Martin Luther once said, “We must sense the deep yes beneath the no.”
He was talking about God’s responses to our prayers, because he recognized that God often says “no” when He means “yes.”
Before you think I’m accusing God of being fickle, let me explain. Many times throughout Scripture, there are examples of men and women praying to God or making a request of Jesus only to be turned down or ignored. If they had given up their request after the first “no,” we probably wouldn’t know anything about it, but the Scriptures we have illustrate that these people were not satisfied with a “no.”
They didn’t stop with one “ask” or one “seek” or one “knock;” they continued to ask, seek and knock until they were rewarded with the desires of their heart. When Jesus gives us this Word, He’s using a form of the verbs that means to keep doing these things. Literally, He’s saying “Keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking, for those who ask receive, those who seek will find and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)
Notice that the door is closed in the metaphor. You wouldn’t knock on an open door. God leaves it closed until someone is persistent enough to keep knocking on it. He wants to test you to find out if you are desperate enough to continue to seek His grace. Consider these “closed doors” in Scripture:
The Syrophoenician Woman – Mark 7:24-30
Jesus stops by a house in Tyre hoping to get some rest and time alone, but word about His presence spread quickly. A Greek woman heard and went immediately to beg Jesus to cast out the demon in her daughter. Paraphrased, Jesus’ answer was, “No, I came to help the Jews first. Wait your turn. It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their dogs.”
Can you believe it! Jesus called her a dog! What happened to the loving, smiling, golden-haired Jesus we have in the paintings on the church wall? It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t care about this woman or her daughter. He cared immensely, but He was testing her to see how desperate she was.
The woman had her priorities straight. Daughter first, pride last. She replied, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
I love her for that reply! She was willing to be a dog if it meant that her daughter could be delivered from the demon. And Jesus said, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” The deep yes beneath the no.
Jacob Wrestles with God – Genesis 32:22-32
Jacob was headed home with family and with all the wealth that he had acquired during his years of exile, but he was terrified of the unavoidable reunion with his brother, Esau. Having tricked Esau out of both his blessing and his birthright when they were younger, Jacob had to flee to a distant land to avoid his brother’s revenge. Now, he was coming back. The next day, the two would meet.
Separating himself from his family and servants, Jacob spent the entire evening wrestling with God. And not just in his mind. He actually wrestled God all night long. (This is where we get the expression.) Apparently God (in human form) tried to free Himself from Jacob, but Jacob refused to let Him go. Nearing daybreak, God touched Jacob’s hip to cripple him and said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
Jacob was having none of it, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
But God wouldn’t bless Jacob until he passed a test, “What is your name?”
God knew Jacob’s name, but He asked him because the last time Jacob had been asked to give his name (when his earthly father was about to give him his brother’s blessing), he had said, “Esau.” God wanted to see if Jacob was ready to admit who he really was. “Jacob” means “usurper” or “deceiver,” and it aptly described Jacob’s greedy and deceitful behaviors up to this point in his life.
Jacob passed the test, and in return, God gave him a new name that would describe who he would become. His new name was Israel, “Prince with God.” And while Israel didn’t always live up to it, he learned to walk with God rather than by himself. God left him with a limp from his crippled hip as a reminder of his need for the Lord. The deep yes beneath the no.
Four Determined Friends – Mark 2:1-12
The four men heard that Jesus, the healer and miracle worker, was teaching nearby. They couldn’t pass up this opportunity to bless their good friend, who was paralyzed. The friends enthusiastically carried the man to the house where Jesus was teaching, but when they arrived, they saw a huge crowd assembled to hear the Teacher speak. A quick assessment confirmed that there was absolutely no way through the crowd, which filled the house and extended outside.
Fighting discouragement, they tried to think of another way to get their friend before Jesus. And then it hit them, if the door was blocked, they would knock on the ceiling. Carefully, they hoisted him up. Once he was secured, they began to remove the tiles from the roof above Jesus’ head. Unconcerned about the mess they had made below, they lowered their friend through the hole until he was lying on his mat directly in front of Jesus.
Jesus, probably amused and encouraged by the men’s determination, said to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
I wonder if the man or his friends were disappointed. After all, they came for a healing. They wanted to see a miracle. This left something to be desired. What they may not have realized is that a miracle had just occurred, and it was one far better than what they were expecting. A man’s sins had been erased, and he had been given admission into heaven. Nothing more incredible than that has ever happened.
And I wonder how often we are disappointed with God’s response to our prayers, not realizing that we asked for too little a thing and that God was interested in doing something much more wonderful than we can appreciate this side of heaven.
But they didn’t need to worry. Jesus wasn’t done. He forgave the man of his sins out loud and in public to stir the stew that was boiling in the hearts of the teachers of the law who were present. “Did he just…? Everyone knows that only God can forgive sins. Is he saying…?” Jesus knew their thoughts, so with expert showmanship, He let the other shoe drop.
“Why are you so upset? All I did was say that his sins were forgiven, and I can’t even prove that it happened. But what would be really impressive is if I said…(turning toward the paralyzed man)…Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man did. The deep yes beneath the no.
Jesus passes by the “self-sufficient.” In almost all the healings he performed during His time on earth, Jesus waited for those in need to initiate. (The only examples I could find of Jesus initiating a physical healing all came on the Sabbath and were intended, it seems, to provoke the religious leaders). Sometimes we’ve got to be so desperate enough for His touch that we don’t take the initial “no” for an answer. It’s just a test. Beneath it lies a deep yes.