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Desiring God Conference – Final Session

Today’s message is “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, Part 2” by John Piper.

The purpose of this message to to magnify Christ in His suffering and in that process to venture what is the ultimate biblical explanation for suffering. Further, we will do it in a way that would free us from the paralyzing effects of discouragement, self-pity, fear and greed, but rather to be free to spend ourselves whether able or disabled, to spread a passion for the supremacy of Christ in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

Big Statements

The entire universe exists to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. The greatest display of God’s glory is the display of the glory of His grace. All that is, then, exists to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. The ultimate aim and explanation for the existence of sin and suffering is for this display. Jesus’ suffering is the supreme manifestation and is the highest, clearest, surest display of the glory of the grace of God that is possible or conceivable. If so, a stunning truth emerges from Scripture, namely, that suffering is an essential part of the tapestry of the universe so that the weaving of the grace of God will be seen in all of the fulness of its glory.

Most simply: the ultimate reason that suffering exists is so that God might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by the suffering of Christ to deliver us from suffering. In conceiving such a universe, God did not choose “Plan B.” Christ’s death is the moment for which the entire universe was explained, for it was the greatest display of the glory of the grace of God.

We will now walk on a biblical pathway to how Piper learned this. What may sound like high theology will now be proven to be the teaching of the Bible.

Biblical Support

Revelation 13:8 – “And all who dwell on earth will worship him [the beast], everyone whose name is not written before the founation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” This verse means that before the creation of the universe was a book that already had in view Jesus Christ as slain and people as purchased by this sacrifice. The suffering of Jesus was not an afterthought but was a planned event from before the foundation of the world. This book was written at the beginning of God who had no beginning.

2 Timothy 1:9 – God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not becuase of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” What is grace? Grace is undeserved favor toward sinners. In Christ Jesus God gave us this grace before the ages began. We had not yet been created so we could sin and become undeserving, but God had already decreed that grace, “in-Christ grace,” would come to us in Jesus Christ. Don’t miss the magnitude of the word “slain.” It is only used in the Bible in Revelation and it means “slaughter.” It is not a nice or sweet word, but a gross, vile one. Here we have suffering in the slaughter of the Lamb of God.

Ephesians 1:4-6 – God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love. He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will to praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.” Twice we see that the praise to bring glory to the grace of God is related to Christ before the foundation of the world. We know that our adoption was rooted in Christ’s death as a Redeemer. So what Paul means is that God chose us in Christ and chose us through Christ because the plan was the suffering of Christ that warranted our election and adoption. The goal of all of this was unto “the praise of His glorious grace.”

Revelation 5 – The hosts of heaven are worshipping the Lamb. What makes Him worthy? His slaughter. “And they sang a new song singing ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’…Then I looked, and I heard around the throne…myriads and myriads and thousands of thousands saying in a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered!’” The people sing praise to Christ because He was slaughtered. Therefore we can conclude that the centerpiece of the worship of all eternity is the Lamb who was slain. The suffering and death of Jesus will never be forgotten. It is the highest, clearest, surest display of the grace of God.

What does this tell us about the existence of suffering and death? God permits sin to enter the world. He ordains what He hates to come to pass. (See Mark Talbot’s session). It is not sinful for God to will what will be, even when what will be is sin. What people meant for evil (the Fall), God meant for good, as it came to show the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. Adam and Eve set the stage for a display of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Suffering entered the world and Romans 8 tells us how to deal with this. Sin has now pervaded the world so that none are immune to the effects of suffering.

Ezekiel 33:11 tells us that God does not delight in human suffering. God does not, from the bottom of His heart, delight in what He ordains, but the plans stay in place. The stage is now set and the drama of redemptive history begins to unfold. Sin and suffering are in force and are present and ready to consume the Son of God. Everything is now in place for the greatest possible display of the glory of the grace of God. And so, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son. Everything Christ accomplished for us, was accomplished through suffering. Everything good that comes to us does so through the suffering of Christ. Suffering exists so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by entering into suffering so that He might deliver us from everlasting suffering.

What Did Christ Accomplish for us by Suffering?

We must remember that everything good has come only, only, only through the slaughtering of the perfect, sinless Son of God. With that in view, here are seven things Christ accomplished for us:

1. Christ absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf and did so by suffering. He became a curse for us. The eternal wrath of God was absorbed by Christ on the cross and this is the glory of grace.

2. Christ bore our sins and purchased our forgiveness and He did so by suffering. The sins that should have crushed us with the weight of our guilt were transferred onto the only innocent being who ever lived.

3. Christ provided a perfect righteousness for us that becomes ours in Him and did so by suffering.

4. Christ defeated death and did it by suffering death.

5. Christ disarmed Satan and did it by suffering. He put the rulers and authorities to an open shame by triumphing over them. Satan has one damning weapon and that is all: unforgiven sin with which he can accuse us. That is the only thing that can send us to hell. That unforgiven sin was nailed to the cross, thus defeating Satan.

6. Christ purchased perfect, final healing for all of God’s people and did it by suffering. While we do not get the whole inheritance in this life, we do get it eventually.

7. Christ will bring us, finally, to God and will do it by His suffering (1 Peter 3:18). Christ brings us to God and this is the apex of the glory of God.

The ultimate purpose of the universe is to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. And that is found in the death and suffering of His Son. The ultimate reason that suffering exists is that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God as He suffers to overcome our suffering that we might bring praise to God for the greatness of the glory of His grace.

Piper closed with an exhortation that we, whether able or disabled, enduring loss or delighting in friend, suffering pain or enjoying favor, might embrace the truth that in Christ Jesus immeasurable riches are ours. We have so much to live for. “Don’t waste your life!” he cried. Instead, savor the riches that we have in Christ. Spend ourselves at any cost and spread these riches to a desperately needy world.

Quote of the Session: “Suffering is no respector of persons. You cannot look to Christ on the cross and believe that you will be spared.”

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