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February 19, 2007

And this brings us to the final day of the Resolved Conference. For his text he took 1 Corinthians 4:6-13 with the title “Deflating the Puffed Up Church.”

After reading the text he said that it is possible that the Corinthians did not understand Paul’s intent in these verses. This was a proud church and their pride was pronounced and not at all subtle. They were proud of their spirituality and their gifting but they also had a pride in their leaders, dividing into camps around Paul and Peter and Apollos. There was some level of pride in the identification with a particular leader in exclusion to the other legitimate leaders. Paul describes people in this church as being puffed up. In these verses he confronts their arrogance directly and passionately. His words were designed to have a soul deflating effect on their puffed up hearts. As we look at this, we may be surprised to see how much we look like these Corinthians. As we read what Paul wrote to them we’ll realize that God is speaking to us.

The Corinthians were largely converted but the gospel was no longer central in their lives. They were attracted to human wisdom and desired the approval and applause of the culture. Their lives contradicted the gospel so in this passage Paul informs them that the gospel should and must have a discernible and observable effect on their lives. Paul reveals two effects of grace:

First, grace produces humility (verses 6,7). Human wisdom was taking these people beyond what was written and Paul expects them to stay within the limits prescribed in Scripture. He wanted this so none of them would be puffed up in favor of one against the other. He was addressing their arrogance and here he deploys a series of questions in order to deflate a puffed up church. He asks a series of theologically-informed rhetorical questions. We discover that the right question can make all the difference. Beginning in verse seven we have a divinely inspired string of words with a divinely inspired question mark at the end provided with the divine intention of changing everything for everyone present in this room at this time. How kind of God to provide us with these! Here are the questions:

Who sees anything different in you? Their proud identification with a leader and their proud assessment of their own spirituality shows a poor assessment of how they became believers. Paul asks them who made them different than any other Christian or even any unbeliever. Throughout the early chapters of this letter he has already drawn their attention to God and His saving work in and for them. Everything distinctive about this church is owing to God alone. He is the one who has saved and gifted them. If you are a Christian, what explanation is there for your conversion, for your love for the Savior, for the presence of godly character in your life, for your love for the local church, for the transformation that has taken place in your life? Why are you different? For every Christian the answer is simply the Savior. What makes me different is simply that God chose me, saved me, revealed the gospel to me. This should have a humbling effect on the soul of any Christian.

What do you have that you did not receive? The obvious answer that was not obvious to the Corinthians is “nothing!” Paul’s question is an expression of God’s kindness for it should draw them to the grace they have received through the cross. They are being reminded of grace. The question addresses the root cause of their pride and the appropriate response should be heart and mind altering for them. “This is an invitation to experience one of those rare, unguarded moments of total honesty, where in the presence of the eternal God one recognizes that everything—absolutely everything—that one ‘has’ is a gift” (Gordon Fee). “Let’s experience one of those rare moments together where in the presence of the eternal God one recognizes that absolutely everything that one has is a gift.” It is a gift that is an expression of God’s amazing grace towards those who are undeserving and ill-deserving. And yet these gifts are everywhere and seemingly endless and they are all because of the cross. Whatever your skill or gifting or ability, it has been given as a gift from God. There is nothing that has not been received as a gift from God. This should have a humbling effect on our souls.

C.J. then told us a portion of his testimony emphasizing that there was absolutely nothing he has that he did not receive and the humbling effect this has on his soul. He taught that this knowledge should give a boldness, a humble boldness to evangelize and share the gospel.

If you received it why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Once you know that you have received everything because of grace there is no cause to boast. How can you boast about what you did not earn and were not worthy to receive? One cannot boast about being a worthy recipient of grace. There must be an absence of boasting in our lives except about the God who has been so gracious to us. If you understand grace, grace produces humility.

Running out of time, C.J. went into warp speed for the second point of this message. Grace, he said, prepares us for suffering (verses 8-13). The Corinthians were not prepared for this paradox. They considered themselves as already having arrived spiritually (see the two repetitions of “already”). Paul was going to introduce them to a new category: the “not yet.” The nature of the Christian life takes into account “the already” but also the “not yet.” Already there is regeneration, forgiveness and so on, but there is also the category of the “not yet” for the reality of sin and suffering and death remains. The Corinthians only had one category: “the already.” They felt they already had what they needed and all they would have. Paul, though, redefines spirituality for them. He informs them of the harsh reality of suffering. Paul intentionally draws their attention to his suffering as a more reliable measure of true spirituality. He insists that hardship and suffering cannot be avoided and thus contrasts their suffering with his hardships for their spirituality did not include these things. The Corinthians would have despised his description of himself and his view of the Christian life. All the things he identifies with are things they despise but things they should aspire to, for if we identify with the gospel we will appear weak and stupid to the world and will suffer before the world. We will all suffer as part of God’s plan and purpose for our lives. People who are genuinely humble are not surprised when they suffer but are surprised that they do not suffer more. They have an understanding of the genuine purpose of suffering. Paul could have shared “I have been caught up into the third heaven.” He could have talked experience and spirituality. Instead he restrains himself and redefines spirituality. Grace prepares us for suffering so we are not caught off guard by hardship.

With time all but expired, C.J. had just a moment for two quick applications. This text address us on two levels:

Ambitions (7) - What are your ambitions? Would the cultivation of humility before God be your ambition? If not, you may be puffed up and caught up in this world.

Expectations (8-12) - Do you expect hardship and suffering in service of the gospel or simply as part of God’s plan and purpose for your life? Your expectations will be adjusted by verses eight through twelve.

Unfortunately, C.J. had a plane to catch, so quickly made his exit and headed home. And that left us with just one session to go.

February 19, 2007

Yesterday, after preaching twice at his church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, John Piper caught a flight down to Los Angeles and preached a different sermon for us. That is dedication. He spoke one what is one of his favorite recent topics: God is the Gospel. I have heard him speak on this a few times now and have also read his book by the same title. And yet, strangely, I still have trouble digesting it all. I hope in the future to read God is the Gospel once more, this time taking for more notes and pausing a lot longer as I make my way through. I know there is a gold mine in there, but I’m having trouble getting some of the initial thoughts to make sense to me. As I’ve said in the past, while I absolutely love Piper’s teaching, I often find it difficult—more so than with most other speakers.

Piper defined “God is the gospel” something like this: “The highest, best, final, decisive and good benefit in the gospel, without which all other benefits are no benefits, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed to us for our everlasting enjoyment.

Based on this definition he asked and answered six questions:

1) What is the relationship between “God is the gospel” and the glory of God? The answer is that God is most glorified in Him when we are most satisfied in Him. When we find God to be the supreme treasure, pleasure and delight, we magnify Him in that act. The key text for this (and for all of Christian Hedonism) is Philippians 1:20-21. From this text Piper wrestled with this question: How do you make Christ look good in dying? The answer? The magnification of Christ shines most brightly when I am able to experience death as the loss of absolutely everything but Christ and call it gain.

God is the gospel says the supreme, ultimate good of the Bible is God revealing Christ for our enjoyment and when we do that He is glorified.

2) What is the relationship between “God is the gospel” and the love of God? He read the story of Lazarus in John 11. From that story we know that Jesus let Lazarus die. Piper has often preached a sermon on this text he calls “The strange and Wonderful Love of Christ.” He had to ask, How does it show love for Lazarus for Jesus to let him walk up and to the horrors of death? The answer is in verse 4 - it is the for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. It is more loving to Lazarus and his sisters and the other people that Lazarus die if God would be displayed as more glorious than if he had lived and God had not been displayed as more glorious. The essence of loving humans is exalting the glory of God for their enjoyment. Love can be defined in all kinds of lesser ways, but if you don’t get to this point it is aiming too low and is not the highest love. If you don’t want the people you love to see more of God and enjoy God, you don’t truly love them because you don’t care about the ultimate satisfaction of their souls forever in God.

The love of God is not His making much of us, but His enabling us to enjoy making much of Him forever.

3) How does “God is the gospel” relate to your conversion? Here he looked at 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 and showed that the gospel is the gospel of the glory of Christ (which, as I recall, is the dominant theme of his book). It is the gospel that displays God’s glory.

God is the gospel says that the best and highest good that makes the gospel good news is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for your everlasting enjoyment. It is the gospel of the glory of Christ.

4) What does “God is the gospel” have to do with the gospel as it is usually preached rightly? He wants evangelicals to take the gospel all the way to the ultimate good of the gospel. There are five elements to the gospel. First, there is an event (1 Corinthians 15:3) - the crucifixion of Christ. There must have happened in history this event for without it there is no gospel. The event is, of course, Jesus’ death and resurrection. Second, the achievement of His death objectively outside of you. For example, the wrath of God absorbed for all the elect. The curse for our sin is averted by Christ. Third, the free offer. With no event and achievement there can be no offer. It is offered freely by faith alone. Fourth, the application of this in your experience. You must experience reconciliation, forgiveness, justification, and so on. For the gospel to be gospel to you, you must experience these things. And fifth? Well, I don’t think he ever got to the fifth.

5) How does “God is the gospel” relate to salt and light? He turned to Matthew 5:11-16 and showed that ultimately, every reward in heaven leads to God. Because we have a treasure in heaven called Jesus Christ, we can rejoice in persecution. We are the salt of the earth. So what is the salt? It is not wealth because prosperity gospel is no gospel. It offers to people what they want as natural people. You don’t have to be born again to be wealthy and therefore you don’t have to be converted to be saved by this false gospel. When you appeal to people to come to Christ on the basis of what they already want, this gospel is unbiblical. The salt of the earth are people that are so satisfied with their reward in heaven that they joyfully endure pain in the service of Jesus. Because the world is not simply not going to be impressed by a church motivated by what they are motivated by.

6) How does “God is the gospel” relate to evangelism? Piper has already stressed that preaching what appeals to the natural man is foolish. He attempted to make this overlap with the heart of an unbeliever and gave three examples of how “God is the gospel” can be used for evangelism. First, nobody goes to the Grand Canyon to improve his self-esteem. Why would they go there? The reason is that deeply written in the human soul is that we were not made to be made much of, but to make much of God. Your highest joy is not standing in front of a mirror liking what you see. The second illustration is a cartoon that says “the best moments make you feel insignificant.” When you go down, He goes up, and your joy expands. Third, he turned to an advertisement that said “You’ve never felt more alive, you’ve never felt more insignificant.” From this he showed that it is written on men’s hearts that they are made for God. And he encouraged us to find ways to evangelize using “God is the gospel,” for it is possible to find a way to talk to friends about God being the gospel. There are overlaps in the things they long for and yearn for.

At the heart of evangelizing through this message is showing unbelievers that we want to feel insignificant—we want to make much of God and be made little of.

This message was another example of Piper’s ultimate thinking. And by that I mean that he is always pushing to the ultimate meaning, the ultimate value, of any doctrine or any passage of Scripture. Exposition is not enough—he will not stop short of application. We will hear Piper again this morning, but first up is C.J. Mahaney.

Desiring God came through already. You can listen to the audio here.

February 18, 2007

It struck me today just how amazing it is that 3,000 young people would gather here over a holiday weekend. They have come not just to hear speakers or preachers, but to hear expositors. These people have gathered to hear nine expository sermons and to listen to a panel discussion featuring a bunch of old(er) guys. And what’s most amazing is that these young people seem to be relishing every moment. It’s amazing to me.

After a short break, we were privileged to once again hear from Steve Lawson. I love this man’s preaching. He chose to stand on the shoulders of the message we had just heard from Isaiah 53. He chose to ask where we stand in relationship to the cross. It’s one thing to be in this building, he said, but quite another to be in Christ. He took the opportunity to stand at the narrow gate and urge and call people to come through that narrow gate. He turned to a text of Scripture that spoke directly to what it is to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. He wanted all those in attendance to be radically commited to the Lordship of Christ for all of us need to be ever-more resolved to follow Christ.

The text he chose to speak from is Luke 14:25-33 and the topic is “The Cost of Discipleship (It Will Cost You Everything).”

He began with a football analogy, telling how he played football in college and how, because of scholarships, everything was free. His books, food, housing, tutors and everything else were free so he would play football for his school. But there was a cost: it cost him everything. He had to dedicate himself fully to his team and to contributing to it. This is exactly what it is to be a Christian. Christ went to the cross, our sins were transferred to Christ and He bore them for us. He paid in full the entirety of our sin debt and there is nothing we can contribute to our eternal salvation. But you need to understand the terms for receiving the free gift. If you want to receive this gift it will cost you the total committment of all that you are to the Lord Jesus Christ. “There are many here who think they are saved, but are not; they have never really done business with God.”

Here is what Jesus says about entering the kingdom of heaven. These terms are unalterable and are the same for every one of us. Jesus never tried to induce the crowd to follow Him or to call people to make quick and easy decisions. He never softened the requirements. Every one of us need to do some soul-searching and ask whether verses 26 and 27 are true of our lives. It is easy to be part of a crowd. The larger the crowd, the easier it is to be inconspicuous and just blend it while riding the momentum and without having to make a personal, individual committment. Jesus understood this crowd mentality. While Jesus sees the crowd growing he is not deceived because he does not judge success in ministry by size. So in this passage Jesus stopped, turned around, and spoke to the crowd. He knew that this crowed was a mixed bag of believers and unbelievers. He turned to face them directly and, in sense, told them to stop. He sifted through the crowd (something He would do periodically) as if to say that this crowd is getting too big and it’s becoming too easy to be swept up onto the bandwagon. And now He calls for their total committment.

They key word of this text is the last word of both 26 and 27: disciple. Jesus longs for and died for disciples. Not one drop of blood was shed beyond the disciples. So what is a disciple? It is only a disciple who is inline and following Jesus Christ. A true disciple is a true believer in Jesus Christ. It is one who has come to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ and become a follower of Him. Jesus now tells what the terms are of being one of His followers. What He says is shocking and jolts the crowd. What He said had such impact on their lives and today we should all be shocked as we are reminded of the terms the Lord has issued.

Jesus demands a supreme devotion (26). In order to become a true follower of Jesus Christ, one must love Him more than anyone or anything. There must be no competing allegiances. Following Jesus requires a lifetime, ongoing decision to do this. It is not a one-time decision or a one-time act. Verse 26 is the Lord’s clarification of true saving faith. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus, if he ever spoke what He intended to say, this was it. He uses here a Hebrew figure of speech that we still use called hyperbole - an exaggerated statement to make a point. It sets love and hate side by side in order to convey the point that we must love God so much more than the people and things in this world we love most. What we feel for God should cause the love to have for others to appear to be as hate in comparison to the supreme surpassing devotion and affection for God. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus interprets this, saying that those who love others more than Him are not worthy of Him. The issue is who you love most. To love the Lord Jesus Christ requires the totality of who you are. To love Jesus supremely begins with the mind and with sound doctrine and theology. In order to love Jeuss, your mind must be enlarged and filled with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Love for Christ never happens in a mindless, mystical experience. It is with the mind that all love begins; you cannot love in a vacuum. It then involves the affections as you behold the infinite holiness and love of God. your heart comes under the influence of this and your heart is drawn so that you love Him with the depths of feeling of your heart. And finally it involves the will for “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If you say you love Christ and do not walk in obedience to Him, it is just religious talk in your life. The will of the Christian is engaged to commit and entrust your life to Jesus Christ. It is a decisive choice of the will. Even today God is calling for us to love Him more than anyone or anything else (including our own lives). The greatest joy and pleasure in anyone’s life is to love Christ with all of their mind, soul and strength and to enter into a personal relationship with Him.

Jesus demands a self-denial (27). it is easy to be a counterfeit disciple while being part of a larger crowd. Jesus follows up in verse 27 with another shocking statement though perhaps we’ve heard it so many times that it has lost some of its thunder. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” He says this again to stand as a double warning, a double flashing red light. What does it mean to carry one’s own cross? No one in the Lord’s time would have missed this because the cross stood for terrible pain and excruciating death. To carry the cross was the death march where one would stand before the judge and be declared guilty. As a public display of one’s own guilt, one would have to carry the crossbar from the judgement seat all the way to the sight of execution. It was publicly humiliating and this was a public testimony of being under the higher authority of the judge. You were effectively agreeing with the judge’s condemnation. The streets of Jerusalem would be filled and people would line up to watch the criminal carry his crossbeam. Everyone would see that Rome was in charge and had brought them into subjection and submission. This is one more example of one who was under submission and is dying to self.

This is precisely what Jesus is saying in verse 27. he says that we must stand before the holiness of God in our own heart and agree with God’s own estimation of us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, We’ll just have to choke this down. If we are to be saved we must agree with that and come to a place of submission under the Lordship of Christ and come under the higher authority of Christ. To carry one’s own cross is to make an open and public statement to the world that I am guilty as charged before a holy God and that my life has come under His government and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I have come to the end of myself. I am now dead to self and dead to sin and I surrender my life to Jesus Christ and now am a follower of Christ and am carrying my cross every step of the journey. I am willing to do and go however He calls me; what He does will be what I do; what He loves will be what I love. He calls us to follow Him at all times and in all ways. There is no other purpose or passion in our lives. Our lives are to be centered on Jesus Christ for we cannot follow Christ and anything else. He demands exclusivity.You cannot live until you’ve died and you cannot live to Christ until you’ve died to self.

Lawson then became personally and asked some very personal questions. “I want to single you out in the midst of this crowd. Have you taken up a cross in order to follow after Christ? Have you recognized your own sinfulness, acknowledged that God’s judgment is true, have you acknowledged Christ’s right to rule your life? Have you submitted to the Lordship of Christ? Have you really come to the end of self? Because Jesus does not begin until you end.”

Jesus demands a sober calculation (28-32). Beginning at verse 28 Jesus gives two parables. He paints two pictures so we can see what it is that He calls for. He calls for us to think this through before we commit to it. He says that we really need to count the cost. He provides two parables.

The first parable deals with construction. He looks into the eyes of the crowd and asks which one would not first calculate the cost of a building project. Any wise builder knows that you need to figure out the cost before rushing into a construction project without determining whether you can afford it. It is easy to start something, but it is difficult and costly to complete it. If you do not count the cost, after you’ve laid the foundation (you’ve made an easy decision for Christ) all who observe this will begin to ridicule him (and rightly so). There are so many people whose lives are just like this. They go to conferences and get swept up in the preaching, the music and the love, but they can do all this without really making Jesus number one in their lives. The sober calculation we need to make is that a decision to follow Jesus is going to cost everything.

Jesus’ second parable deals with confrontation. With this second parable the assumption is what if you are not willing to pay the price? Will this be an easy way out? Are there implications and ramifications if you don’t step up and say that you are willing to pay the price? Here are two competing kings and kingdoms - only one will win while the other will lose. There is a lot on the table here. As Jesus says this, he means “you are the king with 10,000 soldiers and you are in a conflict.” The other king has far more soldiers and when you come into direct conflict he will utterly destroy you. While this king with 20,000 armed men comes up against you, any sane human would respond by sending a delegation and asking for terms of peace. This other king is none other than the one who is telling the parable for at the end of this age He will come bolting out of heaven. He is coming to conquer and to damn. You need to make terms of peace with this king or you will be subjected in damnation forever. Christ has made terms of peace and you need to settle out-of-court with him. You do not want to go into that final day of conflict with Christ, for He will be ruthless in the execution of justice. He offers mercy today. He will agree to terms of peace and surrender, but they are His terms of peace, not ours. His terms are this: you must love Him more than anything. If you cannot do this, you will meet Him in the final judgement and glorify God in your destruction.

In verse 33 Jesus brings it to the bottom line and demands a total commitment. You cannot put off a decision any longer. No one can be a true Christian who does not give up all his own posessions. Jesus is not backing off, but is increasing the commitment He calls for. He is not saying that we need to buy our way into heaven, but is saying that you must transfer ownership of all that you are and have to all that He is. Your life is no longer your life, but His life. Your time is His time, your possessions are His possessions. This is what it is to meet His terms of peace. In short, Christ demands the total and complete surrender of our lives. Saving faith is coming to the end of ourselves and trusting all that we are and have to all that He is.

Finally, Jesus demands a searching examination (34-35). You’d think that at some point Jesus would soften or lighten up, but this is too important. We need to give strict attention to what God has said through His Son. God has brought everyone of us to this place; none of us are here by accident. It is the goodness and mercy of God that has brought us here to hear the gospel and to hear of Jesus through Isaiah 53. Jesus is calling today for all of us here to come to Him. We need to search our hearts to see if we’ve come to this place of total committment and to see if we’ve yielded our lives to the soveriegn Lordship of the one who died. The gates of paradise have been swung open; the narrow gate is open; come through that narrow gate and commit your life to Him,. Despite the strength of His words, He also says that the one who comes to Him will never be cast out. He calls today for us to come to Him.

I was glad to see an evangelistic message, even three days into the conference. I think it is wonderful that the speakers are not simply assuming that everyone here is saved, but are continually pushing, continually asking people to examine their hearts and to determine if they are truly saved. Lawson’s message was as convicting an evangelistic appeal as I’ve heard in a long time. And what’s more, it was a call for Christian commitment as well. And somehow I managed to write some 2500 words about it. Like I say, somehow Lawson’s style of preaching just reaches me!

We are looking forward to hearing John Piper preaching the Word tonight.

February 18, 2007

Day three of the Resolved Conference began much the same as the first two days. We sang some songs and got right to the sessions. The first session featured C.J. Mahaney speaking on Isaiah 53 and The Suffering Servant. He began by recounting the plot of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and ended the brief summary with a question Susan asked after encountering the resurrected Aslan: “What does it all mean?” A more important question doesn’t exist. He led us through three points relevant to the Suffering Servant and based on this text.

1) The appearance - The first three verses show suffering observed and misunderstood. We see here the limitations of human wisdom and sinful human expectation in relation to the Savior. By mere human observation, no one has believed this report apart from divine revelation. One cannot understand the nature and identity of this suffering servant without the Spirit’s prior work. Jesus was not esteemed because He was not impressive to us. The one sent to save us was not impressive to us for His birth, background and appearance are all unimpressive and from a human perspective there was nothing special about Him. Who would have guessed that this man could be the Savior? Apart from God’s gracious disclosure, we would have no idea; left to ourselves we cannot discern who this is.

2) The reality - Beginning in verse four and continuing through verse six is God’s disclosure as to the reality of who this is. We transition from human appearance and expectation to divine revelation. Here we discover his unique identity, for here is the divine reality. He suffered for us, He suffered because of our sins and he died as our substitute.

He suffered for us, because of our sin, and he suffered as our substitute. That is the divine reality disclosed in these verses. Ten times in three verses come the pronouns “our,” “we,” or “us.” He suffered for sinners like us. This means of repetition is to arrest our attention and to inform us to the reality of what is taking place at the crucifixion.

He suffered because of our sins. The language here repeats words that show why Jesus had to die: Griefs, sorrows, iniquities, etc. Isaiah is aware that we have a tendency to deny responsibility - this tendency resides in each of us. He knows that we can behold the suffering servant and deny our responsibility and the role we played. But he does not allow us to get away with this. He confronts us and makes us aware through numerous expressions of our sin that we cannot deny responsiblity. He says “You did do it. You are responsible.” This verse extends to all history and includes you and your sin. It includes me and my sin.

He died as our substitute. He took our place. The language of substitution is peppered through these verses: bore, carried, wounded, crushed, chastised, stripes and the language culminates in “laid on him.” He paid the penalty I owed. While I was still in my sin, He suffered the punishment that I so justly and richly deserve. Those who are limited to human observation could conclude in verse four that he was stricken and smitten by God for his own sin and, in particular, the sin of blasphemy. Many who watched this drama unfold drew this conclusion. Those who have been granted new eyes realize that he was stricken by God not for His sin, but for their sin. When we look at this deformed, disfigured, suffering servant hanging in agony and suspended between heaven and earth, we must realize that He is there as our substitute receiving the punishment that we deserve.

Here Mahaney made the point that we will never get over the cross. We will never be less than amazed by the cross for heaven itself is cross centered and quite blaring about it. How could it be otherwise? Christ suffered for us, because of us, and as a substitute for us. He exhausted the divine judgment that was meant for him and we are in eternal debt to Him. Our joy in this will last for all of eternity.

3) The significance - In verses ten and following we learn the significance of Jesus’ death. It reveals the Father’s love for guilty sinners like you and me. In verse ten we encounter the Father’s motivation for sending His Son to suffer as our substitute. The love of God the Father is revealed and displayed in an unexpected way. We read that it was the will of the Lord to crush His Son. Who really killed Jesus? C.J. often answers “I did. My sin was sufficient and was more than enough. I killed Jesus.” And yet ultimately this passage shows that ultimately it was God the Father who was responsible for the death of His Son. He killed His Son, thus revealing His love for sinners like you and me. This passage reveals the plan and purpose of God from eternity past. The Father’s love did not originate after the cross, but it was His love that sent the Son to the cross. It was His love that led to Him crushing His Son. Combine Isaiah 53 and John 3:16 and see see that “God so love the world that He crushed His Son.” He crushed Him for sinners like you and me.

Jesus death is what makes the cross the heart of the gospel. It makes the gospel good news. Through the cross God persuades us that He loves us. What more could God do to demonstrate His love? What more would you suggest He do to show the depth of His love?

Through this all, C.J. led us to be freshly amazed about the gospel. He spoke on this passage and spoke of Jesus’ atoning death so that in the future, any reference we hear or make to God’s love, we will immediately think of God’s love as revealed on the cross through His crushing of His Son. And in doing this, He revealed His great love for us.

As with many of C.J.’s sermons, he was reduced to tears, and so was much of the audience, as he spoke passionately and spoke from the Bible about the extent of the Savior’s pain, and the depths of the Father’s love. And this is on thing I love about Mahaney—that so often his affection for Christ is obvious through the emotion invoked by his meditations on the cross of Christ.

February 18, 2007

This evening’s session began with Rick Holland reminding the audience of a young man named Ryan Gay. Ryan had wanted to attend Resolved last year but was unable to as he was diagnosed with leukemia just a day or two before the conference began. Last year Holland called him from the stage during the conference and it was, by all accounts, an emotional and spiritual time. Tonight, a year later, Holland invited Ryan to the stage. He was able to be there this year along with his wife of eight days. Ryan spoke of the encouragement he received last year, of his battle with cancer, and the lessons he learned through this trial.

After a time of corporate worship through singing, John MacArthur again opened the Word, this time preaching from Luke 18 and the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

He began by stating that the Old Testament is full of references to justification: Job 9:2 (how can a man be made righteous before God?); Psalm 143:2 (in God’s sight no man living is righteous); etc. The Old Testament believers understood the concept of justification. They knew that there are only two possible answers to the sin problem: either you can do it on your own or you can’t. And thus there are only two religions in the world: religions of human accomplishment and religions of divine accomplishment. This story shows both of these groups. Pharisees were self-righteous, confident, assured, contemptuous. The pharisee comes before God in this story and asks for nothing: no forgiveness, no grace, no mercy. Nothing! He doesn’t think he needs anything. On the other hand is this tax collecter: sinful, outcast, guilty, alienated, distraught, humble, broken, desperate and begging for mercy.

The Pharisees had great influence in the populace because they plied their system through the synagogues. It was this religion of the Pharisees that was seen throughout the land. They were the benchmark people of the religion. They thought they could achieve righteousness before God by their own efforts. Anybody beneath them was considered with contempt and disdain. Though many years later, Martin Luther was one of these. He had convinced himself that he was the most fastidious and scrupulous of all monks. He knew that he felt far short of the divine and perfect standard but thought of divine righteousness as a horrible thing. He thought his condition was hopeless and this is what started him on a path to a true righteousness. For much of his life he was a pharisee.

Set against the pharisee is the tax collector. In Jewish society, tax collecters were the absolute lowest of the low. They were regarded as idolatrous traitors. So in this story you have what people regarded as the pinnacle of religion and then the very bottom. With these characters in mind, Jesus told His story.

Two men went to the temple to pray. This would be a time of prayer, sacrifice, blessing and praise. An animal would be sacrificed as an act of atonment for the sins of the people. This was a very elaborate ceremony. The faithful came and watched as the sacrifice was made and the incense was burned (symbolizing their ability to pray to God). And in this setting we meet the two characters.

The Pharisee stood to pray and probably did so in a prominent place. He likely stood as close to the sacrifice, as close to the Holy Place, as he could get (since he thought he deserved to be there). He wanted others to see him and to see his holiness. He prayed in a way that was self-congratulatory (as seen in his five references to himself in his prayer). He is celebrating his self-righteousness openly and publicly). He doesn’t even offer praise to God. His thanks is a mockery. This is obnoxious self-righeousness. This is not even prayer - he is just talking to himself and wanting others to hear how holy he is so they will be able to compare him to the unclean reject.

And then there was the tax collecter. He stood some distance away, far from the Holy place, probably in the outer court reserved for the Gentiles. He knows he is unclean and despised. He is a sinner before all the people and before God. He knows and feels his alienation. You can see this in his place but also in his posture. He refused to even lift up his eyes to God for he was too filled with shame and guilt. He feels and knows and acknowledges his sin. There isn’t any word to mitigate this. He feels the full weight of his disobedience and sin, knowing that God is his enemy and his judge. His behavior also says this. He crosses his hands across the chest with his eyes down. He begins to pound his chest rapidly and repeatedly, an act that never appears in the Old Testament and only appears in the New Testament here and at the crucifixion of Jesus. It happens today in many middle eastern cultures where women wail and pound their chests during times of emotional distress. Rarely do men do this. It takes something of the magnitude of Jesus’ death for middle eastern men to behave like this—it was a female gesture to be this sorrowful, this penitent. It was a sign of weakness. But in this story the tax collector pounds his chest to pound his heart, the source of all evil.

From this shame and anguish comes a prayer—a real prayer. “God be merciful to me the sinner.” He really prays to God and asks for something only God can do. He asks for forgiveness, reconciliation. Faith is there, for he believed in God, believed that God is holy and believed that God is forgiving. His plea for God to be merciful is really a plea for God to “propitiate.” He is saying “be propitious toward me.” That is, “God, accept this atonement on my behalf. Accept satisfaction.”

The tax collector goes home justified rather than the other. This is stunning to a Jewish audience. Their whole religious system was based on the idea that a person can make himself righteous by his own morality and religion. Pharisees were the very archetype of this righteousness, but Jesus shatters this illusion. Jesus’ final words would have shocked the listeners. They would have been stunned. In one moment Jesus pronounces an extreme sinner righteous apart from any works, merit, worthiness, law-keeping, ritual or ceremony. He is instantaneously justified. How can this be? We know because it unfolds in the rest of the New Testament. The key is that Jesus’ righteousness was credited to this man’s account. The sin problem was dealt with and propitiation was made. The man who pleaded for mercy was granted mercy while the man who depended on his own goodness was cast off.

The purpose of this session was to help those in attendance to see their sin, to see their unworthiness, and to embrace the Savior who has done it all. If there are only two kinds of religion in the world, we need to embrace the one that provides the perfect Savior to hold out forgiveness to imperfect sinners.

If you are interested in some top-notch photos from the conference, click here. These are courtesy of Lukas Van Dyke. Tip: you can use the arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate through the photos.

February 17, 2007

John MacArthur spoke at the second session of the day. He began by commenting on the exuberant nature of the worship at this conference. He seemed glad that people are worshiping in a way that is heartfelt even if many are singing so loud that they have long since abandoned tone and pitch. But then he asked a sobering question: why is it that this exuberance does not also accompany our efforts at evangelism? We are we so bold here, but so timid in sharing the gospel? Why is it that the name of Jesus escapes our lips only with a great deal of effort. How can we be so free and unembarrassed here, but so embarrassed out there in the world?

Framed around the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, MacArthur’s message discussed the shame of the gospel and the shame of the cross. There are six points related to the cross:

The shameful sentence of the cross - By nature people are unwilling and even unable to admit that they are sinners. If Christians wish to be unpopular, they simply need to tell people they are sinners. And yet this is where evangelism must start - with our true condition before God. The shameful sentence of the cross is that without it and without the saving work of Jesus Christ, we are destined for hell.

The shameful stigma of the cross - The message of the cross is foolishness; it is crazy; moronic. This message was ridiculous in the time of the Bible because Jews had a Messianic expectation that His coming would be accompanied by signs and wonders, but not the kind Jesus did. They were looking for dramatic, supernatural signs and wonders in the sky. Gentiles, on the other hand, were looking for transcendent wisdom and esoteric knowledge. And what does Christianity offer? It offers a scandalous message where Jesus ends up dead on a cross. The Jews could not tolerate a Messiah who was crucified and the Greeks could not tolerate a God who was crucified by men. If God could have thought of the worst possible way of making a message marketable, this was it.

The shameful simplicity of the cross - God gospel makes no concession to human wisdom. Human wisdom plays no part in the gospel for it destroys human wisdom. The collective wisdom of all the wise humans is nothing. They are useless when it comes to salvation for everything they have to offer is foolish.

The shameful singularity of the cross - There is absolutely exclusive for the power of God saves only those who believe. This is shameful in this inclusive world we live in.

And so how do we overcome this? How did the early apostles overcome this? How are we to overcome the shame of the cross? We have to know and understand that God works through our weakness. This leads to the final points:

The shameful society of the cross - There aren’t many educated, wise, high-born, aristocratic, noble Christians. God has chosen the foolish to shame the wise; God has chosen the weak to shame the things which are strong. The base things, people of utter significance and those who are despised, the no ones, the things that are not—these are the men and women God uses. This message has been put in the hand of a bunch of nobodies, all the while disdaining the wise and powerful and aristocratic. Why? To shame the wise; to make it clear that this gospel does not come by means of human wisdom. It comes not by human power but by divine. How could such a group as this have an impact on the world?

The shameful sovereignty of the cross - What hope do we have for this is an impossible task? And yes, with men this is impossible. However, God in His sovereignty has chosen the weak and foolish to be His chosen ones and to do the work. We go not in our own strength but in His strength and power. We trust in His sovereignty and in His wisdom. We preach this message of the cross because God finds delight and satisfaction in saving His chosen ones. The whole enterprise can be summed up like this: that no man can boast before God. It is all by and for God. The only way anyone will believe this message is because it is all by God’s doing. This doctrine of God’s sovereignty is shameful to unbelievers and even to many believers.

And so our passion should and must extend to sharing the gospel message of the good news of Jesus Christ. Though this message is foolishness and though it brings shame upon the wise and upon the wisdom of this world, we share it in and through the power of Jesus Christ. We trust in His sovereignty and go forth in confidence.

After the last message I noted that Steve Lawson managed to preach a seven point sermon while maintaining the pattern of having each point hinge on the same letter of the alphabet. Do note that MacArthur followed this with a six point message also using only one letter. I’m impressed.

(If you are looking for photos from the conference, I noticed that this blog has a few shots. I should have some official shots available in a little while)

February 17, 2007

Day two of the Resolved Conference was prefaced by a very good sleep. I feel much more alive today, for which I’m very grateful. The conference began a little bit late as filling the auditorium seems to be taking quite a long time. Because the conference is at capacity, the organizers have to be certain that every seat has been filled. So they fill the place very deliberately and this translates, at least so far, to very slowly. Thankfully, there is no real hurry, at least from my perspective.

Still, things got underway at about 9:30 with a time of worship. The Resolved band is really very good. It is a full band and is led by a pianist whose name escapes me. There are two guitars, bass, piano, keyboards, drums and two female vocalists. The overall production is excellent, with lots of lights and effects and such. While we are too close to the front to hear the best sound mix, the sound quality also seems to be very good. The overall feel during the worship is big, or in the words of John MacArthur, exuberant. Yet it is also controlled and dignified. There is less physical expression during worship than I had expected.

After we sang several hymns and songs, Steve Lawson stepped forward to deliver the first of the two addresses he will bring at this conference. It was entitled “The Power of the Gospel.” He used Hebrews 1:1-4 as he text and sough to show that the greatness of the gospel is the greatness of God’s son. He showed the unrivaled supremacy of Jesus Christ and taught that the gospel is what it is because the Savior is who He is.

He had us consider why Jonathan Edwards was used by God so mightily. He is considered to be the greatest American preacher, the greatest theologian America has ever seen and he preached the greatest sermon in American history. He also wrote the most profound book ever written in America (The Freedom of the Will). He also helped launch the modern missionary movement with his editing of the diary of David Brainerd. God used him so mightily because Edwards had a supremely high view of God and of His Son. Edwards was radically committed to following Jesus Christ no matter what. He had the highest view in his generation of God’s absolute holiness and the unrivaled supremacy of Jesus Christ. And because of this, God chose to use him in amazing ways.

From the Bible and from the life of Edwards we see that no one will ever live higher than their view of God and their view of Jesus Christ. Those people who live with a high view of Christ live on a higher plain. Jonathan Edwards is an example of this—a man who was caught up with God’s supremacy.

Lawson said “If I could do anything for you to do it would be to unveil the supremacy of Jesus Christ and for us to see the high and depth and breadth and length of this Savior, Jesus Christ.” And this is why he chose to teach from Hebrews. The superiority of Jesus Christ is really the theme of this book. It was written for people who had been raised with empty rituals and dead religion. They had heard the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and they took steps towards hearing more about Him, but as they were caught midstream between their background and not having come to Christ, many were in danger of coming short of a full commitment. The author of Hebrews takes pen in hand and writes this book to show the unrivaled supremacy and superiority of Jesus Christ so they would see that they must dedicate their lives entirely to this Savior. It would be foolish to return to their empty religion when the greatness and grandeur of Christ is set before them.

Saying that the greatness of the gospel is found in the greatness of Jesus Christ, Lawson set for to offer seven compelling aspects of the superiority of Jesus Christ:

1) Jesus Christ is superior in His proclamation (verse 1-2a). God speaks to us and this happens in two major categories: general revelation (God speaking to man through creation - He speaks of His existence and His creation) and special revelation (God speaking to man through Jesus Christ the living Word and through the written Word). Special revelation is necessary in order for there to be salvation. God spoke and has been speaking for a long time in this special revelation for he spoke to the fathers, meaning the forefathers of the faith. God spoke progressively, beginning in very basic and elementary ways that would prepare for the fullness of what He would say later. He spoke through the law, through ceremony, though judges, kings and institutions. Sometimes He spoke through the voice of God, sometimes with the hand of God on the wall, and other times through dreams or visions. All of this was to lay a foundation of entry-level revelation and it all pointed to something - to the fulfillment of what He has to say. There is nothing more important in life than to hear what God is saying now, in these last days. The whole Old Testament can be summarized in the word “promise.” But now, in the New Testament, there is fulfillment. Everything that God wants to say He has said in the person of Jesus Christ. He has nothing more to say to us than He has already said through Christ; there is nothing more important than to hear what He says to us in His Son. “All of the lines of the Bible, they intersect at the person and work of Jesus Christ.” Every text of the Bible is God speaking to our hearts and at the very epicenter of that message is the glory of Jesus Christ.

2) Jesus Christ is superior in His possessions (2b). The author of Hebrews looks ahead to the consummation of the ages and notes the superiority of Jesus. Jesus Christ is the sole, rightful heir of all things. He alone is the one who will inherit all things. It is only right for a father to want to give an inheritance to his son. He wants to send something of value, something of prominence, for a father gives something of himself when he gives an inheritance to his son. This is in the heart of the father. He wants to give to Jesus Christ all things. Christ will inherit his people and bestow upon them their reward and eternal glorification. He will also inherit all unbelievers and will distribute to them divine wrath. The entire world will be reconciled to him in that final day and all the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of Jesus Christ and He will reign forever and ever. All people, places and things will be brought into subjection to Jesus Christ and He will inherit them for salvation or damnation. He is supreme and superior in this inheritance.

3) Jesus Christ is superior in His power (2c). The author of this epistle moves now from the end of time to the beginning of time. Christ was the agent used by God to bring about creation. Jesus Christ spoke everything into existence and everything out of nothing. And thus He is supreme in His power.

4) Jesus Christ is superior in His person (3a,b). There is no one else even in Jesus’ class; there is no one else playing in His league. Only one who is entirely God could save us from our sin. Jesus Christ the god-man, in order to be our mediator, had to stand between holy God and sinful man. To do this he had to be equal to both sides. To represent us before God He must be fully man. But in order to represent God He must also be fully God. If he were not fully God he would be like a broken branch on the other side of a stream, not providing what we need to approach God. A Savior who is not God is a Savior who cannot save. So Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory. He is not a mere reflection like the moon reflects the sun; He is not a secondary, lesser reflection. Rather, He is the full and perfect radiance of the Father’s glory. Glory refers to the intrinsic glory of God - all of the attributes and essence of God; the sum total of what He is. Jesus, in His incarnation, is and was an exact representation of the essence of deity - the totality of deity. When you take away the deity of Jesus Christ you take away the gospel of Jesus Christ.

5) Jesus Christ is superior in His preservation (3c). Jesus Christ upholds all things by the word of His power. The author has already looked to the future and shown Jesus to be the heir of all things with all things coming to His hands. He has looked back to the beginning of time to show Christ as Creator, with all things coming from the hand of Christ. He now says that everything in between remains in His hands. Jesus Christ does continually, every moment of every day, uphold the universe; he sustains it. There is nothing random in the universe; there is nothing that is autonomous or outside of Jesus’ hands. He is the one who directs all of the affairs of providence and the entire course of world history not only in the macro but in the micro. Jesus does this all effortlessly by the word of His power. Jesus is the one who upholds all of us. He is the one who causes faith to continue to be active and to move forward. He upholds us by His sheer superiority.

6) Jesus Christ is superior in His pardon (3d,e). Jesus can do what no high priest, what no animal sacrifice, what no other person can do for us. Only someone this superior could make purification for sins. He is able to remove impurities, to cleanse, to purify. This presupposes, of course, that all of our lives have been deeply stained by sin and that the soul of man is totally depraved. We are defiled and dirty. In order to enter the presence of a holy God there has to be purification of the inward corruption of the soul, for God demands that we be as holy as He is if we are to enter into His presence. The only way to do this is through the death of Jesus Christ for sinners.

7) Jesus Christ is superior in His position (3e-4). Jesus Christ, because of the perfection of His sacrifice, was able to sit down at the side of the Father. Jesus Christ is absolutely perfect in what He has accomplished for us.

Lawson closed with an exhortation. The superiority of Jesus is our confidence, our hope. He is able to save us, to save us forever. The most important thing in your life—everything else is secondary; this alone is primary—is that you hear Jesus speaking to you through His Word, through His Son, this very day. He has nothing more important to say to you than what He says through His Son, that you hear and heed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I love Lawson’s passion and have been moved by his messages in the past. This was no exception. He spoke with passion and conviction and really challenged those in attendance to commit themselves to listening to and heeding the words of God. It was a call for the young people to hear the gospel, to see Christ at the very center of the gospel, and to respond to this gospel.

He closed with Hebrews 12:25 and told the attendees to see to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. The greatest sin in all of the world is the sin of unbelief—it is the sin of refusing Him who is speaking.God has given us His full and final revelation. To respond to what He says to you is the greatest and most important thing you will ever do, and if you fail, you will be utterly cast out forever and ever. “May this be an hour, a moment, in which you hear the Father speaking through the Word to your heart. May you believe in His Son Jesus Christ.”

And before I wrap this one up, I’d like to make special mention of the fact that Lawson presented a seven-point message that used the same first letter for each of the points (in this case, the letter “p”). Could this be a record? I wonder what the record is for points in a sermon, each using the same latter…

February 17, 2007

I began my day in the subzero temperatures of a frozen Canadian winter and ended it in balmy, eighty degree California. It has been almost twenty four hours since I woke up and my eyes are starting to do some weird twitchy thing that happens when I get over tired. I need to get to bed. But first a few reflections on the opening session of the Resolved Conference.

First off, I am sitting at the front of the room at this conference. This is a new experience for me as I typically find myself in the bleachers. This time, though, I am way at the front and can actually see the speakers and the musicians. I kind of like it. I can actually get some good photographs from this vantage point but, sadly, forgot the cable that would allow me to extract the photos from my camera. I’ll try to post some when I get back home (or when I find another way of getting them onto my computer and then onto the internet).

The evening began with almost 3,000 people filing into the conference venue. Unfortunately quite a few people were missing as many flights from exotic locales such as New York and Chicago were canceled due to inclement weather. This is hardly unusual for this time of year but must still be disappointing for those who got left behind. Hopefully they’ll be able to make their way here before the weekend is through. When the crowd had finally filed in, filling the entire downstairs, the entire first balcony and exactly half of the upper balcony, the conference began with a time of worship. Songs included Be Thou My Vision, Let the Kingdom Come, The Glories of Calvary, How Great is Our God, Son of God and The Power of the Cross. This was followed by a short video biography of Edwards narrated by Rick Holland and shot at the campus of Princeton University. He discussed the vision of Resolved in connection with the life and teachings of Jonathan Edwards, his historical hero. He made it clear that what we do this weekend is not the local church and is not a replacement for it. Everything done and taught this weekend is to launch people back to faithfulness in their local assemblies.

He then encourages us to turn our attention to the most important topic (the gospel itself) and the person (Jesus Christ). As his text for the evening, he took Romans 5:6-11.

He began by discussing the historical context of Jonathan Edwards’ most famous sermon (and, indeed, the most famous sermon since the closing of the canon), “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It was preached in 1741 in New England. God had moved cities and counties and people were coming to the Lord in droves. Whitefield was preaching, people were being converted, and people were filling the churches. But this revival somehow passed over an entire town. Edwards and his friends decided to gather a group of men to preach at this town and they preached a series of revival meetings. Edwards’ turn came and he went to preach this revival sermon. On July 8, 1741, on a Wednesday evening, he took the pulpit and began to preach this sermon. Though it takes only forty minutes to read this sermon, it took him ninety. He had to constantly beg for silence and demand that people return to their seats. Throughout portions of the sermon there was a great moaning and crying. Why was there such a reaction? Edwards was preaching about sinners in the hands of an angry God. His point was that life was full of uncertainties and that God is justifiably angry at those who reject His gift of salvation. The sermon was full of imagery to describe the sinful and horrific condition of the sinful human soul.

Holland posed the questions: What do we make of this kind of preaching? This kind of preacher? This kind of God? Is this really true? Is God really this way? Is God really and truly and passionately angry at me?

The theme of Resolved this year is the gospel itself. We are going back to the basics, to the gospel truth. All of the speakers are organizing their thoughts around the gospel itself. This passage, Romans 5, and indeed the whole book, answers one question: what’s so great about the gospel? How can someone stand righteous before a holy God? For six verses Paul stops and enjoys the view. And that’s what we’re doing this week - taking a deep breath of gospel fresh air.

So what’s so great about the gospel?

The gospel satisfies the greatest need (verse 6). This verse doesn’t make any human sense. Everything about the gospel is counter-intuitive, going against the wisdom of all we would think. No one would think of such things. If you think you deserve God’s love, you will never be secure in this love because there will always exist the constant threat of trying or doing something to earn God’s favor. The truth is, the only thing we contribute is our sin. God does the rest. He does it all. Only those who have settled their confidence in God, that He loves them despite their sin, these are the only people who can live in light of His favor. The key issue of assurance is that it is all of God. Your greatest need is defined by your sin, by your sinful soul. Our greatest need is to be righteous in the hands of an angry God.

The gospel demonstrates the greatest love (verses 7-8). Lloyd-Jones calls these verses the commentary on the whole Bible and these small words “but God” are so critically important to the Christian faith. Paul now discusses the vast difference between men and God. God loves differently than us. He demonstrates his special, saving love. There is a universal difference between the way God loves and the way men love.

The gospel extinguishes the greatest threat. Paul wants us to see that the cross is amazing and then to be amazed by it. The wrath of God is simply this: it means that sinners are sentenced to eternal hell. God’s judgment is hell and this is no myth but a real place. There can be no salvation, no grace, no glory, no mercy, unless it is set against the dark side of God’s vengeance in hell. There is no Christianity without absolving God’s righteous wrath. Warning people of the wrath of God was at the center of Edwards’ famous sermon.

The gospel mediates the greatest conflict. If God reconciles us as enemies, He will surely save us as His friends. This is an argument from the greater to the lesser. If He can do this, then surely He can do the other. Of all the terms used to describe our salvation, reconciliation is one of the greatest. The only person who reconciled was God because we desired no reconciliation.

The gospel provokes the greatest response. We now exult (overflow with gladness, to jump up and down with happiness, to spew forth joy) in God. We can only truly exult when we know what we have been saved from. Can you, will you, do you exult in God? The focus of our joy is in God.

Holland led us to the basics of the gospel and led us to stand amazed, to be amazed anew, at the beauty and wonder of God’s wisdom. It was an opportunity for Christians to marvel at the gospel and for those in the audience who are not saved, to see and know that they are sinners in the hands of an angry God and to turn to Him and be reconciled to Him. This message set the stage for what is sure to be a challenging weekend focused on the gospel in all its beauty and all its simplicity.

Favorite quote: “We’re all born with a stiff-arm in God’s face.”

I do hope these ramblings made sense. I’ll be back tomorrow with updates from the morning session which will feature Steve Lawson. Hopefully I’ll get some good sleep between now and then!

October 03, 2006

After eating a delicious meal of soda crackers chased by warm, flat ginger ale, I’ve been able to crawl off the couch for a few minutes to get some writing done. I wanted to be sure to spend a few minutes reflecting on the Desiring God Conference before the memories began to fade. I fear that what I will remember most clearly about this weekend is the food poisoning I managed to contract just before I left Minneapolis. And on that topic, thanks for all those who have expressed concern. I do think I am over the worst of it and hope to be back on my feet (and back at my desk) by tomorrow. Aileen took very good care of me. I am so grateful that I made it home before the illness struck with earnest!

I always find it difficult to measure the success of a conference or to measure just how much it impacted me. I take a certain set of expectations to each conference I attend and find that sometimes these expectations are met, sometimes they are exceeded and sometimes I realize they were just plain unrealistic. People go to conferences for different reasons. Some people attend with a husband or wife as an opportunity to have a weekend away; others attend because the teaching at their local churches is poor and conferences represent an opportunity to enjoy a weekend of solid, biblical teaching; others attend simply because they like the atmosphere of conferences. I suspect there are as many reasons for attending as there are people in attendance. Each of these people will weigh the weekend differently in their minds.

I have the rather unique privilege of liveblogging conferences. This represents a challenge in that I often have to wait until after the conference to read through my notes and discover what I think about what has happened. I keep so busy writing, taking photographs, and editing what I have written that I have very little time for reflection. This was particularly true this weekend since the wireless Internet connection at the Convention Center was unavailable and I had to walk some distance in order to post my summaries (this was, by the way, in no way the fault of Desiring God). Though it seems to be a small thing, it impacted me significantly. I guess I felt that I wasn’t really in control this weekend, but continually felt like I was behind in my writing and was unable to give it my best effort. And it is too bad that I wasn’t able to do better, I think, because I felt that this was a very significant conference.

As I began to reflect on the conference, I turned to John Piper’s invitation to the conference. He wrote:

Our aim is to call the church to a radical and very old vision of the Man, Jesus Christ-fully God, fully sovereign, fully redeeming by his substitutionary, wrath-absorbing death, fully alive and reigning, fully revealed for our salvation in the inerrant Holy Bible, and fully committed to being preached with human words and beautifully described with doctrinal propositions based on biblical paragraphs. We love Dorothy Sayers’ old saying, “The Dogma is the Drama.” We think the post-propositional, post-dogmatic, post-authoritative ‘conversation’ is post-relevant and post-saving.

Of the six keynote addresses delivered at this conference, the two that stand out in my mind as best reaching these goals are Voddie Baucham’s “The Supremacy of Christ and Truth in a Postmodern World” and John Piper’s “The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in a Postmodern World.” These two stood out for two reasons. First, I thought Piper and Baucham spoke with both conviction and passion. Second, I felt that they thoroughly and pointedly covered the topic that had been assigned to them. In making these points I do not wish to indicate the the other speakers failed, but merely to suggest that I felt that these two men went above and beyond.

While I had heard Baucham’s name prior to the conference, I had never read anything he had written or heard any of his speeches or sermons. Because of this I had no real expectations. In his address he compared secular humanism, the predominant worldview of our day with a biblical perspective. I found his speech tremendously helpful in understanding the spirit of this age and in understanding just what a privilege it is to be set free from the hopelessness of secular humanism. He pointed directly at Christ as the only hope, the only answer, to hopelessness. “Let us rest assured that those who walk aimlessly through life will never be satisfied by the answers of culture and the further we have run from Christ’s supremacy, the further we have run from the only thing that will ever satisfy and will ever suffice. Let us rest assured that the supremacy of Christ in truth also means the sufficiency of Christ in truth. Let us embrace this, and proclaim it passionately, confidently and relentlessly for after all, that is why we are here.”

John Piper’s Sunday morning “sermon,” though not classically expository in nature, was also very powerful. It was clearly a direct response to the teachings and beliefs of the Emerging Church, but it was done in a way that was tender and pastoral. Piper seems to be embracing his role as a father figure or elder statesman within the church. He was passionate for the truth and was filled with deep love and concern both for the truth and for those who have fallen under the sway of teachings that deny the truth. I expect and hope that this sermon will be widely distributed and that many of those who have embraced the Emerging Church will listen to it and be convicted by it. In fact, I would love to see some of the Emergent leaders respond to it and interact with it. I would have no hesitation in recommending this message to anyone who was investigating Emergent teachings and, of all the responses available on this subject, can think of none that are better.

I think Mark Driscoll’s address also bears some mention. Generally speaking, I think he did very well with the opportunity given to him. I think Mark has a great deal to offer the church and hope he can continue to refine his presentation so that it carries the same seriousness or gravitas as the message he seeks to share. I was blessed by his session and was glad to see him affirm all that he affirmed. As you may have heard, John Piper gently admonished Mark. I’ll quote Josh Harris who explains it:

Piper began by explaining how he thinks about who he hangs out with and how he decides who to invite to speak. “I have a litmus paper and its called theology,” he said. He referenced a point Driscoll had made in his talk about the importance of holding certain unchanging truths in our left hand that are the non-negotiables of the faith, while being willing to contextualize and differ on secondary issues and stylistically (these are “right hand” issues). Driscoll had listed nine issues we need to contend for, including the authority of God’s word, the sovereignty of God, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, the exclusivity of Christ, and gender roles, to name a few.

So Piper said, “If he [Driscoll] has those nine things in his left hand, I’m not even going to look at his right hand.” The audience clapped loudly for this. Then Piper went on to share that he does have some differences with Driscoll on some so-called “right hand” issues of style, which he feels free to share with Driscoll. He went on to share a specific one, noting that Driscoll would get to see this on video. (This was the moment I was glad I wasn’t Mark!)

As if he were speaking to Mark, he said (and I paraphrase), “A pastor cannot be clever and show Christ as glorious. Mark Driscoll, you’re clever. You have an amazing ability to turn a phrase and make statements that draw people back week after week. But it’s dangerous. So many pastors will see you and try to imitate you and then try to watch all the movies and TV shows so they can try to be like you.” In essence, Piper was bringing correction to certain aspects of Driscoll’s style and delivery, while stating that they agreed on the most important issues of doctrine.

I would hesitate to draw as firm a line as Piper has, as I think the right hand issues can be sufficiently important that they merit attention when considering a speaker. Having said that, I do not think it was wrong of him to ask Mark Driscoll to speak at this conference. Mark made a unique contribution.

At any rate, I think that Desiring God’s 2006 National Conference was a tremendous success by almost any measure. I benefited from it a great deal and know that those I travelled with did as well. It will take some time to gauge the long-term impact both in my life and in the church, but I trust God will be gracious in allowing the truths that were shared this weekend to resound through my heart and throughout the church. I look forward to the book that is sure to follow this conference. I also look forward to reading the experiences of others who were able to attend.

I’ll end with a personal note. I was blessed to travel this weekend with two friends: my pastor, Paul, and a new friend also named Paul. I enjoyed their company and was blessed to be able to spend so much time with them. I also enjoyed meeting many of you who read this site and treasure your words of encouragement. And finally, it was great to spend time, however brief, with new friends and old: Tim McNeely, Annette Harrison, Timmy Brister, Justin Taylor, Amy Hall, Roger Overton, Alex Chediak, and others. Bashing the Yankees with C.J. Mahaney was a special highlight (And you know what, I think he was right and that we actually did see Harold Baines checking in at the Hilton).

Finally, the audio recordings from the conference are now available online. You can download them at the following links:

David Wells
The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World

John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Justin Taylor
A Conversation with the Pastors

Voddie Baucham
The Supremacy of Christ and Truth in a Postmodern World

Tim Keller
The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World

Mark Driscoll
The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World

Voddie Baucham, John Piper, D. A. Carson, David Wells, Justin Taylor
Speaker Panel

D.A. Carson
The Supremacy of Christ and Love in a Postmodern World

John Piper
The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in a Postmodern World (Transcript

I have a special request for those who first read my liveblogged summaries and who are now going to listen to the audio. I’d appreciate it if you would send me an email (see the contact page) or leave a comment letting me know whether you felt my summary was helpful and accurate. I continue to attempt to refine this thing called liveblogging and am eager for any pointers you may be able to provide.

October 01, 2006

This morning we come to Sunday morning worship and the final session of the 2006 Desiring God National Conference. John Piper will lead us in a message entitled “The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in a Postmodern World.” I have not yet had a chance to edit this, so you’re getting it as-is for now! I won’t be in front of a computer again until I get back to Toronto this evening.

As with D.A. Carson last night, John Piper will preach from John 17, though he will focus on the thirteenth verse. He will first preach a short version and then a long version.

Two points: First, Jesus’ greatest joy is in His Father’s glory. Jesus joy in doing the will of His Father, but the joy is deeper than the doing. The perfect obedience of the Son is sustained by joy, not equal to joy. The joy that is set before Him is reunion with His Father and being reunited with Him in fullness. When He says that He wants you to be filled up with that joy, He wants you to enjoy the Father than way He enjoys the Father. The second point is He says this joy is conveyed from Him to you so it becomes your joy by means of Spirit-illumined, understandable propositions. He speaks words and propositions that His joy might be fulfilled in them. He is not toying with them and not tantalizing them. The Holy Spirit will take these things and reveal them to you.

Joy is doctrinally-based if it is going to glorify Jesus Christ. It is to be in the face of the contemporary debunking of propositional revelation and the debunking of biblical doctrine and the debunking of expositional preaching. There are other ways of obtaining joy, but not Christ-exalting joy.

Ten steps in a mounting argument for this short message:

1. God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, this one God—is the only Being who has no beginning; and therefore everything else and everyone is dependent on Him for existence and for value, and is, therefore, less valuable than God. Neither of these points is part of the postmodern worldview. God does not get His being or character from anyone or anything outside Himself. He just is! Therefore, there is a difference of valuable between Him and us that is incalculably great. He has made us the children of God, heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ, but that truth you will never treasure as you ought until you believe you are incalculably less valuable than God.

2. From eternity God has been supremely joyful in the fellowship of the Trinity, so that He has no discontent or defect or deficiency what would prompt Him to create the world. God does not act out of need but always out of willful determination. He acts out of fullness. God has enjoyed the Son infinitely forever and has no need of us. We have, therefore, been created out of fullness rather than need. Someday we will be allowed to enter into this joy.

3.God created human beings in His image so that He might be known and enjoyed by them and in that way display the supreme value of His glory—that is the beauty of His manifold perfections. God gave us hearts and minds with the capacity for reflection and affection so we would not glorify Him like mountains and stars do. These declare the glory of God, but not like we do. We have minds so we can grasp His glory and consciously know it like no other being knows it and then because we have seen it, we would savor it, love it, delight in it, and thus reflect its value. God did make a mistake when he made us with minds and emotions. His main purpose was to have His glory reflected by being known and enjoyed. We were given brains to know Him and we were given hearts so He might be enjoyed.

4.The Son of God, Jesus Christ, came into the world, lived a perfect life, died to bear the panalty for our sins, absorbed the wrath of God that hung over us, rose from the dead triumphant over death so all who receive Jesus as Savior, Lord, and Treasure of their lives would know and enjoy God forever. If only this were no controversial today. In postmodernism there is no place for the wrath of God and thus no place for a wrath-bearing Savior. This means there is no place for the gospel. God is not mocked! His Word stands firm, clear and merciful to us. “This is not hard to see in the Bible and it is precious beyond words!” “I don’t like to get angry at those who call themselves evangelicals…this is not fun…it is heartbreaking…but what can you do when they attack the center with blasphemous cynicism.” In our fallen condition, rebellious as we are, nothing is more crucial for humanity postmodern or any other kind, than to escape the omnipotent wrath of God. But escape from hell is not the ultimate goal of the cross…but it is infinitely necessary. The ultimate goal of the cross, the ultimate good of the good news, is clear in 1 Peter 3:18—Christ suffered that He might bring us to God.

5. The enjoyment of God above all else is the deepest way that God’s glory if reflected back to Him. The enjoyment of God terminates on God alone and is not performed as a means to anything else. It is the deepest reverberation in the heart of man of the value of God’s glory. This statement, if true, changes everything for we see how high this elevates joy in the universe. We do good works as a means of many things but cannot and must not try to enjoy God to a means to anything. We do not choose joy in God as an act for the sake of something beyond God for this isn’t the way joy works. God thought up from all eternity this reality called joy because it carries so much of His value when it happens; nothing else is like it. You do not enjoy your wife so she will make you supper. You do not enjoy playing ball with your son so that he will wash the car. You do not enjoy a sunset so that you can become a poet. There are no “so that’s” after joy. He is arguing that joy was designed as the deepest way to reflect His value. It is the very nature of joy to be a spontaneous response of something you value and so it reveals more than anything what you treasure. Joy is unique in its capacity to display witness we value. There is no such thing as hypocritical joy. Joy is either there as a testimony to what you treasure or it is not there. God knew what He was doing when He gave us the capacity to know with our minds and enjoy with our hearts.

6. Nevertheless, the enjoyment of God in Christ is the spring of all visible acts of self-denying sacrificial love that displays to others the worth of God in our lives. God can see the reflection of his worth hidden in our heart’s enjoyment of his glory. But God aims at more than hidden reflections. He aims for his glory to be visible to others not just to himself. Therefore, God has constituted us so that our enjoyment of Him overflows in our love to others. Acts of love that flow from joy in God bring God glory visibly (“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father.”). How does this happen? What is the light that, if it shone through your good deeds, would awaken glory to God, not to you. The answer to that is in the context of the chapter. Work up through the “salt” to the verse immediately before that. “Blessed are you when men persecute you and revile you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely. Rejoice in that day because great is your reward in heaven for his name is Jesus.” If the world makes it hard for you to like them by saying false things about you, and you cannot rejoice in God, your light can’t shine. You can gut out a few good deeds and receive the glory, but if the miracle would happen and contentment would come, you rejoice and your love flows within that context, the world has a problem figuring that out. They might just, by grace, say “God is great.” “I so want to be that way…” The postmodern world must hear the gospel proclaimed and must see the glory of God flowing in many streams of radical self-sacrificing deeds of love. Joy in God is the headwaters from which those streams of love flow. That is how the glory of God becomes visible.

7. The only joy that reflects the worth of God and overflows in God-glorifying love is rooted in the true knowledge of God. The only God-glorifying joy that flows from the mystery of what we don’t know about God rises from the projection into the unknown of what we do know. And to the degree that our knowledge is small or flawed, our projections will probably be distortions, and the joy based on them a poor echo of his true excellence. This paragraph is an intentional response to the postmodern minimalizing of propositional truth. Twice Jesus said “these things I have spoken to you that my joy might be in you and your joy might be full.” Pastors become ambassadors for those words and arguments and propositions. This is the job of a pastor. Don’t let propositions be mocked in your presence. The main thing that comes through words when the Holy Spirit uses them is God. “The Lord revealed Himself to God through Samuel by the word of the Lord” (1 Sam 3:21). If our joy is going to be Christ-exalting and God-glorifying, it must be rooted in the mind’s perception of the truth of what makes God glorious. If our joy is to reflect the glory of God, it must flow through the mind’s perception of what is true about the glory of God. Jesus is not honored most by the exploration of various Christologies anymore than your wife would be honored by your indecision concerning her character. Jesus is honored by our knowing and treasuring Him for who He really is. He is a real person, a fact, a fixed, unchanging reality in the universe independent of how you feel about Him. Our feelings about Him reflect the value we put upon Him. So what is the place of mystery? “I’ve got something exciting to say to you? What? I’m not going to tell you!” How does mystery work? The Bible says that we now see as in a glass dimly and then face to face. That’s mystery. What I know about God is so small compared to what I will someday know about God it would be hard to describe the ratio. So what is the function of that statement in the Bible for my emotions about God? How should the unknowing on the other side on the other side of the mirror effect this side? Unknowing is only glorifying to God if it is a project of what we do know. We believe in mystery.

8. Therefore, the right knowledge of God and His ways is the servant of God-glorying God joy in God and God-glorying love for people. Having ignorance of God and believing falsehoods about God hinder God-glorying joy and God-glorying love. That is, ignorance of God and errors in our thinking about God hinder God-glorying friendships and Christ-exalting camaraderies. Two questions to Emergent types: first, are there any statements which, if your friend really believes him, would destroy him? A statement like “Jesus is not God” or “God is unjust” and so on. If so, then wouldn’t denying those statements in his presence and defending the truth sustain the friendship and not stifle it? Second, do you not believe that the greater the shared vision of God, the deeper the friendship? The emergent ethos uproots friendship from the solid ground of biblical doctrine.

9. Therefore, let us not marginalize or minimize healthy biblical doctrine about the nature of God and the work of God in Christ, but rather let us embrace it and cherish it and build our friendships and our churches on it.

10. And thus may the Church become the pillar and buttress of the truth and therefore of joy, and therefore of love, and therefore the display of the glory of God and the supremacy of Christ in all things, which is the very reason for which we were created.

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