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The Sovereignty of God and The Responsibility of Man

Matthew 11:25–26 (ESV) … At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

It is interesting that, precisely at the point where Jesus is reflecting on those who have rebelled against his ministry, he says, ‘Thank you, Father.’ We are (rightly) thankful when people do believe; Jesus is thankful even when they remain stubborn and rebellious. The source of his thankfulness is the fact that God is sovereignly in control of all these matters.

This passage is profoundly important for our understanding of the effectiveness of the gospel, as well as for our approach to gospel evangelism. On the one hand, Jesus emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of God in the matter of salvation. No one can be saved apart from God revealing himself to sinners. And God reveals himself only to those sinners whom he chooses. It may be a difficult doctrine, but it is unmistakably part of the gospel of Jesus: ‘no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ (v. 27). Jesus’ choice of us precedes our choice of him.

Yet no one is saved without choosing Christ. That is why, on the other hand, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation is to be taken hand in hand with the full and free offer of the gospel, written so majestically in these words: ‘Come to me’ (v. 28). Jesus offers himself and promises rest. He promises freedom from sin’s burden under his own yoke. His call is not to the strong and self-sufficient, but to the weak and the weary. These are the twin themes of all our gospel work: the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. [1]

On one side the Lord put “the wise and prudent”—that is, the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, priests, rabbis, who thought they knew it all. They were sophisticated and versed in all the rules and rituals of religion and in the endless traditions of the elders. On the other side the Lord put “babes”—that is, His disciples, who were prepared to take the Lord at His word. For the most part they were simple souls, humble fisher folk, described by the intellectuals as “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13).

Some people think that because they can figure things out (put two and two together, as we say), they have all the answers. They are hard to reach with the gospel. They are too clever to come to Christ, too good to be guided. On the other hand, some people are still able to see with the wonder and acceptance and faith of a child. To such the gospel appeals. God hides things from those who are wise in their own conceit and reveals them instead to those who will simply take Him at His word. It is the way God works.[2]

We must always give the priority in the work of the gospel to God’s absolute sovereignty. But we must do so in a way that also does justice to the responsibility of each one of us to respond to the voice of the King.

[1] Campbell, I. D. (2008). Opening up Matthew (pp. 70–71). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[2] Phillips, J. (2014). Exploring the Gospel of Matthew: An Expository Commentary (Mt 11:25–26). Kregel Publications; WORDsearch.


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