Part 1 Episode 221
Why does it matter that Jesus is called both the apostle and high priest of our confession? In this episode of Light + Truth, John Piper turns to Hebrews 3:1–6 to show how these two titles meet our two greatest needs.
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By John Piper — 2 years ago
How do we respond when God feels distant from us? Several versions of that question have come in recently from listeners on the topic of “spiritual desertion.” I can boil them down to three categories.
First, spiritual desertion is an experience of God hiding his face from the believer. But in the great text on contentment, and how to live free from the love of money, we are given a glorious promise — one we have repeated several times on APJ. We should cultivate material contentment in this life because God has promised us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). So how does desertion relate to this promise that we will never be forsaken?
Second, does the Bible tell us why God deserts believers? Should we read into the experience of desertion something we have failed to do, or need to do? And what has his absence felt like to you?
And then third, in the famous desertion psalm, Psalm 22, we read that God does not hear the psalmist’s prayers and refuses to deliver him from his distress. Hence the felt desertion. And yet the psalmist still delights in God in verse 8. So what does it look like to delight in God in felt desertion?
So, Pastor John, there is a mix of questions for you under this label of “spiritual desertion.”
Well, just a word of caution to start: the term spiritual desertion doesn’t occur in the Bible, nor does the word desertion itself — at least not in the ESV. So, we have to be careful that when non-biblical words or terms are used to describe biblical realities, we don’t force any connotations of those non-biblical words onto the biblical reality.
I think what’s being asked in all of these concerns is not only about the objective circumstances that can be so painful in the lives of Christians — that it looks objectively like God is just no longer working for us. But probably more what’s being asked is about the subjective inner sense when we don’t feel the presence of God, and we don’t see the glory of God, and we don’t sense the sweetness of his fellowship. Whether he’s near or far, the question I think is mainly about how, subjectively, he feels far. It’s true that a Christian can have the experience of desertion in both of these senses. In the objective, it just looks like he’s gone. He doesn’t do anything for me anymore. And in the subjective, whether he’s near or far, I don’t feel, I don’t taste, I don’t sense. I think that’s the main concern.
Grace in Every Thorn
So, I won’t linger long over the first sense because that’s not the focus of these questions, I don’t think. And I’ve spoken about it so often. I’ll only say that Paul deals with the objective afflictions of Christians in Romans 8:35–38, and amazingly he does so by quoting the Psalms. He quotes Psalm 44:20–22, which says,
If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god,would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
And Paul explains that God’s face is hidden only in the sense that outward physical blessings are being withheld. But he protests strongly that in every loss and affliction for the Christian, we are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). So Paul’s answer to the outward objective appearance of desertion is that God is present: he’s here, and he’s working through our troubles. And in that very teaching, Paul paradoxically shows that if we really understood what God was doing, we would know it was to help us see him more clearly — not less.
There’s this beautiful poem called “The Thorn” by Martha Nicholson, who died in 1953, that ends like this: “I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace, / He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides his face.”
“The thorns of life, which we think are God’s desertion, are in fact designed to pin back the veil of worldliness that hides God’s loving face.”
So, Paul’s answer to this first kind of objective desertion is that we need to learn the biblical truth that the thorns of life, which we think are God’s desertion, are in fact designed to pin back the veil of worldliness that hides God’s loving face. That’s a huge change in your mindset, but it’s crucial in order to understand how to respond to what appears to be objective absence of God but isn’t.
Fight to See and Savor
But the main thing, I think, being asked in these questions is about the inner sense of the Christian when we don’t feel the presence of God, and we don’t see or savor the glory of God, and we don’t sense the sweetness of his fellowship. So, let me give several texts from the New Testament that provide biblical categories that are Christian — Christian categories for this experience of more or less of this darkness, as if the Lord were absent, because you don’t see or savor his beauty or feel his fellowship.
1. First Corinthians 13:12: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” In other words, some measure of hiddenness is what we have to live with now, no matter how we live, until Jesus comes.
2. Ephesians 5:19: “Be filled with the Holy Spirit” — meaning that there are different measures of experience of the Holy Spirit’s fullness. And what does the Holy Spirit do but reveal the beauties of Christ and thus stir us up to joy and boldness? So, there’s more or less clarity of spiritual seeing and savoring depending on what degree of fullness we are enjoying.
3. In Ephesians 4:30, Paul says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” And in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, he says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” So, there are sinful attitudes and behaviors that do indeed grieve and quench the Spirit and thus draw a veil between us and the beauty of Christ, which the Spirit gives.
4. Paul prays in Ephesians 1:18 that “the eyes of your hearts” would be “enlightened,” so that you may know your calling, your inheritance, and the power of Christ in you. In other words, the eyes of our hearts see with greater or lesser clarity the glories of Christ.
5. And finally, in 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul says that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” That’s the glory we long to see with steady, unveiled brightness.
But all of these texts imply that the Christian life is variable. It is a fight to the end. Just before he dies, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). And it’s mainly a fight to see and savor the beauty of Christ right to the end.
Battle for His Presence
One of the questions that you read asks me personally what the absence of God has felt like to me. And I would answer like this: God has given me the grace not to think in terms of God’s absence, but only of my dullness, my disobedience. In other words, I believe that Jesus Christ, as my Savior, is always near,
because he is omnipresent — “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3);
because he promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20); and
because he has put his Spirit within me as the down payment of my final redemption, and the Spirit does not come and go (Ephesians 1:14).
“God has given me the grace not to think in terms of God’s absence, but only of my dullness, my disobedience.”
Therefore, my experience is not of God’s absence but of my absence, my dullness, my faithlessness, my disobedience. I don’t fight to get God’s objective presence. It’s there. I fight to get his manifest presence, experienced presence. That’s my experience of his reality, which really means that the key changes have to happen in me — not in him. His location is not the issue. My faith, my sanctification, is the issue, and that’s the battle of my life every day.
He Will Hold You Fast
So finally, the last question is, What does it look like to delight in God in felt desertion? It’s a huge question, so let me just point to a passage for you to think about. Hebrews 12:2 says, “[Look] to Jesus, . . . who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” So, Jesus experienced a profound sense of desertion on the cross as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). And this text in Hebrews says he was able to endure that by the joy that was set before him.
Now I think that means that the faith of Jesus in his Father was able to hold on, was able to taste — by memory or by hope — some incremental measure of the anticipated joy with God. I think that’s what it looks like for us as well. For God’s elect, for his adopted children, God will hold us fast, as the song says. And the way he holds us is by preserving that mustard seed of remembered or anticipated joy at the Father’s right hand.
By Rachel Jankovic — 2 years ago
I have been a homemaker for over eighteen years now, and I feel confident saying it is a difficult and demanding job. What is more, it is a job with a massive PR problem. “It’s a soul-crushing grind!” some say. Others ask, “Do you work?”
Public opinion on the nature of homemaking has not been subtle. For a generation at least, homemaking has been spoken of as a prison-like existence that stifles a woman’s gifts — as though homemakers have less ambition than others, less ability, less scope, less understanding. This propaganda effort has been radically effective, shaping the imagination of many women who find themselves at home for one reason or another. It takes little effort to see our calling and the work therein through the lens of resentment.
Lately, there has been some pushback to the public opinion that homemaking is a life of boredom and ease, but it has been of the worst kind: long-faced social-media posts bemoaning how no one appreciates your work; TikTok videos telling everyone that because your family failed to notice the work you did, you feel invalidated as a person. This too is the fruit of worldly propaganda — and it too will have devastating effects.
Homes in the Great War
Homemakers often find ourselves without support — not physical support, the absence of which is so loudly reflected on, but rather the spiritual support of understanding why this field of work is glorious, worthy, essential, God-honoring, and strategic. We need an understanding of the value of the home that is strong enough to endure the tumultuous cultural winds around us. We need to see clearly how we are serving God in and with our work.
“The Christian home is an essential work of the Christian resistance.”
The Christian home is an essential work of the Christian resistance. In any war, it is customary to target your enemy’s supply lines, manufacturing plants, and headquarters. In our spiritual war, the Christian home is all of those things. Why then would it surprise us that the enemy would like to see the home destroyed? Why are we surprised by the obstacles we face — by the threefold resistance of the world, the flesh, and the devil?
We have been cleverly fooled into thinking that the obstacles we face at home are due to the work being unimportant, insignificant, unappreciated, or mindless. We should have noticed that anything under such attack from both without and within must be desperately important.
Beautiful or Embarrassing?
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house,Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. (Psalm 128:3–4)
Scripture is the basis for my commitment to being a homemaker, and if I never saw any other reason to love it, never saw the fruit, never understood the importance of the role, that should still be enough. Paul lays out the importance of older women teaching younger women to be “self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:5). And Proverbs 31 describes a glorious picture of the woman who is clothed in strength and dignity as she gives herself to the needs of her household.
At this point, some readers may have rolled their eyes because I mentioned Titus 2 and Proverbs 31 in the same embarrassingly uncool paragraph. Why is that? Could it be because you have been trained to despise passages like these? Could it be that you have listened to countless people explaining them away? Could it be that you have taken in enough worldly propaganda that you feel free to look down on the tone of the word of God and those who embrace it?
I am asking you to consider that perhaps you have been played. You have been had. You have welcomed the lies of the world into your home and given them authority in your life. To say, “Women, be self-controlled, pure homemakers who love your husbands and children” is to speak a biblical, God-fearing statement. I am asking you now to listen to your own heart’s response to that. Is your heart bridling? Is it angry? Are you ready to post angry comments on my ignorant or backward ways? Well, think about what you are doing — it’s not me you are despising, but the words of God. What does your response say about where your heart is?
Harvest of Homemaking
I say that raw obedience to God’s word is enough, and in a sense it should be. But it is far from all that we are given. When I read those sorrowful monologues about the mental load, about how much it all weighs on the poor woman, about how unfair it all is, about how husbands should be responsible for far more housekeeping, all I can see is that women are suffering from the horrible pairing of trying to do the Lord’s work with the attitude of those who hate him. There will be no joy of obedience there. There will be no fruit of free giving there. There will be no strength and laughter and dignity there, because there is a thick fog of accusation, discontent, and envy.
“The end of all our small daily plantings may be a harvest of staggering beauty.”
I have come to realize through the years that the countless tasks I do that no one notices still shape our home and the people in it. Every meal I lay on the table is a small picture of the feeding of the five thousand. My meager offering, broken in the hands of Jesus, will feed generations of children. This home — the flavors and the smells and the atmosphere of love — will by God’s grace shape people who will go on to be the mothers and fathers of thousands. Is there any other work I could be doing that would be this exponentially fruitful or influential? A hundred years from now, I hope there are people who do not know my name or remember me, but nevertheless carry about with them seeds of faithful living that were first planted in the soil of this home.
Do you have the burden of a million duties on your mind? Ask the Lord to establish the work of your hands. He makes valuable all that is done in him, so ask him to do so with your messy duties. Rejoice in him as you offer yourself as a living sacrifice — a sacrifice that cooks and cleans and blows noses and folds clothes and lays a table and looks after the ways of your household. He is shaping something of great beauty and strength that is far beyond our own capacity to imagine. May God give us all eyes to see it, and hearts to imagine it. The end of all our small daily plantings may be a harvest of staggering beauty.
By John Piper — 12 months ago
Good Friday to you. Welcome back to the podcast. Well, many Christians live right now in a republic, a form of self-governance where we choose our representatives — we vote on them. And maybe more than ever, Christians live in free societies. For them — for us — are we required to vote? Is voting a Christian duty? Would it be negligent for a Christian, as a citizen of a free society, to abstain from an election?
We get this question a lot, and especially in the last six years it has become common. And we’re closing the week with the most recent version of it, from a listener named Danny. “Hello, Pastor John! I have been struggling with the question lately about whether or not a Christian who lives in a free society is obligated to vote. God commands us to submit to governing authorities (Romans 13:1), to pray regularly for them (1 Timothy 2:1–2), and he gives us an allowance for civil disobedience in rare cases when it is necessary (Acts 5:29). But if, in a given election, the choices boil down to options I feel no strong conviction toward, or if the election comes down to an option of the ‘lesser of two evil’ choices, do Christians have the choice to simply not vote at all? In my circles, this does not seem to be an option for a faithful believer. I’ve been told that this would amount to neighbor-neglect on my part. Would it?”
Let’s come at this by quoting 1 Peter 2:9–17, and what we’re going to hear in this text is the double identity of the Christian in this fallen world. One identity is that of a sojourner and exile. In other words, this world is not our home. And the other identity is that of being subject in this world to the God-appointed authorities of governors and kings. So one identity is slaves of God (and, yes, that is the word used, “slaves of God,” not at all excluding the glorious truth of “child of God” — both have aspects of truth in them), owned and ruled by God and no other. And the other identity is one sent by our owner, God, into a foreign world to make his glory known through gospel words and good deeds. So listen for those two identities as I read this text.
Our Double Identity
“You are a chosen race [Christians], a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” Let that sink in: a holy nation, and that’s not referring to any earthly nation. That’s Christianity. That’s the born-again people of God from all the nations. “You are a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). So that’s what I mean by gospel words. He called you to proclaim.
“That’s our goal: make God look glorious in this land where we live temporarily as aliens and sojourners.”
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds” — that’s why I refer not only to gospel words but also good deeds — “and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11–12). So that’s our goal: make God look glorious in this land where we live temporarily as aliens and sojourners. Make him look beautiful, great, valuable. That’s our goal. Make God look great.
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13–14). So that’s our identity as subjects of God-appointed authority.
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good” — there it is again; we’ve seen “doing good” three times now — “you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as [slaves] of God” (1 Peter 2:15–16). Now, there’s our identity as God-owned slaves, who are in bondage to no man. “Live as people who are free” — that is, free from whatever human authority is claiming you — but know that your master, God, sends you for his sake into that foreign land for his purposes.
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). That’s the end of the text.
Every Nation a Foreign Land
So here’s our double identity. Christians are a holy nation called the church — God’s own possession. And therefore, as a holy nation, we are sojourners and exiles in every other nation on the planet, including America. Or to say it another way, we are God’s slaves — meaning we are owned by him and responsible ultimately to him alone, not any man.
Then the other part of our double identity is God’s call or vocation for us to submit freely — not because earthly rulers have any final authority over us — to governors and kings, and to do good in these foreign nations where we live, like America, for the glory of God.
This is the fundamental reality, the structure of the Christian existence that we need to keep in mind when we are thinking about things like voting in this foreign land where we live called America — or wherever you happen to live (to those listening to this around the world, your own foreign land where you live as aliens and exiles, as Christians).
So, what are the implications of what I’ve just read and said? Here are three.
1. Corporate worship is politically explosive.
We cast a vote every week by assembling in congregational worship and singing our allegiance to Jesus as Lord over all lords, King over all kings, President over all presidents, Premier over all premiers, Chief over all chiefs. Christ-exalting corporate worship is politically the most explosive thing we do. It is absolutely seditious in any regime that presumes to claim ultimate authority or ultimate allegiance over human beings. In worship, we say out loud, for all to hear, “Jesus Christ is our King over all other rulers. We must obey him. Obedience to earthly rulers is relative; obedience to Jesus is absolute.” “The Most High rules the kingdom of men,” Daniel says, “and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:25).
“Obedience to earthly rulers is relative; obedience to Jesus is absolute.”
As legitimate and even as desirable as a proper affection for our earthly nation (in my case, America) may be, if weekly worship begins to sound like patriotic rallies rather than a celebration of King Jesus over every nation, including our own, we’re moving away from biblical faithfulness and toward idolatry. That’s the first implication.
2. Christians should want to do much good.
There should be no question that Christians, as sojourners and exiles on the earth, want to do good for the people and the nation we are part of. Christians care about all suffering — especially eternal suffering, especially suffering nearby. Proximity applies some measure of accountability.
So we bless our communities with gospel words and good deeds. That’s the implication of 1 Peter 2:9–17. Christians do not want to be part of life-ruining problems in society. We want to be a part of life-bettering solutions in society. We don’t want police to be unjust or unhelpful. We don’t want leaders to be corrupt, but to have integrity. We don’t want the infrastructures of water, and sewer, and electricity, and natural gas, and roads, and bridges, and streetlights, and fuel supplies, and flood control, and building codes, and 911, and fire stations — we don’t want any of these to fail. We are willing to pay for them and do our part to keep things functioning for good, the common good of as many as possible.
We want to be a part of helping with the problems of homelessness, and poverty, and drug addiction, and mental illness, and criminal behavior, and domestic violence. We want there to be safe neighborhoods, and good schools, and affordable housing, and ample jobs, and stable economic conditions, and international peace. This is why Peter, two times in this short text, said that we are to be busy doing good deeds so as (1) to silence those who say Christianity is bad for the world, and (2) to make God look glorious. That’s the second implication. We’re not sitting buried away in our little caves, indifferent to the suffering and the needs of our society.
3. Voting is one form of doing good.
Here’s the third, last implication. Voting is one form of doing good. It is one kind of good deed. We hope — by voting for worthy, competent, wise candidates — that the common good will come to more people. That’s our goal. But I don’t think it follows from any biblical truth that voting is an absolute duty for Christians. It is one possible good deed alongside many others, one way of serving the good of society, but there are too many other factors at stake to describe it as an absolute duty.
One of those factors is this: when the duty to vote is elevated to the point where it overrides other Christian principles of virtue, it has been taken too far. That duty has been taken too far. At times, it happens in a fallen world that a vote for any proposed candidate is so offensive, so morally compromised, so misleading that it may be a matter of greater integrity, more faithful obedience to Christ, and a clearer witness to truth if we do not vote for any of the proposed candidates.
It would be irresponsible to assume that a choice not to vote for some party or person on the ballot is a failure to love our neighbor, when in fact, the non-voter may be much more involved in doing socially transformative good deeds than the one who votes for a morally unfit candidate because he’s considered the lesser of two evils. Life is not simple. It is inevitable that Christians will disagree on strategies for how to do the most good with gospel words, good deeds, and Christian example-setting. We must be slow to judge the moral strategies of other well-meaning people.
Just one more thought. If you believe, as I do, that in principle, voting is a great gift and privilege in our society, and you want to uphold that privilege, it is almost always possible to vote by writing in the candidate you think is worthy, though not on the ballot. In that way, you may uphold the precious gift of democratic self-government while avoiding the ruinous effects of supporting unworthy candidates.