- 2008 30 Oct
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ by John Piper (Crossway).
The Times Are Changing: When the Bruised Heart Needs a Tire Iron
Jesus Christ, who was in the beginning with God, and was God (John 1:1), created the universe. He did this as God the Father's equal and as his agent. "All things were made through him" (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:2). And he did it to display his glory. "By him all things were created . . . and for him" (Col. 1:16). By him and for him. All things were created by Christ and for Christ. The Son of God, who has become a human being—the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth—in perfect concert with his Father, created the universe for the display of his all-satisfying glory.
Not only that, he holds it all together with total authority. "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3). How this massive power—to create and uphold the universe—is wielded to display the glory of Christ is the great issue of our time, and of all time.
The Greatest Display of the Glory of Christ
The apex of the glory of Christ is the glory of his grace—treating people infinitely better than they deserve—giving himself for the everlasting joy of the worst of sinners who will have him as their highest Treasure. And the apex of this grace is the murder of the God-man outside Jerusalem around AD 33. The death of Jesus Christ was murder. It was the most spectacular sin ever committed.
At the all-important pivot of human history, the worst sin ever committed served to show the greatest glory of Christ and obtain the sin-conquering gift of God's grace. God did not just overcome evil at the cross. He made evil serve the overcoming of evil. He made evil commit suicide in doing its worst evil.
Evil is anything and everything opposed to the fullest display of the glory of Christ. That's the meaning of evil. In the death of Christ, the powers of darkness did their best to destroy the glory of the Son of God. This is the apex of evil. But instead they found themselves quoting the script of ancient prophecy and acting the part assigned by God. Precisely in putting Christ to death, they put his glory on display—the very glory that they aimed to destroy. The apex of evil achieved the apex of the glory of Christ. The glory of grace.
To See the World Differently
When you see this, and feel the force of it, the way you look at the world changes. I am writing this book because I think the days that are coming will demand from the followers of Christ this change in the way we look at the world. It seems to me that
Christians in the West are being coddled. We suffer little in the name of Christ. Therefore, we read the Bible not with a desperate hunger for evidences of God's triumph in pain, but with a view to improving our private pleasures.
Therefore, we read the Bible selectively. We pick a text here and there to fit our felt needs. This is like a doctor who forgets how to write prescriptions for the best antibiotics because everybody seems healthy, and he has spent the last decades tweaking good health with hip-hop exercise videos, unaware that pestilence is at the door. It's like the soldier who forgets how to use his weapons because the times seem peaceful, and he has spent the last decades doing relief work and teaching the children how to play games.
The Times Are Changing
But the times are changing. For seventy million baby boomers, for example, life has changed. It seems very short now. What used to be a fond nostalgia for the sixties has turned into an ache that the beloved decade is now so far away that its main meaning is: we are dying. Different ages get the message in different ways.
And not only life, but the world too is shrinking. People who don't like Christians are all around us. Only a strange providence keeps our churches from being bombed. It is only a matter of time till the reality of the rest of the world comes home. And all the while we are called by Christ to go to them, love them, sacrifice for them, bring the gospel to them. The Great Commission is not child's play. It is costly. Very costly.
The coddled Western world will sooner or later give way to great affliction. And when it does, whose vision of God will hold? Where are Christians being prepared for great global sorrows? Where is the Christian mind and soul being prepared for the horrors to come? Christians in the West are weakened by wimpy worldviews. And wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians. God is weightless in our lives. He is not terrifyingly magnificent. His sovereignty is secondary (at best) to his sensitivity.
The Missing Bible
What is missing is the Bible. I mean the whole Bible, with its blood and guts and sins and horrors—and all of it under the massive hand of God. The hand whose fingers flick stars into being. The hand that gives life and takes it. The hand that rules everything. Everything. What we need is to know the great things about God. Knowing great things about God will help make us ready not to collapse under cataclysmic conflict and personal catastrophe.
The Bruised Heart and the Tire Iron
I am aware that these things seem emotionally distant and unrelated to the personal pains of many. In our quiet daily miseries of marriage or parenting or loneliness or sickness or depression, we may feel that all this talk about the grandeur of God is like trying to heal a bruised heart with a tire iron. I know that God is tender, and that personal fellowship with him is sweet, and that touching the heart happens through the brokenness of the still, small voice. I know this, and I love it. Jesus Christ is a precious friend to me.
But I also know something else. If, while I am having a tender conversation with my wife, a man breaks in and kills her and all my children and leaves me wounded on the living room floor, I will need a way of seeing the world that involves more than the tenderness of God. If pestilence takes out tens of thousands of my fellow citizens and half my church, my mental and spiritual survival will depend on more than the precious gifts of God's intimacy.
Catastrophes Are Coming
I am writing this book to build a vision of God into our lives that will not let us down in the worst of times. I mean really bad times. Horrific times. Who is prepared to meet the Agony that is coming?
Our worship services and our preaching too often pamper us. They coddle. I am not opposed to friends helping us with the daily frustrations that make us unhappy. There is plenty of proverbial wisdom in the Bible to warrant this. It is good. Love does this. I need this help. I want it. There is a time for everything under heaven, even pampering. But surely the preaching of God's word must aim for more than this.
Global cataclysms and personal catastrophes are coming. I say this not as one with my finger in the wind, but with my finger in the Bible. "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). "If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). "You yourselves know that we are destined for [these afflictions]" (1 Thess. 3:3). "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12). We are "fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him" (Rom. 8:17). "Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23).
"Your Brother and Partner in the Tribulation"
I have shepherded too many Christians through death in the best of times to think that any times are easy. But hard times are coming. Times are coming that have already been. Times when we will speak again the way John spoke on the island of Patmos. We will write to one another and, with no sense of melodrama, sign our letters, "Your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus" (Rev. 1:9). Few write like this now in the West. But we will.
Times are coming when shepherds will say again to their flock, as they have done in days gone by, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10). I am deeply thankful for Christian counseling to make my marriage better. But in addition, I need a shepherd who will tell me: "The devil may kill you, but that's okay. Jesus will give you the crown of life."
The Beast Will Win … For a Season
Along with the tender words of daily blessings, I need the tough warning that the Beast will win. For a season. "[The Beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them . . . and . . . cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain" (Rev. 13:7, 15). I need the warning that the great Babylonian whore will one day be "drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (Rev. 17:6).
These horrors are in the Bible. God's word. Where is the shepherd who is preparing the saints for this kind of future? What answer could he give to our questions? What answer would fit with the upbeat entertainment mood? Where in the West do we hear the answer: "They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death" (Rev. 12:11)?
Our Felt Needs Are About to Change
The fact that people do not feel a need for this kind of food in their spiritual diet should not silence the wise and loving shepherd. Our felt needs are about to change dramatically. Pastors will be glad if they are ahead of the curve. Otherwise, it may be too late. Coddled people will not be good listeners when their world collapses. They will be numb with confusion and rage at the God who wasn't supposed to allow this. "If this is the way God is, why didn't you tell us?"
The aim of this book is not to meet felt needs, but to awaken needs that will soon be felt, and then to save your faith and strengthen your courage when evil prevails. These are big,
deep, weighty, strong truths. Truths for pestilence and war and personal calamity. These truths are made of steel. I know that a tire iron cannot caress a bruised heart, but if your car is rolling over on you and about to crush you, a cold, steel perpendicular tire iron might save your life. Then later, at home, as you tell the story, tears will flow, and Jesus will hold you as you sob for joy.
The "Success" of Sin in the Providence of God
My aim is to show that sin and evil, no matter how spectacular, never nullify the decisive, Christ-exalting purposes of God. No, my aim is more than that. These spectacular sins do not just fail to nullify God's purpose to glorify Christ, they succeed, by God's unfathomable providence, in making his gracious purpose come to pass. This truth is the steel God offers to put in the spine of his people as they face the worst calamities. There will be tenderness in due time. But if the back of our faith is broken because we think God is evil or absent, who will welcome him when he comes with caresses?
The Aim Is Love
In the end, my aim, as I will make clear as we go along, is that you will be given the strength and courage of never-failing love toward all people, including your enemies (Matt. 5:43-44). "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). There will be much to endure. Without a way of seeing the world that can deal with massive evil and unremitting pain under the supremacy of Christ, we will collapse in self-pity or rage. This is the opposite of love. If we are to endure and bear and believe and hope, we need to see the spectacular sins of history the way God sees them.
I hope this book helps. The assumption is that telling the stories of these sins as they are told in the Bible will be as helpful as writing a formal theology of providence. Once the stories are in place, you then have a lifetime to trace out all their implications in larger books than this.
How a Little Window Works
This book is small. But my prayers for it are large. Sometimes, if you put your eye close enough, the smallest pinhole can reveal a new world. It isn't the size of the window that determines how much you see. It's which way the window is facing, and how close you are, and whether the glass is clear. The little window of this book is facing toward the Son of God and the triumphs of his glory through some of the most spectacular sins of history. The glass I have used in building this window is the Bible. If I am not faithful to what the Christian Scriptures teach, you should take your leave. I hope that you will come close to the pane so that the fullest panorama is visible.
Copyright © 2008 by John Piper
Published by Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
1300 Crescent Street Wheaton, Illinois 60187
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided for by USA copyright law.