Merry Christmas to all the Ask Pastor John podcast listeners out there! On behalf of John Piper and the whole team at Desiring God, we pray your Christmas is filled with the glorious beauty of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you for joining us for another year on the podcast. Thanks for all the great questions.
Well, the great Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” is a celebration of the glory of our sovereign Savior, and the global joy he brought in his birth in the little town of Bethlehem. That same hymn calls for every heart to “prepare him room.” But what’s that mean exactly, to receive Christ? It’s a question Pastor John took up in his 1986 sermon “Preparing to Receive Christ.” Here’s what he said.
We regard divine things as stupid, as folly. Let me bring it into the Christmas setting.
“By nature, as flesh and blood, we recoil at the humiliating implications of Christmas.”
By nature, as flesh and blood, we recoil at the humiliating implications of Christmas. Therefore, we redesign Christmas. Christmas is humiliating because it means I’m cursed and need a Savior. It means I’m lost, and I need a shepherd. It means I’m sick, and I need a physician. It means I’m a rebel, and I need a reconciler. It means I’m dirty, and I need a purifier.
Now, when that message about Christmas is heralded, the natural man of flesh and blood hates it so much that he becomes blind to it to protect itself from it. So he then redesigns Christmas in a secular way to cope with it.
Why does the human heart not run to the light when the light comes into the world? Jesus told us why in John 3:19. He said, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” They love darkness.
No person in the world is spiritually blind against his will. Have you got that now? Put that in your computer and process what you hear from this pulpit. No person in the world is spiritually blind against his will.
Spiritual blindness is hatred of the light. Spiritual blindness is the recoiling from the light and the loving and the embracing of the dark. This loving and embracing is an act of the will. No one is blind against his will. The will is corrupt in blindness. If any of you or I have seen the Son for who he is, something more than flesh and blood has been at work in our lives. Amen. But what is it?
What Seeing Feels Like
Matthew 16:17 says, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Now, the question is, how? All of us want to affirm what the Bible says. We want to say, “Yes, yes — but how? What was it like? I’m not sure what to point to in my experience. I know I’m saved. I believe in Jesus. I trust him. I love him. I make every effort to obey. I confess when I sin. But I can’t remember that ever happening to me.”
I want to ask with you: What is it? What was it like for Peter and for us? Was it in a dream where God Almighty, the Father, comes and says, “When you wake up, read the word, and what you see there of Christ, believe it. It’s true”? Or was it perhaps that you were reading a verse about the divinity of Christ and it thundered outside? “Whoa, that’s a sign that this is true. He is God.” Or was it any other such external constraint upon your will?
If so — if that’s what you think it means or what you think has happened to you — be very suspicious of this. Why? Because it doesn’t honor Christ. If Christ comes and knocks on your door, and you open the door, and you look at him as just an ordinary man — nobody attractive, nobody marvelous, nobody beautiful, nobody divine, nobody good enough to rip you away from your sins, nobody great to fall on your face and kiss his feet — then what?
Well, let’s imagine the phone rings. You pick up the phone, and you hear, “Hello, this is God Almighty, the Father. That’s my Son at your door. Let him in.” You go, “Come on in, Jesus. You may come into my life. Sure, I don’t want to go to hell.” You can’t be saved if that’s the way you welcome Jesus into your life.
If you opened the door, and you saw nothing beautiful, nothing glorious, nothing attractive, nothing matchless, nothing to free you from your sins, but under someone’s constraint, you say, “Well, this is what you’re supposed to do,” and you go to church, and you call him God, and you pray to receive him, then you’re not saved. Christ is not honored like that. There’s no glory for Christ in that.
Are You the One, Jesus?
There is another illustration, where Jesus expects somebody to recognize him for who he is. But how does he expect that person to recognize him? We get insight into how God reveals the Son.
“He’s God. He’s glorious. He’s my treasure. He satisfies.”
The person is John the Baptist. Where is he? He’s in jail, and he’s starting to doubt. Don’t condemn yourself for doubting. Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest of men (Matthew 11:11). The greatest man born of woman was doubting in his last hours.
However, he didn’t sink into despair. He sent disciples to Jesus, and he asks him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). Now what’s that question mean?
That question means, “Are you the Messiah?” Now, what has Jesus just told Peter about how to find out if he’s the Messiah? Get a revelation from God — right? What Jesus says to these disciples is “You go back and tell John to get down on his knees to ask for a revelation from God.” Right? Wrong.
This is very important. How does Jesus help this man in desperate torment about whether he is the Christ? “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4–6).
Now, if you can recognize the Son for who he really is only by a revelation from the Father, why does Jesus answer this man’s desperate doubting question by sending a human report of the deeds and words of Jesus?
Here’s the answer, as far as I can see. The indispensable work of God the Father in the life of John, Peter, you, and me, is not — I repeat, is not — an adding to us of information that we can’t see in Jesus. Rather, the indispensable work of God the Father in revealing the Son is the opening of the eyes of our heart to see him for who he really is.
This will mean that when he’s at the door, we welcome him. And he’s honored because we have fallen on our face, we have kissed his feet, we’ve seen his glory, and when he sits on our couch, it’s not because of any authoritative constraint over the phone. It’s because he’s real. He’s God. He’s glorious. He’s my treasure. He satisfies.
Two Simple Steps
Has God the Father Almighty revealed the Son to you? How does it happen? It happens along the lines of the written, inspired word of God.
So what should you do this Advent season to prepare to receive Christ for who he really is? Two simple things, and they are simple. The gospel is wonderfully simple.
- Look at Jesus. Consider Jesus. Meditate on Jesus. Fix your sights on Jesus. Open the Bible to Luke and read it again and again and again this Advent season. Read a gospel a day if you have to, if you think you’re outside Christ. Expose yourself to Jesus.
- Pray. Pray, “Open my eyes, Father, that I might behold the beauty of Christ.” God loves to open the eyes of people who are looking at Jesus, because then, when their eyes are opened, they see him, and he gets the glory. They get the salvation. And this could be the greatest Advent season of your life.