Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, Session 2

Desiring God 2007 Regional Conference | Portland

The following is a lightly edited transcript

I would like to go just a little longer on what I rushed over at the end of the last session before we move on. I was answering the why question: first the what — What are we talking about with seeing and savoring? — and then how with a focus on the Gospels and the gospel, the cross especially. But everything Jesus was indeed is glorious.

And then we addressed why this matters, and I answered, first, because saving faith, which is infinitely important that we have, includes (though it’s not exhausted by) receiving Christ as infinitely valuable — which is virtually emotionally the same as savoring him. When you receive something as infinitely valuable, you value it, you treasure it; you don’t put it in your back pocket, sit on it and bring it out only when people wonder if you’re a Christian. It’s who you are.

Made for Majesty

The second thing I said is that you’re made for majesty. And here I have in mind trying to find common ground with unbelievers. And how do you talk to them about such things? If they ask you, “What’d you do this weekend?” And you said, “I went to a talk about seeing and savoring Jesus,” what else in the world would you say to them? And so I’m kind of on the alert for newspaper things and magazine things that provide me some common ground with people that look at magazines and they don’t go to church, they don’t read the Bible, don’t know anything about what we’re doing here and don’t care.

And so this is an illustration from the world that everybody you know is wired by God to find their deepest satisfaction in seeing and savoring Jesus as majestic, so that they feel small and enjoy making him big. That’s what they’re made for. They don’t know it. And so they find substitutes — big ones. There are some people who only do lechery, but most people have this new fragment leftover in their fallen heart where they are moved by majesty. It might be a big cinematographic movie. Everything’s blowing up these days in movies, and you pay eight dollars to get scared — to get the blankety-blank scared out of you at the movies.

What’s that about? Why do people want to be scared? It’s because they’re made to fear God. That’s why. And if you fear God and you’re saved, it feels good. Well, people who don’t know God are figuring that out, but they don’t know they’re figuring it out. So I saw in a National Geographic Adventure magazine an advertisement for Nature Valley trail mix. Do you ever look at these? This is phenomenal. This is the most amazing advertisement I’ve seen in years. So it’s Nature Valley trail mix, and there is a picture of a mountain. You can hardly see it, but right at the top of that mountain there are two guys. And one is standing up, and it makes your knees wobble. He’s standing on the pinnacle up there. His arms are stretched out. They just climbed the sheer face here. And they’re standing up. And do you know what it says at top of this? “You’ve never felt more alive. You’ve never felt more insignificant.”

I just dropped my jaw when I saw that. You’re telling me that the world knows this — that to feel insignificant on the top of a mountain is glorious? The ad is saying, “I never felt more alive than when I felt fragile and small and vulnerable and insignificant.” They know. They know. There are ways to make these things plain. There are ways to get into people’s hearts.

This one somebody sent me. I don’t read the cartoons. That’s not where I do my research, but I should evidently. Have you ever heard of Arlo and Janis? They look to me like an old Swedish couple. They’re standing together. It’s kind of like me and Noël. They’re standing together in the snow. It’s quiet. They’re not saying anything — just standing there. But then Arlo says, “It’s so quiet.” And she says, “Yes.” And then he says, “Hey.” They’re walking hand in hand away now. “Ever notice that the best moments make you feel insignificant?”

Why? Because we’re made for majesty — not in here but out there. We’re not made to be majestic; we’re made to see majesty and be caught up into it. It’s evidently, in the mind of these advertisers and this cartoonist, a very happy thing to be insignificant. That’s highly counter-cultural because there are echoes of the truth everywhere in the fallen world. It’s important to think about these things and understand them because you’re made to see and savor the majestic Christ.

I’ll just add that it matters because when you behold, you become, and therefore, if you want to make progress in Christlikeness, you must see Christ. And that means lingering over the Bible a long time — memorizing it, meditating on it, getting your mind saturated by it. God is most glorified when you are savoring him most, or when you’re most satisfied in him.

All About Jesus

Let’s turn now to focus on the content for this second session. And I said that what I would do is simply spend time here talking about him, focusing on him. And I’ll tell you, this is a real challenge because the whole Bible is ultimately about Jesus. Jesus himself said so: “It is they [the Scriptures] that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). And on the Emmaus road, he opened all the Scriptures to them about himself (Luke 24:44–49). And so I have a lot to choose from in this talk.

And so basically what you have here is random Piper favorites. I get to talk about anything I want to about Jesus, and I’m just going to go as long as the clock lets me go, and we’ll do some random Piper favorites.

1. Lion and Lamb

So the first one I get from Jonathan Edwards. He helped me think this way.

Bit of Both

But let me orient you not with Edwards but with the way Noël and I have talked about manhood and womanhood. This isn’t an analogy. This is not a talk about manhood and womanhood. Noël and I have talked about this and we agree on this: that a truly admirable woman and a truly admirable man are not simple things; they’re complex things in that a truly admirable man has some feminine components and a truly admirable woman has some masculine components. If a woman acts too much like a man, we think she’s unnatural. We might pity her, be offended by her, but we don’t admire her. If a guy acts too much like a woman, we’re not impressed with that either. That makes us nervous. We don’t admire him.

But neither do we admire the man who is typically called “all man”; I don’t anyway. Or the woman who is typically called “all woman,” because those phrases suggest a man or a woman who’s just too narrow, too simple. They don’t have the complexity and the harmony of personality that makes a person rise into something more admirable. So those phrases make us think there’s just one kind of response, one kind of feeling, one kind of thought in monochromatic sexuality there; it’s not complex.

And to admire that, I think would be to say that a male chorus would be more male if they all sang bass. And that may be true, but they wouldn’t be as good. It wouldn’t be as beautiful. The music wouldn’t be as beautiful. The same would be true for a female chorus if they all sang soprano. That would perhaps sound more feminine, but it wouldn’t be as beautiful as when some of the women sang a little more like men, and in the male chorus, some of the men sing a little more like women. Then you get this amazing sound called harmony that is richer, deeper, more beautiful than if it were all just one thing.

So we want to discover what’s admirable, what’s beautiful. People who know music would know what the balance is. And the balance is that in the chorus, some of the men sing more like women, some of the women sing more like men. Or in a relationship, or in manhood and womanhood, there should be features that they share, which, of course, does not at all mean that men should not be uniquely and distinctly men and women uniquely and distinctly women. It’s just that it’s a complex issue. It’s not a simple thing.

And we bring together, then, diverse excellencies (that’s a phrase from Jonathan Edwards), and you have something more beautiful. All of that is an analogy of why Christ is so magnificent, because he brings together in himself aspects of greatness that seem incompatible. You put them in one person, and you think, Which are you? And that’s why he keeps us off balance so much. He surprises us with the way he is.

Glorious in Gentle Strength

And I want to illustrate that by taking you to Revelation 5. In fact, in these ten minutes of the message, I’m “re-preaching” a sermon from Jonathan Edwards that probably took him two hours. I just want you to see what I mean in Revelation 5, and this will kind of govern everything else I say about the beauty and glory of Christ.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne [God the Father] a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals [representing the unfolding of history at the end of the age]. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Now just stop there. That’s Jesus. Everybody knows that’s Jesus. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered, and he has the right to unfold the end history. So we have a lion. Jesus is a lion, king of the beasts. Don’t mess with him, or you’ll get your head bit off. But drop your eyes down to verse 9.

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
     and to open its seals,
for you were slain.

So verse 5 says, “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll.” And verse 9 says that he can open the scroll because his throat was slit. That’s what the Greek word there means: slaughter. It’s a lamblike lion. Do they go together? He arrives on Palm Sunday, already tipping his hand that, though he is King — “Hosanna! Hosanna!” — he’s on a donkey. And the children get his attention, and he pays attention to them for goodness’ sake. He makes them an illustration. He’s not oblivious to the little ones. What kind of a King is this? He’s on a donkey. He was receiving accolades with branches and clothes. And then on Good Friday, they slit his throat. What a King! What an amazing King. He gave his majestic mane-covered neck to the knife of weaklings that he could’ve snuffed out of existence at any moment. What a Lion — a lamblike Lion.

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb. (Revelation 5:6)

So he is a Lamb. Verse 5 says he’s lamb, but when John looks what he sees is a lamb. So he’s a lamblike Lion. But look what he says about this lamb in verse 6; this is a strange Lamb:

I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

Now you’re supposed to be slumped on the ground in a pile of wool with blood all over it if you’re a slain lamb. But this Lamb is standing. He was slain and he is standing. This is a strange lamb. What are the horns about? A horn everywhere in the Bible means strength. To break someone’s horn is to shatter them as an enemy. He’s got seven of them, which is a perfect number. The point here is this is a lionlike Lamb. Don’t mess with this Lamb. Can you think of any texts where it says not to mess with the Lamb? I’ll give you two.

Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.

Don’t mess with the Lamb. It’s better to commit suicide and be crushed by a rock than face the Lamb. That’s an unusual Lamb. That’s a Lamb that could get me really excited. I might be able to follow that Lamb. But I’m scared to death until I realize he was flit for me so that I could go with him, so that I wouldn’t have to be crushed. Here’s another one:

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful. (Revelation 17:14)

What a Lamb! Seven horns, seven eyes, totally knowing, totally powerful, standing though slain, and so terrifying, you’d rather be crushed by a mountain than face his opposition. So we have a lamblike Lion and we have a lionlike Lamb.

Do you think there’s any point to that? I think the point is that beauty and admirableness do not come in simple packages. They come in very complex, paradoxical packages of personhood, whether it’s a man or a woman in the analogy, or a male chorus or a female chorus in the analogy, or whether it’s the living God in human form, living out lionlike features and lamblike features. This is why we love him.

This is one of the things that Edwards meant when he said, “The evidence is direct; the mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory” (Religious Affections, 299). When you unfold the gospel in its fullness, this is the sort of thing that shines through. This is what 2 Corinthians 4:4 meant when he said, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” It’s talking about glory like this: the lamblike lioness and the lionlike lambness. It’s just so unparalleled. We just need to get this news to people. We need to figure out all kinds of ways because they’re made to know him. They’re made to see this and say, “Yes. Yes. We thought it was all about being Rambo.” It’s not about that. It’s about another, more complex strength.

So my conclusion on this first Piper favorite is that Jesus is not a simple thing. He’s not a lion merely, and he’s not a lamb merely; he’s a lionlike Lamb and a lamblike Lion, and therefore, he is magnificently attractive to my soul, so that when the Spirit is on me, in me, I am awakened to say, “I’d go anywhere with you. I just want to be with you — absolutely anywhere. Take me anywhere. I’ll go anywhere. I’ll do anything. You don’t want me at Bethlehem anymore? Where do you want me? Iraq? Just so you’re there.”

Jesus in Paradox

So let’s list off a few of these paradoxical combinations.

  • We savor him for his glory, yes, but even more so because his glory is mingled with humility.
  • We savor him for his transcendence — yes, we do — but even more because his transcendence is mingled with condescension to us.
  • We savor him for his uncompromising justice — yes, we do — but even more so because he’s tempered with mercy.
  • We savor him because of his majesty, but even more so because his majesty is woven with meekness.
  • We savor him because of his equality with God (Philippians 2:6), but even more so because, as God’s equal, he has a deep reverence for God in his humanity and submits to his Father and obeys his Father as his equal.
  • We savor him because of how worthy he is of all good, but more so, because that was accompanied by an amazing patience to suffer evil. Nobody was more worthy of being treated well than Jesus, and nobody more willingly was treated more badly. That was a plan. That was a plan to reveal glory to us.
  • We savor him because of his sovereign dominion over the world and that he’s clothed with a spirit of obedience and submission.
  • We savor him because he stumped the proud Scribes and Pharisees with his wisdom, and yet how simple he could be with children: “Let the little children come to me”(Matthew 19:14). I’m not so highfalutin in my wisdom and deity that I can’t hang out with children for goodness’ sakes. And we love that combination, do we not? A man who has no time for children, we know he’s sick or there’s something wrong with him: he’s just too full of himself. And a man who can only play with children and can’t hold his own with men, don’t let him in the nursery.
  • We admire him because he could still the storm, and he refused to take that power and call down lightning on the Samaritans, or get himself down from the cross.

So that’s a sample, and you could finish the long, long list of how the lionlike Lamb and the lamblike Lion have these diverse excellencies in himself.

2. Sorrowful, Yet Joyful

Let’s go to another Piper favorite: the mingling of joy and sorrow in Jesus. “A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” Isaiah 53:3 says about Jesus.

Jesus Wept

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41)

Picture Jesus weeping over Jerusalem as he approaches. Picture it. He comes to the tomb of Lazarus and weeps (John 11:35). He sweats drops of blood (Luke 22:44). “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). He was “ a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

So what was happening? The apostle Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Jesus said,

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34–35)

Are you happy, or are you a sullen Savior? I’m not sure I want to follow a sullen Savior. I would have to be sullen all my life. And of course, that’s only a part of the picture.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Oh, that’s better: “I’m talking to you, I’m speaking this, I’m ordaining this, I’m doing this, that my joy might be in you. Not that you might be joyful while I’m sad, but that my joy might be in you.”

Now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (John 17:13)

So already now something is sustaining all this pain. He’s not a monochromatic sadness — sad, tears, pain, aching, groaning. Yes, that’s our Savior. But he was sustained “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). That’s how he endured the cross.

But joy that is set before you is like a reservoir that is streaming back into the present. The present does not get altered in its pain, but it gets sustained in its pain. And it’s sustained because hope for everlasting, exquisite joy is joy in measure. It’s not as full as it will be someday. It’s not as glorious as it will be someday. We’re groping toward the fullness of it. But right now, one of our banner phrases at our church is 2 Corinthians 6:10: Paul simply, in defining his apostleship, says, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

You can put that right on Jesus: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Or you can turn it around: “Rejoicing, but always sorrowful.” “A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Everywhere he turned, he saw the world as it really was. We see sin; we’re not moved by sin. We get mad at sin; we don’t get broken by sin. But Jesus, he saw it all and he knew he’d carry it all. And the sadness in this man’s soul was huge, and he was always rejoicing. What a Savior — so very complex.

Enter Joy

At the end of the age, when he welcomes us into the kingdom, do you remember what Matthew 25:21–23 describes Jesus saying?

His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Who’s the happy one there? Jesus. And I’m being welcomed here. So now that he’s risen from the dead, there is a Vesuvius of uninhibited joy in his Father, in his finished work, and we will one day enter into Christ’s joy.

Every person in this room you know is crippled — emotionally crippled. Everybody, not just the people we think strange. All of us are emotionally crippled — meaning, sometimes horrifically ugly things happen, and we don’t feel the horror or the brokenness we ought to feel. Or magnificently beautiful, sweet, wonderful relational things happen, and we just don’t respond. We don’t welcome it, we don’t respond to it, we don’t say anything. We don’t feel like we ought to feel; we’re all broken. And therefore, when you read the commandments — “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) — you feel like an idiot.

That’s not always going to be true. One of the great transformations that’s going to happen at the last day when the trumpet sounds and we are transformed in the twinkling of an eye is that our emotional framework that’s broken by our parents and broken by our genes and broken by our hard experiences, it’s going to be healed on the spot. And you will have the capacity to share the joy of Jesus in his Father and the Father in Jesus in a way that is now unimaginable for you. So don’t give up on yourself if you feel: “I’m just too emotionally broken to respond the way a Christian should respond.” Of course, you are. Everybody is. This is why we repent all day long every day.

There is nobody in this room that loves God the way you should. He is worthy of magnificent allegiance, magnificent emotional engagement, magnificent thinking, and he gets forty, fifty, sixty percent of us. We just flop around between D- and C+ in giving evidence that we’re alive. I believe in assurance. I know I’m messing it up for some people, but I believe in assurance because he’s so merciful, he’ll take a D-. “You pass.” That sounds like works, doesn’t it? Be careful. The passing simply means there was evidence of life showing that I’m in him, where my righteousness is. I’m not talking about works there. I’m talking: there is a change that comes into our life in our broken lives, and we don’t get fixed until we get to heaven completely.

Greater Gladness

Hebrews 1:8–9 is an amazing statement.

But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
     the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
     with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

He’s talking about Jesus. God just talking to his Son there and he says, “You are God, and you have loved righteousness and you have hated wickedness. Now I have raised you from the dead, and I have anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” Jesus Christ is the happiest king in the universe today. You do not follow a morose king, a sullen king. You follow a king who delights in all that he does with infinite joy, and you will be welcomed there — in measure now, and fully later. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). That’s us. That was him.

3. Sovereign and Submitted

Jesus is both sovereign, and submitted to his Father on the way to die. I am biased toward my heart’s eyes seeing, savoring, enjoying instances in the Gospels of Jesus’s sovereignty. I’m biased. I know not everyone is wired the way I am. Not everybody’s wired to run into these and say, “Yes. Oh yes. Be that for me.” So just tolerate this for a minute, because I’m just going to enjoy a few of these with you.

When I read the Gospels, not everything moves me equally. That’s probably my problem. I think it’s okay. There should be some proportion, but these are the kinds of things that when I read them, I just want to come out of my chair or off my knees or just go tell the universe.

Peace to the Storm

He stilled the storm: “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). And it obeyed. And then Mark 4:41 says,

They were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him.”

I can never read that without stopping and saying, “The wind says, ‘Yes, sir.’ And the wave just goes flat. ‘Yes, sir!’” He talks to water. He talks to wind. You can’t even see wind. He talks to it, “Wind, stop.” And it stops. That’s my kind of God. That’s my kind of Savior. If I could have a friend like that — wouldn’t you want a friend like that, especially if you’re on a boat crossing the ocean.

This, of course, creates huge problems for us, like tsunamis. I get interviewed by radio people after the Virginia Tech shooting and after a tsunami. I get interviewed and they ask, “So what’s up with your God?” And you say it softly and you say it carefully and you don’t say it alone, but you do say, “My God is in heaven and establishes his throne there. He rules the world and every molecule of it. And he is in charge, and he could have stopped the massacre in Virginia, and he could’ve stopped a tsunami. And he didn’t, and whatever God permits, he permits by design because he’s infinitely wise.”

And if their next question is, “So if he’s infinitely wise, what was he doing? What was the infinitely wise purpose?” And the right answer at that moment, I think, depends on the tone of voice at the other end of the line. One of the right answers is to say to her, “God’s purpose according to Luke 13:5 is: ‘Ma’am, unless you repent, you will likewise perish.’” Because that was Jesus’s answer to the question why the tower in Siloam fell on eighteen innocent people and killed them. They asked Jesus, “What’s up?” And Jesus said,

Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:5)

“The point of the tower was to call you to repentance ma’am. This is personal, ma’am. This is not about theory here. All of us should have been under the tower. All of us should have been shot in Blacksburg. All of us should have been shot. So hear that, ma’am. There are other things I need to say — way more, way more — in terms of God’s compassion. But you’re asking me about a purpose. I can tell you one for sure: your repentance is being sought by God today, because you should’ve been shot, and you didn’t get shot. And therefore, you have another breath to breathe, and you should use it to get right with your God.

Jesus in Charge

Another instance of his sovereignty is Luke 13:31–32:

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.

Jesus is totally in charge. Do you think I’m going to be scared of Herod? He’s a fox. He thinks he’s smart. I’ve got some work to do today to cast out demons. I’ve got a few healings to do. Third day, I’m going to get myself killed, and Herod won’t be the one to do it either.

I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. (John 10:17–18)

I love every line in the Bible like that. That’s my Jesus. You think, Satan, that by putting yourself into the heart of Judas, you did this? Pilate, you think you did this? Herod, you think you did this? Gentile soldiers, you think you did this? The crowd’s crying, “Crucify him!” Do you think you did this? Read Acts 4:27–28.

Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

The Father and the Son had made a covenant: “We will save the world on our terms and our time.” “Now you go down and do it, Son.” “Yes, sir, I will. As much as it will hurt, I will. Unimaginable pain — I will. Yes, sir.” And as he walks toward the cross to do that, don’t mess with him. His hour is not yet here. “Herod’s just a fox. I don’t need to be afraid of you. My Father and I have agreed when and how I’m going to die. So step aside.”

Redeemed from Failure

I just love this next text. It is so beautiful, so full of power, so full of grace.

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when [not if] you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31–32)

In other words, “I’ve got to plan for you, Peter. I didn’t choose you as a rock for nothing. I just know that you’re going to deny me three times. I know that. You don’t think so, but I know so. But guess what, Peter? I’m praying. And I’m asking the Father, ‘Don’t let his faith fail utterly.’” It’s fails, but it doesn’t fail utterly. Picture that sovereign glance that night. Only one of the Gospels records it. Jesus looks at him. That prayer gets answered with a look (Luke 22:59).

“When you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). What’s going on here? He’s making a rock by breaking it. This sin is plan. All sin is planned. God is sovereign.

  • “You meant evil . . . but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
  • “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

So yes, he’s going to go down three times. But Jesus says, “I’m praying for you. You won’t lose your faith utterly. When you turn, be a rock.” It took him quite a while to learn that. He messed up with Cornelius, and he messed up in the book of Galatians. Peter was quite the failure in many ways, but Jesus was sovereign at the denial.

Hour of Darkness

We see Jesus’s sovereignty again in Luke 22:52–53.

Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

What does that mean? It means: “You had all those opportunities to take me, right there in front of everybody. I’m teaching and you wanted to kill me. You wouldn’t do it. You couldn’t do it. And now you’re here. What’s going on? I’ll tell you what’s going on: This is your hour. And this is the hour of the power of darkness. My Father and I have agreed. You get an hour. Take me. But this hour is going to close.” (This is a metaphorical hour, not a literal hour.) It’s your hour.

So you’ve got this hour or less, a fraction of three days, then your hour is over. “And in that hour, you’re going to swallow me up like a whale, and I’m going to poke your guts out from inside.” (That’s an image I got from Jonathan Edwards.) And just like the whale vomited out Jonah, death vomited out Jesus. And death has been sick ever since. And death will one day be washed up on the sea and eaten by wolves, or as the Bible says, “thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14).

Son of the Blessed

Mark 14:61 describes a moment when Jesus has the least opportunity to be taken seriously in what he says. He’s on trial.

But he remained silent [like a lamb led to slaughter] and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”

It’s as if the high priest is saying, “Just stake your claim if you are. You’ve been talking riddles all your three years here, and we’re trying to nail you on this. So come forth.” And now when it can least likely be believed, it’s crystal clear. Jesus said,

And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

Why didn’t Jesus say that earlier? Why didn’t he say that right after he multiplied the five loaves and two fish in order to feed five thousand? Then people would have said, “Yeah, right. That fits.” And here he is with his hands probably tied, spit running down his face. And he’s surrounded by power brokers who are going to hand him over to Pilate and finally he says, “I am the Christ, the Son of the blessed, and by the way, you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” That’s the most outrageous time to say such a thing because he just keeps us off balance. He won’t fit our expectations.

Paradise Today

One more on this point: Luke 23:43. This is filled with hope for us. Are there any robbers here, any adulterers here, any murders here? Yes, there are. Some perhaps literally, but in all of us spiritually, because, if you hate, you’re a murderer. Jesus was crucified beside one of these fellows, and the fellow turned to him. I wrote a poem about this one time to try to figure out what went on in this guy’s head because he was wicked all his life. And in my little imaginary way, he was watching Jesus. There were both railing at him. And then he watches Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

And by one act his heart ascended to see glory. And he knew: That is not a criminal. That’s the Son of God. And he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). That’s an amazing statement of faith. And Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus is sovereign and in charge: “Even before I rise from the dead, I’m joining you in paradise.”

So take a deep breath and savor your God. He is sovereign, time after time after time in the Gospels, and he is exerting his majesty and exerting it all the way to be a Lamb. That’s what makes it beautiful. Any old big shot can strut. Jesus didn’t strut. He walked with sober authority and power on his way to die for you. That’s amazing, and I love it.

4. Easy and Safe, Hard and Dangerous

I’m off to a new Piper favorite now. What about the paradoxes of his teaching concerning whether it’s easy or hard to follow him? Or whether it’s safe or dangerous to follow him? Which is it? And his answer is yes. A superficial reading of the Gospels without the Holy Spirit quickening you to see the diverse excellence coming together in one beautiful person, would just cause you to scratch your head over and over again. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Easy Yoke or Hard Road?

Matthew 11:28–30 is very familiar. We all love it.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

What about Matthew 7:13–14?

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

I’d say, “Are you psychotic? Are you schizophrenia? What is up?” First he says, “Come to me. Come to me, all you who labor. I’ve got rest for you. I am meek. I am lowly. I’ve got a yoke. We’ll put the yoke on, but the yoke is easy. I’ve got a burden, but the burden is light.” And then he says, “Get on the narrow way. Because the way that goes to hell is so easy and the way that leads to heaven is so hard.” That’s my Jesus. That’s my glorious Jesus. And do you know why I think he talks like that? Because he wants us to pause, think, ponder, and realize we’re dealing with something extraordinary. If Jesus were just understandable so that everything fits in, makes sense, no problems. If we’ve got him all figured out, then he wouldn’t be God. As the God man, he unfolds for us a way of life that is as perplexing as he is.

So here’s my way to put those together. They’re both true; he said them. The reason that the way is hard is because it is a struggle to believe that it’s easy. If we trusted him fully, it would be easy. But faith is a fight. Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). And what’s he fighting? He’s not fighting to perform for God. That’s works. He’s fighting to trust him. Because we’re wired to do it ourselves. I’m wired to think, “I’m not going to depend on you. I’m going to depend on me.” And so it’s hard to be on the narrow road because the narrow road is the road of faith: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom” (Matthew 18:3).

And so the narrow way is the way of childlikeness, and nobody in this room likes being a child. We like being self-sufficient adults for goodness’ sakes. And so it’s hard to stay on the road of weak childlikeness that lets him work for us. Here’s my little image. If any of you is an artist, I’ll be happy to take a little piece of artwork in a year or two after you finish it. Because somebody did this for me one time, and I lost it. I feel so bad. I said, “Paint this picture.” Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). So a yoke is a big wood thing that fits on the back of oxen. And Jesus said, “I’ve got one of those for your shoulders.” It’s supposed to be easy and light. Jesus said, “I’ve got it, so put it on, because it is easy.” But it’s a yoke. Yokes are for pulling ploughs through rocky soil and service and work and yokes don’t connote ease. But he says, “Put it on. Put it on: my life and my teaching.”

He puts the yoke on my back, and he’s got the handles of the plough. We’ve got an old-fashioned two-handle plough here. And he says, “Let’s go. We’ve got a church to lead here. We’ve got some evangelism to do. We’re going to plough this soil.” He takes the handles and says, “Let’s go.” And then with Popeye-like forearms, he lifts me off of the ground.” And then he pushes the plough.

Isn’t that little image a picture of 1 Peter 4:11? That’s the most important philosophy of ministry verse at our church.

Whoever serves, [let him seve as] one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I don’t know any other way to describe that in this image than to say, “Okay, I’m supposed to help you with this plough by relying on your power. You’ve got the handles.” And if I’m relying on his power, then he’s pushing this thing, and I’m trusting him to do it. So I look pretty stupid just hanging there, which is hard; it’s hard to look stupid, to be childlike, to be totally dependent. And since it’s hard, he says it’s hard. But it’s easy if you just stop and think about it. To hang in a yoke or to be a child? It’s easy to be a child. You just receive things all day long. If you’re hungry, you cry and you get food. But nobody likes to be like that. That’s why not many are on the road.

Safe in Death

Now, when you follow Jesus, are you safe or are you in danger? Listen to this. I don’t even have to choose two texts here. It’s all in one.

You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. (Luke 21:16)

Now that is a promise: some of you will be put to death. Trying to avoid the death of all the members of your church who are missionaries is a bad strategy. It’s okay to try to avoid it; just don’t make that the bottom line. If some of your missionaries come back in a coffin, you haven’t failed. Jesus promises come true.

Some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 21:16–18)

What’s that like? Did they move my hair when they cut off my head? So what does he mean? This is amazing. What does our Lord Jesus, so filled with glorious diverse excellencies, mean? He means the same thing he did in Matthew 10:28:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

In other words, don’t fear man, because you can only be killed, fear God, because you can be sent to hell. And then he follows that in Matthew 10:29–31 by saying,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“The hairs of your head are all numbered. Not a hair turns white or black without God. No sparrow falls to the ground without God. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. He’s totally in charge over your life. And you do not be afraid of death because today you’ll be with me in paradise.”

All Authority

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

  • all authority over galaxies and endless reaches of space
  • all authority over the top of mountains and valleys and oceans
  • all authority over plants and animals, from the peaceful blue whale to the microscopic killer viruses
  • all authority over weather movements and earth and hurricanes and tornadoes
  • all authority over chemical processes that heal or destroy
  • all the authority over countries and governments, over Al Qaeda
  • all authority over bombings and beheadings and campus massacres
  • all authority over bin Laden, nuclear threats from Iran or Russia or North Korea
  • all authority over all politics and elections
  • all authority over media and entertainment and sports and leisure
  • all the authority over education and universities and scholarship and science and research
  • all authority over business and finance and industry and manufacturing and transportation
  • all authority over the internet and all the information systems in the world

“I have total authority in this universe, so go make disciples (that was the Lion talking), because I’ll be with you (that’s the Lamb talking). That’s the lamblike Lion and the lionlike Lamb. “I’ll be with you. I’ll never leave you. I’ll never forsake you.” Put verse 18 and verse 20 together. I have all the authority, and I’ll be with you.” The majesty and the intimacy together is enough to take us out of here — on his side, for his glory, ready to lay down our lives because he will never, never forsake us in his majesty and meekness. He is so worthy to be seen and savored.