The Mystery of Sorrowful Rejoicing

The following is a transcript of the audio.

We say God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. But how does that relate to suffering and the pain of this life? With the opening of the new 9/11 museum in Manhattan, which back in May, we are once again reminded of the permanent pain of September 11, 2001. So can the gospel really offer joy to us in the uncertain times of a post-9/11 world? This was the question at hand in 2005, on the fourth anniversary of 9/11, which happened to land on a Sunday. Pastor John took up this question in the pulpit at Bethlehem Baptist Church. And here’s a clip of what he said.

One of the truths that we embrace with trembling joy at Bethlehem is the truth of God’s supremacy in all things. The mission of this church is: We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. When we say that we do not mean except in calamities or except in war or except when al Qaeda blows up a building or train or except when cancer takes a mom or a child is born with profound disabilities. There are no except clauses in our mission statement. We did not formulate this mission statement in 1995 in a rosy world and then get surprised by the reality of suffering. Oops, we forgot. We didn’t formulate this statement of mission for this church with our head in the sand as though we didn’t know people in this church die and agonize with suffering. We have seen many people die in 25 years, some with sweet peacefulness and others with terrible suffering. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, all things with a capital A, through Jesus Christ all the time, no exceptions.

None of us who have lived a few decades — and I am moving towards six — none of us who have lived a few decades have embraced this mission without trembling. None of us have lived this mission for any length of time without tears. We have said it dozens and dozens of times and we will say it till our last breath, that the joy we pursue and the joy we embrace in Jesus Christ is always in this world interwoven with sorrow. There is no unadulterated joy on planet earth while history lasts, none for those who care about other people.

The Bible describes the servants of the Lord like this. We are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, 2 Corinthians 6:10. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. How in the world can that be? It can be because Christ is supreme over all things forever and suffering and death remain for a while.

And, therefore, life is not simple. There is pleasure and there is pain. There is sweetness and there is bitter suffering. There is joy and there is misery. There is life and health and there is pain and disease and death. And, therefore, emotions are not simple.

For those who love others and don’t just care about maximizing their own comforts in a private little sphere, this complexity will always mean we rejoice with those who rejoice, we weep with those who weep and we always know somebody rejoicing and we always know somebody weeping. And, therefore, we will in love discover the mystery of sorrowful yet always rejoicing and rejoicing yet always sorrowful. If you haven’t found that mystery, you haven’t lived long yet or you don’t love people or you are not a Christian.

Sorrowful yet always rejoicing is the banner that flies over this church, because suffering remains for a while in this world and Christ is supreme now and forever after this world.

That was an excerpt from the sermon: “Where Is God? The Supremacy of Christ in an Age of Terror,” preached at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis on September 11, 2005. You can find the full sermon, and hundreds of other sermons, and thousands of other resources from John Piper all free of charge at desiringGod.org. And for more on the sorrowful but always rejoicing theme, be sure to check out Ask Pastor John episode #117, we titled: “The Joy of Calvinism and the Fight for Joy.” It’s worth your time. Well, should women become ministers? Of course! Pastor John will explain why tomorrow on the Ask Pastor John podcast. See you then.

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