Over the years I’ve learned the painful secrets are easy to keep. It’s the happy ones that cause all the problems.
I see this in my daughter. She nearly jumps for joy when a friend opens her gift to them. Sometimes she’ll slip me a note and whisper “don’t tell anyone” as I open it to see a grand rainbow and the words “I love you” written large underneath.
My wife and I felt it too, when she was pregnant with our daughter. The joy was too much to bear. We stayed up late nights thinking about what our child would be like. We wished we could share our happiness with everyone, feeling that it would be as infectious to them as it was with ourselves.
But in the Bible there are may times when Jesus does something mind boggling: he says “tell no one.” It’s a phenomenon that’s always struck me as odd.
He cleanses a leper, heals the blind, feeds the four thousand, is transfigured and after each – and many more – he says “tell no one.” But if I can barely keep a secret about a baby, how could the disciples possibly keep a secret about miracles?
It’s like the first rule of Jesus Club: There is no Jesus Club. Perhaps more accurately it should be: there is no “messiah.”
In nearly all of the “tell no one” passages Jesus is called “messiah” or performs some act only the messiah could. It’s as if he doesn’t want the word getting out. In fact, it’s a phenomenon called the Messianic Secret. William Wrede, a German professor and theologian, first brought attention to it in 1901 and much has been hypothesized about it since.
On one hand, it’s difficult to think Jesus was trying to remain secretive. I mean, you don’t raise people from the dead and expect nobody to take notice. But on the other hand you don’t want people so focused on the miracles that the miracles themselves become more important than what Christ fulfills with his crucifixion.
Some believe it was just a convention the author of Mark employed and it carried over into some of the subsequent Gospels. Wrede thought it was to ease tension between early Christians and the nature of Christ’s ministry.
At the end of the day, it’s difficult for me not to think about secrets. The worst Christmas I had was when I accidentally stumbled upon a closet with several of my yet unwrapped presents inside. The secret was out and there was nothing for which to look forward.
The surprise of Christ isn’t fully understood in his life. It isn’t until his death that we discover the type of messiah he actually is, which is probably a much different messiah than many may have been expecting. It’s the type of secret that’s too joyful not to spread.