden was the glory of God in Jesus that even poor John the Baptist, rotting away in Herod’s prison, harbored momentary doubts: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt 11:3)
But God hid “these things,” not by their absence, but by their very presence. Jesus worked and preached openly. When the Baptist’s disciples brought John’s question to Jesus, He said: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matt 11:4-5) Although Jesus had private conversations, He came with only one Gospel, which he proclaimed openly before all.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.” (Matt 11:28-30)
Our text concludes with Jesus’ universal call: “Come to me, all….” The “all” includes all of us. It is a message and invitation which are not hidden from those who acknowledge that all our labor is in vain and our burdens are heavy. We labor under the burden of sin: our sins and the sins of the world around us. Sin has corrupted the entire creation. We are powerless to free ourselves from our burdens.
But if we are powerless to free ourselves, Jesus is not. He labored and suffered and died alone for our sins, which He conquered by rising from the dead. Therefore, in Jesus our sins are forgiven; the burden is lifted.
Jesus atoned for the sins of the whole world. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason why we should carry them any longer. In fact, Jesus commands us to release our burdens to Him. He will bare them. He will give us rest.
How do we give our burdens to Jesus? Jesus answered: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me”. This is a call to discipleship similar to the commission that Jesus gave the disciples after His resurrection: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20)
Jesus describes a disciple’s yoke as “easy” (or “kindly”) and His burden as “light.” Moreover, under Jesus’ yoke, a disciple finds “rest” for his soul. Again, this is offensive to anyone who thinks God measures us by our obedience, morality or any other human contribution to the grace of God in Christ. Here we must silence the voices of the wise and trust entirely in the promises of Christ, who says: “For to the one who has [faith in Jesus], more will be given, and he will have an abundance” (Matt 13:12). Amen.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3) Amen.
See Martin H. Franzmann, Follow Me: Discipleship According to Matthew (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961), Chapter IV, from whom I borrowed ideas for this article.