I can’t think of any place I’d rather be on Memorial Day holiday weekend than here. So thank you so much for welcoming me and having me come. My assignment from C.J. is to talk about the supremacy of God, which is not a painful thing for me to do. I’m very happy to accept that assignment.
I have a life mission statement, and it is the same as our church mission statement. That’s one of the advantages of being in the same place for eighteen years: you tend to grow together with your people. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. Every word of that is intentional. It took us about a year and a half to work that through as a people. And for me personally, I’ve been working on it for maybe twenty-five years or so. So the whole thing is very, very intentional with passion at the beginning, joy at the end, and the supremacy of God in the middle. And so I sense myself among kindred spirits here.
So, I want to tell you why this is such a burden to me, then move into the Scriptures together. I’ll just give you a little flavor, just so you’ll know why I focus where I focus, and why I do what I do, and why I write what I write. I got a letter from a very significant mission’s mobilizer, whom I love and value, and who many of you would know. And he is dreaming beyond the year 2000. You know we’ve been thinking about the year 2000 for these many years. And now, of course, it’s right around the corner. And it is a good possibility the Lord might, in his sovereignty, choose not to come by the year 2000. And therefore, we had better think about what his purposes are in a new millennium.
And so, this missions mobilizer is saying we want to strategize and move the churches, and the denominations, and the agencies together toward the thrust for the new millennium. And I say amen to that. And he just asked me, “Could you devote some of your time to being a kind of informal feedback critic of my efforts to try to mobilize unified Christian-wide mission thrust?” And I sat over that letter, and I looked over that letter, and I prayed over that letter. And I wrote back, and I said, “You know, my life is so small and so short. And my capacities are so limited that I really, really have to say no. Because I have a church and I have a mission. And my mission is even broader than missions because in my head, the way I spread a passion for the supremacy of God, is by talking about God — not mission.”
Now I said to him, “I am so thankful you exist. I am so glad you’re doing what you’re doing.” If there weren’t strategically minded people, organizationally minded people, administratively minded people, you wouldn’t have this room, that’s for sure. You wouldn’t have parking, and you wouldn’t have fans that make this place flutter. And nothing would be happening here if only people like me existed. And so I blessed him and said, “Thank you that you exist. But don’t, please, don’t tempt me away from my little calling. If I get pulled away into the glorious God-exalting work of missions organizations, I won’t do what I feel so burdened to do.”
Three Reasons to Spread Supremacy
So when I think about spreading a passion for the supremacy of God as it relates to me, I think: study the scriptures, understand as much as you can of what he has revealed, and write about it and speak about it wherever they’ll let you. That’s the way I think of my little life. Now why? My question is, Why? Why is that so heavy on me? Because I could do other things in my life.
1. Neglect of God
The first reason is that as I look around the world and in American society, in particular, I see a most awesome neglect of God. I mean, I tremble at my city Minneapolis, at its utter neglect — or worse, despising — of God. He is just not on the agenda. Take the Minneapolis Star Tribune, our newspaper. We only have one newspaper in Minneapolis, a far-left liberal newspaper. Now you take the newspaper, which I do, I read the newspaper every day. And I open it, and it’s got sections in it — sections A, B, C, D, E. And B is the metro, and A is the international, sort of, and C is business, and D is variety, and E varies back and forth, usually sports. And that’s about it. And then there’s an incredible number of enclosures trying to get you to be covetous.
Now, what is so incredibly amazing is that nobody is amazed that there’s no section called God. I don’t know what city you come from, but does anybody have a newspaper with a whole section devoted to God? Raise your hand if you’ve got a newspaper like that. It’s not there. Sport is God. The Bulls and the Jazz are God. They get a section in the newspaper. They’re important in our society. God is not important in our society. And when I feel that — which I only do from time to time with anything like the emotion I should — it takes my breath away that the sun came up on Minneapolis this morning. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).
It’s amazing that the sun came up on this campus this morning. It’s amazing that the earth did not open up and swallow Indiana, Pennsylvania — not to mention Pittsburgh, or New York, or LA, or Las Vegas, or Trenton, or Miami, or Houston, or San Francisco. Why didn’t the earth open last night and swallow these cities up? Why not? They are utterly God-ignoring or God-despising. So that’s my first reason: I’m simply stunned by it all.
2. Counterfeit Gods
A second reason is something I read a while back about Albert Einstein. I want to read it to you because it still grips me. It’s written by Charles Misner, a scientific specialist in general relativity theory. And he said,
I do see the design of the universe has essentially a religious question that is one should have some kind of respect and awe for the whole business. It’s very magnificent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what their preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more Majesty than they had ever imagined and they were just not talking about the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt that religions he had run across did not have a proper respect for the author of the universe.
I tell you when I read that several years ago, I trembled for my denomination, the Baptist General Conference. I trembled for the evangelical movement in pragmatic America. I trembled for mainline Protestantism, I trembled for Catholicism, and I trembled for the world. Because how many places could Albert Einstein go (he died in 1955), if he were alive today, sit down in the congregation, having looked through his telescope and pondered his vision of the magnificence of the universe, and come out of the service feeling the weight was there and they talked about the real thing? How many places could he find it? And the answer is very few. Very few places could he go where they’re talking about the real thing as he has seen the real thing.
He knows, for example, that light travels at about 5.87 trillion miles a year. That’s a lot of zeroes now: 5.87 trillion miles a year light travels. And he knows that our galaxy the Milky Way, of which our solar system is a little teeny-weeny part, is about 100,000 light years across, which is 587,000 trillion miles across. And he knows that this galaxy of ours is one of about a million such galaxies within the optical range of our strongest telescopes. And he knows that in this galaxy, among the hundred million galaxies, there are a hundred billion stars, of which our sun is a little one: 93 million miles away, and 6,000 degrees Centigrade on its cooler surface. And he knows that this sun is traveling at about 155 miles a second in its orbit around the galaxy, and that it will complete its first orbit in about 200 million years.
He knows that, and he comes to church on Sunday, looking to see if they know the Maker of this universe. And they talk about self-esteem. Should he not walk out and say, “They blaspheme. They don’t know the real thing. If they did, they would talk about him or sing about him.” And so I tremble, I tremble for America, I tremble for the evangelical church.
I only know PDI through C.J. and some of your worship, some of your CDs, some of the little books that we’ve even used at our church that I appreciate very much. So I don’t tremble as much here. But I’m not naïve to think that in a hyped service like this, where everything is jazzed, and the music is powerful, and the place is packed, and everybody’s feeling good, that there’s a lot of flesh here, as well as a lot of Spirit, and that if you got isolated alone with your God you may not be jumping up and down, but doubting profoundly. That happens, too, in a group like this — as it does in every group.
To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:25–26)
So if there are a hundred million galaxies, with billions of stars in each galaxy, let me tell you, God knows them all by name.
Now, had the Bible been written in the twentieth century, more things like that would be in it. But when he says that God knows the number of your hairs or that he names the countless stars, that’s what they’re trying to get us to think about. So that’s my second reason why I’m concerned about the supremacy of God issue.
3. Weight of God’s Love
Let me give you a third one off my front burner: yesterday morning I was preaching to my people. I’m on my way, believe it or not, through Romans. And we just started five weeks ago, and I’m at Romans 1:7. And I just focused on the one phrase, “To all who are beloved of God in Rome.” And I lingered there for the morning over that phrase “beloved of God.” Because I have a concern for American evangelicalism, and my church is a microcosm of that. And I work on it, but there’s a lot of turnover and in and out. And so I know I’m preaching all the time to newer people. What I preached fifteen years ago, they didn’t hear. So I can’t assume that. And I’ve got to start over all the time.
And I was concerned about this issue of: What do you mean when you say God loves me? That text says, “I’m writing to all who are beloved of God in Rome.” And I have a feeling that typical American evangelicalism thinks like this: The Bible says God love everybody. I’m part of everybody; therefore, God loves me. And I said to my people, and I’ll say to you, if that’s the extent of your conviction concerning the love of God for you, you are not a Christian. And there was dead silence in that room. Because they were stunned. They couldn’t imagine what I meant.
And what I meant was something like this: If I were to write a letter to my wife Noël, and say, “My beloved Noël, my beloved Noel, be strong, be encouraged.’ Would anybody compute like this? “Why does he call her ‘beloved’?” “Well he’s a Christian; he loves everybody. She’s part of everybody; so therefore, he loves her.” Would anybody compute that that’s what I meant by the word beloved Noël? Nobody would compute that. When I say, “I write to you my beloved Noël,” I mean, I love you differently than I love everybody else: I chose you. I made a covenant with you. I made vows to you. I married you. This love between you and me is unlike any other love that I have. And believe me, there are other people for whom I would die. But I love her differently than I love them.
And if, when you read Romans 1:7, “I write to the called of Jesus Christ, to all the beloved of God in Rome,” if you don’t hear that he’s saying, “I’m not writing to everybody in Rome; I’m writing to the beloved of God in Rome” — if you don’t have theological categories to say that surely there’s a sense in which he loves everybody in Rome, and yet he says he’s writing to all the beloved in Rome, and he’s only writing to the church in Rome, then you need to develop them: There is a John 3:16 love for the world, so that the Son comes in order that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The offer is free, and it is real for everybody. There is the Matthew 5:45 love that causes the sun to rise on New York and Amsterdam this morning. That is not the love on which we feed: that chose us, that keeps us. I’m going to talk about the keeping, preserving, precious grace of God tomorrow. And what’s that got to with the supremacy of God?
Too Light a Thing
When I said that to my people yesterday, I just was overcome by the sense that the love of God is a light thing in America; it’s a light thing. It doesn’t rest with any weight upon people. We are so afraid of de-democratizing the love of God — such that there might be a unique special love of God for his chosen wife, the church — that we can’t really say that because it just doesn’t sound democratic and egalitarian. And so we keep the love of God at a very flat, broad, general, light level, that just spreads over everybody: those who go to hell, those who go to heaven are all loved by God. So what is it? And it’s so weightless on the church.
And I felt, “O God, again, let me be a herald of the supremacy of your powerful love that takes a people for your own, and then promises them, ‘I will never leave you. I will never you forsake,’ who works in us that which is pleasing in his sight, who keeps us for himself, who completes what he begins, who sovereignly saves and doesn’t just dispense opportunities to save yourself. Where is that? Where is that, O God?” Let that be heralded today: let the weight of the love of God rest upon a people. So that’s a third reason that I feel the force of the supremacy of God as being important.
4. God Is No Idolater
Well, the fourth reason is really the content of the message — namely, to take you into Scriptures that prove it. And it goes like this: I am passionate about the supremacy of God in all things because God is passionate about the supremacy of God in all things. It seems so reasonable to me that I should join God in God’s mission. And if God has a mission to magnify God, I should join God in God’s mission, rather than thinking up a new mission of my own.
So I go to the Scriptures, asking, “God what are you about? Why do you exist? Why do I exist? Why does the universe exist? Why did you write a Bible? Why did you create the Earth? Why did you bring into being a church? Why is there a history of Israel? Why, why, why? And if you would answer me, I would join you in this. I would make that the why of my life. If you would tell me why you do what you do, I would make that the reason why I do what I do.” That’s the way I compute.
And as I look at God’s purposes, what I find is that the most God-centered person in the universe is God. I find that the person who is uppermost in God’s affections is God — not me. I find in the Bible that God is not an idolater: God does not put the creature in the place where the Creator belongs. Romans 1 indicts the human race because they exchange the glory of God for the glory of the creature. God doesn’t do that: he doesn’t exchange his glory for the glory of the creature. He loves his glory above the glory of the creature. He is devoted to what is infinitely valuable, lest he be unrighteous.
If God were devoted supremely to what is subordinately valuable, he would be unrighteous. The meaning of righteousness is ascribing glory to what is most glorious, ascribing value to what is most valuable. And God is most glorious, and God is most valuable. Therefore, if God is to be righteous, he must ascribe to God what is most valuable and glorious. God must worship God — and not man.
And the reason this is so crucial and the reason they I say it in this way is that there are a lot of people in the evangelical church who are very happy to be God-centered as long as God is man-centered. There are a lot of people who will gather for worship (I talked to one of them after the sermon yesterday who totally misunderstood my message) and make much of God — as long as they can compute those lyrics to mean that he’s making much of them. I will return to this later.
God’s Purposes in Redemptive History
So let’s go to some texts. And I’m going to move through a number. I could just talk about texts here for hours because there’s so many of these that undergird what I just said. That fourth reason that I just gave you why I’m devoted to spreading a passion for the supremacy of God — namely, that God is devoted to spreading a passion for the supremacy of God — is what I want to undergird from Scripture right now. So I want to take you on a little survey of some texts that highlight this in redemptive history.
Chosen for Praise
And let’s start before creation: God chose you for his glory.
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 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. (Ephesians 1:4–6)
Now that little phrase “to the praise of his glorious grace” means that in all of that, his aim is that his grace might be praised. God is after your praise. Now what you’re going to hear as I move from text to text is more and more of this same radical self-exaltation on God’s part. God is devoted to an eternity of self-exaltation. “You are saved,” God says, “that my praise might be exalted in you. I’m the one to be praised through your salvation.”
And I know the problems that creates in people’s hearts, and we’ll get to that in a few minutes. But let’s make the problem worse before we make it better.
Created for His Glory
After he chose you, he created you. Why?
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. (Isaiah 43:6–7)
There it is. Why do you exist this morning? You were created for the glory of God. Now maybe I should note here as to what that means, because I had a person come up to me a couple of weeks ago on this issue and said, “Glorify is synonymous with beautify, isn’t it? It means to make glorious.” Wow, I’ve got to put definitions in here because if you compute Isaiah 43:7 to mean that God created you to make him glorious, that’s blasphemy. You don’t make God glorious. You don’t enlarge upon the beauty of God.
So what does glorify, or beautify, or magnify mean? You know what it means, but I wonder if you can say it though. You need to be able to say it. And here’s a little analogy that will help you say it — namely, the analogy of the microscope and the telescope. Both of them magnify. The microscope magnifies by making a little teeny-weeny, unseeable particle look bigger than it is. If you magnify God like that, you blaspheme. “Oh, little God. Can’t be seen; he’s so tiny. Let’s use a microscope and help him be seen.” But if you take a telescope, which also magnifies, and point it to the heavens, where you’re not looking at teeny-weeny little electrons, but stars that are ten million times bigger than the sun, but happen, owing to distance and darkness, to look like “twinkle, twinkle little stars,” and you say, “My life is meant to show the world in distance and darkness what that really is,” then you don’t blaspheme, you magnify the way you ought to magnify.
So, when the Bible speaks, as Isaiah 43:7 does here — you were created for his glory — do not think it means to add to his glory, or to enlarge his glory. Think: you were created to be a means by which his truly magnificent glory is reflected in people whose own smallness and darkness and distance has made it so hard for them to comprehend the way he really is.
You know when it says in Genesis 1 that we were created male and female, in the image of God, what does that mean? And theologians argue, “Well it means we have a moral, and rational, and affectional capacity unlike other creatures. We think and reason, we have volition, and we have emotion, and therefore, we are like God.” And all of that is true. But the forest is missed for the trees. The forest is: when the Bible says you were created in the image of God, you should ask, Why do people put up images of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial — Thomas Jefferson, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, or any other folks? They put up images to image, to call to mind, to reflect something about the being or the character of the other person.
Here’s a simple definition of the image if God: you are in the image of God so that you will image God in the world — so that people looking upon you and your lifestyle, and your character, and your virtue, and the obedience of your faith, and your praise, and your sacrifices, and your love, and your demeanor, will see God, know God. That’s the meaning of being created in the image of God. Images exist to image. And I picture it as a kind of mirror. Here’s God in his glory: infinite, beautiful, magnificent. And he creates a human. And as long as the mirror is looking up to God and angled out, the light hits it and it goes out into the world. And as people look at it, they’re drawn to see God. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
And the fall was Satan saying to Adam and Eve, “You know, this angle here is a good angle. But you could be like God, independently deciding for yourself what is good and evil, and reflecting your own glory if you just flipped the mirror over so that the dark side is up and the shiny side is down. Then you wouldn’t have to be dependent, like little children, anymore. You could be your own, knowing what is good for you and knowing what is evil for you, on your own.” That’s what the tree of the knowledge of good an evil stands for. And they bought it, and they flipped the mirror.
And now, instead of reflecting the glory of God, they cast a shadow on the ground. And they’re looking down now at the shadow in the shape of the image of God, the mirror. And as they look at the shape on the ground in the form of the image of God, shadowed by themselves, they fall in love with it, and say, “Wow! Look at that, a godlike shadow. I cast a godlike shadow.” And they’ve been in love with it, we’ve been in love with it, ever since. “We can get to the moon, we can build skyscrapers, we can solve diseases.” You were created not to do that, but to reflect the glory and the image of God.
Make Known His Power
Let’s jump a head a little ways in redemptive history.
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power. (Psalm 106:7–8)
So here he looks upon his beloved people in bondage, and they’re crying out for mercy. And he rescues them. Why? It says “to make known his mighty power.” Have you ever asked why it took ten plagues to get them out of Egypt? This was not unforeseen. Beforehand God said, “I’m going to do these wonders. And I’m going to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not let you go. And I’m going to multiply my signs and my wonders in Egypt.” Why? Why didn’t he start with number ten? Because God is not efficient. God is in the business of showing off God. He is not in the business of looking for the straightest line between A and B. He’s looking for detours on which he can take his people and bring them out into stunning surprises of praise for his awesome displays of wonder. Every detour in your life is meant for that.
Joseph’s life was one detour after another, was it not? At the end the whole point was, “They meant it for evil, I meant it for good. I meant it for good. I mean all the detours in your life for the glory of my name.”
I’m going to die someday. I’m going to drop over, I’m going to have a stroke. I won’t have it together, I won’t be able to do what I’m doing. One of these days, I’ll be on the fourth floor of a senior home, and I will have outlived, perhaps, all the people who once heard John Piper preach, and nobody’s going to be coming to visit me. Will I then say, “I was created for the glory of God”? And “He’s been good to me.” O God, make it so. Make me ready for my hour of testing, so that I will call you good for your glory.
His Name’s Sake
God spared Israel in the wilderness over and over. Israel was a model complaining people. Why did he spare them over and over again when they murmured and grumbled and wanted to go back to the onions of Egypt? Why? And the answer is given in Ezekiel 20:14:
The house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. . . . Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. (Ezekiel 20:13–14)
Do you see how much mercy toward you is rooted in God’s allegiance to God? If you don’t get that, you know what you’ll wind up doing over and over again? You’ll wind up taking worship song after worship song, sermon after sermon, and distorting into a means of making yourself the ground on which God stands to save you. He doesn’t stand on your merit, he doesn’t stand on your worth, he doesn’t stand on your beauty; he stands on his glory. And from there, saves you worthless as you are.
In fact, this may be a good place to just jump right out of the Old Testament (I’m skipping over dozens of texts from the Old Testament) and right into Jesus and why he came into the world — get right to the cross, right to the center of life. I loved these worship songs this morning. The truth of these songs is so deep, so rich — so much of God is in those songs. I’m standing there singing, and thinking, and praying, “O God, if these people really, really get this, what a people. What a people this is.”
Glorify God for His Mercy
Now why did Jesus come? Just, let’s take two texts. We’ll start with the outer and go right to the center of the cross.
I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. (Romans 15:8–9)
So the first key is that Jesus came to prove that God doesn’t lie. Jesus is on a mission to vindicate God. He came to show God’s truthfulness. Here’s the second one: “to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs.” So the second way of saying it is: Christ came to confirm promises God made to the patriarchs. As God contemplates, “Am I a liar? Could I be seen as a liar? I will not be a liar. I will prove and vindicate that I am a faithful and true God. I will send my Son to purchase all the promises.” “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]” (2 Corinthians 1:20). But he keeps going. Not only did he come to show the promises given to the patriarchs were true, it says he came “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”
Now you’ve got to be careful how you say this. You’ve got to get the nuance; you’ve got to get the delicate thrust of the divine revelation here. Mercy comes through Jesus: mercy saves, mercy blesses, mercy heals, mercy gifts, mercy gives mission, mercy gives meaning, mercy gives eternity. Why? Because you might stop and say, “That’s enough. That’s enough why. Because he treasures me.” That’s not where the Bible ends. That’s not the terminating point. The terminating point is he shows mercy in order that we may glorify God for his mercy. Mercy is a means to the glory of God. And if it doesn’t terminate there, we are idol worshipers, and ourselves are the idols.
Righteousness in Question
Now, the other text I had in mind is Romans 3. I do believe that Romans 3:21–26, if I had to choose, would be the most important paragraph in the Bible. And if I had to choose within the paragraph, I would probably chose 24–26.
[We] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:24)
All that he accomplished on the cross is the ground of our justification. God put Christ forward. That event is the biggest event that has ever or ever will happen in the history of the universe: that in the Trinity, the Father and the Son should covenant together, such that the Son, in a way that nobody can explain, should be put forward into humanity. We just need to linger for a few thousand years over that one. Propitiation means he appeased the wrath of God against sinners: he satisfied it, he diverted it onto himself. Now why? What’s the reason here?
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. (Romans 3:25–26)
Now think about this purpose statement for the cross: the cross exists and Christ was put forward to prove that God is righteous.
Abomination to Forgive
You should ask right now: “Whoa, why did God feel the need to prove God righteous? What created the need in the world for God, at the expense of the life of his divine Son, to be vindicate his own righteousness? What has called the righteousness of God into question?” Now that question, hardly anybody in America can answer from their heart, because the answer very simply is: his forgiveness of your sins has called his righteousness into question. God cannot be just, and justify the ungodly. Proverbs 17:15 says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” Which is exactly what happened on the cross. So God is an abomination to God in forgiving your sin — just sweeping it away.
Actually, when it says “because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins,” I think Paul has in mind situations like this: Do you remember David? I just read it in my trek through the Bible a couple of days ago. He’s on his roof, and he sees this naked woman bathing. And she’s beautiful. And David finds out that Uriah her husband is on a mission defending David against his enemies. And he sends and brings this woman into his chamber and sleeps with her, and makes her pregnant. And then he finds out that she’s pregnant. Not only has he committed adultery, not only has he despised Uriah his servant, but now she’s pregnant and he’s got to get out of this situation.
So he calls Uriah, brings him home, and tries to get him to go sleep with his wife real quick, so that they’ll think it’s their baby. And Uriah, noble soul that he is, sleeps at the gate with the other soldiers, because he’s not about to go down and have a nice time with his wife, when all the other soldiers are dying in the fields. And so David says, “Well that didn’t work.” And you’ve got to realize how wicked this. He writes a note to Joab and says, “Be sure that Uriah gets up front so that he’ll get killed.” Joab, being obedient, puts him to the front, and he gets killed. And Joab sends a note back, “A lot of our people were killed, and if David starts to get mad at the messenger, tell him Uriah got killed, too, and then he’ll cool off.” And he cooled off.
And the next day, Nathan shows up. And Nathan says, “I’ve got a problem. There was a man who had one little lamb. And a rich man in the town who had lots of sheep and lots of lambs had a guest and he needed a lamb to kill and eat. And instead of killing one of his own, he went and he stole this lamb from the poor man. And he killed him. What should I do?” And David is in a rage. Talk about the inconsistency of the human heart. Oh, how we need prophets in our lives. But he’s in a rage and he says, “Boy let me at him.” And Nathan says, “You’re the man.” And he explains to him what he did.
And David says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And this next line creates the biggest problem in the universe. And Nathan said, “The Lord also has put away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13). Tell it to Uriah’s mother, thank you. No, you can’t do that, God! This is absolutely unjust. Any judge on a bench in Pittsburgh, who has a rapist and a murder standing before him, and the rapist says, “I’m so sorry. I won’t do it again.” And the judge says, “OK, you can go” — that judge will be off the bench in a week. This is not funny. We are not playing games here. God is in mega trouble in forgiving your sin.
No Injustice with God
And God does not want to be known as unjust. God does not want to be known as a God who sweeps sin under the rug. God does not want to be known as a God who takes his glory so lightly that when people trample it under their feet he says, “Oh well, it’s not that valuable. We’ll just let bygones be bygones. And so you can go. Enter into the joy of your Master.” No way, no way. God will vindicate his name; he will vindicate the worth of his glory that David trampled under his feet. In fact, it is not a mistake that Nathan said to him, “Why have you despised the Lord?” He didn’t just despise marriage, he didn’t just despise human life; he despised the Lord. Every sin is an exchange of the glory of God for the glory of an immediate pleasure.
God’s glory is at stake. And when he says to this whole group here who believe in his Son, “I acquit you. I forgive you. I welcome you. I adopt you. I will glorify you.” When he says that, he must find a way to vindicate the glory that you have all trampled through your sin, and he did it with the life of his Son. He did it with the life of his Son. So he is glorifying himself.
Why Do You Feel Loved by God?
Now maybe, the last question I should ask you this morning is this. Now this is a test, so be very honest with yourself here. I want to test you to see whether you have taken these worship songs and distorted them in your enthusiasm over them and him.
When you feel loved by God, as you should, do you feel loved by God because, in his dying for you, he makes much of you, and so you’re worth is at the bottom of your joy, it’s the foundation of your joy? Or do you feel loved because God has so worked by forgiveness and redemption that you can now enjoy making much of him? Let me shorten it down, try to simplify it: Do you feel loved because God makes much of you? Or do you feel loved because you have been rescued to make much of him?
Why I Can Be Happy
Let me unpack this for just a minute. I’m not on a crusade against biblical psychology, biblical counseling. But we live in a country (you know this), where psychology is the religion of America. And the therapeutic mindset is pervasive. And it infects all of us. I’m infected. I went to college thirty years ago and I took with zeal and intro to psych class and an abnormal psych class, and it was great. I love psychology. And I’m infected by a lot of therapeutic thinking. Now here is a syllogism that is at the heart of the way most counseling is done today — wrongly, I think. It goes like this.
Premise 1: God loves you. Premise 2: Therefore, you must be somebody — you must be valuable; you must be his treasure. He didn’t die for junk. Conclusion: I can be happy. God loves me; therefore, it must mean I’m somebody or I’m worth dying for; therefore, I’m happy. I’m healed. I’m freed from my eating disorder. My marriage can be better. I’ve got some resources emotionally now to get back into the job or deal with my rebellious kids.
Do you know what? I don’t think premise two is necessary to be happy. And I think it distorts the grace of God. I believe the love is God is essential to be happy. I believe being loved is essential to be happy. If God didn’t love me, I’d die. But here’s the question: Should premise two, instead of being “Therefore, if he loves me I must be somebody; I must be worth dying for; I must be a diamond in the rough,” shouldn’t it be “Therefore, in inexpressible grace, he has chosen to open my eyes to see, behold, enjoy, and be ravished by himself, satisfyingly forever. Therefore, I can be happy”? Do you need that other premise?
I just know in a room this size you’re so theuraputized, you’ve been in counseling, your counselors have said to you, “You’re somebody. And the root of you being somebody is the cross. Because Christ doesn’t die for frogs. He dies for humans. And therefore, humans must be somebody.” I know that this has been a salvation for some of you to the degree that you’ve experienced redemption in your marriage. So I don’t want to knock that out without putting something else helpful in its place. And I’m commending to you this.
Pursue Your Joy
Let me put it in an image and I’ll close. It’s a new though to me. I am going to buy about a $2,000 ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune later this year. I think I’ll probably do it maybe around Thanksgiving or something. But it’s going to say in big print on hopefully the “God section” — section 1A, where it costs more — it’ll say, “Does anybody visit the Grand Canyon to increase their self-esteem?” I have the sense that that may be an image that the world might be able to get. Because everybody who reads that has their therapist, either a formal one or informal one. They either get it through writing or they go to a therapist. And they know that the essence of therapy is self-esteem: that’s the healing balm, that’s gospel of our day.
But these people are created in the image of God. They have a void in their heart made for God. Which is why they go to the Grand Canyon. Nobody stands on the edge of the grand Canyon and says, “The Grand Canyon is magnificent. So am I! Therefore, I’m happy!” Everybody on the edge of the Grand Canyon jumps over premise two. Therefore, you can jump over premise two. In fact, you don’t have to jump at all. You can fall over premise two, into the arms of a God who says, “The reason I died for you is to give you the everlasting joy of seeing and knowing me in an ever-increasing spiral of divine revelation and human jubilation forever and ever.”
Which means for tonight’s message, that if you aim to join God in his mission to magnify himself, you must pursue your joy.