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.