"Show Yourself to the World"|
Recently, I was reading a book of history that gave a cynical presentation of Christianity. The book was a brief account of world history, and the chapter I was reading was summarizing the world religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism). The text described Christianity as we know it to be essentially the invention of the apostle Paul. According to this, Paul had conceived the notion that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and that Jesus Himself was nothing more than a holy man who led a sect of the Jews.
The writer, who is obviously not a believer, based his opinion on the fact that Jesus did not openly proclaim Himself to be the Son of God. In fact, the writer asserted that Jesus never made this claim at all. This opinion conflicts with the New Testament, which records that Jesus did indeed claim to be the Son of God (Matt. 26:63-64; Luke 22:70; John 3:13-17; 5:17-47; 17:1-5). This belief was held by the early church before the influence of Paul, so the concept was certainly not his invention.
While I completely disagree with the writer’s characterization of Christianity, I do think that the Lord’s secrecy is something worth considering. Jesus so frequently commanded people not to tell others what He had done or who He was that this tendency must catch our notice. The following Scriptures all contain examples of these occasions: Matthew 8:4; 9:30; 12:14-21; 16:20; 17:9; Mark 1:44; 3:11-12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:30; 9:9; Luke 4:41; 8:56; 9:21.
Why did Jesus conduct Himself as He did? Why didn’t He boldly proclaim to everyone exactly who He was? This was the contention of the Lord’s brothers when they did not believe Him. They criticized Him for doing His works in Galilee, and said, “For no one does anything in secret, when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If you do these things, show Yourself to the world” (John 7:4). In other words, they were saying that if Jesus was the Christ, then He should have told everyone. Like the writer of my history book, some still contend this today.
First of all, we need to consider the Lord’s purpose for being on the earth. His primary purpose was to save men from their sins (John 3:16). He did not come to judge men or to rule men (John 3:17). He did not come primarily to heal the sick or perform other miracles, but rather those things were expedient to prove who He was (Acts 2:22). He did not come to become an attraction for the casually curious or to become a panacea for all of the world’s maladies. He did not come to cause political upheaval or overturn empires. He came to save the lost and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God.
Next, we should consider that the Lord’s conduct was the product of His character. Isaiah described the Messiah as a tender shoot growing in parched ground (Isa. 53:2). It would not be fitting for such a one to go about contentiously asserting Himself. Matthew explains this very well in Matthew 12:14-21. Rather than taking on the Pharisees, who wanted to destroy Him, Jesus withdrew from the cities and continued to heal in the less populated areas, commanding the people not to make Him known. This was in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1-4, which described the Christ as one who would be gentle and not quarrelsome. The passage says, “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.” He would not shout for war or raise an army against His enemies, who were self-destructing, but He would continue His mild and peaceful ways until He led “justice to victory.” He would become the greatest conqueror the world will ever know, yet He never forced Himself on anyone.
Finally, let us remember that God desires faith from His people. Hebrews 11:6 declares that “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” One essential element to faith is that it pertains to the unseen. Therefore, if Jesus had come in the glorified state in which He existed before His incarnation (John 17:5), then it would have been impossible for men to have faith in Him, for they would have seen Him as God. As it was, the Son of God came as a man so that He could die for men (Phil. 2:5-7; Heb. 2:17-18) and gave enough evidence of Himself that men may believe in Him without actually seeing His full glory (John 20:30-31; Acts 2:22). By His coming, Jesus gave us what we needed to have faith and thereby to please God.
The full truth about Jesus was at last declared without limits following His ascension back to the Father (Acts 2). The things that Jesus had ordered to be kept secret were all proclaimed and written so that we may have faith in Him. In Jesus, the full purpose of God was achieved according to His careful plan rather than the desires of men. The demands of the Lord’s brothers to show Himself to the world were met on His terms and not theirs (and thus they finally believed, Acts 1:14). Therefore, let us believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God based on the firm evidence that He has given us according to His will.
Stacey E. Durham
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