Not only did Jesus teach the doctrine of election—He rejoiced in this truth. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition in the gospel of Luke, examining a surprising prayer of Christ’s that should cause us also to rejoice that we have been granted the grace to trust in Him.
We will continue our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. We are in chapter 10, and I will start at verse 21 and read through verse 24. I would ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”
What we have just heard is the veritable Word of God, without error and infallible, coming to us through the superintendence of inspiration from God the Holy Spirit. The brief account you have heard gives what I describe as the strangest prayer that the New Testament records from the lips of Jesus. We hope that in this hour we will come to a deeper understanding of it. Please be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father and our God, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, our eyes are blind to the beauty of the things we have heard. Our hearts are hardened and shut to its truth, but by Thy tender mercy we pray that You will visit us now, open our eyes, and melt our hearts. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
But for the Grace of God
Before we look into the text, I want to ask you a simple question. If you are a Christian, surely you have relatives or friends who are not believers. You know people who have heard the same gospel you have heard, to which you responded positively and affirmatively, which you cherish in your hearts, while they have rejected it out of hand. My question is this: Why is it that when you heard the gospel, you said, “Yes,” and your friend said, “No”?
Let us consider some of the options for a second. Is it because you were more righteous than your friend? I hope that is not your answer. I trust that is not your answer, because if it is, it is the wrong answer.
Maybe it is because you were more intelligent than your friend who has rejected it. That is probably unlikely, and even if it were the case, we would have to ask from whence cometh your intelligence. Is it something that you earned or merited by studying, in which your friend is lacking and negligent? I hope that is not your answer.
I hope your answer, in part, is at least informed by the bulletin of our church. Every week, we print the solas of the Protestant Reformation on the back page, including our doctrines of Scripture, justification, Christ, and sola gratia, which features our salvation resting solely on the work of God’s grace for us and in us. The only correct answer we can give to the question of why you are a believer and your friend is not is this: “There but for the grace of God go I.”
We are not believers based on any merit of our own, but purely by the grace of God. Those friends or relatives you may be thinking of who are presently unbelievers may still become believers before they pass away, and we hope that will be the case. We are looking, in a very practical sense, at the doctrine of election—a doctrine that produces much controversy.
The Controversial Doctrine of Election
Recently, I got a lengthy letter from a dear brother from Armenia who made his way to Australia and then to the United States. He came to study the doctrines of grace and became convinced of the truth of the solas of the Reformation. He was very excited and sat down with the assistant pastor of his church, went through the Scriptures, and convinced him of the doctrines of grace.
The assistant pastor asked the man to teach a Sunday school class in systematic theology, where he systematically went through these teachings. Most of the people in the class responded favorably, except for two elders in the church. They were enraged at the doctrine of election and basically drove the assistant minister and the man from Aremenia out of the church. They have since planted a new church, the first Reformed Armenian church in the United States of America.
As I read his letter, I thought: How many times have I seen this? How many times have I witnessed people’s fury whenever the doctrine of election is raised? In fact, every time I preach on it, or near it, I fully expect to lose half of the congregation. Two weeks ago, I preached on it with respect to the joy Jesus told us to have that our names are written in heaven, and so far, most of the congregation is still with us.
A Strange Prayer
I want to look at this text today because, in my opinion, it is the strangest prayer that the New Testament records from the lips of Jesus.
We are told in verse 21, “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit.” As we look at this brief passage, you will see that it is Trinitarian through and through. It has reference to the Father, to the incarnate Son, and to the Holy Spirit by whom Jesus was moved to a profound sense of joy on this occasion.
Keep in mind that it was not three weeks between what Jesus said in the text we read today and what He said in the previous line, which I preached on a few weeks ago. We have had a gap in time, but there was no such gap when these statements were made. Immediately before this, Jesus was telling His disciples that they should not rejoice in the power they had received from God, but rather that their names were written in heaven.
After speaking about the disciples’ joy, the Spirit visits Jesus in a unique way, producing in our Savior an extraordinary sense of joy. This is where the prayer is strange: under the Spirit’s leading, Jesus said, “I thank You, Father.” That is what the translation we read from says. Other translations read, “I praise You, Father.” We do not know for sure whether Jesus’ prayer at this point was a prayer of praise or thanksgiving, but in either case the sentiment is the same.
The text says, “I thank You, Father.” For what? First, Jesus identified who the Father is—the Lord of heaven and earth: “You are my Father. You are Lord. You are Adonai, the Sovereign One, not only over heaven but over earth and everything in it. By Your providence You govern all things.”
As Jesus made His prayer of praise or thanksgiving, He acknowledged the absolute sovereignty of His Father over all things. Here is crux of the matter: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and the prudent and revealed them to babes.”
When I became a Christian, it took me five years of kicking and screaming to embrace the doctrines of grace. When I was in seminary, I wrote a note that said, “You are required to believe, to preach, and to teach what the Bible says is true, not what you want the Bible to say is true,” and put it on my desk.
I resisted election and all that goes with it until, by the providence of God, I had a course in theology where I had to read Jonathan Edwards’ magnum opus, Freedom of the Will. While I was reading Edwards’ book, he took me to Romans 9 and rubbed my nose in it until I could not fight anymore. So, I acquiesced and said, “Alright, I guess it’s true and I have to believe it, but I don’t have to like it.”
At first, I was halfway converted to the Reformed faith, until I read through the Scriptures to see the beauty and sweetness of the tender mercy of God’s grace. That left me with the most penetrating theological question I have ever had to deal with, and one I still have not been able to answer adequately, which is: Why me? Why have I received this wonderful gift of being able to know the greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Over the years, I began to rejoice that, before His death, before Jonathan Edwards lived, before Paul wrote Romans, Jesus already understood the doctrine of election, and Jesus rejoiced in it.
A Difficult Doctrine
Notice that Jesus did not come to the Father, the Sovereign One of heaven and earth, and say: “Why, Father, are there so many people to whom I preach who walk away in unbelief? Isn’t there anything more You can do to help people come alive in faith and embrace the Gospel of the kingdom that I’ve been preaching to them? Father, why don’t You save them?” Instead, to our astonishment, Jesus thanked the Father, not only for not opening the eyes of the unbeliever, but for concealing the truth from them.
I have heard people say: “I believe in predestination but not double predestination. I believe that, yes, God does from all eternity elect some people unto salvation, but He leaves the rest to themselves and gives them the opportunity to come. There is no flip side to election. There is no such thing as reprobation. There is no such thing that from all eternity God has decreed that certain people will indeed be passed over.”
This is one of the most difficult aspects of doctrine that we must deal with, is it not? We would agree that God has the power and the authority to save everybody, but we also agree that He does not use that power or authority to save everybody.
He Owes Us Nothing
One friend of mine, a theologian with whom I have profound disagreements, has gone on record saying that God saves as many people as He possibly can. I said to him, “Oh, you're a universalist.” He responded: “No, no, no. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman, and God will never bring somebody to faith who does not want to come. To do so would be to violate the human will.” I said, “If that’s the case, you are a universalist in the other direction, because nobody would come unless God the Holy Spirit gives them the disposition so to do, which is a clear a teaching that we get from the Lord Jesus.”
What I am saying is that God, for His eternal purposes, looked at a fallen humanity, what Augustine called a mass of perdition, and He chose to give justice to some and mercy to others. He chose to give the grace of salvation to some and to withhold it from others.
The protest you hear all the time about election is the exclamation, “That’s not fair!” But God is not an entitlement deity. He knows that no sinner deserves salvation. No sinner even deserves the opportunity for salvation. The only thing that we deserve from God, dear friends, is eternal damnation, because by nature we are in revolt and in rebellion against His authority and sovereignty.
He owes us nothing. That is the essence of grace, that it is altogether undeserved and unmerited. When we think that God owes us something, we either do not know who we are, or we do not know who He is.
The question is, Why does God give grace to some and not to others? The answer is, Why not? Paul anticipated the response in Romans 9. He asked the rhetorical question: “What then, is there unrighteousness in God? What then, is God not fair? What then, is God unjust?” He reminded his readers of what God had said to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” That is God’s prerogative.
For His eternal purposes, and ultimately for His glory and the glory of His only Son, God, from all eternity, has a plan of salvation by which He intends to work in space and time to bring some sinners to repentance, to faith, and to salvation. He plans to open their eyes to reveal to them the sweetness and loveliness of Christ.
If you see the loveliness of Jesus this morning, I ask you: Where did that sight come from? On the road to Damascus, Paul did not see the light because he was looking for Christ. Rather, He was looking to destroy Christ. He had no interest in the kingdom of Christ other than to extinguish it, but God in His sovereign mercy threw Paul to the ground and revealed to him who Jesus is. God did not do for Pontius Pilate what He did for Paul. He did not do it for Caiaphas, but He did it for Saul of Tarsus and He did it for me.
Truth Revealed, Truth Concealed
It is not simply that God does not reveal Christ to everyone in a passive manner, but He actually conceals Christ from people. That is the hard part, as we will see later when we look at the parables in Luke. The parables had a double-edged purpose to reveal the truth to some and to conceal it from others, and this is where we struggle.
Here is what I want you to understand this morning if you do not get anything else: Jesus praised and thanked God, not only for revealing the truth to some, but for concealing it from others. How could He do that, other than the incarnate Son of God’s sheer delight in the perfection of His Father and His Father’s plan, with which the second and third persons in the Trinity were in full agreement from all eternity? Even in His incarnation, as He witnessed, felt, and received the fury of people’s rejection, Jesus knew that the Father’s will was being accomplished, and He could delight in it.
“I thank You, Father, that You have hidden these things from the wise and the prudent.” Jesus particularly mentioned the wise and the prudent. We might think about the “intelligencia,” all the brilliant scholars in the world today who, with magnificent acumen and academic brilliance, are blind to the basic truths of God.
I think of two well-known naturalist philosophers and scientists, both of whom teach that the universe came into being from nothing. One of them says that the universe not only can come into being from nothing but that it certainly did come into being from nothing. That gives an awful lot of power to nothing. The other one is even perhaps more famous. When asked about how it is possible for the universe to come into being from nothing, he answered by saying that it started with fluctuations. Out of the fluctuations ultimately came the Big Bang. The question that any schoolboy, if he heard this professor, would raise his hand and ask is, “Excuse me sir, but what was it that was fluctuating?”
The naturalist professor would have to say, “Nothing, of course, but when nothing starts to fluctuate, you better look out, because a big explosion is about to come.” This is nonsense. This is absolute nonsense by unbelievably learned and brilliant people whom the world considers wise and prudent.
Jesus said: “I thank You, Father. You’ve kept truth from people who are wise in their own conceits, who set their own minds above the wisdom of God, who have no fear of God in their hearts. Thank you, Father, for hiding these things from them and revealing them to babes.” Then He said, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.”
For God’s Good Pleasure
Why is it that God chooses to save some but not all? The answer Scripture gives is this: for the good pleasure of His will. I believe that every word of the sacred Scripture is inspired by the Holy Ghost. I also know that sometimes the Holy Ghost must condescend to our weakness of understanding, stoop to our frailty of mind, and sometimes, for our benefit, give Himself over to redundancy.
I ask the question, Is it necessary for the Scriptures to speak of God’s pleasure as being a good pleasure? What other kind of pleasure could it possibly be? Anything that pleases God is good. God does not have an evil pleasure, only a good pleasure, but here it is again: “It seemed good in Your sight.”
Jesus was not suggesting that the goodness and righteousness of election was only apparently good to God, or that it just seemed to be good. This was simply a manner of speaking. Whatever seems to be the case in the divine scrutiny is indeed the case, not simply a matter of external appearance.
The Revelation of the Father and Son
Jesus went on to say, “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
People do not know really know who God is until the Son reveals to them who He is. The Son wills to reveal the character and nature of the Father to His people. Nobody knows who Jesus really is except the Father and those to whom the Father is pleased to reveal Him.
Saint Andrews’ Chapel is sixteen years old at the time of this sermon. One series I preached was through the Book of Acts. Luke is the fourth gospel I have preached through in the last sixteen years. Some people have asked me, “Isn’t there anything else in the Bible besides the Gospels that you keep preaching through?” I can tell you this: if there were a fifth one, that would be next, because you cannot get too much Jesus. The Gospels focus their attention on who He is, and that is why we are here—to learn of Him, to know Him, to adore Him, and to serve Him.
“Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes which see the things that you see. Do you realize how blessed you are, John, Peter, James, Thaddeus? Let Me tell you how blessed you are. Prophets and kings in the Old Testament desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”
If Jesus were physically here this morning, He could say to you: “Blessed are you who understood what you understand. Blessed are you who hear what you have heard, because there are millions of people in this world today who have never heard it, never understood it, and never seen it.”
What a blessed thing it is that you get to hear the revelation of God’s Word every Sunday morning, every time you open your Bible, every time you get on your knees. This is our joy, our unspeakable joy, which we have done nothing to earn. There but for the grace of God go we. Let us pray.
Our Father and our God, we thank You for Your sovereign good pleasure by which You were pleased to make a gift of us to Your beloved Son. Forgive us when we protest Your sovereignty and Your good pleasure. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.