The first theme today is passion, and as I thought my way through these four themes, I assumed that the primary meaning for the word passion was passion for God or passion for Christ — a Holy Spirit given passion for God in Christ. And so that’s where I have directed my thoughts.
Rejoicing in God’s Passion for God
The first thing I think I need to say is that we will not have a passion for God the way we should until we see and rejoice in God’s passion for God. Or to say it another way, we won’t have a passion for Christ the way we should until we see, understand, embrace, and rejoice in how committed Christ is to exalting Christ. Now I want to give you four or five reasons why that’s true, why your passion for Christ and your passion for God, the Father, will not be what it ought to be until you understand and embrace gladly how Christ-exalting Christ is, and how God-centered God is.
1. The Righteousness of God
Here’s reason number one. Until you see and savor how God-centered God is, you don’t know him as righteous, for example. You don’t know him as righteous. What is God’s righteousness? God’s righteousness is his doing what’s right all the time, feeling what’s right, and thinking what’s right. Well, what is right for God? Nobody writes right for God. God dictates what’s right. What is right for God is always valuing supremely what is supremely valuable, always exalting to the highest what is most worthy of exaltation, and always treasuring what is the most valuable treasure. He never sets his affections on things that are lower value so that he inverts the universe. And what is supremely valuable? What is worthy of the highest esteem?
Answer: God. Therefore, for God to be right, he must love God above all else. For God to be right, he must value God above all other values. For God to be right, he must treasure what is the most infinitely valuable treasure in the universe, namely God. So you won’t even know him as righteous until you know him as God-centered.
2. The Happiness of God
Here’s the second reason. You won’t know him as happy until you know him as God-centered. God’s happiness, long before you ever existed, consisted supremely in the joy that he had in the fellowship of the Trinity. The Father is beholding all the perfections of his glory, echoed and reverberated back to him in the perfection of his Son. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Why is he so well-pleased in his Son? Because the Son is the exact representation of the Father.
You can’t know God is happy, eternally happy, without that. And I’ll tell you, if you lose the happiness of God, you have nothing to go home to. A gloomy God, a sad God, a frustrated God, a miserable God, is not interesting. I would not want to spend eternity with him, which is one of the reasons why some of you have a hard time connecting with your Father in heaven because your earthly father was gloomy, frustrated, and angry all the time, and God means to be known as a Father different from that, a happy God, like a Vesuvius of joy, long before you ever existed. And we’ll see, I hope before we’re done this week, that one of the reasons you came into being is that you might be brought into the fellowship of this joy. That’s reason number two. You can’t know him as happy until you know him as God-centered.
3. The Passion of God
Here’s reason number three. Let’s put it this way. You can’t experience passion for God for what it really is until you realize that your passion for God is God’s gift to you of his passion for God. I think that is the supreme work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sheds abroad, in your heart, God’s zeal for God so that the very joy, passion, zeal, and treasuring that we have in God is God’s treasuring for God. Now, you heard that in this little drama, but you may have missed it, so I’ll get to it eventually.
4. The Love of God
Here’s reason number four for why you can’t have the passion for God you should until you know that God is God-centered. You can’t know what it is to be loved until you know that God is God-centered. Now this is the one we’re going to linger on, and almost everything else I have to say this morning is about this point because this is the hardest to get across, especially to the generation or generations represented in this room.
Not everyone in this room is an American, but most of you are, and Americans find what I’m about to say almost unintelligible because we have been raised this way. I say we. I’m the oldest baby boomer in this room, and almost the oldest baby boomer in the world because baby boomers were born in 1946, and I was born on January 11th, 1946. Was anybody born between January 1st and January 11th, 1946? See, I’m the oldest baby boomer in the room, and my generation doesn’t understand this either.
In fact, ever since the fall, humans have had a hard time with what I’m about to say, a really hard time, but our nation for the last 30 or 40 years has made it very hard to grasp what it means to be loved by God. So I’ll give you a little test to see if you are more American or more biblical. You don’t have to raise your hand. Just in your heart, answer this question. Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you, or do you feel more loved by God when he frees you from the need to be made much of so that you can enjoy making much of him forever? That’s a tough question because we have learned in America to define love as making much of somebody. We call it self-esteem. We rear children by means of the gospel of self-esteem.
We educate children in our public schools and Christian schools by means of the doctrine of self-esteem. We motivate people in the church by means of the gospel of self-esteem because we think the only way anybody will feel loved is if you make much of them, and I, on this fourth point, am telling you, you can’t know what it is to be loved until you know how God-centered God is. I am going to get to Scripture, by the way, to put something underneath all this. I think that God’s love to you is supremely manifested in doing whatever he has to do, and it cost him the life of his Son, to free you from the bondage of needing a good image in the mirror so that he becomes your absolutely ravishing, all-satisfying treasure. That’s what it means to be loved by God.
And I’ll tell you, when you try to twist the gospel, especially the cross, into a support for self-esteem in order that people might feel loved, you destroy the possibility of what it is really to be loved by God.
Made to Behold Greatness Outside Ourselves
I’ll give you an illustration. Why do people go to the Grand Canyon or the Alps or the Rockies? Why do people go on vacation, stand on the edge of a massive expanse of depth and width that took who knows how long to cut out of the earth, or that God cut out in a moment? Why do they go to these mountains that stretch up a mile into the sky? It isn’t because it makes people feel big. Nobody goes to the Grand Canyon to increase their self-esteem. Nobody stands at the edge of the Alps so that they can have a mirror in front of them and feel really good about what they see there.
That is not why people go. Well, if the gospel of self-esteem is the bottom line for how people can feel good and feel loved, why do people then go to these places where they must feel so small? There’s a reason, and it’s written on every heart in this room. In fact, one of the great things about being a missionary is that it’s written on every heart in the universe. You don’t talk to anybody who doesn’t have this written on their heart, which is why there can be leaks in every culture, and what’s written on your heart and their heart is this: they were made, not to be made much of, but to make much of God and be satisfied in making much of God forever. And it’s written in little-bitty letters because it’s been so squashed down with sin that people feel, “A mountain or a valley might get me what I’m after. It feels so good to feel a big expanse stretching out in front of me. I feel drawn out of myself. I feel like I’m just being pulled out into something great and glorious.” But they don’t know what that’s all about. We know what it’s all about. They’re made for God. The mountains and the valleys are little substitutes. In fact, movies are little substitutes. Why are movies like they are today? Everything is blowing up. Boom — everything is blowing up and crashing and there is all this big, loud craziness in most movies. It’s all about the desperate cry of the human heart to experience magnitude, not mirrors. You weren’t made to stand in front of a mirror and get your joy. I don’t care what you see, good or bad.
The Gift of Self-Forgetfulness
Do you know what the best gift in the world is? And oh, that the miracle would happen for you more often than it does: self-forgetfulness. Have you ever tasted any sweet moments of joy where you see something so glorious, so beautiful, and so satisfying that you forget about your experiencing of it? One of the great and dangerous things about worship is expressed by my associate. In fact, we sang a song about it. Did we sing that song this morning or last night about “I’m coming back to the heart of worship”? That was this morning. I know the origin of that song in Britain, and that song expresses one worship leader’s experience of the danger of worship — namely, you can, in worship, love loving God more than you love God. You can love loving him more than you love him. That’s what that’s about.
It’s a gift to forget yourself and your experiences because the experiences are so authentically other-oriented, and I mean Christ-oriented, that you’re not thinking about your experience of the glory. You’re just there, connected and communing. That’s the gift. We will only have it in partial measure in this world. And my point in this fourth reason for why we need to know the God-centeredness of God is that until you realize that God is so God-centered that he aims to love you by making you God-centered, you’ll never know what it is to be loved. If you constantly are turning biblical truth into a support for self-esteem, you won’t ever get it. You’ll have some measures of mental health. I do not deny you can help mentally sick people get well with self-esteem, that is, in a very limited definition of getting “well”. You can help them function, help them get along better in their family, and help them feel more productive, and therefore, they will work harder.
And on and on and on the benefits of self-esteem can go, but they won’t take you very far with God. If you want to know what it is to be loved by God, you have to forget thinking you’re ever going to be worthy of it. You’ll never be worthy of it. It comes to you absolutely freely, and the form that it takes is to help you forget yourself in the experience of the all-satisfying Savior. That’s the meaning of love.
The Love and Glory of Christ
Now, if you have a Bible, let’s go to John. First, we’ll go to John 11 and then we’re going to go to that text that was being read during the drama, John 17.
John 11 is the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. I go here because a year or so ago I saw for the first time a very helpful connection in this text between love — which is what I’m ending on in my initial four arguments for why you need to be God-centered in your passion and why you need to know that God is God-centered in his passions — and the glory of God in these verses. So let’s read John 11:1–6, and I’ll point out a thing or two here:
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:1–3).
Now there, you have to underline that word love. It’s going to be repeated because that’s one of the themes. It’s Christ’s love for Lazarus and Mary and Martha. It says, “He who you love is sick.” And then Jesus did a very surprising thing:
But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” ( John 11:4).
Underline that. Now we have two keywords. We have love and we have glory. And the question is, how are they related? You have God’s glory and you have Jesus’s love for people. How are they related? He says, “It is for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” In other words, “Lazarus getting sick is all about my glory, and I love him. I really love him.” Do you start to feel the connection? Then John 11:5 again says:
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
Jesus’s love, don’t miss it, is being emphasized again. So what he’s about to do is not unloving. It’s going to look unloving, really unloving. It’s going to be felt as unloving, and many of your experiences have felt that way. You have thought, “If he loved me, why? I got pneumonia at this conference. Why did I leave behind such a broken ministry? Why am I feeling so discouraged? Why am I being tempted by lust? Why, why, why, if he really loves me?”
Love Greater Than Comfort and Ease
Look at what Jesus does after saying he loved Lazarus, he loved Martha, and he loved her sister. The next word in John 11:6 is so. That’s what my version has, and that’s right. Or it could be therefore. If you don’t have a so or a therefore, get a new version:
So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
And then I add, “And let him die so that he’d be dead four days, a long time — good and dead, my friend.” What in the world is that so? Do you see the so, the therefore? Versions that leave out these little connecting words drive me up the wall because I build whole theologies on connecting words. He loved them, therefore, he let him die. Therefore, he let him die. Therefore, he let him die. Why? Because it’s all about glory. Love is about glory. Love is about glory. It’s about the revelation of glory. It’s not about making your life easy. It’s not about keeping you alive. It’s not about keeping your spouse alive. It’s not about keeping your kids alive.
Missionaries, you know this, don’t you? Missions fields are a hard place to raise kids and also the best place to raise kids. The most dangerous place to raise kids is America. Wicked, pagan, stylish, fashion-driven, rich America is a dangerous place to raise kids.
So don’t be afraid of taking your kids to a hard place. They might die. That doesn’t mean you’re not loved. This text just taught me that when Jesus loves us, he will do whatever it takes, whether it’s his death or my brother’s death to show his glory to me so that I love his glory and not myself or my brother more than him.
The Priestly Prayer for Our Eternal Good
Now let’s go to chapter 17. This is what was being read during the skit (John 17:1–5). Now this is the text that just blows me away when I think of how Jesus means to love us, and this is what is so hard for people to understand. We want to be made much of when we are loved. We think that’s what love is. Now, I assume you will agree with me that John 17, the high priestly prayer of Jesus, is a loving prayer. If you don’t agree with that, you come to me afterwards and tell me why so that I can try to fold that into my thinking or at least help you to get it out of your thinking.
I hope we all agree on that in John 17, the high priestly final words of Jesus. He prayed for you, according to verse 20. He says:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word . . . (John 17:20).
That’s how all of you got saved — through their word you believed. So he’s praying for you. Is that not incredible? Jesus prayed for us here in this conference. Now, what did he pray out of love? Listen to these incredible first five verses of prayer for us:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” . . . (John 17:1).
Wait a minute, I thought you were going to pray for me and you’re all worked up about your glory, Jesus. Isn’t it a strange way to pray for us, for him to say, “Father, now I’ve got a few minutes here before I go to the cross, and I want to pray for my disciples and my people. Father, first thing on my agenda, make sure I get glory and you get glory.”
The God-Centeredness of Eternal Life
Isn’t that amazing? John 17:2 continues:
Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
To that somebody might say, “There it is, there it is, Piper. Come on. Now own up to that. There’s the gift of eternal life. That’s John 3:16. I haven’t heard you quote John 3:16 yet, and that’s what I’m at home with, none of this God-centered stuff. I want John 3:16 — ‘For God to love the world that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ There it is. Say that.” So I’ve said it, and now I say, all right, God loves you by giving you eternal life. I do not deny it. I glory in it. Tell me, what is this life? Read the next verse. John 17:3 says:
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Now we’re back to God-centeredness. Of course, John 3:16 is gloriously true. Of course, God means to rescue us from hell and put us into everlasting life. Who cares about eternal life if heaven is everlastingly boring? I don’t want to go there if that’s the case. It’s true that I don’t want to burn, but frankly, a boring heaven is not attractive to me.
Therefore, talking about eternal life to people doesn’t necessarily communicate good news. The life they currently know they would not want extended forever, even if it’s booze and sex and drugs. They know that in 10,000 years this is going to get old. We have got to say more about the content of life, and Jesus does it. He says it’s knowing God. That’s what wasn’t in the box. It’s knowing God and Jesus is the one who’s saying that, which is why I say Christ is very Christ-exalting. Christ is praying that you would have life, meaning that you would get to know him. Now, if I were to talk that way, you’d get up and walk out of the room, and you should. If I said, “Come on now, you’ve all come down here, so come know me. Look at me. Think about me. Think how wise I am and how smart I am. Think how handsome I am. Think how strong I am,” you would all roll your eyes. You’d just fade away. But when Jesus talks that way it’s different.
A Stumbling Block of Praise
This is why people stumble over this. C.S. Lewis could hardly stand it. I read an article in the Financial Times on the plane coming back from Wales, whenever I was there last spring, by a man writing a book review saying the one thing he cannot abide in Christianity is how God constantly calls people to praise God. He said it sounds like one big, sick megalomaniac to him. That’s exactly what C.S. Lewis stumbled over. He said the Psalms sounded to him like an old woman trying to get compliments — “Praise me, praise me, praise me, praise me, praise me, praise me.” That’s what you hear all over the Bible. Now what I’m saying in this first message is that is the very essence of love. And that’s why it’s not evil.
For me to say, “Praise me,” would not be loving because I’d be distracting you from the one who can satisfy your soul. But when God says, “Praise me,” he’s drawing you to the fountain, he’s drawing you to the treasure, and he’s drawing you to the bread. He has to be self-exalting if he loves you. Jesus has to pray this way if he loves you. He has to say, “Father, I’m going to walk through this cross, and if I don’t come out on the other side of this cross exalted as the king of the universe, what are my people going to enjoy?”
Knowing God’s Passion for God
Now, go to John 11:4–5:
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do (all of his work has been about glorifying the Father). And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed (John 17:4–5).
So the first paragraph of his prayer of love for you is to secure from the Father his own exalted standing. Do you see why I said you can’t really know him and you can’t have a passion for him until you realize how utterly Christ-exalting Christ is and how utterly God-centered God is?
Gathered Into the Glory of Christ
Now here’s one more glimpse, and this was also read in the drama. It’s John 17:24. Here, we see why the exaltation of Christ is loving:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
So now why is it loving for Christ to say, “Father, glorify me. Give me the glory that I’ve always had. I laid aside many of the outward forms of it as I became a servant in order to pay the price of all these unworthy people so that they could be loved by you forever, meaning, so that they could see and enjoy me forever. And now Father, I’ve done what I have to do and you’re about to do what you have to do to install me at your right hand with the name above every name. Now I ask, get them there. Get them there so that they can see it.” Do you see the opposite of this in relation to self-esteem? Salvation is not a mirror no matter how cleaned up, no matter how shapely, no matter how strong, no matter how handsome, and no matter how worthy. Salvation is not a mirror. It’s Christ’s glory.
The Impartation of Divine Love
Now here’s a big obstacle that I feel. And if you think about it, I think you would feel it too. Someone might say, “All right, you’re saying that my final destiny is to see him as the most glorious reality of the universe, and be drawn into his fellowship where I can participate in his joy. I frankly don’t have the capacity to enjoy God enough so that he would be honored by my joy or so that I would be satisfied by my joy. I don’t have it.” That’s true, and that’s what the last verses of this prayer are about. He knows that. He knows you don’t have it. He wants the glory of his Father and the glory of himself to be exalted in your enjoyment of that glory forever, and he knows you don’t have the capacity to enjoy him appropriately. So what’s he going to do? What does he pray? John 17:25–26 says:
O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
What does that mean? What’s he praying? What’s he asking God to do? He’s saying, “Father, you have beheld me in the fellowship of the Trinity from all eternity and have seen your glorious perfections reflected back in the panorama of my glory, and we have enjoyed each other with infinite joy.” Imagine the energy that flows between the Father and the Son, which is the Holy Spirit personified. Imagine the energy that holds this magnificent universe in being, flowing between two beings, depicted through that supremacy song from Colossians. I just read Colossians last night, and it’s all about the supremacy of Christ in all things. Just imagine he holds in being, not only the planets, not only the solar system, but all the billions of galaxies that are out there. Imagine the power in Jesus Christ and the Father, and they have been investing all of that power in loving each other forever. This is why all the universe is about joy. The universe came into being by the overflow of the power of joy, and now he asks — let this land on you with unspeakable wonder — that the love that the Father has for the Son may be in you.
I used to worry about heaven being boring when I was a child. I didn’t like the images of heaven in the Bible. They seemed boring to me. I liked grass, not gold. I liked to throw a ball on grass, and now I’ve become much more person-oriented and less thing-oriented, though I do love the creation because the creation displays the glory of God, according to Psalm 19. But mainly, I want to be assured that when I see Jesus, and even through the visible God-man, see the invisible God, that I have the wherewithal to increase in joy forever. And if he left me to my resources, with my little heart and with my little capacities to delight in him, I would be scared to death that I’d run out of energy in about two weeks, but now he’s told me, “You will not be left to yourself. I will get inside of you with my love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Father, and by the Holy Spirit, I will make sure that you have divine capacities to enjoy God’s never ending glory.”
New Vistas of the Glory of God
I have images today of what it will be like to see and know him, and let me just get close with one of those images. Go back to the mountains. I picture myself standing at a range of mountains as I die or as he comes, and there, his glory stretches up into the clouds, and I don’t know how high they go, but they’re high because the cloud layer is high. And what I see, I stand in awe of and I say, I could take 10,000 years to roam those mountains. And I do take the next 10,000 years to roam those mountains, and every time I roam a new day, I see a new dimension of his glory because that’s how inexhaustible and infinite it is.
And one day, about 10,000 years out, I get up to the top of the cloud level. And I poke my head up into the cloud level and realize it’s not a very thick cloud level. It’s about six inches thick. And I get my head on the other side of it and another range of mountains is right there in front of me, and this was just a little foothill that I’ve been roaming in for the first 10,000 years of eternity, enjoying all the kinds of new discoveries of God’s wonder and God’s glory, and I stick my head above it and there goes another one. This one might take 20, 30, or 40 million years to range. And at the end of that, I go through the cloud cover and there goes another one. And do you know what infinite means? They never stop. Eternity and infinity is a mind-blowing reality and we have been told here now, you’re going to be fit for it. Don’t worry. Don’t worry.
Fit for Glory
You will have the right emotions. It’s interesting. I’ll close with this. You hardly have to be told this because I just came from the Wycliffe triennial gathering, Wycliffe Bible translators in Waxhaw, North Carolina, and it was a group about this size too. Their entity leaders, as they typically call them in Wycliffe, from all over the world came and they’re a very attentive group. But Wycliffe people are a very unemotional group, and it is so wonderful the way God works to take introverts who don’t want to be around people and send them to tribes to translate the Bible so that you can come along about 100 years later and renew the churches that have died in the meantime because they have.
I went to Cameroon to visit my brother-in-law, Steve, where he has been translating the Bible for 15 years in a little village, and I thought, I have to go to see frontline, primitive, pioneer missions. The Church has been in Cameroon for 150 years and it’s dead. Not all of it, but a lot of it is dead. Wycliffe is a church renewal movement, but I’m losing my train of thought. The train of thought was emotion.
This group is not made up mainly of introverts, I gather, because all I heard on the video last night was relationships, relationships, relationships. We’re in this because we like each other. I wonder, where does the world come in? I’m sure it does, and Sam will explain it. Well, that’s a good thing, but even you probably, even you at times in your less-than-satisfied moments, know that your own capacities for joy aren’t enough for Jesus.
He’s just too big, too worthy, and eternity is too long, and therefore, I just close with the promise. The love that the Father has for the Son will be in you and he will be in you, so that your passion will be his passion for God, and it is inexhaustible.