Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why You Don’t Need to Know

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 17, 2012
There’s a difference between not knowing and uncertainty. You can have quite a bit of knowledge about something and still be uncertain. In a similar way, there are things you don’t understand and yet are very certain of them. God doesn’t reveal everything to you but what He gives you you can be certain of it. There are some things you know of God but you don’t know everything. Why is it that we long to look into those things we don’t know and don’t understand rather than simply being certain of those things He gives us?

There’s a reason He does it this way; we know it to be true on a fundamental level. We operate this way in so many areas of life. The way Paul states it in the Epistle reading is that we walk by faith and not sight. One area of life it works this way that we know well is in the home. Since today is Father’s Day, consider how it is a father raises his children in a godly way. One thing he does is teach them the Word of God. Does he dump all the theology there is to know on them off the bat? Of course not. Children aren’t ready for that off the bat but they’re most certainly ready for the Word. So he teaches them in the same way a baby is fed. It starts with milk, moves to baby food, and then slowly and methodically goes to substantive food.

The father knows that his children don’t know and understand all of it yet, but he teaches them the basics of God’s love for them in Jesus. He knows a lot more than they do but when he is teaching them a particular thing he doesn’t tell them everything he knows about it. He keeps it simple. He explains things in a simple way they can understand.

When he does this it’s plain that he’s withholding information, and he does this in many other areas of raising his children. He’s revealing some knowledge but not all. But the reason he’s doing it this way is because this is what is best for his children. Children don’t often see it that way. They want to know why. They don’t want simply to go on the word of their father. They want more information. They don’t realize it but this isn’t beneficial for them. What is beneficial is the way their father, who loves them, is teaching them and guiding them. He gives them what they need to know. As they grow he reveals more and more to them.

One of the most important things children need to hear from their father is the simple statement: “Because I said so.” That’s not going to work every time a child asks a question but one thing children need to learn is that they simply don’t know as much as their father knows. Even more importantly, they need to learn trust. They need to walk by faith and not by sight, so to speak. Where their father is guiding them is where they need to go, whether they understand it or not. And when he says something is a certain way they need to come to the point of trusting him and taking him at his word.

Ultimately, all analogies break down at some point, and with this one it breaks down with godly fathers themselves being sinners and people who themselves make mistakes and who themselves don’t know everything. Even so, haven’t we all experienced moments when we have looked back on something our dad said and the way he told us it was and we realized that it was exactly that way and it’s only now that we have gained in knowledge and wisdom that we see that there was a reason he didn’t tell us everything we wanted to know?

As much as we want to know, there’s a certain point where it’s good not to know. Not meaning not knowing anything. We obviously know some things; even a lot of things. The Bible is a pretty big book and there’s a lot in there for us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. But the Bible itself tells us there are things God has not revealed to us. There are always questions we have, things we’d like to understand. To these things  we can always look forward to the day we’ll be in heaven where we’ll have a perfect understanding of them. Until then, we walk by faith, not by sight.

That’s why Jesus’ analogy is so great. It gets to the heart of why we don’t need to know certain things. It drives home the point that we rather should simply hold on to and trust in those things we are given to know. What the man does in Jesus’ analogy is scatter seed. He tosses it out there onto the ground. Then what does he do? He goes to bed. He takes a nice snooze, not worrying one bit about that seed. He did his work, he tossed the seed on out there on the ground and now he’s ready for a good night’s sleep.

A good night of sleep of course is followed by waking up to a new day. And what does the new day bring? It doesn’t bring anything new where that seed and ground are concerned. The seed is still there, right where the guy threw it on the ground. And yet, there’s something he knows that tells him differently. As he looks at the ground and the seed he sees nothing different from the day before. But he knows there’s something new. He knows there’s a natural process going on. He knows the seed is germinating. Notice what kind of knowing this is. It’s not an understanding of how the process works but simply that it works. A botanist would know how the process works but this guy’s a farmer. He’s not interested in how it works, just that it does.

And so he goes to bed again that night, not worrying that things don’t look any different but confident in knowing that they are. This pattern goes on for a time. He doesn’t keep adding more seed just because he doesn’t see any progress. He lets nature take its course. That’s why he can go to sleep each night knowing that he did what he needed to do. And over the course of time he is rewarded. The seed sprouts. It grows. He knew this would happen but never once worried about the fact that he didn’t know how it would happen.

Jesus isn’t giving a farming lesson and obviously there’s more to it than the few details He gives us. Jesus is teaching us to live by faith, not by sight. That’s what the guy in Jesus’ story did. He scattered the seed and then took things on faith. In time he saw results. As Jesus says, “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” When it’s finally ripe, the man gets to work again, this time with a sickle, and he harvests the crop.

This is the way it is in the Kingdom of God. It grows. But it doesn’t grow according to things we can understand. It grows according to the seed being scattered and God producing growth despite what we see. The seed is the Gospel. You may think of all kinds of ways to get the Church to grow, but there’s one thing Jesus gives you here to actually do: scatter that seed. Get the Gospel out there. Let Him take care of the natural process of His Kingdom growing. There is no question in Jesus’ analogy of whether or not growth is going to occur. It most definitely occurs. But it’s most definitely not by what the guy does and most certainly by what God does.

Even as the man doesn’t know how the growth process takes place the people of God, the Church, doesn’t know how the Church grows, only that it does and that it is because God is the one providing the growth. The Church scatters the seed; it gets the Gospel out there and lets God do the work. We don’t worry that we don’t understand. We come to the knowledge that it’s good not to know.

But doesn’t there have to be more to it? Don’t we have to do something? Don’t we have to understand about how to reach out to people? Doesn’t it seem that it’s not working if we don’t see the growth taking place? These are not questions of faith. They are questions of our Old Adam, questions of wanting to get a handle on things, of wanting to control this process. They are questions of those who walk by sight, not by faith. It’s clear that we do things. We share the Gospel with others, we do good works, we serve others, we give our offerings to God. Do we do these things in order for God’s Kingdom to grow? No, God is the one who grows His Kingdom. We who are in the Kingdom do these things because we are in the Kingdom. God doesn’t grow His Kingdom with our good works and our offerings. Our good works and offerings are the fruit that are produced from the natural process of God growing His Kingdom.

Everything we do is by grace, just as the salvation accomplished for us was by grace. Everything we do is in response to the grace given in Jesus Christ. Salvation has been accomplished by the humblest of actions in Jesus becoming a man and Jesus suffering on the cross for sin of the world. We are brought into the Kingdom of God because God brought His Kingdom to us in His Son. His Kingdom is not as we would expect, even as we wouldn’t expect Him to come to us in the way He did.

He shows us how we should view His Kingdom in another parable for us: the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Now I don’t know about you, but if I were God I would want to compare my kingdom to something spectacular. But that’s because I see things very differently than God does. I want the Christian Church to look spectacular. I want it to be something people can look at and readily see that this is of God. But God likes to operate in subtle ways. He didn’t make things so that when a farmer wants a crop that he tosses into the ground some seed and immediately pops up the most spectacular plants you’ve ever seen. It’s a long, very boring process.

And for His Kingdom He doesn’t take the biggest and the greatest. He takes the smallest. The mustard seed is something you wouldn’t expect much from. And yet its growth is greater than we could imagine, as it grows into the largest of the garden plants. Jesus’ description goes on from there with these words: the tree “puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” This is reminiscent of what God says in the Old Testament reading today: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”

That’s really the upshot of it all. He is the Lord. He has spoken. He will do it. He does it by the very speaking of His word. He brings low the high tree and makes high the low tree; He dries up the green tree and makes the dry tree flourish. If you attempt to understand it or seek what He hasn’t revealed to you you won’t know what He has given you to know. When it comes to what He hasn’t given you to know it’s good not to know and you don’t need to know. You don’t know how it works that God grows His Kingdom, but you know it does. You can be certain of that, because He has said it and He has also said that His Word goes forth and accomplishes the purpose for which He sent it. Amen.


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