Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 24, 2014
Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
— Matthew 12:15-21, ESV
About the closest thing we find to a reality show in Scripture are the four Gospels of the New Testament. Each one is a camera that follows Jesus around for about three years of life and ministry. They record His words, which are perfect and powerful. They record His actions, which often speak louder than words. And sometimes they record His inaction, or retreat, or quietness, which is every bit as profound as the things He says and does. This particular text helps us to examine the quietness of Christ.
In the previous pericope, our Lord Jesus Christ won a Sabbath showdown with the self-righteous Pharisees. They begin a plot to kill Him, because He won the confrontation with His words and actions. But the point is, He won! At that moment, with the right spin, Jesus could have taken over the political and religious world of Israel. But instead He withdrew, spoke softly and carried a big heart, and told people to keep quiet about Him. Some refer to this as the messianic secret. I prefer to refer to it as the quietness of Christ.
Popularity Can Poison Your Mission
At this juncture of His ministry, I am convinced that Jesus could have become king of Israel. I know that not long after this incident, after He fed five thousand men and their families with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, they tried to make Him king. Jesus had become quite popular after His first year or so of ministry and He could have used that popularity to get almost any thing any human being could ever want. But, “He withdrew from there,” not because of the threat of the Pharisees, but because of the threat of popularity.
Jesus understood that popularity can poison your mission. As the Son of God, Jesus was on a mission to unite God the Father with all of God’s children. The mission required a cross first, before the crown, and no crown could be gained by anyone unless He endured the cross. Had Jesus capitalized on His popularity after putting down the Pharisees, or putting food on the table for thousands, the people would never have let Pontius Pilate crucify Him. But as the prophet Isaiah said, the Just for the unjust would be a necessity for victory.
Being popular does not disqualify you from being a Christian. There are a few singers, sports stars, large church pastors, and students who are both extremely popular and thoroughly Christian. If your tide rises while you are living and telling the truth, then go carefully and prayerfully with the flow. But most professing Christians come to a crossroad where following Christ leads one way, and popularity leads another. Sadly, many take the popular road of fame, sex, easy money, dirty politics, and other things that leave their Christian testimony in the dust. Please remember this the next time you are tempted. Popularity is a temporary high never lasts, so don’t drink it in when it can poison your mission to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Right Thing the Right Way
Another reason for the quietness of Christ was His determination to be the right kind of messiah and do things the right way, God’s way. At the rising of His ministry and fame, that term, “messiah,” was being bandied about. The Jews needed a leader, one not corrupted by political power like the Herodians nor religious power like the Pharisees and Sadducees. The expectation was for a messiah to come as a loud and proud politico-religious strongman who would crush the opposition and bring victory to Israel. Wouldn’t it be the right thing to do to rid the land of political corruption and religious hypocrisy and give all the power to the right kind of people? But, being a military messiah would not have been the right way to do the right thing.
How do we know? Because the Bible tells us so. Most of the words in this text in Matthew are a quotation from Isaiah 42:1-4. That Old Testament passage, from the “Gospel According to Isaiah,” is the first of four passages that tell of the temperament and tactics of the true Messiah (see also Isaiah 49:1-9, 50:4-9, and 52:13-53:12). Instead of the militant Messiah, Jesus came to be the “Suffering Servant.” This is God’s word and God’s will concerning the first coming of Jesus Christ, which explains why at His first coming Jesus and His followers were often quite quiet. By the way, His second coming will not be so calm and quiet.
How tempting it is to do things, even good things, the quick and easy, fast and furious way. I’ve observed many churches reach many people, which is the right thing, but they do it the wrong way. They use political speech and popular psychology rather than theologically informed exegesis of the word of God. They use entertainment rather than worship, salesmanship rather than discipleship, marketing rather than prayer, and wind up inoculating people from the gospel rather than bringing them to Christ. Remember that every time Jesus was faced with a choice between drawing a crowd and faithfulness to God’s word, He always chose the latter. Jesus did everything right, did it the right way, then didn’t talk about it much. He chose to quietly live a life of total obedience to the word and will of God.
Quietness and Character
Televangelists don’t really heal people, but they brag about it as if they did. Jesus really did heal people, then told them not to tell anyone. Evangelists brag about large numbers of “decisions,” even when such decisions produce no disciples. Jesus saves everyone He quietly calls by grace through faith to Him. The quietness of Christ shows the strength of His character and the effectiveness of His ministry.
The cameras of the Gospel writers show a great deal of the character and conduct of the Lord Jesus Christ. We get excerpts of the Lord’s sermons, episodes of the Lord’s miracles, and even some of the quiet times of the Lord. But remember that John signs off His Gospel by saying that Jesus did more when the cameras were off than when they were rolling. Most of His words and works were served with the seasoning of silence.
Godly character is groomed in the quietness of life. It is the time spent with the Lord that no one knows about but the Lord and you. It is people you helped when other people didn’t know. It is reaching out to other races, without calling a press conference. It is being confident, not arrogant. It is a lifetime of well-worn Bibles, countless checks written to church and charity, thousands of conversations spent inviting people to Christ and to church, a nod of respect and a look in the eye given to a person of another color, a little food or money given to the homeless, showing up early for worship to wipe windows, test the sound, or lay down clean sheets in the nursery. All of these things are typically done off camera, where virtually nobody else knows, but God.
You don’t have to be loud and proud to please the Lord and preach the gospel. You just have to determine that the gospel is your mission, and no popular thing in this world is going to keep you from accomplishing your part in living and sharing for Christ. You have to determine to do the right things the right way, with God’s Spirit and God’s word as your ruler and guide. You have to cultivate quietness, the quietness of Christ, so that your character and conduct will be like His.
So this week, pretend that you are the star of your own reality show. Cameras will follow you around and record everything you do, even in and especially during the quiet times. No one will see it, however, until the end of your life, when you will sit down with the Lord and play it all out.
Come to think of it, you don’t even have to pretend.