The Word Among Us

November 2007 Issue

For Those Who Have Ears to Hear . . .

The Promise of Receiving Gods Revelation

There had been a flurry of activity—bread multiplied, storms calmed, and people healed. There had also been ominous confrontations with the more closed-minded members of Israel’s religious leadership. Plus, Jesus’ cousin and forerunner, John, had recently been executed by Herod. Everything, it seems, was coming to a head.

In the midst of all these events, Jesus took some time to be alone with his disciples. There were no crowds, no Pharisees, and no storms. And in this quiet moment, he put a question to them—a question they themselves had been puzzling over for quite some time: "Who do you say that I am?"

There must have been many, many ways to answer this, but Peter spoke up, and with a clarity and conviction that probably took everyone—even him—by surprise: "You are the Messiah," he said, "the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:13-17).

The surprises didn’t end there. Jesus blessed Peter and told him that these words did not come from Peter but from God himself. In fact, Jesus said, the answer was "revealed" to Peter by his heavenly Father.

How can this be? The words came from Peter’s lips. It was Peter’s mind that came to this conclusion. If it were from God, wouldn’t you expect Peter to have said so—or at least to have expressed surprise at what he was saying? But this is just one of the mysteries of divine revelation. It’s just one of the ways God works to reveal himself and his plans to his people.

This month, we want to take a look at the topic of revelation. We want to look at the amazing fact that God loves to reveal himself—even to everyday people like ourselves. As we look at this promise from the Lord, we want to ask how we can become more open to this revelation so that we too can see Jesus more clearly and know his ways more fully.

What Is Revelation? The word revelation comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, which means to unveil or uncover something that was once hidden. Scripture uses this word to describe the way God shows himself to his people, the way he helps them understand his plans, and the way he works to comfort and encourage us.

Along with his fellow apostles, St. Paul was convinced that God wants to speak to his people. He knew that his call to proclaim the gospel involved more than just passing along information about Christ. It also involved urging his listeners to be open to God’s revelation in their own hearts. For example, he told the Colossians: "We do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:9-10).

As far as Paul was concerned, our potential to live in holiness and to bear fruit for the Lord is intimately linked to the degree to which we let God open our minds to the "mystery" that had been "hidden from ages and from generations past" but has now been "manifested" to everyone who seeks the Lord (Colossians 1:26).

God’s Ways and Our Ways. These words from Paul tell us that there are two ways to try to serve the Lord. The first way—which is good but limited—is to try to be holy according to our own wisdom and efforts. And the second way is to allow ourselves to be taught and fed by God so that his revelation guides us and empowers the way we live. It’s like the difference between two piano players. One plays mechanically, always trying to hit the right keys at the right time. The other is not as concerned about mechanics but plays from the heart. They can both play the same piece of music on the same instrument, but the music produced by the second person has a far more profound effect on the people listening. He has captured something about the heart of the song that the first player has missed altogether.

Speaking through his prophet, God once told his people: "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). He also told them: "All you who are thirsty, come to the water. . . . Heed me, and you shall eat well. . . . Listen, that you may have life" (55:1-3). God’s ways may not be our ways, but it is clear that he wants to share his ways with us. In fact, he wants his ways—his thoughts, his desires, his vision of life—to shape the way we think and act. He wants to reveal himself to us so that we will be moved to love more deeply and to serve more wholeheartedly.

Brothers and sisters, we need revelation. It is the only way that we who are created can have a meaningful relationship with our Creator. It is the only way we can take on his attributes and be transformed into his image and likeness.

God’s Plan Revealed in Christ. For thousands of years before Jesus came, God revealed himself to prophets like Isaiah and Elijah. Likewise, Old Testament heroes like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David show us how key people in Israel’s history enjoyed revelation from God. Abraham became the Father of a new nation. Moses delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Joshua conquered the Promised Land. And David united the Israelites and led them as their king. Each of these people—and many, many more—received special revelation from God and then went on to share that revelation with their people. In this way, they all foreshadowed Jesus, who came to bring the fullness of God’s revelation to all people everywhere.

What our spiritual ancestors revealed in part, Jesus has brought to fulfillment. In fact, we believe that in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God’s revelation is now complete. Everything God has to say to us is contained and summed up in Jesus, the Word made flesh.

If that is the case, why should we keep seeking revelation from God? Isn’t it all provided for us in the Scriptures and the teachings of the church? While this is true in one sense, there is another aspect to revelation that is just as important. The revelation that God wants to give to us today is not new information or new doctrine. All that is needed for our Christian lives has been revealed in the "deposit of the faith" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 84). But at the same time, God wants to take what he has already made known and reveal it to each of us personally. This is why Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit: "He will take from what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:15).

In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul summarized God’s glorious plan. He spoke about how God has given us "every spiritual blessing in the heavens" (Ephesians 1:3). He spoke about Jesus making us alive by raising us up from the grip of sin and death (2:1-10). He spoke about the church as "the fullness" of Jesus’ presence on earth (1:22-23).

That’s a lot of information, and you would think that Paul would consider it enough for the Ephesians to have it all spelled out for them. But it wasn’t. Paul also prayed that the eyes of their hearts would be opened. He prayed that they would receive a "spirit of wisdom and revelation" so that they would know God’s glorious plan for themselves (Ephesians 1:17-18). Paul understood that we can grasp God’s plan on our own, but only to a limited degree. If we want this plan to change our lives, we need revelation.

God Wants to Reveal Himself. What do Peter, Andrew, the thief on the cross, the woman at the well, the man born blind, and so many others have in common? Their eyes were opened and they saw Jesus as their Savior. This is precisely what God wants to do for us. He wants to make his mysteries known to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He wants to reveal his love and his plan to us so that we can take part in his plan and help build his kingdom. He wants to urge us to reach out in faith to receive his new life and be transformed by the very truths he revealed to his apostles so long ago.

Can we really hear God’s voice? Yes! God has revealed himself and his wisdom—a wisdom that was destined by God for our glory before time began (1 Corinthians 2:7). Now he invites us to let that revelation penetrate our hearts and minds so that we can live a life worthy of such a high and glorious calling.