If I had to do the title over again for tonight rather than the one I gave a month or so ago, it would be called God is the Gospel. I would really like to write a book by that title someday. And I think I will if God gives me grace. The title I gave was The Whole Glory of the Gospel of God: From Him, Through Him, and to Him. They mean the same thing, but I would have simplified it.
God Is the Gospel
Let me give you the point or the thesis, and then we’ll start unpacking it: The gospel is the good news that by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of the blood and righteousness of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, sinners are enabled to have God as their full and everlasting joy. That’s the gospel. The gospel, the good news of God, is that by grace alone, through faith alone, by means of and on the basis of the blood and righteousness of Christ alone (as we spoke about last night), to the glory of God alone, sinners are enabled to have God as their full and everlasting pleasure. That’s what I think the gospel is.
And I have a burden that there is not enough gospel preaching in the church and to the world that shows that all the accomplishments of the cross terminate, ultimately, in the enjoyment of God, or else it’s not biblical good news. There are many things that Christ bought for us which people want without that. And we’ll end there talking about maybe eight or nine glorious, precious, biblical things that the cross of Christ bought for us, secured for us, and guaranteed for us, which if you only have them are not the gospel.
Many people want things that Christ bought for his people minus the enjoyment of God as the terminus, the end point, and the goal of their eternity. So, that’s where we’re going.
The God-Centeredness of God
Now, this assumes a huge God-centeredness to the gospel. And I think, the best way to unpack the God-centeredness of the gospel is to unpack the God-centeredness of God in the gospel. That is, we need to trace from eternity to eternity, from predestination to consummation, the saving works of God in such a way that we see in them God’s God-centeredness in doing them.
Until people feel the God’s-centeredness of God, I don’t think they are going to be able to fathom the gospel. They’re not going to be able to understand where the gospel is going and what is good news about the gospel, which isn’t mainly about having your guilt removed so that you struggle less with the bad feelings of your sin. That is absolutely precious. We would die for that. And it’s not the goal of the gospel.
The enjoyment of God is the goal of the gospel. Everything else that the cross purchased is a means to that end. That’s where we’ll end. But to get there, I think we need to see how God is central in his own heart and mind at every stage of his saving work for us. Let’s take a tour of the biblical, redemptive work of God. We will start with predestination, then go to creation, incarnation, salvation, propitiation, sanctification, and consummation and notice how the Bible at every point explicitly says, “This is all about God.” And then, we’ll do a little detours along the way because I’ve been picking up questions here and I want to do detours to answer some questions. It’s going to be a little bit disjointed because I’d like to address some things I’ve been hearing within the context of what I had planned to say anyway.
Let’s start with predestination. I’m going to go to Ephesians 1:5–6 and simply read the goal of predestination — that is, God’s predestining who would be saved before the world existed. It says in Ephesians 1:5–6:
He predestined us for adoption (he looked into the future and destined some to adoption) to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Now, that’s a literal translation. Your version might say “to the praise of his glorious grace,” or something like that. It doesn’t matter. Those mean the same thing. It is to the praise of the glory of his grace. That’s the goal. That’s what it means. This first thing is happening unto that purpose. What’s happening? Predestination unto sonship; that is, some are predestined to be folded effectually into the family of God. Why? So that they would praise the glory of God’s grace.
Boil that down and shorten it down. God predestines that he would be praised. That’s what it says really clearly. That’s really easy and clear. You just have to make sure you put the front end of the sentence together with the back end of the sentence and not get lost in the middle. He predestined us unto the praise of his glory. He chose to do a certain thing so that he gets praised.
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
Now, here’s a little detour I’d like to make. I’m picking up that there are a lot of questions in your minds. I know there are Acts 29 folks here and a lot of non-Acts 29 folks, and you’ll have the same questions perhaps. People are thinking, “How do those kinds of Reformed distinctives fit together with other distinctives, like being radically committed to evangelism and prayer?” A lot of people stumble over that, thinking, “Okay, there’s predestination, and God decides in eternity who he is going to draw to himself and fold into his family so that they will praise his glory and the glory of his grace forever. How does that fit together now with evangelism?”
I’m going to picture an evangelistic moment and use texts to describe the movement. Here’s God, and here’s an evangelist, or any of you — just a person who may be sitting across from a lunch table at work with an unbeliever. And God has brought you to himself. Let’s just start there. You have a Christian, and this Christian has a burden that this person be a Christian. Now, we have a little triangle here — God, a Christian acting as an evangelist, and an unbeliever.
Now for the line between God and the Christian, I would write texts on it like Romans 10:14–15, which says:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
So, this Christian here, according to Romans 10:14, is being sent to that person by God. So this line is fixed. God has himself a spokesman, saying, “Go speak my gospel to this person.”
Now, we need a line here between the Christian and the unbeliever. This line is, “How shall they hear unless somebody preaches?” (Romans 10:14). The Christian is being sent, and his conversation with the unbeliever is the preaching. You have the preaching of the gospel going this way toward the unbeliever, and you have hearing going this way from the unbeliever toward the Christian.
Whosoever Wills May Come
I need to make clear, I think, that as a lover of the sovereignty of God, a believer in predestination, that there are a lot checks along this line that I cherish along with my Arminian brothers. For example, I will say, across a lunch table or in an evangelistic meeting or in this meeting right now, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Anyone, let him come” (John 3:37–38). Or I will say, “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 (Matthew 11:28–30). Come to me.” Or I will say, “How often would I have gathered you like a hen and gathers her chicks? And you would not,” with tears be flowing down Jesus’s face. Calvinists, Reformed people, preach that way.
You’re looking at him across the table, and according to John 3:16 you say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever would believe in him, including you, will have no more perishing. You won’t come into eternal death. You’ll have everlasting life.” You say that across the table to the person. Or you say 1 Timothy 2:4, “He desires all men to be saved.” You say that. You don’t apologize for that. A Reformed believer in predestination is not embarrassed by the Bible. He’s not embarrassed by the statement, “He desires all men to be saved, including you.”
God Desires All to Be Saved
Now, I’m sticking in a sub-parenthesis here. All of us have issues with that verse. It doesn’t really matter what your theology is here. All men are not saved, unless you’re a universalist. And if you are, you won’t join this church. And you’re just in another world from where I am biblically.
But those of us who are struggling within the biblical framework to understand God, know all people are not saved. And so, we’ve all got an issue here. God desires something that doesn’t happen. And then, we just offer different explanations for why it doesn’t happen. And the question is, which is biblical? An Arminian says, “God prizes free will above saving everybody,” and a Calvinists says, “God prizes his own glory in the display of all of his excellencies, including justice and wrath, above saving everybody.” The question is, which is biblical? Everybody qualifies that word desire. That’s the end of the sub-parenthesis.
Jesus Is Calling
Back to this image here. You say that to him. You’re not embarrassed by that, you say to him, “There is a profound, real sense in which God wants you saved. He sent me here. I’m across this table in the name of Jesus. On behalf of God, I say to you be reconciled to God.” Or you say with Romans 10:21, “All day long, he has held out his arms to a disobedient and rebellious people.” So, you’re willing to picture God holding out his arms to a disobedient and rebellious people. That’s the way we preach. You should preach that way. Preach and share.
There’s an old song that never gets sung in this church, probably. Maybe you might have put it to some new music. I’d love to hear it if you did. It’s called Softly and Tenderly. It’s an old invitation song that my dad used as an evangelist for 50 years while he was saving more people under God’s blessing than I’ll ever shake a stick at. It says:
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
calling for you and for me;
see, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home;
you who are weary come home;
I can just picture my dad dozens of times as an evangelist, coming down out of the pulpit, standing at the front with his arms open while the choir and the people are sining, tears running down his face, looking at people right in the eye, saying, “Come home, come home. You who are weary, come home. Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. Calling for you and for me.”
Can a Reformed person sing that song? The answer is yes. So now, you’ve got a picture that looks so unreformed and unpredestinarian. You’ve got God in the form of Jesus, in the form of an evangelist, looking at people saying, “See in the portal, through the window, he’s waiting and watching.” That does not sound like predestination and irresistible grace. It’s just very biblical.
Now there’s the picture. We’ve got a triangle. Actually, we don’t. We have a right angle, don’t we? We have God and we this loving, ready-to-lay-down-his-life Christian evangelist, who may be a week old in the Lord — that was intended to motivate you to get off your butt. And then, we’ve got this unbeliever who’s desperately in need of these baby believers talking to them about what’s just happened to them and using every verse in the Bible they can think of including all the ones that I just said.
More than the Right Circumstances
Now, I’m going to create the rest of the triangle for you. You’re at an evangelistic meeting. My dad just just finished a 45-minute sermon, poured out his heart sharing the glories of the cross and the sufficiency of the cross for all people who will believe. And he’s now standing in front, singing Softly and Tenderly.
You have brought your dad whom you love very much, and he’s not a believer. You’re a week or a month or a year old in the Lord. And you want your dad to hear the gospel and be saved. You don’t want to lose your dad to hell. And you’re sitting several rows back and the song is being sung. And in your heart, you know a lot of prayers have been answered up to this point. Your dad came, as you prayed, “Oh God, may he be willing to come? And would you put really good, solid gospel in the mouth of the preacher?” And your prayer happened. And then you prayed, “Would you issue a very loving, open-armed invitation to my dad?” And that has happened. Three prayers have been answered, and there you sit now. You’re there beside your dad. He’s just heard the gospel. You’re sitting there beside him. You bend down and your face is in your hands.
And I just want to ask you now, what are you praying? Are you done praying? Do you think, “You’ve done everything you can do, God. And now, it’s all him. So, I’m not praying anymore.” Hardly anybody relates to God and their dad that way.
My son walked away from Jesus at age 19 and walked back at age 23. He was excommunicated as I read the letter to the church, and he was magnificently welcomed back with tears flowing down his cheek. I tell you, during those four of the worst years of my life as a pastor, I cried more buckets of tears than I did over my dead mother or any other crisis in my church. And I didn’t pray, “Well, you’ve done all you can do. It’s all him now.” Now, before I tell you what I said to the Lord, I want to say what’s happening here now is that what every son wants for a dad is that the triangle would be completed.
God called the believer to preach. God brought the unbeliever into the sway of the gospel. The gospel has been heard. The gospel has been preached. There’s a kid here, sitting there praying, what is he asking God to do? He’s asking God to complete the triangle by sending the Holy Spirit down underneath his dad’s heart, not to make a robot out of him, but to change him such that he sees the irresistible beauty of Christ, and thus, freely says, “Yes.” That’s what you’re praying. You’re praying, “Oh God, save my dad.” Now, let me give you some verses for this arrow from God to the unbeliever, because that is what makes a person Reformed.
Seeing the Whole Picture
Up until now, we have a beautiful, Arminan right angle. And it is all true, just like last night when I said the way they believe about the atonement is true, it’s just that we believe more than they believe. And now, I’m saying the same thing. Amen, God calls preachers. Amen, God sends creatures. Amen, God helps and enables gospel to come. Amen, this guy’s responsible and must use his will to respond. That whole right angle is true and it’s biblical.
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat! (Isaiah 55:1)
That’s just not the whole biblical story. In fact, if it were, nobody would get saved, because inside this man’s heart is stone and rebellion. The heart of flesh is at enmity with God. It does not submit to God, and it cannot (Romans 8:7). There’s so much corruption, so much rebellion, so much hostility, and so much self-preservation, it cannot save itself. It must have God.
So, you pray, and here are the texts that would shape those prayers. If I were writing this, now, I’d write these on this line. And here’s the first one, and I would turn them all into prayer. I’ll tell you, I was on my face hour upon hour, turning these texts into prayers for my son, Abraham. And he would not mind me saying that. I’ve been on email with him today, in fact, as we are finishing a hymn that I wrote for our people last Sunday. I wrote a song, but I had no tune to go with it. My son was making rock music for four years, living in a van, doing all the stuff that I wish he didn’t do. And now he’s back and he’s in total reaction against this kind of music, believe it or not. He’s 24 and he would not like this.
Because he lived there for four years away from Jesus, it’s all wrong in his head. All the associations of booze and tobacco and girls are all there with the music. He cannot hardly handle our worship. We’re not quite that loud, but similar. So we’re on the email today and we are working on a song together. Now that is almost heaven to me. He knows that as I was praying for him, this is the way I was praying.
Praying for a Work of Sovereign Grace
Acts 16:14 says:
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
I’m going to switch the image here from father to son. Before, I had a father sitting here and a saved sin, now I’ve got a lost son, and I say, “Lord, open my son’s heart that he might give heed to the gospel.”
In light of 1 Corinthians 1:24, I pray, “Lord, just as you said that some regard the cross as foolishness and some count it as a stumbling block, you said that those who are called see it as the power of God and the wisdom of God. Would you please do a Lazarus kind of call for my son and say, ‘Lazarus stand forth,’ and he comes out of the grave?”
Believe me, Lazarus did not wake himself up from the dead, which is why you go then to Ephesians 2:5, and you say, “Lord, just as you taught that while we were dead in trespasses and sins, you made us alive together with Christ Jesus, and that by grace we are saved, Lord, would you please make my dead son alive? Make him alive Lord.”
Or in light of 2 Timothy 2:26, I pray, “Lord, grant him repentance. Grant him repentance. It says that we as teachers should be humble and patient with those who are disagreeing with us, if per chance, God might grant them repentance. And so, we turn that into a prayer. Grant it. Give the gift of repentance to my son.”
Or in light 2 Corinthians 4:6, I pray, “The God who said that light shine out of darkness has shown into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God and the face of Christ. Do that for my son, do what you did in creation.” The analogy there is Genesis 1:3, when God say, “Let there be light.” So I’m praying, “Do that for my son. He’s in the dark. He can’t see anything. Everything is folly and stupidity to him. Don’t leave him in the dark. Shine into his light with life and light and glory.”
Or I take Ezekiel 11:19, where it says that God takes out the heart of stone and he puts in the heart of flesh, and I just say, “Do a great heart transplant, Lord, please. Please, Lord. While he’s sitting here listening to this Softly and Tenderly. Would you awaken him to the fact the Jesus who’s behind that portal waiting is irresistibly attractive.” And in his mercy, if God chooses, he opens his heart. And if he doesn’t, he’ll never be saved.
Indescriminate Evangelists Under God’s Sovereign Hand
That’s the other side of the picture. That’s the completion of the picture. We don’t deny indiscriminate evangelists. We demand indiscriminate evangelists, just getting in everybody’s face saying, “You were created for the glory of God. You belong to God. If you just knew why you were made. Come, he will not turn you away. He’s full of mercy.” And if they come, God enabled them to come.
No one comes to me unless the Father drags him.
That’s a literal translation from elkuō in John 6:44 (drags him). It’s a little bit misleading to translate it that way though, because I heard somebody on the radio the other day, defending Reformed theology say that he was saved — and C.S. Lewis said this too — “kicking and screaming,” and “brought into the kingdom against his will.” That’s not true. Nobody is ever saved against their will. Nobody is saved against their will because it is the choosing of Christ that constitutes our justification — that is, we must choose him and believe in him. The Bible says, “Choose ye this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). You must get off the fence or get to one side or the other.
The question is not whether we come against our will. The question is, why does one person’s will awaken to the beauty of Christ and feel drawn by it and another person’s will stay dead to the beauty of Christ and not be drawn by it? And the answer to that is the effective work of the Holy Spirit. Now, maybe you wonder, “Why did he bring this under predestination?” The answer is that if God chooses to awaken my son, which he did, he didn’t do it on the spur of the moment. He planned to do it, forever. That’s called predestination.
God, doesn’t enter the world, unsure of what he’s going to do and then ponder a possibility, think through the options, and then say, “Oh, I didn’t know I was going to do this but I’ll do this.” God is not like that. God knows from eternity what he’s going to do, and we call it predestination. That’s the end of my parenthesis on how predestination relates to evangelism. Remember what we’re doing here. We’re trying to look at the saving works of God to see how Scripture makes God the center. God makes God the center. So we’ve seen he predestines to the praise of his glory.
You have to be created if you’re going to be saved and enjoy God forever. Isaiah 43:6–7 says:
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
God has created you for his glory. You were created to make his glory look really good. You were created to glorify, magnify, display, and make much of God.
People should be able to look at your life in the way you live it, the way you speak it, the way you feel it, and the way you think it, and read God off of you as somebody really valuable. That says a lot about lifestyle, by the way. Can they look at you and read off your life, “God must exist and be a rewarder to those who seek him”? Does your life make them think, “God must be really valuable”?
You Cannot Serve God and Money
Here is a sub-parenthesis. The health, wealth, and prosperity gospel never causes anybody to say, “God is valuable.” It just causes people to say, “God is a good benefactor and things are valuable.” The lifestyle that causes people to say, “God is valuable,” is a wartime life, and a lay-down-your-life, doing-the-hard-thing kind of life that can only be explained if your treasure is in heaven. A posh, easy, devil-may-care, just-like-the-world lifestyle doesn’t awaken anybody to the supreme value of God. It awakens people to the guilt-free enjoyment of stuff. That’s not salvation.
Salvation is about treasuring God above stuff, even all the innocent stuff. The big challenge in America is how in the world in this prosperity will we ever find lifestyles that cause anybody to say 1 Peter 3:15 to us, and nobody ever does. Remember that verse? It says:
Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you . . .
If anybody ever asks you a reason for the hope that’s in you it’s because, evidently, you are living in such a way that it doesn’t look like you are hoping in the same things the world hopes in. If you’re living in such a way that you look like you’re hoping in all the same things the world hopes in, nobody’s going to ask you that question because they know the answer already. They live that way.
Evidently, there is a life that looks so different in terms of sacrificial, self-denying love, sustained by massive satisfaction in God and hope, that makes the world say, “I don’t compute like that. I don’t tick like that.” You were created to cause people to look at you and give glory to your Father in heaven. That’s Matthew 5:16. So just make sure you get the point. God created you for the glory of God. This is a God-centered action of God.
Luke 2:10–14 says:
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
He came into the world as a little baby in order to produce angelic praise. He gets the glory and we get the peace. It’s the best deal you can imagine. We’re always trying to get the glory. We think, “He can have the peace if he wants it but I want the glory.” And if we think that way we’re not saved yet. Incarnation is for the glory of God. God planned it that way, and therefore he’s God-centered.
You can pick different words here. I have propitiation written down and I have three different texts, but I’ll just use one. This is 2 Corinthians 5:15:
[Christ] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Christ died that we might live for Christ. The word for there is really dangerous. It’s just fraught with idolatry possibilities because Jesus said, “The son of man came not to be served” (Mark 10:45). So don’t take the for there as though it’s just, “I’m going to work for him now.” Acts 17:25 says that God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything. He himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. God will remain the benefactor in this relationship. He will never turn into a needy God. We will never be able to meet his needs. We will never be able to work for him to enhance him, improve upon him, or enrich him. We are always recipients. He’s always the giver. The giver gets the glory and we get the joy. That’s the best deal in the world. And so, right in the center of the cross is, “He died for us so that we would live for him.” And it’s not for in the sense of, “Oh, poor Jesus. He just needs me to work for him.”
I hope I don’t lose my place here. This just came into my head. I used to jog on this route down to Cedar Avenue and up to Washington and back, which is about a two mile run, and there’s this machinist company that had a permanent sign screwed into the wall of the building where I ran by that said, “Help wanted.” And I thought, “Are machinists that rare?” But some days I would jog by and there would be a big red square No screwed right into the middle of the sign, so it would say, “No help wanted.” And every time I saw it I thought, “Yes, that’s the gospel.” No help wanted. Thank you, anyway.
God is saying, “I’m God, I don’t need your help. I am here to bless you. You’re not here to bless me. If you want to glorify me, be empty and let me be full. You bring your buckets of effort to me to try to improve or supply, I’m dishonored.” So when Paul says here in 2 Corinthians 5:15, “He died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves,” doesn’t mean now they start working for him. It means now they start magnifying him, praising him, displaying his glory, being satisfied in him and thus reflecting his infinite value. So the cross is all about the glory of God and there a lot of other texts.
The next step is sanctification. That’s a fancy word for becoming holy, becoming loving, becoming like Jesus. Listen to this prayer from Philippians 1:9–11:
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
When sentences are long, like Philippians 1:9–11, and you want to see how the beginning and the end relate to you, collapse them down to see the God-centeredness of sanctification. He’s praying, “Oh, that the churches I serve would be more loving, and that knowledge would abound in love, that they would be more like Jesus.” That’s the way he prayed. But listen, he’s asking God to do this. And he’s ending the prayer by saying, “God, make them loving, holy, pure, full of truth and righteousness, to the glory and praise of God.” In other words, “God make us holy for you. God make us holy so that you look glorious.”
So he’s saying, “I’m tapping in to your magnificent self-exaltation here, your radical deep commitment to show yourself glorious. I’m tapping in there and I’m making that the ground of my prayer. I know you are into God, God, and therefore I am going to pray that you’ll answer my prayer for your great name’s sake.” There’s a lot of prayers like that in the Bible.
This has to do with the unity of the church. I feel such a burden for racial reconciliation. We call it racial harmony at our church. We’re not all that good at it. I just feel a weight in a culture like ours, with a history like ours. Just take African Americans, for example. We have a lot of other ethnicities around us in the city and in our country. I mean, it’s just an incredible stew pot that we live in. The difference in a melting pot is that everybody becomes the same. In stew pot, the pieces remain the same and yet they all flavor each other. So a stew pot is a better picture than a melting pot.
We’ve not yet figured this out, especially among black and white. The Bible has lots to say about that and lots to say about the cross and salvation in relation to Jews and Greeks, or blacks and whites, or pick out whatever ethnicity you happen to be near. The Bible says that we all by this cross are made into one new man as we come to Christ together. And it says he does it for the glory of God. In Romans 15:5–6, he’s praying again and he says:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There’s the picture. He is praying, “God, grant that we all could live in harmony so that we can praise you. God, you’re interested in your praise. You are gloriously committed to your self-exaltation. So now come and get the races and ethnicities together in the body of Christ so that your name would be magnificent.” So even at the level of that kind of sanctification, community sanctification and reconciliation, God is into God.
Why is Jesus coming back? Here’s the way 2 Thessalonians 1:9–10 puts it:
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (now watch these two purpose clauses), when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
That is the reason why he’s coming back — to be glorified in the saints and to be marveled at. Just imagine such a thing. That’s absolutely audacious.
If I were to come to this conference and stand behind this little excuse for a pulpit — it can hardly even hold my notes and my Bible, though I’m not complaining much — and I stood here and I said, “Now the reason I’m here is so that all the saints in this room would glorify me, and so that everyone would be marveling at me by the time I’m done.” If I started my sermon that way, I hope that you would all leave or throw stones at me. That would be a horrible way for me to talk. And that’s exactly what the Bible says Jesus is going to do. He’s coming back, and he will be coming back to be glorified in his people. He’s coming back to be marveled at. So now we’ve got a problem.
Posing a Dilemma: Does God Love Us or His Glory?
I’m at the end of my initial survey of all the main saving works of God through history, showing that they are all demonstrate that God is very God-centered and Christ is very Christ centered in the works of redemption. We have a major problem on our hands, and it becomes really clear with this last text. The problem is that it doesn’t sound like love for God to be so self-exalting, right? If I were that way, you would not say I was a loving guy. You wouldn’t think, “He just wants so much praise for himself, and he’s so loving. He’s just exalting himself. And he’s wanting people to bow down and praise him. And he’s so loving.” You would not say that. And that’s the way Jesus is. So we have a problem here. We have to figure out why, for Jesus or God the Father, to make himself the center of all history is not being a megalomaniac, but being loving.
I’m not creating this problem. I keep my ears open to the culture to see whether or not people are stumbling like this. I know that C.S. Lewis did. If you read C.S. Lewis’s biography you would see this. It might be in Reflections on the Psalms. He said, “When I read the Psalms, which Christians say are inspired by God, and read everywhere, ’Praise me! Praise me! Praise me!’ it sounded to me like an old woman needing compliments.” He wrote that when he was 28 years old and not yet converted, and he had a huge stumbling block in front of him — the Bible portrays God is a megalomaniac. That would be his understanding before he was converted.
Then I was in London a couple of years ago, and this article from the Financial Times of London written by Michael Prowse was handed to me. He’s not a believer, and he’s writing out of the Financial Times, and he says:
Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. Suppose we postulate an omnipotent being who, for reasons inscrutable to us, decided to create something other than himself. Why should he . . . expect us to worship him? We didn’t ask to be created. Our lives are often troubled. We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?
This man cannot become a Christian as long as he feels about God that way, right? He looks at this concept of Christianity, religion in general in his case, saying, “It looks as though they’re portraying God as somebody who is always asking for praise,” which we do. I just spent I half an hour, at least, persuading you hopefully that’s exactly the way God portrays himself in the Bible. God is saying, “I want your praise! Praise Me, or you will go to hell! Praise me!” And Michael Prowse looks at that and says, “No, thank you. I am not interested in that kind of God.”
Well, I don’t like to take pot shots at people who may never have anybody share the gospel with them. So the way I approached this was I wrote a letter. I found him on the internet. I mean, the internet is incredible for evangelism, isn’t it? It’s just incredible. I found him on the internet and I wrote him a letter. I printed it today in my hotel room from our website, and I want to read you a piece of it so that you can see my response. This really takes us into the body of the talk tonight. How in the world can it be loving for God to be so self exalting?
Interacting with Skeptics
I don’t know if he ever got this. He never responded to me. I assume he got it. I sent it to the contact that was available, but he never responded yet, so you pray. I said:
Dear Mr. Prowse,
It would be my great joy to persuade you that God’s demand for worship is beautiful love, not ugly pride. On March 30, 2003 you wrote in the London Financial Times . . . I don’t understand why you assume that the only incentive for God to demand praise is that he is needy and defective. This is true for humans. But with God there is another possibility. What if, as the atheist Ayn Rand once said, admiration is the rarest and best of pleasures? And what if, as I wish Ayn Rand could have seen . . .
I wrote a letter to her too, by the way. I was on an Ayn Rand kick in the late seventies. I read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, For the New Intellectual, and The Romantic Manifesto. I mean, just read everything by her. I was absolutely blown away by this woman and her atheistic philosophy because she felt to me so close to my theology called Christian Hedonism. She could not get over her view of God as being only into weak altruism. I wish I had an hour with her. I sent her a 20 page letter.
An Unlikely Reference
Here’s another little parenthesis to show you how vain I am. This is confession time, right? Ayn Rand died in 1982, and that’s very sad. I don’t know whether she came to Christ. I have no evidence that she did. I was at Luther Seminary bookstore one day, and I thought, “I wonder if there’s a major biography since she’s died?” I’m not reading her anymore. I’m not into Ayn Rand. I had that period and it’s over. I learned a lot that was helpful. But I went to the biography section and I found one. It was a big, fat biography of Ayn Rand. And guess what I did? I looked up my name in the index.
Now I’m confessing I’m a vain person. That wasn’t my main motive, I hope. I’m sure there was vanity in it. But I wanted to see if she got the letter, and I was there in the biography! That just blew me away. I was in the index of this book. So I turned, heart thumping, to see what it referred to. I turned to the page and I was in a footnote, and it said, “Ayn Rand had an incredibly broad influence, even on fundamentalists like John Piper.” I think the only way they could’ve known that is by my letter. So I do have hope that it made it there. Okay, close that parenthesis.
Letter to Michael Prowse
I continue in the letter:
What if, as the atheist Ayn Rand once said, admiration is the rarest and best of pleasures? And what if, as I wish Ayn Rand could have seen, God really is the most admirable being in the universe? Would this not imply that God’s summons for our praise is the summons for our highest joy? And if the success of that summons cost him the life of his Son, would that not be love (instead of arrogance)?
The reason the Bible gives why God should be greatly praised is that he is great. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 96:4). He is more admirable than anything he has made. That is what it means to be God.
Moreover, the Bible says that praise — overflowing, heartfelt admiration — is a pleasure. “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant” (Psalm 147:1). And this pleasure is the best there is, and lasts forever. “In [God’s] presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
The upshot of this is that God’s demand for supreme praise is his demand for our supreme happiness. Deep in our hearts we know that we are not made to be made much of. We are made to make much of something great. The best joys are when we forget ourselves, enthralled with greatness. The greatest greatness is God’s. Every good that ever thrilled the heart of man is amplified ten thousand times in God. God is in a class by himself. He is the only being for whom self-exaltation is essential to love. If he “humbly” sent us away from his beauty, suggesting we find our joy in another, we would be ruined.
Great thinkers have said this long before I did . . . C. S. Lewis broke through to the beauty of God’s self-exaltation (thinking at first that the Psalms sounded like an old woman craving compliments). He finally saw the obvious . . .
It says, in fact, in Surprised by Joy, that he got on a bus one day, went to the top of atwo decker to go to the zoo, and he said, “I know not how, but I got on the bus an unbeliever, and I arrived at the zoo, a believer.” That’s the way he describes his conversion. He said, “I do not know what happened. I had been struggling for years and years first with theism, then I became a theist, and then I came to Christianity as it is recorded in the Bible. And I was kicking and kicking, and by the time I got to the zoo, I was kicking no more.” Here is the quote by Lewis, in continuing the letter:
My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.
Both Edwards and Lewis saw that praising God is the consummation of joy in God. This joy flows from the infinite beauty and greatness of God. There is no one who surpasses him in any truly admirable trait. He is absolutely enjoyable. But we are sinners and do not see it, and do not want it. We want ourselves at the center. But Jesus Christ taught us to be human in another way, and then died for our sin, absorbed God’s wrath against it, and opened the way to see and savor God. “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Therefore, the reason God seeks our praise is not because he won’t be complete until he gets it. He is seeking our praise because we won’t be happy until we give it. This is not arrogance. It is love.
Love, Rightly Defined
As you preach, you’re preaching to people who need to be helped to understand that, because the God-centeredness of God, the radical supremacy of God in the heart of God, does not, at first blush, look like love. And there’s a reason for that.
The reason is because in America today, maybe I could just say in the world, we have been taught another meaning for being loved. You should just do this sometime. Just walk through Seattle and go up to people and say, “What does it mean to you to be loved?” If you did that, I think the central answer would be — and this is just a guess from what I’ve seen — “I feel loved when people pay attention to me, when they make much of me, when they make me feel significant . . .” They will give answers like that.
As long as that’s the way we define being loved, it won’t work. People think, “I am loved when I am made much of in marriage, or as a child, or in education, or at work.” This is the doctrine of self-esteem again, which says, “I am loved when I am made much of.” If you bring that to the relationship between God and you, it won’t work. Some people try to make it work, and we talked about that last night. They are turning the cross into means of the echo of our excellence. That’s not what the cross is.
I’ll just give you a quiz. Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you, or when, at the cost of his Son’s life, he enables you to enjoy making much of him forever? That’s turning the American world on its head. And the gospel will never be understood until people see that love is the costly effort to do all you can do to enthrall the beloved with what will make them fully and eternally satisfied. I’ll say it again. Love is the costly labor — it cost God his Son’s life — or effort to enthrall the beloved with what will bring them full and eternal satisfaction, namely, God.
Love is not helping people feel good about themselves. It is helping people be enthralled with God. That’s what love is. In fact, you can help people feel so good about themselves they go straight to hell because they do not feel gloriously satisfied with God in their imperfection.
Heaven is not a hall of mirrors in which we will like what we see. Faith is not looking in a mirror and liking what you see in the name of Jesus and the cross. Faith treats a mirror like a window shade or window shutter that is open, and on the other side, it sees Jesus, and faith goes out of all this concern about me, and it goes out and it’s satisfied forever with Jesus. So until we get love defined in a God-centered way, we will just make hash out of the gospel.
Biblical Support from the Gospel of John
Maybe the best thing I could do here to underline this and to give biblical support to it is to take you to John 11. Would you go with me to John 11:1–6?
Here’s what I’m looking for in the Bible right now. I talk, talk, talk, and you should be asking, “Okay, just show me some Bible. Just give me some verses.” That’s the way I feel when people talk a lot and it starts to become a big argument developing and seems compelling, yet you feel like, “You might just slip something in on me here that fits the argument, but doesn’t really come out of the Book.” So I’m going to back up now and try to take all this talk and ground it in the Bible.
I’m going to apologize to all of you have the New International Version in your hand. I really don’t apologize. Frankly, I think you ought to get another version, but I say that out loud a lot to all my friends who worked on translating the NIV. I think God has used the NIV for the last 30 years to save millions of people and sanctify millions of the people and bless millions of people. God is God, and he loves his word and you can read any version under the sun and be blessed. However, I can’t make my point with the NIV, and you’ll see it when we get there. It’s really appalling what they do. I asked Mark if I could tell you that and he said, “Well, it’s okay.”
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 (Joh 11:1–2).
Now the reason John 11:2 is really interesting is that it hasn’t happened yet in the Gospel of John. Isn’t that interesting? He is saying, “This is the Mary who did that, and I’ll tell you about it in chapter 12.” I think the reason he inserts verse two here, even though he hasn’t told us this story, is that it’s one of the best ways he can communicate how Jesus felt about this family. This is the Mary who anointed him and took her long hair and washed his feet. This is that Mary, so hear love in this verse. We’re going to see it two more times. Let’s continue in verse three:
So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 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 11:3–4).
How Do God’s Love and Glory Relate?
Now we have two things that I want. I’m looking in the Bible to see how love relates to glory, or how God’s love for us relates to his seeking glory, and I’ve got both pieces here. Now, this is a really huge issue in this text, and for me. Verse five continues and says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). So there have been three times now we’ve been pointed to love, and one big time, actually twice in one verse, we’ve been pointed to the fact that Jesus says this sickness is all about the glory of God. This moment right now is all about love, and this sickness is all about the glory of God.
Here is where we have the translation problem. If you have the NIV, I think John 11:6 begins with the word yet, but yet is the opposite of what this verse means. It’s not the meaning of the verse, because yet makes Christ’s delay adverse to his love. The right translation, and all you Greek knowers can test me here, comes from the little word oun. Every first year Greek student knows what oun means. It means therefore or *so. It’s an inference. It’s drawing out something. It’s not adverse to what came before it; it’s flowing out of it. That’s the word.
Most translations get it right and say, “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:6). That’s very jarring. Let’s put verses five and six together so you can feel the jarring connection:
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:5–6).
If you read Don Carson on this verse in his John commentary, he makes exactly the point I’m making here. Love is being expressed in letting Lazarus die. That is the clear meaning of this text, and it’s shocking that John would record it so plainly for us. He loved Martha. He loved Mary. He loved Lazarus, who was sick. And therefore, he didn’t go heal him but let him die.
The True Substance of Love
He had been dead four days when Jesus got there. Martha said it would have smelled by now (John 11:39). Now, you’ve got to come to terms with that, and here’s the way I try to come to terms with it. The display of the glory of God is a form of love. I don’t know any other way to handle this verse. Jesus loves him and he’s dying, therefore, he doesn’t go heal him because in verse four Jesus says, “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.” Jesus is saying, “I’m not going to heal your brother. I’m going to let him die twice because I want to display my glory.” That’s the only way to make sense out of that, so that you can love this Christ and admire this Christ, is to say what this text clearly implies.
Displaying the glory of Christ is more loving than keeping people from dying. Winning people to see the glory of Christ as their treasure, and embrace it, is more loving than healing them from sickness and saving their lives. It’s more loving that someone do that to you. This may help us make more sense out of the suffering issue that I preached about earlier. When God brings suffering and pain into your life, when he ordains that it come into your life, it isn’t because he doesn’t love you if somehow he sees more glory is going to be seen from him and shown to the world.
Now, you might say, “Hm. You know, this is a narrative text, and narratives are a little bit tricky in drawing doctrine from them. So you just might be reading too much in here.” That’s true. I might. I don’t think I am. So to confirm it, let’s go to John 17 and see whether or not what I’ve drawn out of that therefore at the beginning of John 11:6 is in fact the way Jesus thinks.
The High Priestly Prayer
I’m going to assume that you agree with me that the high priestly prayer of Jesus, which is the entirety of chapter 17, is a loving thing to pray because Jesus is loving. Everything he does is love, especially to his own as we spoke about last night. Let’s read John 17:1–5, and you should be thinking, “All right, he loves me. He’s about to pray for me.” And unless you think I’m jumping over 20 centuries and you say, “Oh, he’s really not praying for us. He’s praying for his disciples,” look at John 17:20:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word . . .
That’s you. I am amazed at this chapter. Oh, I love this chapter! This is the one chapter in the Bible where Jesus says to me explicitly, “I’m praying this for you because you believed on me through the word of the apostles.” He had me in view. He had you in view. So come to this chapter with trembling and excitement. Think, “Oh, what did he pray for me? He loves me. What did he ask God to do for me here? What does love look like for me here?” The first five verses just blow you away because nobody defines love this way until they’ve been reprogrammed by the Bible. So let’s read John 17:1–5:
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)
So we have a trinitarian conspiracy of glory going on here. The Son gets glorified and in the glorifying of the Son, the Father gets glorified, and the Holy Spirit is the infinite, personal energy standing forth as a person, mediating that joy and glory back and forth. I mean, this is one mega energy of glory going on here. And he’s asking that the Father would do that first. Verse two begins:
Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him (John 17:2).
To Know You, the Only True God
And you stop there and think, “Oh yes, I get that. I like that. Eternal life. That’s like John 3:16. Now we’re talking love language. I want eternal life, and if he gives me that, I feel loved.” Keep reading. It says:
Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:2–3).
Eternal life is all about knowing God. It’s all about knowing God. And the word know, of course, can used in the same sense where Adam “knew Eve his wife” (Genesis 4:1). John 17 continues:
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, (here it comes again) glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed (John 17:4–5).
The first five verses of his high priestly prayer are for all those who would believe on him through the apostolic word, which is you, and the first five verses worth of things he asks for is, “Father, glorify me, glorify me, glorify me.” What kind of prayer is that for us? It’s everything because of verse John 17:24, which says:
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.
Could you finish this message? You should be able to finish this message. Do you see that? What was he doing in those first five verses? Glorify me. He is saying, “Don’t leave me in this fallen flesh. Don’t leave me in the grave. Bring me triumphant over death and the devil and sin. Oh, bring me out triumphant and restore to me the magnificent, unparalleled beauty and glory and value that I had with you forever. Because, if you don’t, what are they going to see? What will they enjoy forever? We would be consigning them to second-rate satisfactions on the earth or in the new heavens and the new earth. If they don’t have me, what will they have?” This is love. This is Christ-exalting love from Christ. He is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act. Nobody may copy him in this.
You just have to work for years to help your church get God-centered to make sense of things out of things like this, because they come to our churches so absolutely absorbed with themselves. It takes years sometimes to build categories of thinking into people who have been inebriated with self. I mean, it’s just everywhere. It’s the air we breathe in this country — self, self, self. And here comes Jesus, exalting himself that we may have somebody to admire because admiration is the highest of pleasures. We get the joy and he gets the glory. That’s amazing.
The Benefits and Chief End of the Gospel
There is one last step in my argument, namely this: all the things that the cross accomplished that we usually preach as the gospel, all of them are not the whole gospel until people see that the good news is that God, by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and blood alone, to the glory of God alone, enables sinners to enjoy him forever. That’s the end of the gospel, and if you don’t get there, the gospel is truncated. I want to just walk through, briefly, some of those gospel, precious truths that need to be bent upward and finished with God.
The gospel offers life. Christ purchased freedom from the sting of death:
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And we preach sermons about how there will be no triumph of death. So what, if you’re worshiping yourself on the other side of death? So what? That’s not the gospel, yet. People don’t want to die. Why? Is it because they love God? No. They just like what they’re doing. And they would like it not to end, or at least be picked up on the other side. God doesn’t have to be in the picture. So to preach a text like that, “Yes, death destroyed,” we haven’t gotten to the good news yet. We can leave people right in their self-centeredness on the other side of death.
Defeating the Powers of Darkness
The gospel, secondly, offers freedom from the triumph of Satan:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil . . . (Hebrews 2:14).
We can preach a great sermon about how the devil is defeated. He can not destroy you anymore. Your foot is on his neck (Romans 16:20). Amen, and amen. And we haven’t gotten to the gospel yet — at least, not the end of the gospel because who cares if the devil is under our foot? The devil serves people in lots of nice ways. He has two ways to get people in trouble. One is to give them pain and the other is to give them pleasure. And he does it both ways, depending on what he thinks will work best.
And so, as long as he’s doing the pleasure thing, people are really happy. Or if he’s making green things crawl across the ceiling, they’re happy to put their foot on his neck and the green things go away and now they can just sleep better. And that’s not the gospel. The defeat of the devil is not yet the God-exalting news that we are meant to enjoy God.
Third, the gospel offers deliverance from wrath to come. First Thessalonians 1:10 says:
[We] wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Who does not want the wrath of God to be taken away? But whether or not the removal of wrath from my life is going to be replaced by being satisfied in God is a totally different question. Someone could think, “Just get wrath off of me, thank you, and I will enjoy golf in the kingdom forever.” Many people have pictures of heaven that are just the extension of their favorite pastime. God can go on a vacation as far as they’re concerned, as long as he leaves behind the greens and a hole in one every now and then.
Fourth, the gospel provides forgiveness and the freedom from guilt. I love it. I’m not making light of these things. These are precious biblical truths. You understand that don’t you? I am not belittling these gospel truths. I’m just saying, finish them. When you preach them, finish them. Take them up to God.
Why do you want to be forgiven? I mean, you preach in this church or any church, “Christ died to take away guilt,” and you’ve got an audience, believe me. Everybody’s guilty. Some are soaking in it in all kinds of ways, trying to drown it, trying to drug it, trying to work it away, trying to play it a way, or trying to guru it away. There are just all kinds of crazy things people do to try to get rid of this guilty, late-night, horrible, dark, black feeling off of them. They might think, “If Jesus does that, I’ll come.” And they’re not saved yet, maybe. They might be. But the question is, have they seen through that as removing an obstacle to having God, or just as a means of getting their bad feelings out of their head?
The Greatest Good of Forgiveness
I mean, picture my wife. This is the easiest one to illustrate. Noël and I have been married for 36 years this December. Let’s say I get up in the morning and I trip over a pile of laundry. I say, “I thought I asked you to put that away last night.” That’s a bad way to start a morning, a really bad way to start a morning. So I’m in the bathroom. She’s gone. Without talking to me she’s gone downstairs to the kitchen, and I’m realizing there’s ice in this house. I have just messed up this day, big time. And I’m coming down. She’s at the sink, clanking dishes with her back distinctly toward me. And I’m thinking, “What I would really like here is to be forgiven. So, I need to humble myself, eat my pride, admit that I did do that. She should have done it — but no, that won’t work.” I kiss her on the back of the neck and she just moves away, so I know this is really bad.
Now just here’s the question. What do I want? If you say, “Forgiveness,” that’s right. But I ask you, who cares about forgiveness unless it’s the doorway to the embrace? I mean, if she says, “I forgive you,” I want her to turn around and kiss me. I’m thinking, “I want you back.” Now there is what’s got to happen in the evangelistic service.
You can’t just say, “Okay, it feels rotten in this house, and I want the bad feelings to go away. You can stay at the sink if you want to, because I’m going to have fun at work now that there’s no bad feelings and I’m feeling really good.” That doesn’t honor her. Forgiveness is all about bringing two beings together in love to enjoy one another again. If that doesn’t happen between you and God, and forgiveness is just about getting the bad feelings out of your head, salvation hasn’t happened. We can preach such amazing messages without taking people to the pleasures that they should have in God.
The Treasure of God Himself
Here’s another one. The gospel provides that all will work together for our good. Romans 8:28 says that all things will work together for our good. So what? What’s good? Is it that I won’t be sick and I’ll have all I need and the family will be straight and I’ll be really happy? You can preach to me Romans 8:28, that everything works together for my good, but until you say, “God is your good,” the gospel hasn’t been preached.
Another truth, is that the gospel provides Christ imputed righteousness. Well, who cares about that? Someone could think, “I’m now counted righteous in Christ. I’m now counted perfect in Jesus, and now I’ll just go out and keep sinning like the devil, because it tastes really good.” So, imputed righteousness isn’t the end of the gospel, until it’s seen as a way of closing with God, enjoying God, and embracing God.
God provides final and eternal healing in health. Isaiah 53:5 says:
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
You preach this great message that, if not now, someday, the stripes on Jesus’s back are going to make you whole, and you will have all crying, all tears, all pain, all sickness, and all depression, taken away in the kingdom. And everybody is saying, “Yes, yes, yes.” But whether or not God happens to be the treasure when they’re healthy hasn’t even been addressed yet. So how do you know that they’re embracing this call for Christ-bought health with any God-exalting delight in God, until you push God as the center and goal?
To the Source of Every Good Gift
The list could go on and on. You’re getting the idea. All the things — prayers answered, eternal life, and so on — are meant to make this point. I’ll stop and close with a quote from Jonathan Edwards and accomplish maybe two things by it. I really want some of you to know that my heart goes out to you as those who are listening who do not delight in God. Maybe by grace and by the Holy Spirit you are here trembling that you had thought you had embraced the gospel savingly and you didn’t, because you’ve never broken through. It’s all been about you — your forgiveness and your guilt going away and your healing and your living forever and your not being troubled by the devil and your not going to hell. And God’s just never been the treasure. I hope that as I read this closing quote from an 18th-century preacher, God will do a miracle right now and awaken the affection of your heart for him.
The other thing I hope to accomplish is to get you to read Edwards, because like I said, nobody writes like this because nobody sees God like this. I’m going to be done as soon as I’m done reading it and I’ll pray:
The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world.
The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the ‘river of the water of life’ that runs, and the tree of life that grows, ‘in the midst of the paradise of God’. The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.