Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit


Today is a sermon preparation day for me. I have been hanging out in a coffee shop most of the day working on a sermon for November 30. The last Sunday in November is the first Sunday of Advent. The passage is Mark 13:24-37. It is not an easy text.

Jesus is having a private conversation (at least that is what Matthew tells us in chapter 24) with his disciples. He is filling them in on the future. He predicts the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. He describes the terror facing Christians in the first century. By the time we get to verse 26, there is a ray of hope. In the words of Daniel, Jesus describes the return of the Son of Man. The text has many layers and it would be impossible to handle the interpretive issues in this blog post. In short, Jesus tells them that God is going to rescue his people from the mess previously described. He acquaints his disciples with the reality of this world passing away and God making all things new. It is good news.

The disciples want to know more. When is this going to happen? Matthew relates the conversation.

(Matthew 24:3 ESV) ““Tell us, when will these things be”

We like to know the details. We want to put the date on our calendars. But Jesus leaves them in the dark. Look at what he says.

(Mark 13:32 ESV) ““But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

It is hard to wrap our heads around the fact that not even Jesus knows. Scholars have wrestled with this. Certainly Jesus is God and is all-knowing. How could he not know? It appears that somehow Jesus chose to limit his knowledge of this event (at least in his human state). Why did he do this? We can learn much from this dynamic.

Jesus is willing to not know the details. This limitation is an act of submission. Jesus allows the Father to call the shots. The doctrine of the Trinity can make your head hurt. It would be impossible to fully understand how this works out. But we do know that the Son is willing to submit to the Father. We read in John’s Gospel,

(John 6:38 ESV) “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

We also read in Paul’s letter to the Philippians that Jesus,

(Philippians 2:6–7 ESV) “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

Jesus models for us what it means to submit. In Mark 13, he is willing to be uninformed. He trusts the Father’s timing. In the same way, we are sometimes called to live in ignorance. Few of us enjoy this. We like to understand the plan. So much so, we sometimes plot the direction on our own. We often leave God out of the process. Discerning is inefficient. Discerning often requires our willingness to be in the dark. We will sometimes be oblivious to God’s ultimate plan.

May God give us the strength to live in the unknown. May He empower us to trust his timing. As we discern, the path often becomes clear. But in the meantime, we must be comfortable living in the unknown.