Matthew: Tribute to the Forerunner of the Kingdom, Part 4: God’s Sovereignty and the Free Offer Part 2

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on February 10, 1998

Matthew 11:25-30

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Please turn with me in your bibles to Matthew chapter 11.  Last week we saw the majesty of Christ displayed in His pronouncement of judgment against those cities which had heard the gospel of peace preached, and yet were not repenting.  Today, we will see His majesty in this glorious invitation which He issues.  Let’s hear God’s holy and inspired word beginning in Matthew chapter 11 verse 25.  

Matthew 11:25-30 

Our Father, we bow before You this day acknowledging Your sovereignty and Your goodness.  And we ask that in this great passage You would cause great light to break forth into our hearts as we hear it, as we receive it, as we humbly sit under Your teaching.  We pray, heavenly Father, that You would apply its truth to our lives and that we would be changed by the realities to which it calls us.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  

Last week we observed that Matthew chapter 11 verses 20-30, the last verses of this great chapter  contained some of the clearest statements about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility placed side by side in all of the scripture.  And we noted some of the assertions about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility found in that passage.  In fact, we tried to raise some particular theological problems which those concepts set forth.  I’d like to remind you of a few of the things that we saw last week, and then I’d like to point you to several things that we’ll find in our passage today. 

You’ll remember that last week in verses 20-24, Jesus reminds us that not everyone has the same exposure to the gospel.  The cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum had much greater exposure to the gospel of peace than did the cities ofTyre and Sidon and Sodom.  Now you may say, “That’s not fair.”  But that’s what Christ said.  He said that it was just the case that there was more gospel light shed on those later cities than the former.  Now it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the Lord Jesus went on to say that had the cities of Sodom and Tyre and Sidon heard the gospel like it had been presented to those surrounding cities, that they would have responded.  But the Lord Jesus makes it clear that not everyone has the same exposure to the gospel.  He just puts it out on the table.  He doesn’t give any explanation.  He doesn’t give a defense.  He just says, “That’s the way it is.” 

Notice also in verses 20-24, that Jesus indicates that the cities of Tyre and Sidon would have repented had they heard the message which He and His disciples had preached.  Now even though that’s a figure of speech designed to prick the consciences of those religious Jewish folk who were living in those cities, by saying to them even those pagans, even those Gentiles, would have repented if they had heard the preaching that you have heard, even though that statement is a statement designed to provoke,  it raises an interesting question. 

Why is it that some sinners repent and others don’t?  Why do they?  I mean we’re all sinners.  So why is it that some sinners repent and others don’t?  Some people would say, “Well that answer is to be found in the will of man.  Some by their own free will choose to repent and others by their own free will choose to reject God.”  The Lord Jesus actually muddies that answer in the statement He makes in verse 25.  I point your attention to it.  In verse 25, He thanks God the Father for actually hiding spiritual truth from some people.  He hints that the answer to why some do not respond and why others do is to be found in the eternal counsel of the sovereign Father,  even though He goes on in a few verses to invite all to come to Him.  Now, I want to remind you this is not Calvin writing this passage.  This is the Lord Jesus.  You may not like what He’s saying, but it’s crystal clear.  It may be confusing to you.  You may not be able to sort it all out.  But Jesus is making these assertions, not some mean old Calvinist minister. 

In verse 26,  He gives us another problem to think about.  In verse 26, He attributes the distinction between those who are wise in their own eyes and who reject God, with those who are humble and embrace God.  He says, “For Lord it was well-pleasing in Your sight.  It was what Your pleasure was.  It was Your will, O Lord.” 

And in verse 27 He goes on to say “That no one can know God the Father unless He,  Jesus, reveals Him.”  He claims exclusive prerogative to reveal the Father savingly to them.  Now those are hard words.  Strong words.  Profound words.  And we won’t solve all the answers to those questions.  But I did want to bother you with those questions for a few moments today, because they are good things to think about.  They are good things to ponder.  It might move you to go back and pick up a commentary and look at this passage again and reflect on some of these things.  It’s good to chew on hard questions like that.  The Lord builds us up, He humbles us, and He builds us up by His word. 

But today I want to follow the thrust of the outline that Matthew gives us here in verses 25 through 30. And I want you to see the truths which He lays forth for us successfully there,  because in verses 25 and 26 what we have basically is a prayer of the Lord Jesus to His heavenly Father.  In verse 27 what we have is a preface in which Jesus describes Himself in order that we will believe what He’s going to tell us in verses 28 through 30.  And then in verses 28 through 30, we have a grand invitation in which the Lord Jesus invites sinners to come to Him and to find rest.  And I’d like to look at those passages with you.  Just reminding you again that the great theme of Matthew 11 is the majesty of Christ, and we see that majesty in all its sovereign glory displayed in verses 25 through 30. 

I.    Bible-believing Christians will joyfully acknowledge that God the Father is sovereign in salvation
Let me turn your attention to verses 25 and 26.  Here, as the disciples return from preaching in the villages,  Jesus responds with a prayer to the heavenly Father.  At this time, Jesus says, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the  intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this was well-pleasing in Your sight.”  In the context of these words, the Lord Jesus had just pronounced a curse on the cities that did not repent at His preaching.  In verses 20 through 24 we see the sad spectacle of people who had heard the Lord Jesus preach and had seen the Lord Jesus do miracles and yet they had not responded to Him.  At the same time, Luke tells us that His disciples had just come back from their  preaching mission and that they had reported that some had responded to the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of peace, while others had rejected it. 

And in this moment when the Lord Jesus could have been profoundly discouraged.  Here is the first great effort to spread the gospel to the surrounding countryside and many, many, many people  had rejected that message, had rejected His miracles.  He could have been very downcast. I want you to see that in that context, the Lord Jesus lifts up a prayer of thanksgiving to His heavenly Father.  Christ’s heart was tender toward sinners.  We see it even in the way He approached the rich young ruler.  For we are told that He felt a love for him even though that man had gone away sorrowing.  And Jesus’ heart must have been downcast at the unbelief of the cities in which He had done His miracles and the cities in which His gospel had been preached.

But here He lifts up a prayer of thanksgiving to His heavenly Father, and in that prayer He contemplates God’s sovereignty.  He contemplates God’s wisdom.  And He contemplates the fact that God has caused some to respond to the gospel. 

Look at what He does there.  In this prayer first of all He praises God as sovereign.  “This was well-pleasing in your sight,” He says.  As He could have been discouraged by His circumstances, He takes encouragement in that whatever response had occurred, in the preaching of His disciples and in response to His own miracles, it was according to the Father’s will.  He thanks God for His wisdom.  It pleased the Father to reveal the gospel of grace to those who were humble and to hide it from those who were proud.  And He takes comfort in the fact that that was the wisdom of God for that circumstance. 

But notice also He delights in the fact that the Father had called to Himself those who are infants.  He had a remnant in Israel who was going to hear the word of Christ and respond to it and embrace all the promises of Abraham.  And so Christ is encouraged by these three things.

When we find ourselves in discouraging circumstances, the last thing that we tend to do is to thank God.  But the Lord Jesus’ example here reminds us that we ourselves ought to take comfort in God, in His decree, in His wisdom, in His faithfulness, and in His promises.  For the Lord Jesus, in this time where He could have been  downcast, actually lifts up a prayer of  thanksgiving to the Father.   It reminds you, doesn’t it, of Job. But when He had heard the final blow, “Not only are your houses and your lands lost, but your children and your  grandchildren have been killed,” he offers up the prayer, “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.” He thanks God even in the midst of the most devastating circumstances and so does the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thanksgiving to God is an answer and an antidote to disquieting and dark thoughts.  And sometimes God even will use thanksgiving to silence those thoughts.  And the Lord Jesus approaches the Father in just this circumstance. 

I would note that the Lord Jesus does approach the God of heaven and earth as His Father.  He prays, “O My Father, Lord of heaven and earth.”  He approaches God as His Father.  The Lord Jesus, of course, did this constantly.  Praying to “My” Father, whereas He called His disciples to pray to “our” Father, indicating that He had a special relationship with the heavenly Father.  But isn’t it interesting that precisely in this time of discouragement Christ highlights the fact that God is His Father. 

We, ourselves, ought to draw encouragement in discouraging times by reminding ourselves that our God is by adoption our Father.  Langston Haygood, a PCA minister, lectured at Beeson Divinity School last year and told the story of how God dealt with him and his life.  And in the course of the story he told of one day when he heard his daughter running down the hall outside of the bathroom as he was shaving one morning.  She was announcing to her mother that she was going to find her father, in fact, she said,  “I’m going to find my daddy and when I do he’s going to love me.” And he said those words came  through to him with great spiritual force when he realized her confidence that once she was in his  presence, he was going to love her.  She was absolutely confident of that fact.  And he said, “I ought to have that kind of confidence when I go into the presence of my heavenly Father.  That when I’m in His presence He’s going to love me.”  And that is precisely the confidence that the Lord Jesus had.  That God’s will, that God’s purposes for Him  would be good because He was His Father. 

Notice Jesus’ reverences God as the Lord of heaven and earth.  He acknowledges that He is  sovereign.  So often we go to our parents for comfort and they want to comfort us but they don’t have the power to comfort us.  It breaks their heart because they want to make it right, they want to fix it, they want the pain to go away  mmediately.  But our heavenly Father has the power to fix it, because He is the Sovereign in heaven and in earth.  And I want you to note the things that Jesus thanks God for in this passage.  He thanks the Lord for three things. 

First of all He thanks the Lord that the gospel is revealed.  Under the old covenant, the gospel had been set forth in shadows, in types, in promises and in prophecies.  But now in the preaching of  Christ,  in the miracles of Christ, and in the preaching of the disciples, the gospel was being set forth clearly.  The Old Testament was coming to fulfillment and to fruition and new life was breaking forth in the land.  And the Lord Jesus praises the Father that this mystery is being revealed in the fullness of time.       

But notice He goes on to thank God that God is specifically revealing that gospel to those who are humble: “I praise You that You have revealed this to babes.”  Jesus is highlighting the unexpected character of the gospel.  Those who were great, those who were thought well of,  those who were mighty and powerful in the land; they were rejecting the gospel.  But those who were humble, those who were not the center of attention in the land; they were embracing the gospel.  And so He praises God for the unexpected character of His decree.  He came not to give to those who had much, but to give to those who realized that they had little. 

Notice also, He praises His father for the fact that His gospel has been magnified, His mercy has been magnified, because it is not revealed to the wise.  “I praise you that you have not revealed, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and you have revealed them to babes.”  God makes a distinction.  Jesus says, not only have you revealed these things to the humble, you’ve not revealed these things to the proud.  He makes a distinction between those who have embraced the gospel and those who have rejected it.  And He does so so that those who have embraced it will realize how great the mercy of God is toward them.  It is what we might call a distinguishing mark.  And Matthew Henry reminds us  that distinguishing favors are most obliging.  In other words, when we see that God has had mercy on us, it ought to move us not to be proud or conceited, but to contemplate the fact that there are many others who have not received the mercy of God.  And it ought to move us to praise God and to love Him more for what He has done for us. 

So often still today, the intelligent, and the educated, and the self-sufficient are the ones who reject God.  J. C. Ryle says, “One event stands out in Scripture as a great practical truth to be had in everlasting remembrance.  Those from whom the gospel is hidden are generally the wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight.  Those to whom the gospel is revealed are generally humble, simple-minded and willing to learn.”  And that is why Calvin said that “Teachableness was the first step in spiritual life.”  For James has told us in James 4:6,  “God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.”  And J. C. Ryle goes on to say this, and it’s a word of warning to us, “Let us watch against pride in every shape.  Pride of intellect.  Pride of wealth.  Pride in our own goodness.  Pride in what we think we deserve.  Nothing is so likely to keep a man out of heaven and to prevent him from seeing Christ as pride.  So long as we think that we are something, we shall never be saved.  Let us pray for and cultivate humility.  Let us seek to know ourselves aright and to find out our place in the sight of a holy God.  The beginning of the way to heaven is to feel that we are on the way to hell and to be willing to be taught of the spirit.” 

Do we contemplate the  distinguishing favors of God towards us?  Do we sense how awesome a privilege it is to have received the mercy, the grace of Christ?  The song that we sang last year for the missions conference is a meditation on the distinguishing favors of God.  If you take your hymnals and  look at number 469 you’ll see Isaac Watts’ hymn, How Sweet and Awesome is the Place. And that whole hymn is a meditation on the distinguishing favors of God. It reflects on the fact that God has shown His mercy to us in Christ, though there are many others who have rejected Him.  Look at verse 2.  “While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast,  (the picture is the marriage feast of the lamb) each of us cries with thankful tongue, ‘Lord, why was I a guest?’”  Do you contemplate that question?  Why Lord,  was favor shown to me?  The Lord’s favor doesn’t puff us up; it humbles us.  Why Lord?  I don’t deserve it. 

Notice His answer.  It goes on in verse 3.  “Why was I made to hear Your voice, and enter while there’s room, when thousands make a wretched choice and rather starve than come.”  His answer, “Twas the same love that spread the feast, that sweetly drew us in, else,  (otherwise) we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin.”  Notice that Watts does not locate the distinction between his receiving the grace of God in his (Watts’) will, but in the love of God.  And it doesn’t lead him to pride; it leads him to be humble and to marvel before the wonderful grace of God.  Do we contemplate those distinguishing favors? We ought to if we are going to be like our Lord 

II. Bible-believing Christians will joyfully acknowledge that God the Son is sovereign in salvation
Look then in verse 27, because here we also see the sovereignty of God in salvation set forth. In verses 25 and 26 we see God the Father sovereign in salvation.  In verse 27, we see God the Son sovereign in salvation.  In this passage, Jesus in one sentence is giving us a preface to His call, His gospel call, His gospel invitation which He’s going to give to us in verses 28 through 30.  And in this one sentence, He is going to set forth before us His authority and His credentials. Why?  Because He is about to make an invitation that is going to boggle our minds.  If a human were to make an invitation like the one that He’s going to make in verses 28 through 30, we would say that it was ridiculous.  We would say that that human was deluded.  Or we would say that that human was absolutely sinister and wicked for making such an invitation that the Lord Jesus is going to make in verses 28 through 30.  So before He makes that  invitation, He’s going to remind you of who He is.  And He asserts four things in that packed sentence about who He is. 

First of all notice, “All things have been handed over to me by the Father.”  He tells us that He has exclusive and absolute authority.  And that phrase not only points back to the covenant of redemption before time, in which the Father and the Son agreed to take their part in the redemption of all of their people, but it also looks forward to the ascension.  Jesus is saying this word as if it has already occurred.  But He’s looking forward to the ascension.  After the crucifixion.  After the death.  After the burial.  After the resurrection.  When He ascends on high to the right hand of God and sits down at the throne and takes control of all authority in the universe for the sake of His people.  And He reminds His disciples here “That all authority has been given to Me.”  This is the person who is going to say, “Come to Me.”  One who has all authority.  Because a sinner wants to know, “Does this man know what I need and does He have what I need?”  Well, here’s His first answer:  “All authority is given to Me.” 

The second thing He says is that “No one knows the Father and no one knows the Son except the Father.” He claims to have an exclusive relationship.  The Father has an exclusive  relationship with Him.  The Son is pointing to the intimacy that He has with the heavenly Father. Salvation is knowing God.  The Lord Jesus is saying,  “God knows Me.”   And in the next phrase He’s going to say, “And I know God like no one else knows Him.”  So again, as the sinner asks, “Does this man know what I need, and does He have what I need?”  He’s answering that question before we can ask it.  Look again, He says “Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son.” He is claiming an exclusive understanding of an exclusive relationship with the heavenly Father.  These were good Jewish folks.  And He’s standing in front of  them and He’s basically saying,  “Moses didn’t have an inkling of what the Father was like in comparison to Me.  Elijah didn’t have a clue about who God the Father is.  I know Him exclusively.  There’s nobody in the universe who knows God like I know Him.  And if salvation is knowing God, then you’ve got to come through Me.” 

And finally He says this, “And anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”  He is claiming the exclusive ability to reveal God to men savingly.  And notice that the thrust of those words are the will of the Son, “And anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”  He’s saying,  “It’s up to Me.  Whoever I wish, whoever I will, will know the heavenly Father.” This revelation about Himself serves to give us confidence to believe the amazing words which He is about to speak in verses 28 through 30. Because the true happiness of man lies in knowing God.  And the Lord Jesus Christ is saying, ‘If you want to know God, you must come to Me.’  

III. Bible-believing Christians will be no more restrictive in their entreaties with unbelievers than was our Lord
And then those words come, in verse 28.  “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Look at what Christ promises there in verse 28.  He promises rest.  Spiritual rest.  True rest to those who come to Him.  He calls those who are heavy laden.  That is those who are burdened with sin.  They know their sin, they know were they to stand  before God, they would be pronounced guilty.  Rightly so.  They’re not ready to argue that point.  They know.  They’re burdened by that sin.  They know they’re without hope apart from the mercy of God.  And He comes precisely to those who are burdened in their conscience.  And He says, “I will give you true rest.  Spiritual rest.” 

Notice again, He calls them to Himself.  This is the most amazing antidote that you’ll ever get to spiritual illness.  Every pastor, every counselor in this room wishes that this was the answer to the problems of those who come to see us.  We wish that every time you came into our offices and you poured your broken hearts out and you said,  “What do I do?”  that we could say, “Well, okay, here’s the answer, come to me.”  It doesn’t work that way.  But the Lord Jesus can say,  “Here’s the answer to your problem, you come to Me.  You come to Me.  You trust in Me.  You place your faith on Me.”  You see, if a human being made this claim, we would rightly scorn them, that the answer to our problems is to come to them to have faith in them to trust in them.  No human can make that claim, but Christ can.  And He does:  “If you are aware of your sin, if you know that you are rightly condemned under the just judgment of God, you come to Me.  That’s the answer.  If you are discouraged and there is no hope, you come to Me.  I am your answer.  It’s not that I will give you an answer, I am your answer.”

And then, notice that He promises blessing to all who come.  “I will give you rest.”  Rest from the terror of sin.  Rest from the guilt of sin.  Peace of conscience He promises.  Rest in God.  Rest from the power of sin.  A fullness of the sense of God’s love.  He promises these people  rest.  True rest. 

And, of course, in verse 29 He also calls them into service.  It’s not just rest.  It’s not just blessing.  It’s not just peace that Christ calls us to; it’s also service.  He says there, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”  He calls us into service, into His school to learn from Him.  And I want to remind you that this is the only place in all of Scripture where the heart of Christ is named.  He tells you, “You want to know what’s in my heart? You look at my heart.  I am gentle, and I am humble.  That’s My heart.  You look at My heart.”  This is so vital, because as sinners realize their sin and they realize the justice of God, their natural reaction is not to run towards God.  The natural reaction is to run away.  Why?  Because they know that they ought to be condemned. And they know that God almighty has the power to do that condemnation. 

Why in the world would that sinner want to come to God?  And the Lord Jesus says here’s your answer.  Three things. 

First of all He says, “I am gentle.” The Lord Jesus is reminding us there that He will not break the bruised reed.  When are we most vulnerable?  When you have to repent it hurts.  It hurts to be humiliated before those you love, as you admit what you’ve done and what you are.  That you haven’t been as good as you looked on the outside.  It’s devastating to divulge some of the things about ourselves that we work so hard to protect.  And the Lord Jesus Christ is  saying, “You come to me with all those  things.  First of all, I know them all anyway.  And I’ve still loved you.  But you come to me with all those things and I will deal with you gently.  I will not abuse you.  I’m here to heal you.  Not to make fun of you.  Not to humiliate you.  You come to Me.”

And then He says, “And I am humble.” The Lord Jesus Christ’s heart of humility calls the sick sinner to Himself and He says, ‘I’ll care for you.  The God of the universe I am, and I’ll care for you.” And then He says this last thing, “I will give you rest.”  He promises peace if the sinner will disarm himself, if the sinner will be honest about himself, if the sinner will admit what he is, and what she has done.  If they will lay themselves bare before Him.  And He says “When you expose yourself like that, I will take care of you.  And I will give you rest.” 

Now God the Father said,  “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.  You listen to Him.”  So you listen to Him now.  Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Trust in Christ.  Let’s pray. 

Our heavenly Father, we cannot do justice to such a passage.  We’re just rejoicing in the fact that it’s the truth.  By the Spirit cause everyone in this place, believer or not, to realize to understand to have revealed to them the truth of this word.  And then to embrace it by faith.  We ask it in Jesus name.  Amen.

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