An Invitation to Mystery: Jesus and the Revelation of God
At that time Jesus 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 infants. Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure. All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal Him.” (Matthew 11:25–27)
In Jesus’s paradoxical prayer of rejoicing, he praises the Father for hiding certain things from the world’s elite and instead revealing them to “infants” — to children and to the childlike. The specific hidden things he’s referencing here are the subjects of the entire gospel of Matthew so far: the identity of Jesus as God’s Son and Messiah, and the dawn of the kingdom of God.
Even today, people sometimes ask why God doesn’t just show up and make himself undeniably obvious. If he is real and the claims of Christianity are true, why not just rend the curtain of reality NOW and show himself to everyone?
But there’s something in the nature of God, and in the character of his unfolding kingdom plan, that delights in hiddenness — in secrets — in being sought and found.
The Father delights in sharing himself and his secrets with the small, helpless, innocent, and childlike, and he equally delights in hiding himself from the proud, egotistical, and powerful. He does not throw pearls before swine, but reserves them for those who are childlike enough to value them.
The Hiddenness of God
That God is hidden is evident. If you and I step outside, I can point out a thousand reasons to believe in God, but I can’t point to him; he is invisible, he is spirit, and our eyes are not fully open to the spiritual world. This is so by God’s design.
And if God is hidden, and we are not capable of penetrating the veil that hides him ¬ — through our own wisdom, reason, cleverness, or logic; or, by contrast, through our own efforts, feelings, or innate spirituality — then if we are ever to truly KNOW God, we need him to reveal himself.
This is the claim of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) as contrasted to the claims of Eastern religions or modern humanism: While we believe that God witnesses to his existence and nature through creation and conscience (Romans 1–2), we do NOT believe that God can be fully known through human effort — be it through reason and logic or through “looking within,” meditation, or disengagement from the material.
We are not God, after all; and he is not us. If we’re to know God at all, we have to know him through his revelation of himself. We can know God only as he makes himself known.
This is why all three Abrahamic religions are predicated on historic instances of the outside-breaking-in: God, we say, revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God inspired the authoritative Scriptures, which contain his words and a great deal of self-revelation through them; God sent angels, gave visions, worked miracles, and anointed prophets. It’s always God taking the initiative to begin and grow relationship with us.
Within an Abrahamic worldview, we don’t find God so much as he finds us, and then gives us a path by which to know him.
(Of course, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism diverge at crucial points: they do not offer the same path to know God, and Jesus is unequivocal about his way being the only way [see John 14:6, for example]. I believe Jesus on this. But the starting point — that we can’t know God unless he reveals himself to us — is foundational to all three religions.)
So God is hidden, and we can’t come to him unless he first comes to us. The important question then is, How does God come to us? How and where does he reveal himself?
In this passage in Matthew, Jesus stands up and declares that he alone, in all the world and in all of history, can reveal the Father to human beings. He alone knows the Father — not in the sense of knowing about him, but of truly knowing him, relationally and with full comprehension and understanding.
And in a beautiful moment of mystery, Jesus also tells his followers that the Father alone knows him. Despite the fact that Jesus was surrounded by his closest friends and disciples, despite the fact that he’d grown up in a human family, despite the fact that John the Baptist and all the prophets knew and declared important things about him, yet Jesus remained a mystery.
“You see me,” he said in effect, “but you don’t really know me. Not truly. Not yet.”
The Mystery of the Trinity
Jesus said the Father had “entrusted” all things, and specifically this task of revealing all things about God and the kingdom of God, to him. The Greek word is paradidomi; properly, “to give into the hands of another.” The Father trusts Jesus with the precious task of revealing him to human beings. Jesus is trustworthy: with this task given to him, he can be relied on to steward it carefully and carry it out well.
If we want to know God, really know him, the only way is to entrust ourselves to the Trustworthy One. The only way we can enter into the mystery of who God is, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to go to Jesus. In his life, his teaching, his sacrifice, and his resurrection, he shows us the Father — and in a daily, relational walk of faith, we can know him.
There is something else happening here that’s important: for the first time in Matthew, the mystery of the Trinity really comes into focus. It has been glimpsed earlier: in Jesus’s miraculous birth, in his baptism — attended by the voice of the Father and the Holy Spirit in the visible form of a dove — and in his oblique response to John the Baptist. But here, we clearly see the mystery of Jesus’s oneness with the Father and concurrent distinctiveness from him.
Jesus wants to speak to us. He wants to open our eyes to the mysteries of God and help us to comprehend them. No one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son desires to reveal him.
The Mystery of Childlikeness
According to Jesus, God’s self-revelation is rooted in delight and desire. He reveals himself to children (natural children and spiritual ones) because it is his “good pleasure” to do so; he delights in making himself known this way. And Jesus reveals the Father to whomever he desires to do so.
Desire and delight drive God’s self-revelation to us, and they show us something about why he wants to reveal himself to the childlike — it’s because he himself is childlike in the way he relates to us, in the way he discloses himself. He isn’t calculating; he doesn’t choose people for how they can advance his cause in the world — for how he can use them. He comes to us with sincere love, affection, and desire for a deep and loyal experience of love.
We, all of us, are already too callous and cold and selfish to know God this way, so we must regress to childhood if we’re going to receive him — to simple trust, simple desire, simple need, simple openness.
For Jesus’s disciples, this “pilgrim’s regress” was a journey. It is for us as well. We could never go it alone, but thankfully, we don’t have to — the Son, who is still a mystery to us in so many ways, has come to take our hands and lead us on. He desires to make God known to us. He is able to do so.
All we need to do is come.
This is Part 201 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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