“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth…” ~Matthew 11:25
John the Baptist is the one who knows more about the coming Messiah than anyone else in the world. He’s been ordained by God, commissioned to prepare the way for the Holy One of Israel. And in Matthew 11, with John in jail and Herod acting more arrogantly and ruling more aggressively than ever, the desert proclaimer begins to doubt. He questions. From his prison cell, through his disciples, he asks Jesus, “So are you the one, or what?”
The people who know Jesus the best, his own family and friends, are ignoring him. The very ones he worshiped with and grew up with and played with and worked with in the villages of Capernaum and Bethsaida and Korazin are not accepting Jesus as Lord. They’re not repenting. They’re not turning to God as a result of Jesus’ teachings and miracles.
The situation in Jesus’ Kingdom life is not good. His mission. His calling from God. His whole purpose for coming to earth. Everything Jesus stood for and sacrificed for and was working for. None of it was going very well. He was running into dead ends and roadblocks. Barriers and hard hearts. Misunderstanding and indifference.
And this from the people who all should have known better.
If I’m Jesus — and, yes, I know I’m not; I’m reminded every day —I’m looking at John and these neighbors of mine and I’m maybe beginning to question all of it, too. Maybe I’d better do something different. Maybe they’re right. No crowds. Nobody’s lives are changing. I need to try something else. I need to be bigger and louder and brighter. We need bigger screens. More video. Maybe I should lose the tie. Tell more jokes. Be funnier. We should maybe set up a coffee shop or a book store. I should probably stop saying words like “sin” and “salvation” and “Zion.”
If I were Jesus, I’d look at the misunderstandings and indifference and say, “Why isn’t God helping me here? Why isn’t God doing anything? What’s the deal?”
Instead, Jesus prays thanksgiving to God.
“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.”
Jesus knows that God’s way is to work his gracious will, to fulfill his marvelous plans for the universe through the childlike. The simple. The humble. Those who don’t think they are themselves some kind of gods. God works through people who understand very plainly their deep need for him.
The point is this: none of this throws Jesus off. The fact that John misunderstands what’s happening with Jesus doesn’t derail him. Jesus doesn’t slam on the brakes when the villagers reject him. None of this slows our Savior down.
Not so with us. We can get caught up in junk like this. I know I can. I know whole churches that can.
There are so many conditions in God’s Church and in this country and in this world that cause us to wring our hands and gnash our teeth. Oh, the Church is in trouble! Oh, people aren’t captivated by the Bible anymore! Postmoderns won’t ever believe the absolute truth of salvation in God through Christ! And we worry and get anxious and write articles and teach classes and rail against systems and complain about programs. And we get so worked up because God’s not working anymore.
But this prayer from Jesus puts everything in perspective. It brings us back to base.
The powerful and unstoppable energies of the Kingdom of God are always moving, always growing, always surging just beneath the surface. All around us. Huge rivers of prayer and faith and hope and praise and forgiveness and salvation and rescue and holiness flow right by us every day. In every single nook and cranny, hidden in the shadows, overlooked in the crowds, drowned out by the noise, are these humble infants. These little children.
Not just for the day and the weather and the beauty of nature. Not just for family and friends and food and clothes and shelter. Not just for good things in good circumstances. But, thanksgiving in — yes! — less than ideal situations. Thanksgiving offered in faith that our God is very much alive and active and working in mighty ways that we don’t always see.