I once heard R. C. Sproul conduct a question-and-answer session during which he gave a delightful answer to a very complicated question: "The answer to that is very simple," he said. "I don't know."
There are so many times when Christians ought to say in answer to questions, "I don't know."
Deuteronomy 29:29 makes an interesting statement. The verse reads, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children." My responsibility as a Bible teacher is to teach half of that. In other words, through presenting the whole counsel of God, I am to teach you the things that have been revealed by God in his Word. But there are other thingsthe other half of that statementthat we are not to know. As I was reading through this chapter of the Gospel of John, I saw six things that were unknown. And as I thought about those things, I became glad they're unknown.
Whom Jesus Has Chosen
First, I'm glad I don't know those whom Jesus has chosen. Look at verse 18: "I'm not speaking of you all," Jesus said. "I know whom I have chosen."
Let me tell you something you ought to know about God: God is a willing, choosing God with a purpose. When you came to him, you thought you freely opened the door. Instead, Jesus said: I've been expecting you. And not only that, I've been expecting you from the foundation of the earth.
Now that's the doctrine. I don't understand it, but it's taught in Scripture. I don't understand how God can do that without interfering with our freedom, but he does.
Why does the Bible teach election? So that when you know him, you know something else: that he loved you before the foundation of the earth. So you know that he was there when you were born, and that was a part of his plan. When you grew up, no matter how bad your background was, he understood and he loved you and he was an overseer in your relationship. The doctrine of election is a precious family secret meant in the mind of God to provide comfort and assurance to the believer. It is not a doctrine to be preached on the street corners of the world.
In John 10, Jesus said, "I'm the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me." He continued, "When I call my own, they will recognize my voice and will come." And our curious mind does a flip-flop and we say, "Uh, Jesus, who are your own?"
And Jesus answers: Those who come.
And we say, "Well, I know that. But who will come?"
And Jesus says: Those who are my own.
He's saying we don't know. That's something hidden in the secret counsel of God, and I'm glad it is. If I knew who was chosen, I would have a tendency to sit and watch rather than go and share the gospel. Somebody might be thinking, Am I the elect? You reckon I'm chosen?
I don't know.
Second, I'm glad I don't know the future.
John 13:19 says, "I tell you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he." Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He knows that soon the disciples are going to know that there's a betrayer in their midst. Jesus considers it important to tell them before it happens, lest Peter look at John and say: Jesus really blew it. I mean, he chose twelve, and one of them was a bad choice. If he made that big a mistake, then he may not be who he said he was, or who we think he is.
Jesus is saying, in effect: I just want you to know that I know what I'm doing.
Jesus knows the future. We don't.
People are always coming to me as if I had a hotline to God, and they say, "Pastor, if I'm faithful to Christ, will I get married?"
I don't know.
"If I'm faithful to Christ, will I have enough money to pay my tuition at school?"
I don't know.
"If I'm faithful to Christ, will my family be safe? Will I have an operation? Will my father become a Christian?"
I don't know. But I tell you something I do know: I know Christ. And he knows. He doesn't make any mistakes. You can trust him. I'm glad I don't know the future, because it keeps me obedient.
I came across a poem addressed to Mary that goes like this:
Mary, blessed among women, communer with angels, fit vessel to house his Son. On that night long ago, did you see tiny grasping fingers or nail-print scarred palms? Little forehead wrinkles or thorn prints? Did you touch wrapping swaddling garments, or grave clothes? Did you hear singing angel voices, or scoffs or taunts?
I'll tell you: She saw the little hands. She saw the baby. She didn't know the future. It is not given to us to know, and I'm glad.
Other People's Thoughts
Third, I'm glad I don't know what comes or goes in the minds and hearts of other people.
Look at verse 22: "The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke." Judas was the perfect con man. He was in the inner fellowship of the disciples. He was a man who had been called by Jesus, who was even entrusted with the moneyboxand nobody knew, not even the disciples, that he was the traitor.
In Ursula Le Guin's novel City of Illusions, the leading character is a man named Falk who is on his way to a city where he hopes to find his identity. On the way, he passes through a forest and goes into a house that's way out in the middle of the woods, miles from anybody. As Falk walks toward the house, a man comes out on the doorstep, calls him by name, and invites him into the house. During their conversation, Falk finds out the man is called The Listener, because he can read other people's minds. He can tell exactly what they're thinking, and it is driving him crazy. To keep from hearing everyone's thoughts, The Listener has to move miles away from everyone and keep talking, because whenever he stops, the thoughts of other people come into his mind.
How horrible it would be to know who the hypocrites are. How horrible to know what you're thinking about God and Christ, or for you to know that about me. I'm glad you don't know what I'm thinking.
The Depth of Our Own Sin
Fourth, I'm glad I don't know the depth of my own sin.
I've suggested that sometimes when we're reading the Gospel of John, it's necessary to go back to one of the other Gospels in order to get a complete picture. Matthew 26:2022 reads, "When it was evening, he sat at a table with the twelve disciples, and as they were eating, he said, 'Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me.' And they were very sorrowful and began to say to one another, 'Is it I, Lord?'"
Not long ago, I met a man who ran a grocery store during World War II, just before the president announced all the grocery rationing that was about to go into effect. He told me that an elderly lady came into his grocery store and loaded her basket with piles of sugar and other rationed items. As she was walking toward the cashier, he said to her, "Madam, I can't let you take all those things."
"Well, why not?" she replied. "I just wanted to get them before all the hoarders got here."
We rarely see the depth of our own sin.
It's a winsome thing the disciples said when Jesus announced that one of them was going to betray him. Peter didn't say, "It's got to be Bartholomew. I mean, he's been acting weird lately. I've seen him out there walking in the fields. I bet he's the one that's going to betray Jesus."
And you find that Thomas didn't say, "It's got to be Peter. You remember Jesus said, 'Get behind me, Satan.' It's got to be Peter. He's the one who will do it."
You don't find John saying, "It's got to be Thomas. He doubts everything that Jesus has to say."
Instead you find the disciples saying, "Good God, it could be me! Is it I?"
Let me tell you something about me. There is no sin of which I'm not capable. Let me say something about you. There is no sin you're not capable of committing. And when you know that in your head, you don't have to know it in your experience. I don't know about you, but I don't want to know it in my experience.
What God Is Doing in Other People's Lives
Fifth, I'm glad I don't know what the Father is doing with other people.
John 13:2728 says, "Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him and Jesus said to him, 'What you're going to do, do quickly.' Now, no one at the table knew why he said this to him."
Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper is a good depiction of the seating arrangement that night. There was a U-shaped table, and Jesus, the host, sat in the center. Everyone was reclined on couches, and there were two places of honor around the host. One was to the host's right, and the other to the host's left. Because they were on couches, the disciples literally leaned on the breast of the person to their left. It's obvious from the text that John was sitting to the right of Jesus. John was on the right of Jesus, eating with his right hand and leaning on Jesus.
Now when you read the text carefully, who is sitting to the left of Jesus? Judas. John was leaning on the breast of Jesus, and Jesus was leaning on Judas'. And that's not all. Whenever a host wanted to give particular honor to a guest, he would take a piece of bread or meat just before the meal, dip it in the wine dish, and then give it to the beloved guest. Did you note the person to whom the morsel was given by Jesus? Judas. In essence Jesus was saying: Judas, don't do it. It's not too late to change your mind. It was an amazing secret appeal of royal love.
I'm constantly amazed at the way God secretly deals with other people. The Father is working here this morning. Maybe there's a young man here that God is dealing with. He's trying to decide whether he should go into full-time Christian service. Or maybe there's a woman contemplating being unfaithful to her husband. Maybe God's doing business with a man who has made too much money. We need to let God workthis morning and tomorrow and the rest of the week.
In The Horse and His Boy, a book from C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, one of the children asks Aslan about another child. Aslan replies: "I'm telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own."
The Blackness of a Night without Christ
Finally, I'm glad I don't know the blackness of a night without Christ.
In John 13:30 we are told, "After receiving the morsel, he immediately went out. And it was night." The words chosen by the beloved apostle here are not an accident. Given his use of the themes of light and darkness, day and night, he is choosing carefully the addendum after Judas had left: "And immediately he went out, and it was night." Dark. Black. Foreboding. Frightening. Empty. Night.
I heard a young man give his testimony not long ago. He said, "I didn't backslide. I just stopped, and the light went out." Let me tell you why I'm faithful when I am faithful: I've tasted the dark, and I don't want to live there, because I know what it's like to look into the blackness and have no one standing with you. I don't want to live that way.
A number of years ago, the Czechoslovakian government took the church building away from a group of believers, and for months they were forced to search for a place to worship. Eventually they found a building. The building they purchased was right in the center of a graveyard. Nobody else wanted the building, so the church got it. Do you know what they called that church? The Church of the Resurrection.
That's what it's all about. That's where we are. Planted right in the middle of the dead and the dying, we're the Church of the Resurrection. Planted right in the midst of the darkness, we're the Church of the Light. Judas didn't understand that. Judas turned away from Christ, and he walked out into the darkness without Christ. I don't know what that's like. I don't want to know.
When I list the things I don't know, I remember that I don't know what Christ is doing here this morning. Perhaps he is reaching out to you in love, as he did to Judas.
Jesus is here this morning, once again offering his morsels dipped in wine. He's once again offering another chance. John 13:21 says Jesus was troubled. Maybe that's because he knew what Judas might have been, and he knows what you could be.
Steve Brown is president and radio teacher for "Key Life," professor of preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary, in Orlando, Florida, and author of Approaching God.