I read in one of the brochures for this institution, this sentence:
Cedarville is home to 3000 Christian students, Cedarville is an accredited Christ-centered Baptist university.
Christ-centered can mean two things, and one I hope would be true here and the other I hope not. So let me try to unpack with you what I think Christ-centered ought to mean here.
What Does It Mean to Be Christ-Centered?
It might mean that he is made central by an alien constraint. That is, you choose to make Christ central because somebody tells you to or because you can obtain some benefit which is not Christ, but something else. That would be one thing it could mean. Here would be an illustration of that.
If you saw a group of literature students huddled in a corner and all of them had copies of the novel Moby Dick and they didn’t particularly like this novel, but they happened to be in a class where the novel was assigned, Moby Dick would be central in that group. Everybody would be studying Moby Dick, but it’s not being constrained by the intrinsic value and beauty of Moby Dick; it’s being constrained by this other authority. This teacher assigned the book and that’s why everybody has made it central. So, Moby Dick gets no glory from that.
The alternative is that Christ is made central by his own intrinsic constraint. He himself exerts an irresistible power, a captivating influence over your mind and over your heart by virtue of his absolute supremacy, wisdom, power, love, justice, and beauty.
Now, the analogy there would not be a novel like Moby Dick with people gathered around because somebody told them they had to read it, but rather the analogy would be the sun, massive in glory and brilliance and brightness, exerting a gravitational pull over billions of miles and holding all the planets in place. That’s the way it ought to be here, that Jesus Christ stands forth with a massive, weighty, hot, blazing, beautiful glory that irresistibly draws all the planets of anthropology, history, physical education, mathematics, literature, the hard sciences, and the social sciences into an orbit with his majesty at the center, not because anybody’s forcing you to do that, but because he’s constraining his own centrality by virtue of his supreme wisdom, love, power, justice, and beauty over your minds and over your hearts. That’s my prayer and my aim for this institution and for all of your hearts.
The God-Centeredness of God
Now, I think the best service that I can render, therefore, is to persuade you of something that may or may not be natural to your way of thinking. I don’t know. If this second kind of centrality is to be the centrality of Christ in your heart and in this institution, I think you’re going to have to be persuaded that Christ is not simply commanding Christ-centeredness, but Christ is being Christ-centered himself. Because if you are Christ-centered because Christ is man-centered, you are man-centered and Christ-centeredness becomes a cloak for your own academic self-exaltation.
In other words, if you are not persuaded that Christ is radically Christ-centered and you are not at the center of his life but he is at the center of his life, then your Christ-centeredness will very likely be a subtle cloak for your own self-centeredness. So I wanted to try to persuade you that, biblically, Christ is the most Christ-centered person in the world, or God is the most God-centered person in the universe. Nobody has a more passionate zeal for Jesus Christ than Jesus Christ has. Jesus Christ is not an idolator. He has no other gods before him but Christ. That’s what I would like to persuade you of and the way I’d like to go about it is to simply walk you through for a few minutes the major high points from eternity to eternity of redemptive history, observing God’s own self-articulated motives in why he’s doing what he’s doing.
The Purpose of Predestination
It goes like this. First, consider predestination. Why did God do it? Ephesians 1:5 says:
He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace . . .
That’s why he did it. It is so crystal clear in Ephesians 1:6, Ephesians 1:12, and Ephesians 1:14 that God’s driving motive for predestining a people for himself is that they might praise his glorious grace. Therefore, there is a God-exalting, God-centered reason why God predestined people for himself.
The Purpose of Creation
Then he creates us. Why? Isaiah 43:6–7 says:
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
There’s not a doubt in my mind and there should be no doubt in yours why you were made. You were made to make God look good. That’s why you were made. You were not made to stand in front of a mirror and like what you see, which is what the gospel is in America. The thought is, “Let’s raise kids, train kids, send them to colleges, and do whatever we can do to help them like what they see in the mirror, as though heaven is a hall of mirrors where we like what we see. It won’t be. I don’t think there’ll be any mirrors in heaven. Christ will be everywhere. Every mirror will become a window into the glory of Christ, which is the way it ought to be now. You were made to make Jesus Christ look magnificent to every city in which you live. That’s why you exist.
The Purpose of the Incarnation
What about the incarnation?
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Glory to God for the incarnation. Jesus Christ was born a baby to grow up and die on the cross and the angels cannot but say, “Glory to God,” for the incarnation. Jesus Christ came into the world to make his Father look magnificent. God sent his Son for God’s glory.
The Purpose of Propitiation
Why did he die? This is the fourth step in our pilgrimage through history. Why did Christ die?
Romans 3:25–26 says:
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Twice he says that Christ died to vindicate the righteousness of God because in passing over so many sins, it looked as though he didn’t take his glory seriously. You know what sin is from Romans 3:23, right? Sin is a falling short of the glory of God. Sin is all about trampling on the glory of God. Sin, by definition, is any attitude, any thought, or any deed that makes God look less valuable than what you are choosing. That’s what sin is, and therefore, if God passes over it looks as though he’s saying, “My glory is not infinitely valuable.” It is infinitely valuable, and the way God vindicated his righteous allegiance to his glory is by killing his Son to show he doesn’t sweep sins under the rock. It’s all about making God look magnificent in a world where sinners can be saved.
The Purpose of Sanctification
Now consider sanctification. Why are you being made holy? How do you pray for holiness? Here’s the way Paul prayed for holiness:
[I pray] that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
Now just collapse all of that long sentence down. God is being asked by Paul to bring the fruits of righteousness about to the glory of God. Paul is praying, “God, make your people holy for your name.”
I just read this morning in my devotions Romans 1:5, which says:
Through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations . . .
That passage says that the obedience of faith is for the sake of his name. Sanctification is all about making the name of God magnificent in this world.
The Purpose of the Consummation of All Things
Finally, consummation. Why is he coming back? Why is Jesus coming back? Here’s the reason that Paul gave in 2 Thessalonians 1:9–10:
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed . . .
There are two things this mentions about Christ’s return: First, he’s coming back to be glorified in the saints. And second, he’s coming back to be marveled at in all who have believed Christ is coming back for Christ.
Now, those are six massive events in human history, and all of them are explicitly stated in the Bible to be done by God for God. Therefore, my conclusion is, from all over the Bible, the most passionate heart in the universe for God is God’s heart. The most God-centered being in the universe is God, and Jesus Christ is the most Christ-exalting, Christ-centered person there is.
Does God Love Us or Himself?
I think in order to put that foundation underneath the statement that this institution exists to be Christ-centered; in order for that foundation to be there, and thus to make the statement of purpose of this institution durable, rather than a cloak for academic self-exaltation, I need to answer this objection: that does not sound loving. Someone might say, “I don’t like people like that who go around exalting themselves, and you’ve just made God out to be one colossal megalomaniac, and it feels so foreign to my Sunday school that taught me John 3:16, and that I should have love for Jesus because of God’s love for me. I don’t think I believe what you just said. I don’t care how biblical it is.”
Well, I have a lot of sympathy for that response because I had it for many years. Michael Prowse, who wrote this article in the London Financial Times wrote:
Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. Suppose we postulate an omnipotent being who, for reasons inscrutable to us, decided to create something other than himself. Why should he . . . expect us to worship him? We didn't ask to be created. Our lives are often troubled. We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?
Do you want to join him in the objection? No, you don’t, and here’s the reason you feel that objection rising in your heart. You have all absorbed from the air you breathe in America, a false definition of what it means to be loved. You are operating, by and large — unless God has really gotten ahold of you and weaned you off of the man-centered air you breathe — with this assumption: “I feel loved when I am made much of.”
We teach parents to raise their kids that way. We teach our high school and junior high school teachers to teach their kids that way. The thought is, “Kids feel loved when you make much of them.” That’s the gospel of self-esteem. It is the air we breathe. It just won’t work when it comes to the biblical definition of God’s love for us. There are many people writing books and trying to persuade you that’s exactly what the love of God is, and they make him the means of your self-exaltation.
I’ll test you. Do you feel more loved by God because he makes much of you, or because he, at the cost of his Son’s life, enables you to enjoy making much of him forever? I’ll ask you again, test your heart. Do you feel more loved by God because he makes much of you, or because he has enabled you through regeneration and the empowering of the transforming Holy Spirit, at the cost of the life of his Son, to enjoy making much of him forever? Which do you feel more loved by? And if it’s the former, you will never be able to compute with the Bible.
Let me give you a definition of love that just might help wean you off of that addiction to your own self-centeredness, making God the lackey of your value. Here’s a definition for you to try out: Love is laboring and suffering in order to enthrall the beloved with what will satisfy them most deeply forever. That’s my definition of love. Love is laboring, sacrificing, if necessary, dying to enthrall the beloved with what will satisfy them most deeply forever. Guess what that is? God and God alone. Therefore, any form of pretended love that attempts to help people be enthralled with themselves is curse. Pour your lives out to enthrall people with God. Be the kind of person that makes God look glorious and you will be a loving person.
Love Governed by the Glory of Christ
Let me take you to one text if you have a Bible. We have just a few minutes left. Would you go to John 17 with me?
I am going to take for granted in these last three or four minutes that you believe that the high priestly prayer of Jesus is an act of love toward us. This whole chapter is called the High Priestly Prayer. It’s that long prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. And I say it’s for you because of John 17:2, which says:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
That’s all of you, I hope. Many of you, anyway, are believing on Jesus through their word. Jesus is praying this for you 2,000 years before you existed. That’s amazing. Therefore, I want you to feel what it is to be loved in this chapter. How does Jesus love you in this prayer? Listen to the strange way he prays for you in the first five verses:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son . . . (John 17:1).
Now, that’s an odd way to pray for you. His first prayer is for his glory. He is saying, “Father, make me glorious again with you in heaven.” What a way to start a prayer for you. And he continues:
That the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him (John 17:1–2).
And what is that life?
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
He is praying, “I want them to know me. I’m the center here.” Then he continues:
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me (what an amazing way to pray for you) in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
What a megalomaniac (forgive me, Father). It ought to jar you to the foundations of your being that Jesus prays that way. You dare not pray that way. You would walk out of this room, and rightly so, if I began this service saying, “Oh God, may the main thing that happens here be that John Piper is exalted, lifted up, made much of, and shown to be glorious. Amen. Lord, thank you for making so much of me. Give me more glory.” You would all walk out. You should. So why do we love him?
I’ll tell you why. Because love means that you labor and suffer and die to enthrall the beloved with what will satisfy them most deeply forever. And Christ is stuck with being that. You are not that. He is that. Christ is the one being in the universe whose self-exaltation is the most loving act. You may not imitate him in this or you blaspheme. If he does not exalt himself to be known and enjoyed forever, he is cruel. But if he is the all-satisfying bread of heaven and the all-satisfying living water, he must exalt himself to be loving.
Brought into the Enjoyment of Christ’s Glory
And so, I direct your attention to one last verse and then I’ll pray. This is John 17:24, and I go here because here he makes the connection between what he just prayed for in his own self-exaltation, and you.
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory . . . (John 17:24).
That is the most loving verse in the Bible and the most self-exalting verse of Jesus Christ.He is saying, “Yes, Father, I want to be restored to my place of Trinitarian excellency at your right hand. And I want my people to come and watch me burn forever with glory because that alone will satisfy them most deeply forever.” And that is love.
So, President Brown, faculty, administration, students, and guests, do not begrudge God his God-centeredness. Do not begrudge our Christ, his Christ-centeredness. It is the durability and authenticity of the mission statement of this school, and it is the ground of your everlasting joy. If you stiff-arm Christ’s Christ-centeredness, you abandon all hope of joy.