Text – Phil 3:7-14; Matt 17:1-9
This is an astonishing event. Jesus has been proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is inaugurated and now His disciples get to see that reality acted out before them. They witness Him transfigured and talking to Moses and Elijah. What they see is a living icon of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Additionally in speaking with men who long ago had entered the larger life, they see Jesus joining heaven to earth and earth to heaven. And then, right after they have this amazing experience, Jesus says to them, “Now don’t tell anybody.” What?
This is called the Messianic Secret and it is not the only time that He did this. In Matthew 9:30 the text says that He sternly warned two blind men that He healed saying, “See that no one hears about this.” In Matthew 12 we read “And many followed Him and He healed them all and ordered them not to make Him known.” (15,16). In Matthew 16, after He praised Peter for his confession, “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” verse 20 says “Then He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ.” There are more examples than these but I think you get the gist. It doesn’t make sense. We are singing “Go Tell IT On The Mountain” and Jesus is saying, “Hush child.”
There is, of course, a purpose for this Messianic secret. I want to argue that as we see what those purposes are then also we will see that even in this Jesus is our model and we can learn from Him.
What do we see in the Messianic Secret? First we see His humility. We get a compliment from the boss on a job well done and it goes on Facebook within 15 minutes. Jesus heals a bunch of folks and keeps it on the QT. It takes humility to do that. St. Paul says in Philippians that Jesus humbled Himself and became a servant and the Messianic Secret highlights that fact. His ministry was not to fulfill His ego. He didn’t measure His success by how many stadiums He filled. In fact when the crowds got very large He made His sayings even more difficult to hear and they left Him by the droves. Why did He do this? Because He didn’t come to make fans, He came to make disciples.
One of my favorite preachers is Max Lucado. He is among the most gifted communicators I have ever heard. A while ago Don and Dorrence led a class called Grace that was a DVD of Max teaching on that topic and it was extremely edifying. One of the things that endeared me to the series was the setting. As a world famous author and teacher Max could have recorded the series in any size venue that he choose but instead we see him teaching to about a dozen people in what looks like his study in his home. It is clear that Max’s goal is for us to understand grace, not to highlight himself, or to impress us with how famous he is.
To be honest, I think one of the ways that we stray from this kind of humility in Anglicanism is in our titles. I use them and I comply with them because who am I to change our traditions? Nevertheless I think sound like something that Monty Python made up. A deacon is the Reverend Mr. A priest is the Reverend Father. That’s weighty but not too bad. In fact I hear “Father” as a term of endearment more than a title. But then it goes down hill from there. If you are a Dean you are the Very Reverend, if you are a Bishop you are the Right Reverend and if you are an Archbishop you are the Most Reverend. We just need one more rank and we could have an “Exquisitely Reverend.” I love it that when our Bishop calls me he says “Hi Father Ray this is Foley Beach.” Out of respect for his office and for him as a man I do not call him by his Christian name but I think he is modeling Jesus’ humility when he speaks to me as a brother and a friend and not as a title.
Another aspect of humility that we see modeled by Jesus is that His secrecy is just the opposite of the very human temptation to win an argument, to prove ourselves right, or to give a perfectly timed “I told you so.” He didn’t heal the blind men and turn to the Pharisees and say the Aramaic equivalent of “booya.” Servants don’t have anything to prove, they just have a job to do.
We can follow Jesus example today in our personal relationships and in our use of social media. Humility should be our guide. One of the many things that I admire about my wife Beth is her humility and trust me that is NOT to be confused with her being a doormat. I can testify that you don’t want to try to walk on Beth Kasch. But where her humility shines is in her interactions with others. Although she has very strongly held convictions she does not feel a need to make them continually known. She does not enter every argument that she is invited to nor does she try to straighten the world out so that we all see things her way (even though she knows it would be a better world if we did). This type of humility is the kind that Jesus modeled for us. It is an all to rare attribute today, even in the Church, but we are better for it when we follow in His footsteps.
A second quality that we see modeled by Jesus in the Messianic Secret is wisdom. In John’s Gospel we read that when the people saw the signs that Jesus was doing many believed in Him. But then the text says this in the New Living Translation. “But Jesus didn’t trust them because He knew human nature.” He kept His signs as secretive as possible because He could not trust people to respond to them in the right way. They would follow Him because of the signs He was doing and not because the signs revealed who He is. They would follow Him because He healed them or because He cast out their demons not because He is the Way and the Truth and the Life.
His wisdom is revealed in that He loved people but He didn’t trust them and we could learn from Him here as well. I’m not advocating that we become cynics and curmudgeons rather that we become realists.
When I was first in ordained ministry I would find myself being wounded all the time because I believed the best about everyone. So it would crush me when folks acted self centered or vengeful or got on a power trip and came after me. That was a major reason that for a time I left ministry and went into social work. I didn’t want to become a cynic and I didn’t want to keep getting wounded and so it was easier for me to take my ball and go home. But then the light came on for me when a mentor said to me, “Ray what did you expect? They are all sinners and so are you.” So I had to learn the difficult lesson of distinguishing between loving people and entrusting myself to people. I love the sheep of Jesus’ fold but I am no longer surprised when they act like goats. I’m also no longer surprised when I act like a goat. What do I do? I repent, pray about it and move on. Otherwise you get stuck in goatiness.
The third and I think most important quality we see about Jesus in His Messianic Secret is His priorities. The longer that He could keep His true identity a secret, the easier it would be for Him to fulfill the will of His Father. We see two occasions in Scripture where crowds that realized who He was had a very different agenda for Him than that of doing the Father’s will. On one occasion they realized who He was and they tried to throw Him off a cliff. On another occasion they realized who He was and they tried to crown Him king. The irony of these two reactions was that He had come to die, but not by their hands and He would be crowned king but also not by their hands. It would be done in the Father’s timing and in the Father’s way.
Pleasing His Father was His main priority and that meant that He could not make it a priority to please the people. I saw a great T-shirt. It said, “I can only please one person per day and today is not your day and tomorrow is not looking too good either.” That is a pretty good motto to have if the one Person that we please each day is the Lord.
Most of you know I have a close relationship with Pastor Ronnie of Springhouse in Smyrna. He has quite a large church that I would estimate to be around 800. We have talked a lot about Church and I have seen him relate both to parishioners and to leaders over the years and I believe him be very Christ-like in his priorities. It would be very easy for Pastor Ronnie to think that with 800 parishioners that he has 800 bosses and his job is to make as many of his bosses happy as possible. It would be very easy for him to be a yes man and a people pleaser and preach whatever it is that would keep them coming back. But that is not how Pastor Ronnie is wired. He is a man of character and strength and he will tell you in a heartbeat that He has only one Boss and so there is only one Person that he needs to please. There is no pretense in him so what you see is what you get. If you like what they do at Springhouse he would love to have you on board but if not there are plenty of other churches to chose from. His vision for Springhouse comes from spending time with the Lord not from taking a poll. Back to point two, like Jesus, Pastor Ronnie knows human nature. Polls tell us what the crowd wants, they do not tell us the Father’s will. That is discovered through reading Scripture, prayer, fellowship and watching which way the wind of the Spirit is blowing.
I bring Pastor Ronnie up as an example to encourage you that it is possible to follow Jesus’ example in making the Father’s will THE priority of your lives. Isn’t that what we are praying for every day when we pray the Lord’s Prayer? Thy kingdom come, thy will be done? That what we are doing when we follow Jesus example in the Garden and pray, “nevertheless not my will but thine be done.”
How do we go about living this kind of priority? St. Paul gives us a very practical example in his letter to the Philippians. He says that compared to the value of gaining Christ and being found in Him he considers everything else to be junk. There may be a little hyperbole here but he on to something.
I worked hard to get my degrees and they have served me well but which of them is going to get me into heaven? Beth and I have worked hard over the years and we have a nice home and some nice possessions but how many of those things will we be taking with us? I have some hobbies I enjoy like fishing and shooting and working with my bees but honey will never wash away my guilt and shame. So there truly is nothing of greater value than gaining Christ and being found in Him and in fact there is not even a close second. Therefore this makes seeking first the kingdom of God the most sensible thing that we can do in life.
One final point about the Messianic Secret. Jesus told them to tell no one until after the Son of Man is raised from the dead. That has happened so please feel free to share. Amen.