And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me — to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And he has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
On the banner behind me you read: “Thankful for the Love of God. Why?” And you might think, “That is so obvious. What’s the point? It’s plain why. To be loved is a wonderful thing. You don’t need any explanation, do you?” And my answer is it’s not obvious why we should be thankful for the love of God. It’s not. When you’re loved, you’re given something that is good for you, usually at significant cost to another. And the better it is for you, the more love and the more cost to the lover, the more love you feel. But it isn’t obvious what that gift is. It isn’t obvious why the love that God gives us and leads us into is good for us.
Let me get at it by comparing the issue of forgiveness. Why should you care about being forgiven? That’s not obvious either. Take a husband who has wronged a wife, perhaps even abused or just spoken cruelly, and he wants forgiveness, and he asks for it. Is that a good thing? Maybe. The question is, “Why does he want forgiveness?” Is it because his conscience is killing him and he is losing sleep at night? Is it because he’s getting an ulcer because of the tension in the air? Is it because he’s starting to be afraid maybe even for his life because she is so angry at him that he is not sure he wants to go to sleep next to her? Are those the reasons why he might want forgiveness? If so, I say there is no virtue in this. It is not obvious why you might want to be forgiven.
Of course, another alternative would be that he misses his wife. There is such an alienation; there’s such a distance between them. They can scarcely talk with each other. He wants her back. He loves her. He misses her. She doesn’t talk the way she used to talk. She doesn’t touch the way she used to touch. Is that good? That’s good. That’s real good.
You see it is not obvious to say, “I want you to forgive me, God; I want you to love me.” Maybe it’s good, and maybe it’s not. So I asked that question. I asked Chuck to put that on the front of the bulletin. Hang it up. “Thankful for the love of God — but why?” What’s your answer? Why do you want God to love you this morning? It might be a good answer, and it might be a bad answer. Why do you want God to forgive you this morning? It might be a good answer, and it might be a bad answer. And that’s what I want to take a few minutes to talk about with you.
The Love of Jesus in John 11
Let’s turn to John 11:1–6. My aim this morning is that you will see what the good is that God’s love gives you, and that you will want this good more than you want anything in the world, and that you will receive it this morning as a gift. That’s my goal. I have used this text now in about five settings in the last couple of months because no other text has gripped me like this in driving home this central point.
“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair.” So this is clearly a picture of sweetness and love. Mary loved Jesus, and Jesus loved Mary. (Mark that word love; it will show up several more times.)
“It was this woman whose brother Lazarus was sick.” Verse three: “So the sisters sent word to him saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom you love [there it is, “he whom you love”] is sick.’ But when Jesus heard this, he said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified in it.’ [So now you have two profound realities on the table — love and glory. The love of Christ and the glory of Christ. And my question is, “How do they relate to each other?”] Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was sick, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was and let him die.”
Notice three things: (1) Jesus chose to let Lazarus die; (2) he was motivated in this by his zeal for the glory of God to be manifest; (3) this motivation is love.
Do you see the word “so” or “therefore” at the beginning of verse six? Do you see what precedes and follows it? It is preceded by: Jesus loved Martha, Jesus loved Mary, Jesus loved the dying man Lazarus — therefore he did not go heal him, but stayed two days longer where he was and saw to it that he died. Now, what on earth could possibly turn that into love? Verse four: “This is not going to end in death. This is all about the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified in it.”
A Definition of the Love of God
So here’s my definition of the love of God based on this text: God’s love is his doing whatever needs to be done, at whatever cost, so that we will see and be satisfied with the glory of God in Jesus Christ. Let me say it again. The love of God is his doing whatever needs to be done, at whatever cost to himself or to us, so that we will see and be satisfied by the love of God in Christ forever and ever.
Let me confirm this with John 17:24. Here’s Jesus praying for us. And he loves us in this prayer. Oh how he loves us in this prayer. John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me may be with me where I am so that they may see my glory.” If Jesus loves you and prays for you, do you know what he finally asks for you? That you may see him. The ultimate answer to the prayer of love is, “Show them my glory, Father. Show them my glory, and they will have arrived at ultimate satisfaction.”
Now turn with me to 2 Corinthians 12:7–9. Paul says, “to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me to keep me from exalting myself. Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it would leave me. And he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you . . . power is perfected in weakness.’” To which Paul responds, “Most gladly, therefore, I will boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
Notice three things again. First, love did not take away the thorn, just like he didn’t heal Lazarus. Second, love had something more — more important and more satisfying — to give. Third, the all-sufficient, all-satisfying grace and power of Christ is more important to give. So what does love do when we cry out, “Help me! Love me! Forgive me!”? God says, “I will engage all my might and the life of my Son to give you what you need most — me! A fellowship with me, a sight of me, an enjoyment of me.”
I said this in Orlando on Friday night to a group called the Ivy Jungle. And a man came up to me afterward and he said, “Now wait a minute.” He opened his Bible to John 3:16. He said, “This is the verse I know. This is the verse I love. How does what you just said fit into this verse? ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.’” And I said, “It fits like this. John 17:3: ‘This is eternal life, that they know you, Father, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’”
“Until Christ becomes our treasure, we do not know what it is to be loved by God.”
Why do you want to be loved by God? Yes, not to perish. Yes, not to go to hell. Yes, not to have a guilty conscience anymore. Yes, to have the marriage put back together. But if that’s all you want, you do not know him. You do not know him. It is for life. And what is life? It is to know him and his Son. It is to fellowship with him. It is to behold him. It is to be satisfied with him. It is to enjoy him. Until Christ becomes our treasure, we do not know what it is to be loved by God.
Why are you thankful for the love of God today? I hope before we are done, God will have worked in your heart so that you see enough of God the Father and enough of God the Son, Jesus Christ, so that you will know and feel that it is not finally for the relief of your conscience. It is not finally for escape from hell. It is not finally for health in our bodies or reconciliation among our family members. It is finally to bring you home to God where you can see him and enjoy him forever and ever and ever.
Do you want this? Do you want this? Do you want to be loved by God for God? Do you want to be loved by God for God, or do you only want to be loved by God because it feels good that he seems to make much of you?
The American Definition of Love
Have you taken the American definition of love — being made much of — and so twisted God to fit that definition so that now the only way you would feel loved by God is if he makes much of you? When in fact, the love of God is so working as to change you so that you enjoy making much of him forever and ever and ever. And that’s the end of your quest. There is not anything beyond it. I do believe that is in every heart in this room. And we are all fallen, and we are all sinners. And I know that every person in this room has a distorted desire for God, and it’s on the way to being purified, and it’s being tricked.
You are being tricked, many of you, into thinking that the satisfying thing in life is to be made much of. If I could just get some people to clap for me, to like me, to approve of me, to give me a raise or to give me an advancement, if I could just get someone to pay attention to me, I would be satisfied. You wouldn’t. I promise you. In the name of Jesus Christ Almighty, you wouldn’t. You will be satisfied when you forget yourself and are swallowed up in Jesus Christ, and he becomes your treasure and your delight and what you cherish and what you value and what you spend the rest of your eternity growing in your capacity to see and savor — to know and delight in him forever and ever — and it will get better and better and better.
So let me do this for just a moment. If that’s true, then perhaps I need to include in this message a few brief pointers for your spirit’s eyes, a few pointers for your eyes toward this all-satisfying Christ. If that’s what you’re made for, which you are, everybody, believer or unbeliever, in this room was made to behold him. You know, there are clues in your life. Everybody in this room right now has clues in your life that you were not made to be made much of; you were made to make much of God.
Clues That We Are to Make Much of God
So let’s look at two clues that show we were made to make much of God.
1. The Pleasures of Being Made Much of Are Dirty
Here’s clue number one. You were made to make much of God because the pleasures you get right now from being made much of are dirty. They feel dirty to you. You know that when you go to bed at night having taken great delight in others praising you and approving you and saying nice things, you feel dirty. You know you do. It isn’t to be that way. You’re to be full in giving that; you’re not to be craving that. You know that. It’s written on your heart not to crave that, but to go get it from God.
2. You Are Designed to Be Satisfied with Splendor, Not Self
There’s another clue as well. Nobody in this room would go to the Grand Canyon to increase your sense of self-esteem. Nobody stands on the edge of the Alps or the Rockies or the Grand Canyon in order to go there to feel better about ourselves. Do you know why you go there? Because you were written to be satisfied with splendor, not self. You were created and a law written on your heart to be infinitely, eternally, fully, joyfully satisfied in a grand splendor not a great self. I plead with you lay it down. Lay down your quest for the applause of men, the approval of men, and begin to get on a quest for the one thing that will satisfy your soul — the splendor of Jesus Christ and all that God is for you in him. I just plead with you for your own soul’s infinite happiness that you will stop pursuing it in the wrong place.
Glimpses of Jesus
Now let me point you to the right place for just a moment. A few glimpses of Jesus. Oh how we need to devote ourselves to seeing him.
1. Mercy and Might
Glimpse number one: We love persons who combine in themselves very strange and seeming opposites, do we not? And Jesus is called a lion and a lamb. We love to see mercy and might come together. We sing it: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning our songs shall rise to thee. Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty.” And that’s what makes him so attractive, mercy and might coming together in one person in Jesus. Meekness and courage, humility and sovereignty, tenderness and toughness, all-authoritative, self-sacrificing, deserving of all honor and receiving all shame for you.
And then there’s another one. I use an illustration to give it to you, this other balance. I grew up in a home where my dad was on the road three-fourths of the time. My mother did most of my rearing. She was 5’ 2” tall — and I passed her at about age thirteen and got to where I am now — 5’ 9” — and towered over her as a fourteen-year-old, and was a pretty brash kid, mouthy and disrespectful too often. My mother is with Jesus now, and we made it right real good many times as I wised up. My dad told me one time that she called him more than once in tears about me — I didn’t know this — saying, “What am I supposed to do? He’s bigger than I am, he’s mouthy; I need you here!”
And my dad said to her, “Be firm and be sweet. Be firm and be sweet.” And she was. My mother slapped me in the face, though she had to reach, if I mouthed off at her. She one time washed my mouth out with soap because I said “shut up” to somebody, not even her. She took me home from church one night because I skipped training union, which was a Sunday evening Sunday school at our church, and used a belt on my behind. My mother was no pushover at 5’ 2”. And she served me like a slave, in sweetness and humility, when daddy was gone. She taught me everything I know about everything practical.
“Open your Bibles and study the gospels until you see Jesus for who he is.”
You know why I think I believe in God today? Cause my mother was a good “God” to me. God will smack me. He will whip me. And he will serve me. And he will kiss me. And he will rub my back at night. And he will understand when I couldn’t stand up in front of a group and say anything because I was so nervous. My God understands me, and my God disciplines me. And you know why I believe that today? Yes, it is in the Bible, but a lot of people see it in the Bible and they hate it. I had a mom who got it together. And that’s why I’m saying if you didn’t have that mom or you didn’t have that dad, you’ve got that Jesus, and I want you to look at him. He’s infinitely worthy. He pulls things together that other people can’t get together. Steadily look at him in the Bible. I plead with you open your Bibles and study the gospels until you see him for who he is.
2. A Happy Savior
That’s glimpse number one. Here’s a second glimpse. He is an indestructibly happy savior. Isn’t it great to hear him say things like, “I have spoken these things to you that my joy might be in you and your joy might be full”? His joy in us! And then there’s that great parable at the end in Matthew 25 where we’re gathered before him and the sheep and the goats are being separated and the sheep draw near to him and he says, “Well done good and faithful servant. You were found faithful in little; you will be found faithful in much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Do you need a picture of heaven with Jesus? “Enter into the joy of your master.” We have an invincibly triumphant savior — Jesus Christ. Don’t turn away from him to yourself. Don’t want praise for you; give praise to him. Know him; he’ll satisfy you.
3. Power and Authority
Here’s a third glimpse. Power and authority. Oh how we admire power. Oh how we admire “Shaq attacks,” unmovable under the backboard. How we love to watch those planes that have about ten times more thrust than they are heavy, and they go straight up accelerating. I read in a news magazine — and I couldn’t believe this when I saw it — that a 127-pound Romanian weightlifter snatched 350 pounds. I just stood in awe of that. Can you imagine standing in awe of something so stupid and little and small? That’s the way I’m wired, and you are too. We stand in awe of power.
My wife and I and two of our sons were in Pensacola, Florida, when Hurricane Erin came over, the first hurricane I’ve ever been in, the last one I hope I’ll ever be in. The eye of the hurricane came right over our heads. And we were hiding in a house. And it devastated the whole neighborhood. Chimneys came down. Gigantic oak trees were knocked right on their side. We didn’t know whether the house would fly off or not. And my wife wrote a poem about it. I’ll read it to you.
God strode the beach
Our legs and faces could not bear the piercing, blasting sand
God stepped ashore
Palms, waves, scattering branches in his path
God strode inland
Magnolias, pines and oaks who had stretched a hundred years toward God fell to the ground before him
God stood and breathed, while we in the dark, closed closet feared to face his glory
Yes, we did, but oh how I loved it. I loved it. And you know that’s written on your heart, too. You go to see these crazy, wild, hard cinematic productions of fearful demonstrations. You do the rerun on September 11, because even horrific power does something to us in here, puts us on the brink of eternity, wakes us up to reality. And even in all of its horrific power we know we want power. We want to see it; we want to behold it. And Jesus has all power. Jesus having died and been raised will never die again. Death no longer has dominion over him. And we love that about him.
4. Wisdom and Knowledge
Glimpse number four: he is infinitely wise and infinitely knowledgeable. Oh how we love people who know a lot. We watch these TV programs with all their questions and answers, and we stand in awe of those who know a thousand things that we don’t know. We give admiration to scholars and pay them lots of money and clothe them with colorful garments and put them in charge of universities and stand in awe that they can write big, complicated books. We love people who know lots.
Let me tell you what Jesus knows. It’s not enough to say he knows everything. He knows everything there is to know. Every scholar who has ever known anything Jesus knows that; it’s a first-grade reader to him, including physics. But you know what the Bible says? No one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son. Have you ever pondered that? What is that? No one knows the Father but the Son.
To know everything there is to know as a finite creation is big . . . big! I did marvel that those astronomers could tell us it would be between 4 and 6 this morning when the sky would be filled with meteors. Did you get up? I got up. Walked out in the backyard with my pajamas on. I put on a coat, and put on two different boots — I couldn’t find the pair in the dark — and walked out and stood and I saw fifteen meteors. And then I got cold and went back in and watched from the window. It struck me as amazing. You know, this earth really is not flat. Somebody did land on the moon. And these astronomers do seem to know what they’re talking about. They predicted this; they got it exactly right.
I stand in awe of that kind of knowledge, and that’s nothing compared to what Jesus knows. But you know what? If you know everything there is to know about this universe and creation, you know a parochial amount. What’s real knowledge is whether you know everything there is to know about the infinite God. Jesus does. Everything.
The love of God for you is the work of God at great cost to give you the gift of Jesus Christ to enjoy forever and all that he is for you in him. It is not mainly about escape from hell, though that is precious beyond words. It is not mainly about a conscience that is clear, though that is precious beyond words. It is not mainly about all the ways he heals your mind and heals your body and heals your relationships, though that is precious beyond words. But these are not the main thing. The main thing is 1 Peter 3:18: “Christ suffered once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.” To bring us to God!
“The essence of sin is this: exchanging the glory of God for his gifts and creation.”
Thankful for the love of God. Why? Because at great cost to himself, it brings us to God. It brings us to the splendor behind all splendor. You think the Alps or the Rockies are something? Do you think the Grand Canyon is something? You young people, do you think your favorite music group is something? These are echoes of splendor. And, of course, we all know — or maybe we don’t — that there’s a massive obstacle between us and God, and it is called sin. And the essence of sin is this: exchanging the glory of God for his gifts and creation. You are offered God for your fellowship forever, and you lay it aside and you take his gifts and say, “No thank you. I’m not interested in fellowship with you and enjoying you and being satisfied with you. I want your gifts — wife, child, the applause of men, health. That’s what I want.”
Would You Want to Be in Heaven If God Wasn’t There?
Justin Taylor, one of our assistants at Desiring God, was riding on the plane with me back from Philadelphia, and the guy next to him got into a conversation about Christ. And the question Justin put to him that bore right to the heart was, “Would you want to be in heaven if God weren’t there?” Blew the guy away. He said, “Never even thought about that question.”
So I’m closing by asking you, “Would you want to be in heaven if Jesus weren’t there?” You could have all the health you wanted. You could have all the relationships with friends you wanted. You could have a clean conscience. You could have your favorite toys and recreation — just no Jesus. Would you want to be there? A woman came forward in our church two weeks ago whose tears were just running down her face. She quoted me that question that I had asked and she said, “Yeah, I would. I would, and I’m scared of myself.” She was honest, and we need to be honest.
God’s love is his doing everything it takes, even the death of his Son, in order to so work in you that you would stop feeling loved by being made much of and start feeling loved by the enjoyment of making much of him forever in all that you do.
So, this is good news, and I pray that you will see it. He came to his own and his own received him not (John 1:11). But to as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God (John 1:12). And if children, then heirs, heirs of God (Romans 8:17). Whom have we in heaven but thee? And on earth there is nothing that we desire besides thee. Our flesh and our heart may fail, but you are the strength of our heart, and you are our portion forever (Psalm 73:25–26). You’re our inheritance forever. And that’s what I long for him to do in you for you this morning.