Like all of us, I’m sure that you’ve had a secret that someone made you swear not to tell. As an elder and would-be minister, there’ve been plenty of times in which I’ve had to keep confidence and not share things that someone entrusted to me. Doesn’t it feel like something in you is about to burst?
In the Gospels, theologians have had to wrestle with what they call the “Messianic secret.” You see it today, but the phenomenon is scattered throughout the Gospels, mostly in the Synoptics. For some reason, Jesus didn’t want it publically known that he was the Messiah or the Son of God. We saw this in the Scripture reading from the 21st, although I didn’t comment on it at the time: Jesus healed the leper and told him to go show the priest but not to tell anyone else about it. It was pretty common for Jesus to heal someone and then forbid them to broadcast what happened. It happened so frequently that some non-believing scholars have actually claimed that Jesus really didn’t think he was the Messiah, that his followers forced this on him. It is absolutely true that Jesus never explicitly claimed to be the Messiah until his trial (with one exception—the Samaritan woman at the well). We believe he was the Messiah, the Anointed One of God sent to save us. So why the hush-hush?
Before we get to the issue of why he was ordering people to keep his work semi-secret, we need to ask an interesting question: What was the deal with demons revealing who Jesus is and with Jesus’ refusal to let that happen? Well, were these beings somehow forced to cry out the truth? It doesn’t seem so to me. If they were forced, it wasn’t by the Son, who wanted them to be quiet. So they wanted, for some reason, to reveal to the crowds around them who Jesus was. I think one reason he ordered them to silence was the same reason why they wanted to broadcast: To do so would hamper his ministry and purpose. And the other reason (and this is pure speculation): I think he has no desire to be praised by demons. He delights in the praises of his people, not by filthy fallen angels. So how could this hamper his ministry?
First, there was the problem of logistics. Despite being God Incarnate, he was also one Man, and only a certain amount of people could see him every day, and he could only give personal attention to a certain number as well. He'd chosen to limit himself in some ways to humanity’s boundaries. You can see this played out in the Leper story we read. Jesus told him not to tell people about it. As people tend to do, the man disobeyed Jesus, and as a result of the crowds Christ’s ministry was severely hampered.
Second, there was the problem of expectations. People had lots of different ideas about the Messiah, but most of them saw him as a great military leader in the vein of King David or Joshua. He was supposed to raise up an army and supernaturally defeat the Romans and establish Israel as the preeminent nation on earth. So if Jesus went around calling himself “Messiah,” then that was the misconception people would attach to him. Also to rise up as a political leader would inevitably lead to a physical confrontation with Rome, and that also was not on the agenda.
Third, there was the problem of purpose. Despite some peoples’ image of him, Jesus did not come primarily to teach or heal or provide an example for us to follow. He did all of those things, but they aren’t why he came. He came to die. He came to fulfill the Father’s will by taking our sins upon himself and thus provide salvation and eventually destroy Satan’s kingdom. If word got out that he was a healer, then that would be the main reason why people came to him. As wonderful as the miracles were, he didn’t want to be known primarily as the “miracle man.”
But we need to keep in mind that this whole thing was an issue of timing. During his earthly ministry he kept public exposure of his identity under a tightly monitored lid. Now that he’s risen and ascended to the Father and sent his Spirit to live in all of us, all restrictions are off. On the contrary, his last instructions before returning to Heaven were to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
So what’s the application here? To me there’s one word that summarizes it: shame. I am shamed by the many people--and even the demons—who had to be told to shut up about Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I have the exact opposite problem. And that bothers me. A lot.
Lord Jesus, you’ve appointed me as your representative, your herald, your ambassador, your messenger. I shouldn’t take that lightly, sometimes I do. Please help.