We began the last decade of the twentieth century by putting up a building for exultation; God willing, we will begin the first decade of the twenty-first century by putting up a building for education. That is the order of priority, but it is not the order of life. Exultation in God is first in the order of importance. But it doesn’t come first in life. In life, true education precedes true exultation. Learning truth precedes loving truth. Right reflection on God precedes right affection for God. Seeing the glory of Christ precedes savoring the glory of Christ. Good theology is the foundation of great doxology. That’s the order of life.
“Good theology is the foundation of great doxology.”
So we call the vision behind and beneath this new building, education for exultation. The word “for” means that what we know and believe and teach about God is foundational for all our worship — not just the corporate worship in this building, but the exultation in God that overflows in lives of love, where others will see the glory of God (Matthew 5:16). Our education of children and youth and adults aims at exultation. Or, which is the same thing, it aims at “spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.”
God Is Alone and God Is Sovereign
I said last week that my task in these next ten weeks is to relate this vision of education for exultation to the larger picture of what we are about here at Bethlehem. What do we as a church exist for, and how does this vision — this plan and this building — fit in to that larger picture? We began with the foundation of the foundation. We began with God. And in particular with the deity of God — the God-ness of God — or the sovereignty of God. “You are my witnesses, declares the Lord (Yahweh), and I am God. Even from eternity I am he, and there is none who can deliver out of my hand; I act and who can reverse it” (Isaiah 43:12–13)? “I am God . . . I am he” — that’s the deity of God. “I act and no one can turn it” — that’s the sovereignty of God (see also Isaiah 14:27; 45:5–7; 46:9–10). And of this, God says, “You are my witnesses.”
This is the foundation of our education for exultation. We will teach that Yahweh is God and that God is sovereign, and that this is wonderful news because it is the foundation of all his grace and all his promises. Therefore, it is the foundation of true and high and passionate exultation. We will say to our children and to our youth and to each other and to anyone who will listen the words of Deuteronomy 4:39, “Know [!] therefore today, and take it to your heart [!], that the Lord, he is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” That is the foundation of education for exultation: God is God alone, and God is sovereign.
Jesus Is God
Today, I add one thing to this, one huge thing: Jesus is God. When we say education for exultation — in God, we mean education for exultation — in Jesus. When we say “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples,” we mean, “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of Jesus Christ in all things for the joy of all peoples.”
To see the basis of this from the Bible, look with me at our text and let’s make three observations.
1. Jesus Christ, who is called “the Word,” is the eternal God.
John 1:1–3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being.”
The main thing to see here is the statement at the end of verse 1: “The Word was God.” Here Jesus Christ is called “the Word.” We will see that in just a moment from verses 14 and 17. Verse 3 clarifies what it means for “the Word” to be God. “All things came into being through him, and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being.” In other words, he did not come into being. All that did come into being came into being through him. He has always existed.
This clarifies what is meant by “in the beginning.” Not just “at the time of creation,” but at the time before anything came into being. The Word was with God and the Word was God because the Word never had a beginning. The Word is co-eternal with God the Father. He is not the Father, because he was “with God” the Father. But he is equally God with God the Father because “the Word was God.”
That is the first observation.
2. The Word became flesh; that is, God was united with a human nature in one person, and was truly man and truly God who lived in history as Jesus Christ.
“Jesus Christ is ‘the Word’ who was in the beginning with God and who was God.”
Verse 14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Then in verse 17 this person called “the Word” is named: “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” So Jesus Christ is “the Word” who was in the beginning with God and who was God.
3. If you receive him, you become a child of God and enjoy everlasting waves of grace.
Combine verses 12 and 16: “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name. . .. For of his fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”
If you receive him for who he really is, you are granted to be a child of God and that means receiving “grace upon grace” that corresponds to his fullness — which is an infinite fullness. And so the waves never cease. And so our exultation in Jesus Christ will never cease. His fullness is inexhaustible and it will overflow with waves of grace forever and ever and never run dry or become stagnant.
This is because, as Colossians 2:9 says, “In him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.” His fullness is the fullness of “deity.” Therefore, it is an infinite fullness, and the grace that flows from infinite fullness is infinite grace. Therefore, we will exult in Jesus Christ with ever-new and ever-increasing joy forever and ever. This is the aim of all our education — namely, exultation in Jesus Christ, who is God — forever and ever.
The Price We Must Pay
We will talk next week about why the Word was made flesh — why Jesus Christ came: the central act of history, the death of the Son of God for sin. But this morning I want to draw attention to a price we must pay if we are going to pursue education for exultation in Jesus as God. The price is going to be controversy. On the way to exultation in Jesus, education inevitably leads to disputation. Why is this?
We live in a world of sin and futility and finitude. 2 Timothy 4:3 makes it clear that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” In Acts 20:30, Paul warns the elders of Ephesus, “From among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” And 1 John 4:1–2 says specifically, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. . . . By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”
If you believe in Truth and make it the foundation of your education, you will have adversaries. I say this because I want you to have a realistic view, and not a romantic one, about what it will mean in the coming years to be a part of Bethlehem Baptist Church and a part of education for exultation. Most of us love exultation. But we don’t love disputation. We would love to move straight from education to exultation all the time. From learning the truth to leaping with joy. From meditation to celebration without any disputation. That would be wonderful. But it would be cheap and short-lived, perhaps a generation or so. And then true celebration would collapse.
An Illustration of the Cost
Let me give you just one illustration so that you can count the cost, whether you want to be a part of a fellowship that will have to pay the price of controversy. Last September I wrote an editorial that was printed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It had to do with the deity and supremacy of Jesus Christ, and specifically, it had to do with whether Christians should try to win Jewish people to Christ. In it I said,
According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all the hopes of Israel. He is the yes to all God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20). He is the Messiah (Mark 14:61–62; Matthew 16:16; John 20:31; Acts 9:22; 1 John 2:22; 5:1). To reject him is to reject God the Father, and to confess him as Lord of your life is to be reconciled to God. “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). . . . Even though it is perceived as offensive by many Jewish people, the . . . call for prayer that Israel would believe on her Messiah is a profoundly loving act. For “he who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 John 5:12).
“If you don’t worship Jesus, you don’t worship God.”
In other words, if you don’t worship Jesus, you don’t worship God. “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). This is what it means to educate on the basis of the radical truth that Jesus is God. And if we do this, we will bring out strong opposition.
Four pastors of major, influential churches in Minneapolis (three Protestant and one Catholic) signed a letter to the editor that said this:
The Rev. Piper . . . claims that the . . . appeal [to pray that Jewish people accept Jesus as their Messiah] is a “profoundly loving” act. But genuine love does not harbor the kind of aggressive agenda that is implicit in visions of “Christianizing” the world. Love, including the agape that lies at the heart of the Christian gospel, is more respectful and less intrusive, more open and less controlling than that. Unfortunately, “arrogant” is the right word to describe any attempts at proselytizing — in this case the effort of Christians to “win over” their Jewish brothers and sisters. Thoughtful Christians will disassociate themselves from any such effort. (Letter submitted to the Editor of the Star Tribune, October 12, 1999, and faxed to me. Part of it was published in the paper.)
The saddest thing about this letter is not that it puts you and me in the category of arrogant, unthinking, and unloving people (which it does), but that the shepherds of major Christian churches do not believe faith in Christ is essential for salvation.
True Education Is Founded on Biblical Truth
So let’s be very clear as we move forward in the vision of education for exultation. We love exultation. That is the goal of all things: joyful, loving, humble, soul-satisfying exultation in Jesus Christ, “who is over all, God blessed for ever” (Romans 9:5). We don’t love disputation and confrontation. We long for the day when controversy will no longer be necessary for “the defense and confirmation of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:7).
But until then, true education will be founded on biblical truth. And biblical truth will include the glorious realities that Yahweh is God and God is sovereign and Jesus is God. And “he who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). And “he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 John 5:12).
“Christianity is a life and death issue. It is not a therapy to make things go better.”
So in the coming weeks, as you ponder whether you want to be a part this vision of education for exultation, weigh seriously whether you believe it is loving or arrogant to say that Jesus is God and to call all people who don’t believe in him to be reconciled to God through him. Don’t be naive. Christianity is a life and death issue. It is not a therapy to make things go better. It is a conviction about reality and a faith that in some places can get you killed, and in other places will get you criticized. We are not playing games.
At stake in education for exultation are the lives of our children and our own lives and the lives of many others. But we have learned as a church from hard experience and from Romans 5:3 to “exult in tribulation” because it produces hope. And so, even the tribulation of controversy can lead to deeper and sweeter exultation in God. John Owen put it like this, over three hundred years ago: “When we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for — then shall we be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men.”
Communion with God. There’s the key. We will not just argue about Christ or discuss him or analyze him. But we will know him and trust him and commune with him and exult in him. That’s the goal of education for exultation. And not for us only, but for the whole world. Pray earnestly as we move toward it, and ask God to show you where you fit.