The cross of Jesus Christ is a watershed point for so many issues in theology and ethics. So, was the cross a tragic event God turned for good? Or was it a loving event God planned for good? Which side of the watershed you choose to kayak will decide the trajectory of your entire theological system of beliefs. It’s that important, as John Piper explains in a sermon clip from his 2011 sermon on John chapter 11. Here’s what John Piper said:
God did not just turn the national crisis for Israel’s good and our good. He was in it from the start planning it. See the difference?
- Does God see a difficult situation and fix it, turn it?
- Or is he in it from the start managing it, planning it?
I am arguing that is the case, because of what this text says. So notice carefully what John says about Caiaphas’s words:
“It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” (John 11:50)
And then John says something amazing:
He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:51–52)
Now think that through.
God brought these words out of Caiaphas’s mouth. God put them there. God has a meaning. At one level these are Caiaphas’s words. And his meaning is one thing. At another level these are God’s words and his meaning is another thing. And the point I am making here is: These words sealed Jesus’s death. These words were the death warrant of Jesus. God spoke these words. Caiaphas wanted Jesus dead and out of the way, so he spoke these words. And God wanted Jesus dead and risen and reigning and triumphant over the world and he spoke these words.
God didn’t arrive on the scene here late and say: Oh my, what will I make of these words? He spoke these words. That is amazing! My whole life is based on things like that. Do you think in your troubles God says: “Oh no, what will I make of that? That horrible mess. I will figure it out”? That is not my God.
Caiaphas prophesied, that is, he spoke God’s words and God said: “It is better for you that one should die for the people and that the whole nation should not perish.” God said: “Better that he die.” God said: “Better that he die.” God said: “Better that he die.” Better, indeed, better than any plan in the universe, infinitely better that he die. I love God. I love God. He did this with you in mind.
Therefore, the death of Jesus was not mainly a tragic set of events which God turned for good. It was a loving set of events that God planned for good. God himself served the death warrant on his Son. He didn’t just predict it. He unleashed it. This word of prophecy tracked Jesus down to Gethsemane and put him under arrest. There was no escape because God had spoken.
Listen carefully: Inside the universal offer of salvation, which we know from John 3:16, God has a particular design in the death of his Son to convert the elect, the scattered children of God, and bring them to himself. So within the glorious open door, whosoever will may come (see Revelation 22:17), for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes may not perish, but have eternal life. Within that glorious proclamation, which we should announce everywhere we go, there is a design as well.
Don’t limit Christ’s purposes in the cross to providing an opportunity for all to be saved. Don’t limit the work of the cross to that. That is true and gloriously so. It unleashes us in the neighborhood. It unleashes us among the nations to look into every eyeball and say: “He loved you and gave his Son so that if you will but believe you will be saved.”
But he did more than that. And that is here. The more is here. And the more is: “By your blood you ransomed people” (Revelation 5:9). You are gathering a people called the children of God who are out there chosen before the foundation of the world for adoption (Ephesians 1:4) and you have died to bring them and you will do what you died to do in regard to your elect. You will get that done. And there will be one people infallibly.
Christ died not only to offer the world salvation. He died in order to bring his people to himself, to overcome their rebellion and gather them omnipotently to himself.