Real Protestants Keep Reforming
The Reformation began in 1517, but you will search in vain for an end date. The work continues as each generation, standing upon the shoulders of others, comes to drink for themselves at the headwaters of God’s own word.
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By John Piper — 1 year ago
Welcome back to the podcast. Today we are going deep. Of course, at the center of our faith, we celebrate the cross of Jesus Christ — his horrific suffering and death by crucifixion. Christ “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
His death was designed. It was no accident. It was no fluke of history. It was no mere result of unchecked mob violence. His death was intentional. It was divinely intended — intended from the beginning of time. This is a somber and significant point to grasp from Acts 4:27–28.
This theological point matters when we look at the fallenness of his world. Specifically, in this clip you will hear a mention of a massive earthquake that hit Nepal in the spring of 2015. That earthquake hit the day before this sermon was preached. In that disaster, three and a half million people were left homeless. Nearly nine thousand died. Why? Why does such a world exist with such deep pain? Here’s Pastor John.
This world exists with its pain, with its horror, and with its death to make a place for Jesus Christ the Son of God to suffer and die. If a world like this didn’t exist, Jesus would have no place to suffer and die. If there were no suffering, Jesus couldn’t suffer. If there were no death, Jesus couldn’t die. Put another way, the reason there is terror is so that Christ could be terrorized. The reason there is trouble is so that Christ could be troubled. The reason there is pain is so that Christ could feel pain.
“Never feel that God is somehow distant, far away, toying with creation. He made the horrors to enter the horrors.”
This world became what it is so that the Son of God could enter it and feel all of it. Therefore, you should never feel that God is somehow “out there” — distant, far away, toying with this creation. He made the horrors to enter the horrors.
Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Do you believe this? He showed his love through the death of his Son. Do you believe that this love could be shown another way? It couldn’t be shown another way, and he meant for it to be shown.
Predestined to Die
Listen to these words from Acts 4:27–28, which the saints are praying after the death and resurrection of Jesus: “Truly in this city [Jerusalem] there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan predestined to take place.”
Did you hear the people they mention? “Herod” — who mocked him, put a purple robe on him, scorned him. “Pontius Pilate” — who expediently washed his hands and said, “I find no fault in him, but my job’s at stake, so kill him, crucify him, put him through the worst tortures imaginable.” “The Gentiles” — that’s the soldiers, who were driving the nails, pushing the sword in the side. “The peoples of Israel” — the Jewish people calling out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
“Christ did not die by accident. This had been planned since before the foundation of the world.”
To summarize the text again, “Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were gathered together to do whatever your plan and your hand had predestined to take place.” And so we know Christ did not die by accident. “Oh, just a fluke of history, just a turning of Roman affairs, just mob violence.” No. This had been planned since before the foundation of the world.
This is the climax of — the reason for — existence: the Son of God bore all the suffering of the world in order to lift sin from all who would trust him, bringing them into everlasting reward and joy, exquisitely, in a new heavens and a new earth, glorifying God for his wisdom and grace and love. That’s the reason this world exists the way it exists.
In my church — I still affectionately call it “my church” even though I have not been the pastor for two years. Well, in my church, there were about five thousand folks and a lot of young people. I was pastor there for 33 years, and we grew up together.
When you have a lot of young people together, they tend to fall in love, and they get married, and they have babies. And those babies die more than you would like. And some of them are born with profound disabilities, like Michael. Therefore, you have moms who have just lost their babies or whose whole lives have now changed because they will be caring for this disabled child till he or she dies.
I would welcome you young people to come to this church and interview any of these moms —like Patty, whom you can’t interview because she died of breast cancer. The first crisis was that Eric, her 1-year-old, died in her arms. I went to the hospital. She’s sitting there, holding Eric. He looks like he’s made out of ivory. He’s dead, sitting in his mother’s arms. She just looks at me. And then I buried her about fifteen years later. She has four young kids, and she dies.
It was a horrible death, in fact, but Patty was a rock. Patty believed every word of what I said. With her bald head and her cap, she made a video of about thirteen minutes — we showed it at a service — telling the people to trust God before she died.
He Came to Bear This Pain
So I’m inviting you, work through this. If it sounds problematic, work through it. God could shake this city — not just Nepal. Half of these buildings could go down at ten o’clock on Monday morning, and one hundred thousand people could be dead. Do you have a vision of God that would be able to handle that? That’s my question.
That might be easier to handle than if one of your children died or if you had a child with a profound disability. But I am inviting you to embrace Jesus Christ as the one for whom, through whom, and to whom all things exist. And he came to share this suffering. He came to bear this pain.
He came to taste every test and every temptation that we have known, take it to the cross, and die in our place so that by faith alone, we could have all our sins forgiven, have eternal life, and have a destiny in a new heavens and a new earth where that curse will finally be lifted.
By Marshall Segal — 2 months ago
As a senior in high school, I played an accountant in The Actor’s Nightmare. He wakes up on stage, in the middle of a play, only he doesn’t remember any of his lines, or how he got on stage, or when he ever read a script or attended a rehearsal, or even what play he’s in. Everyone around him knows who they are and who he is, but he’s lost, clueless, and letting everyone down — all with a big audience watching.
The play was inspired by the awful recurring dream so many actors have, being suddenly thrust on stage to perform a show they do not recognize, in a role they cannot name, with lines they cannot recite. The nightmare, however, might also be an accurate picture of how many young single men (even Christian single men) feel in their actual, wide-awake lives. Who am I supposed to be? What role am I meant to play? Who are the good guys and bad guys? Where am I supposed to stand and work and live? What story am I in? What wars am I trying to win?
Stumbling Through Singleness
When I see that accountant stumbling around the stage, putting his foot in his mouth, sweating profusely, I see something of my own single life — wrestling with where to go to school, shuffling through majors, meeting new friends, losing touch with old ones, then reconnecting with some, starting my first job, and then my second job, and then my third job, moving from apartment to apartment, then house to house and city to city, trying to find a wife and failing, and then trying again and failing, and then mustering the courage to try again. All while everyone seems to be watching me sweat and stumble.
So how do you think the accountant figured out who he was? He studied the other people on stage. The keys to knowing who he was supposed to be lay with the men and women who had been placed, very intentionally, around him. What if the same is true for living as a more faithful single man? What if some of us stumble, wander, and struggle more than we have to because we spend so much time looking in at ourselves and so little time looking out and around at others? For some of us, it’s like we woke up on stage, in the middle of a play, and yet never mustered the courage to get out of bed, much less play an actual role.
My burden in this article is to give Christian single men better perspective and greater courage in singleness. I want to convince you that you are not as single or alone as you think. Because I wasted some single years. Because I’ve watched other men do the same. Because you don’t have to. I want to help men like you play the man God made you to be.
Fundamental Questions for Men
What questions do you think drive and consume the average twentysomething man? What kinds of questions keep him up at night and spur his decisions?
Where do I work?
What is my role?
How much do I make?
What do I want to watch?
What did so-and-so say about so-and-so on Twitter?
Where do I want to eat?
Did my team win or lose?
How much can I afford to buy?
Many men spend most of their best strength and energy, day after day, year after year, on shallow questions like these. I want you to ask better questions, bigger questions that will demand more of you and draw more out of you. In the end, I want you to see yourself, through these questions, as less isolated and alone.
1. Who’s Over Me?
Before we look at the relationships around us on stage, we need to remember who wrote the script for us. Before a man can be the man he was made to be, he needs to know and love the one who made him to be. If we could trace all the dysfunctions and failures that plague men to one root issue, it would be our disregard of God.
Do you believe that about yourself? Do you see that the health of every other relationship in your life grows out of your relationship with Christ? We’ll never faithfully act out the part we have been given if we’re out of touch with the Author of the story.
The apostle Paul writes specifically against sexual sin in 1 Corinthians 6, but what he says helps us make sense of every other dysfunction in a man’s life:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)
As much as you may feel otherwise from day to day and week to week, you are not your own. You don’t get to do whatever you want, whenever you want — not if you’re in Christ. You belong to him twice over: he made you and he redeemed you. So glorify God in your body — consecrate your body, your time, your energy, your ambition more fully to him. Strive to cultivate, enjoy, and model an “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35).
2. Who’s Ahead of Me?
As a man, you will inevitably become like the men you admire, spend time with, and imitate. The calculus won’t always be easy, but discerning people will be able to trace aspects of who you are to the men who have had the most influence on you (for better or worse). Many young men fail to mature because they lack mature men to follow and learn from. They grow up and live without good fathers.
As I near forty, and have now discipled younger men for years, I believe no single earthly factor will determine a man’s maturity more than the man (or men) who father him. And yet too few men have good fathers in the faith. Maybe they have men they admire and imitate from afar, but they don’t have an older man who actually knows them well enough to affirm, confront, and encourage them specifically and personally. John Calvin and John Piper can be spiritual fathers for you (they are for me), but they can’t be your only fathers (or even your main ones).
Who can say of you what Paul says of the younger men in Corinth?
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Corinthians 4:14–16)
He can say, I’ve known you well enough to call you beloved children, and you’ve known me well enough to imitate my way of life. What older man knows you well enough to say that? What older man do you know well enough to imitate how he meets with God, how he loves his wife and children, how he serves the church, how he wins the lost? If you don’t yet have a father relationship like that, who could that man be? The best place to begin looking is in your local church, where the family of God — fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers — lives together and loves one another (Matthew 12:49–50).
In my experience, the younger man will often have to initiate relationships like these, so don’t wait for an older man to come put his arm around you. Identify the men worth imitating, and then go and ask them for wisdom, for counsel, for time, for fathering. Look for ways to come alongside them in the ordinary rhythms of their lives. Make it as easy as possible for them to spend time with you.
3. Who’s Beside Me?
After a good father, every man also needs good brothers. He needs friends. And not just any friends, but friends who consistently draw him toward God and draw God out of him. This is why men instinctively love the picture from Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Sharpen iron for what? He’s likely talking about sharpening an axe or a sword. Men sharpen one another for battle, and we’re all at war (Ephesians 6:12). Who helps you fight well?
These aren’t buddies you watch football with or play video games with online. They’re men whose faith makes your heart rise and run after Christ, who kneel down and pick you up when you stumble and fall, who rally you to live worthy of your calling and hold you accountable, who jump into the hard trenches of life and ministry with you. They’re not just men anymore, or even just friends; they’re brothers.
We’re looking for something deeper and stronger than biological brotherhood. Proverbs says of this rare kind of friend, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Do you have male friends like that? If not, who might become your company of iron? Again, start with your church. At first, it may not seem that you have a lot in common with those men, but if you share Christ, you have far more in common than you realize. Every friendship that’s risen to this level in my life started with meeting to open God’s word together. Most of them grew and matured through serving the church in some tangible way together.
4. Who’s Behind Me?
Few men have good fathers in the faith. I’m tempted to say even fewer have found and made sons in the faith. But every man of God should be a spiritual father to someone. This is what faithful Christianity is: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). Who are those disciples for you? If nothing in our lives looks or sounds like Jesus’s Commission, then are we really living a Christian life? Can we really say we’re following Christ?
The apostle Paul had many sons in the faith, including a young man named Timothy. He says to Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). In other words, Timothy, as I have been a father to you in Christ, go and be a father to others. Take a younger, less mature man under your wing for a season, and patiently and diligently teach him the ropes of following Jesus. Draw him into your life and marriage and family and work, and then live so that you can say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). As you do, you’ll be surprised how much you grow and benefit from pouring your life into him (Philippians 4:1).
It really doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you have been a Christian. If you’re old enough to read this article, some younger man — in your church, in your neighborhood, at your job — looks up to you. How are you stewarding his eyes? How are you engaging his questions, desires, and failures? Again, don’t wait for him to ask you for help or counsel. Go and be a father.
5. Who’s Against Me?
Satan knows that the most solid single men are the men most loved by spiritual fathers, brothers, and sons. He’ll do whatever he can to make you feel alone, and then to make that loneliness feel like freedom. He’ll make danger feel safe. He’ll slowly lead you away from the kinds of relationships you need, and then distract you with meaningless anxieties and pleasures. Do you even know you live at war?
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith. (1 Peter 5:8–9)
In your apartment, at your desk, beside your bed, on your computer, even over your Bible, you have an enemy. A fierce and intimidating enemy. If the Christian life feels hard — if relationships like the ones I’m describing above feel unrealistic or even impossible at times — it’s partly because someone is relentlessly attacking and undermining you. He’s not a metaphor. He’s a real spiritual being, and he hates you. He wants to devour you.
But if you are Christ’s man, the one who lives in you is stronger than the one who wars against you. And he’s not a metaphor or a fairytale, either. He’s the King of the universe, the Warrior who will judge the earth, and you are fighting on his side. So don’t ignore your enemy or underestimate him, but don’t back down either. Lean on the men you need — fathers, brothers, and sons — and follow Christ into battle.
By David Mathis — 8 months ago
Even death on a cross.
The apostle dares to add this obscenity as the low point of his Lord’s self-humbling. Jesus “humbled himself,” Paul says, “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
Today, with crosses on our steeples, and around our necks, we scarcely perceive the original scandal of such a claim. But to any new hearer in the first century, Jew or Greek, Paul’s words were almost unimaginable. Crucified?
We grimace today at the thought of nails being driven through human hands and feet. We squirm at a crown of thorns pressed into the brow, piercing the skin, sending blood streaming down the face. And once these violent acts had torn flesh and bone, the pain of crucifixion had only begun. Hours later, many bled out; others died of asphyxiation, eventually too decimated to even breathe. This was not just death, but torture unto death. It was nauseatingly gruesome.
But not only was it calculated to amplify and prolong physical pain; it was designed, almost psychotically, or diabolically, to utterly shame the victim. The horror of the cross was not only that it was done, but that it was done to be seen. It was not only literally excruciating but humiliating in the extreme.
“The horror of the cross was not only that it was done, but that it was done to be seen.”
Some of us might find the tune of “The Old Rugged Cross” too light for the weight of Good Friday, but the second line of George Bennard’s 1913 lyrics captures well the significance of the cross in the ancient world: “the emblem of suffering and shame.”
Device for Disgrace
In his book Crucifixion, Martin Hengel produces examples of “the negative attitude towards crucifixion universal in antiquity” (7). In short, far more than just negative, the whole spectacle of “the infamous stake” or “the tree of shame” was so offensive, so vile, as to be obscene in polite conversation. Hengel observes “the use of crux (cross) as a vulgar taunt among the lower classes” (9). The mannerly did not stoop to such a ghastly subject, whether with tongue or even pen, which accounts for “the deep aversion from the cruelest of penalties in the literary world” (14). Few ancient writers dared to provide anywhere near the crucifixion details we find in the four Gospels.
In the century prior to Christ, Cicero (106–43 BC) called crucifixion “that most cruel and disgusting penalty.” The historian Josephus (ca. AD 37–100) referred to it as “the most wretched of deaths.” Celsus, a second-century opponent of early Christianity, asked rhetorically about a crucified Christ, “What drunken old woman, telling stories to lull a small child to sleep, would not be ashamed of muttering such preposterous things?” Not only was a crucified Messiah preposterous. It was shameful.
In first-century Palestine, Jesus’s contemporaries were haunted by the regular spectacle of crosses — and their manifest pain and shame — and, added to that ignominy, they knew of God’s own curse, in Scripture, of anyone hanged on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22–23). Is it any wonder, then, that Paul would speak of a crucified Messiah as utter folly, sheer madness, among unbelievers in his day (1 Corinthian 1:18)? The honor of Messiah and the disgrace of crucifixion made the idea nonsensical and disgusting, contradictory and offensive, preposterous and shameful.
And it’s the public shame of the cross — rather than the pain we might be prone to think of first — that Hebrews mentions at the climax of his rehearsing of the faithful: “For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).
Enduring the Cross
This crushing shame of crucifixion offers a vantage on Good Friday that few today emphasize. Theologians often have spoken of Christ’s active obedience in life and passive obedience in death. We might find some help in this distinction, but passivity is not the emphasis in Hebrews 12:2.
The image in Hebrews 12 is strikingly active — unnervingly so. We might even call it athletic: a race to be run, surrounded with onlookers, and a prize to be claimed at the end. Jesus’s enduring the cross in verse 2 parallels enduring the race in verse 1, where to finish is irreducibly to achieve.
Which we see in Jesus “despising the shame” at Calvary. As David deSilva comments, to despise the towering, paralyzing shame of the cross “entails more than simply enduring the experience of disgrace rather than shrinking from it” (433). Rather, when Jesus despised the shame of the cross, he scorned it and determined to overcome it. He confronted it. He looked the looming shame in the eye, and disregarded what would have been the final barrier for other men.
But simply knowing himself innocent would not be enough against the extreme suffering and shame of the cross. Endurance to the finish demanded more. Hebrews, memorably, tells us he endured “for the joy set before him.” But specifically, what joy could that have been? What reward could have been powerful enough to pull him forward, to finish this race, with the very emblem of suffering and shame standing in the way?
What foretaste of joy, or joys, could endure the cross?
Pleased to Be Crushed
The Gospel of John, written by Jesus’s closest associate, gives us the best glimpse into his mind and heart as he readied himself for the cross. Two particular sections, among others, speak to the substance and shades of his joy as he owned and embraced the cross in the hours leading up to his sacrifice.
The first section is John 12:27–33, sometime after Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Previously, Jesus had said “his hour” had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20). Now he owns that it has:
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:27–28)
Whatever we uncover of Jesus’s joy, it will not be trouble-free. Three times in these climactic chapters, we read of his being troubled (John 11:33; 12:27; 13:21). But the presence of trouble does not mean the absence of joy. In fact, the reality of such trouble demonstrates the depth and power of his joy, to move into and through the trouble, rather than flee.
Here we find a first source of his joy: the glory of his Father. When Jesus owns the arrival of his hour, this is the first motivation he vocalizes. He had lived to his Father’s glory, not his own (John 8:50), and now, as the cross fast approaches, he prays first for this, and receives the affirmation of an immediate answer from heaven: “I have glorified it [in your life], and I will glorify it again [in and through the cross].”
Next comes a second joy: what the cross will achieve over the ancient foe. “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). Satan, whom Paul would call “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), would be decisively unseated as “ruler of this world,” and Jesus would experience the joy of unseating him, and being his Father’s instrument to “disarm the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15). The tree of shame, in time, would shame the foe.
“The tree of shame, in time, would shame the foe.”
Jesus then mentions a third joy: the saving of his people. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). He would be lifted up from the earth — first in being lifted up to the cross, as John immediately adds (John 12:33). Make no mistake, in the “joy set before him” was the joy of love. He had come to save (John 12:47), and on Thursday night, he would wash his disciples’ feet to show them the love that, in part, sent him to the cross: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
‘My Joy in Them’
The second passage — Jesus’s high-priestly prayer in John 17, on the very night when he gave himself into custody — echoes two of the joys already introduced, and adds one further “joy set before him” that brings us back to Hebrews 12.
First, Jesus prays explicitly about sharing his own joy, and that (again) as an expression of his love for disciples: “These things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). Jesus’s joy — deep enough, thick enough, rich enough to carry him to and through the cross — will not only be his, but he will put it in his people, through both his words and sacrificial work: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
Second, Jesus also prays in John 17 in anticipation of his Father’s glory. He recalls that his life has been devoted to his Father’s glory, to making known his name (John 17:4, 6, 26). But now, in the consecration of prayer, and on his final evening before suffering and shame, he prays, third, for his own exaltation:
Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you. . . . Now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (John 17:1, 5; see also verse 24)
Misunderstand the utter holiness of Christ, and of this moment, and we will misunderstand this culminating joy: returning to his Father, and taking his seat, with his work accomplished, on the throne of the universe. The joy of being enthroned in heaven — glorified — at the right hand of his Father, will not come any other way than through, and because of, the cross. And his exaltation and enthronement will mean not only personal honor but personal nearness. “At the right hand” is the seat of both honor and proximity to his Father. He wanted not only to have the throne but again to have his Father.
This coming exaltation, and proximity, is the particular joy, among others, that Hebrews 12:2 points to: “For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Foretaste of Glory — and Joy
We return, then, to the honor that overcame the “tree of shame.” Good Friday tells us of the cosmic war between honor and shame. At the cross, that obscene emblem of shame,
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27–29)
Good Friday is the great reversal. The utter humiliation and imponderable disgrace would have kept lesser souls from choosing Calvary. But Jesus willed it, for joy. Even as horrible as it was, it pleased him. Knowing his innocence, he anticipated the joy of glorifying his Father, and defeating Satan, and rescuing his people in love, and these joys set before him came together in his victorious return to his Father’s side, now as the exalted God-man.
As Isaiah had prophesied seven centuries before, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). In the agony and ignominy of Good Friday, he saw. He saw the joy set before him, and began to taste it, and he was satisfied enough to endure.
Even death on a cross.