Rev. Christopher MacRae
Kilmallie Free Church Manse
Phone: 01397 704434
Registered Scottish Charity SC038140
This project is being part-financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Highland Leader 2007 - 2013 programme
God’s Sovereignty and Personal Compassion in Public Tragedy
In light of various tragedies in the news, I asked Pastor John few weeks ago how he personally reconciles what appears to be two conflicting responses when public tragedy occurs: (1) his compassion towards those who suffer and (2) his conviction that Scripture ascribes to God the final control over all calamities and disasters wrought by both nature and man (see Exodus 4:11, Deuteronomy 32:39, 1 Samuel 2:6–7, Ecclesiastes 7:13–14, Isaiah 45:5–7, Lamentations 3:37–38, Amos 3:6, Psalm 135:6–7, Job 1:21, 42:11).
How a church responds to disaster will be much more complex, especially if a church is located close to a tragedy, a complexity he outlines in a 21-point chapter for pastors, “Brothers, Help Your People Hold On and Minister in Calamity,” in the book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.
But in this Ask Pastor John podcast, we focused on his own initial, personal response, and how God's sovereignty over all things, and his own compassion for those who are suffering, fit together when public tragedy strikes. We released this as episode #85 (listen here). Here’s a transcript of what he said.
My understanding of the question is not so much what I am saying in public, but what I am feeling in my heart, and how I am relating my compassion to my conviction. So here is my thought. I think the question is based on some assumptions that I may not share.
It sounds to me like one of the assumptions is that if one feels and speaks in his own heart about a building collapsing in Bangladesh, with several hundred people crushed, or even as I am talking today, a mental health facility in Russia burning and 38 mentally ill people being killed, or we may remember the fertilizer plant exploding and dozens dead, or the Boston bombings. It just seems like right now in our nation event after event of calamity is happening.
So the question for me that people are asking is: When I see that and believe that God is totally in control or say to myself instinctively, “God controlled that, God ruled that, God either in a planning way permitted, or ordained that,” then this is in conflict with my compassion. It is going to be in tension with my compassion; feeling compassion and feeling the sovereignty of God in its fullest sense are at odds. That seems to be an assumption. And my question would be, well, why would that be? Why would a person feel that?
And here, I think, a second assumption is that God’s being the ultimate cause would somehow exclude our feeling hurt, or our weeping, or our helping, or our outrage, at the sin involved. God’s sovereignty implicitly in their minds is excluding that or pushing that [compassion] aside. Now I don’t share either of those assumptions. They are not part of my way of thinking.
I think part of God’s will in permitting or ordaining a calamity is that we weep with those who weep. That is part of the plan. God brings to pass all things — I mean all things. There are no maverick molecules, R. C. Sproul said. And that is right. Or Spurgeon said, every dust mote that flies in the air, or every little globule of spray in every harbor in the wake of every boat in the world, is guided on its path through the air by God. Once you get to the point of believing in the providence and sovereignty of God to that extent, then you see that God intends weeping, the abhorrence of evil, the rescue of the perishing, and the healing of the broken-hearted, to be a part of his plan — even as he may plan the collapse of a building, or the explosion of a building, or an earthquake, or a flood.
When Jesus met the man who was born blind, people said, “Ok, who sinned, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). And Jesus answered, “It is neither. This man was born blind for the glory of God” (John 9:3). Now what does that mean? It means that when God ordained that this man endure, let’s say 30 years of blindness, he was also willing that there be some responses to it of a certain kind. And the shepherds who were caring for him in the synagogue had the wrong kind of response, because when he got healed they didn’t even rejoice. They had hearts that were terrible. And Jesus wanted people to rejoice and to see God and to glorify God.
And I don’t doubt that Jesus wanted 30 years’ worth of kind and faithful parenting from that man’s parents, like he wants from many parents today who have disabled children. And what is God’s purpose? Well, one of his purposes is that beautiful demonstrations of compassion be shown from these parents.
So the point is this. If you see a calamity and you know God could have stopped it, which he always could, and he didn’t stop it, so he must have a purpose in it. Don’t draw the irrational, unbiblical conclusion: “Well, therefore, God wants me to feel no outrage over the sin of the bombers in Boston. He doesn’t want me to feel any compassion of the victims of the buildings since he brought the building down. And he doesn’t want me to get engaged in any relief project because he caused the earthquake.” That is just irrational. That is crazy. That is a person who has gotten halfway into the Bible and has started to draw human conclusions rather than biblical conclusions. God wills for the beautiful virtues of outrage at sin and compassion for victims and efforts of relief to be manifested in the midst of the calamities that he himself is in charge of.
Maybe I will just close with one of the most practical illustrations. It says in Acts 4:27 that God predestined what Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and the Jews brought to pass when Jesus was crucified. In other words, the worst sinning that has ever happened in the history of the world was planned and predestined by God, for the death of his Son, that we might be saved. The murder of the Son of God is the worst act in human history, and it was planned by God according to Acts 4:27.
Now God wills that evil for the sake of thousands of good responses. He wants us to be saved by it. He wants us to trust this Jesus. He wanted Mary to come to the tomb with compassion in her heart. He wanted to show that Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus were men of courage and godliness because they were willing to take the body and put it in their own tomb.
God had millions and millions of good and holy purposes in willing that this happened. And the same would be true of everything he wills in this world. So we should determine how we respond, not by any false, human, logical deduction that we are drawing from the sovereignty of God. We should determine it from what the Bible says should be our response, namely compassion, and outrage at sin, and efforts to be involved in bringing relief.
Further reading —
Christian Adoption: Disavowals and Affirmations
Significant Christian push-back was unleashed in recent months by Kathryn Joyce’s criticism of the abuses in evangelical adoption efforts: The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.
Melanie Springer Mock documented some of that push-back and gave her appreciative take on Joyce’s book. I have been surprised at some undiscriminating criticism of evangelical adoption.
As I pondered how to respond to the criticisms of adoption, it seemed best that I try to formulate constructive commitments rather than reactive complaints. I’m not in a position to know the extent of the abuses. I’m not claiming they don’t exist. But I do know some of the key voices in the evangelical adoption movement, and I know that their commitments are contrary to the abuses. See, for example, the core principles of the Christian Alliance for Orphans.
Here is my effort to express the kind of commitments that would, I think, guard us from the kinds of abuses that have marred this otherwise beautiful movement of compassion and conviction in our day. I believe that the vast majority of Christian adoption advocates would agree with these disavowals and affirmations. These should be understood within the biblical and theological framework for adoption I have developed elsewhere on this site.
Christian Adoption: Disavowals and Affirmations
1. Christian adoption disavows that any state or agency or family is ever entitled to other people’s children.
Rather, we affirm that nurturing, teaching, disciplining, protecting, and providing for our children are God-given rights of parents, whether by birth or adoption (Ephesians 6:1–4).
2. Christian adoption disavows that putting a child in a Christian home justifies taking a child away from his or her non-Christian home.
Rather, we affirm that trying to exert Christian influence by contravening the God-given right of parents to bring up their children is tantamount to “doing evil that good may come,” which God forbids (Romans 3:8; 6:1).
3. Christian adoption disavows that any coercion or deception or monetary enticement should ever be used to remove children from their birth family.
Rather, we affirm that coercive removal of children from their birth family is forbidden by the prohibition of kidnapping (Exodus 21:16; 1 Corinthians 6:8, 10). Deceptive removal is forbidden by the prohibition of lying (Exodus 20:16; Ephesians 4:25). And removal by monetary enticement is forbidden by the prohibition of bribery (Proverbs 17:23).
4. Christian adoption disavows that growing up Western and middle class is necessarily better than growing up non-western and poor.
Rather, we affirm that there is no sure corollary between prosperity and character, “high” culture and human happiness, Western values and wise living; God can and does make poverty a garden of love (2 Corinthians 8:1–2).
5. Christian adoption disavows that living with two adoptive parents is necessarily better than living with one biological parent.
Rather, we affirm that there are too many variables to be able to say ahead of time that two parents will always lead to the greater good for children; God’s sovereignty can redeem any difficult situation for good (Genesis 50:20).
6. Christian adoption disavows that children should ever be viewed as commodities to be bought or sold.
Rather, we affirm that the value of a human soul is of incalculable worth (Matthew 16:26) and carrying on trade in humans is expressly forbidden (Exodus 21:16).
7. Christian adoption disavows that adoption is always better than assisting a birth family to raise its children.
Rather, we affirm that the birth family has priority of claim to raise their child, and that Christian love would, therefore, seek to help them do that rather than taking the child away (Romans 12:13).
8. Christian adoption disavows that biological connectedness is insignificant or negligible in the life of the adoptive child or in the birth family.
Rather, we affirm that there is a God-given bond by blood, which, though not ultimate, is significant in the way we live our lives (Romans 9:3).
9. Christian adoption disavows the romantic notion that the challenges of adoptive parenting are small or painless, and the naïve notion that the human flourishing of an adoptive child is guaranteed by sufficient parental love.
Rather, we affirm that all parenting is painful and most adoptions are preceded by some measure of trauma that affects a child’s maturing later on, and makes the challenges of parenting all the greater (Proverbs 10:1; 17:25).
10. Christian adoption disavows the inference that the failure of some agencies and persons to act with integrity and wisdom incriminates the vast majority of Christian adoption agencies.
Rather, we affirm that where there is much good, there will almost always be an intermixture of evil; and we must be vigilant not to implicate the good while purging out the evil (1 Corinthians 6:7).
Greater Than Graduation: All Things Are Yours
Few occasions are more anticipated than graduation. We invite our loved ones, wear clothes we never wear anywhere else, and take lots and lots of pictures.
This past Friday evening, John Piper addressed the graduates of Bethlehem College & Seminary with a stunning message from 1 Corinthians 3:21–23: In Christ, all things are yours.
While it may seem like there is plenty to boast about in graduation––good grades, completed papers, accumulated knowledge, years of hard work, and even future ministry possibilities––all are pitifully dwarfed by the riches of what Christ has purchased and secured for us. Paul is yours. Apollos is yours. Cephas is yours. The world, life, death, the present, and the future are all yours in Christ, and are all only a small snapshot of what we have in him. Says Piper,
Every beat of your heart. Every chemical transaction in your body. Every day you face. Every night you sleep. Every movement you make. Every word, every deed, every relationship, every accomplishment, every plan — failed or successful. Every emotion that rises, every thought that passes, every book read, every line tweeted, every text sent, every conversation, every gift given, every sin committed. All of it — all your life — is yours.
The 23-minute audio and full manuscript for “All Things Are Yours,” Piper’s 2013 commencement message for Bethlehem College & Seminary, are now available.
Hedonism to the Extreme: Lamborghini and Our Souls
“What does a tractor manufacturer know about sports cars?” said Enzo Ferrari to an Italian mechanic from humble roots.1
This mechanic, Ferruccio Lamborghini, did manufacture tractors, and he did well. But he also liked fast automobiles and building things, and in the decade following World War II he decided to try his hand at supercars. Frustrated with the Ferrari’s handling on the road, and Ferrari’s dismissal at some suggested improvements, Ferruccio blazed his own trail by creating Automobili Lamborghini. By the fall of 1963, at the Turin Motor Show, he released the Lamborghini 350 GTV and launched the beginning of an iconic supercar brand — a brand at which most men have only marveled from afar.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of that original design.
To commemorate the anniversary, Lamborghini has unveiled a new car that many say is aptly named “Egoista” — that is, “selfish.” Yes, that’s right. The car is named “Selfish.” It is a single-seat concept engineered for those who want to treat “me, myself, and I.” One commentator writes that the Egoista, along with its 5.2-litre V10, 600 horsepower engine, has aesthetically more in common with a fighter jet than with a vehicle meant for the ground. And there’s no secret about the marketing. Walter DeSilva, the head of design, explains, “[This car] is designed purely for hyper-sophisticated people who want only the most extreme and special things in the world. It represents hedonism taken to the extreme” (David Undercoffler, LA Times).
“Hedonism taken to the extreme.” So there you have it. This car is about pleasure to the max. That deep craving in our souls for ultimate happiness — the craving we all have — that’s what is behind this automobile. That is the bait held out for the few who can afford it. You are not really seeking pleasure until you sit behind this wheel.
But we know that’s an empty promise, on at least two levels.
What Only God Can Do
First, and most fundamental, no car can satisfy a God-shaped void. The quest for pleasure is really a quest for God. He created us to be happy in him. Now, grant the Lamborghini Egoista this: it would be a fun drive. It’s a beautiful machine. But while it’s a fruit of human ingenuity to be enjoyed, it’s not the place to search for the joy we need. While it offers a good experience, even if just to a thin slice of the human population, it’s not the destination of anyone’s deepest longings. That craving is satisfied in God alone. The real pursuit of pleasure must connect the most profound appetites of our being to the One by whom, in whom, and for whom we exist. God is our joy. God. Every other search is a dead-end road, no matter how fast we can drive it.
And we can attest to some experience of this dead-end road. Sinners can’t help but make black holes of the heart. We grab this one thing and give it its own space within the deep places of our souls. A gravitational pull begins. Eventually our whole lives orbit around its force and our resources get vacuumed into it with galactic abandon. What should be a gift — a glorious gift from God — ends up combusting into its own world.
We spin our wheels trying to recreate that superficial glee we felt the time before. We toil and toil for a diminishing return. Sure, entertainment may tarry for the night, but the wakeup call of emptiness comes in the morning. This is what it means to fall short of God’s glory: we exchange the hope of eternal joy for that which does not profit, we spend our money on moldy bread that cannot satisfy, we rebel to dumb ourselves down from the wonder for which we were made (Jeremiah 2:11–13; Isaiah 55:2; Romans 1:22–25).
There just aren’t substitutes for the “pleasures forevermore” of God’s fellowship (Psalm 16:11). The parched land of our lives needs more than a desperate splash from good things here and there. We need to be infused with the rivers that lead us to the One who is good. We need our land eroded by the ocean of God’s glory. And that gets into another level.
Deeper Than a Splurge
The Egoista ends empty not just because God alone can satisfy our souls, but also because this car’s offering isn’t how real pleasure works. This piece of Lamborghini commemoration tries to sell joy as a splurge. Happiness, they’d tell us, is a metric to meet, a high to hit, a rush to realize.
But this is too shallow to resonate with any soul responsibly aware of reality. The pleasure we crave can’t be contained in the excitement of 0 to 60 in less than four seconds, or the elitism of being a Lamborghini owner. The Egoista tells us to buy the car and burn the fuse while we have eternity in our hearts — eternity. We can’t manufacture anything to fill that gap.
The quest for real joy isn’t fulfilled in a moment. It isn’t a one-time event to experience, neither with a Lamborghini nor with God. The quest for real joy is a movement — the movement of God centered on himself as the author and perfecter of pleasure. God, because he is eternally glad in the Trinitarian fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit, launched a movement to show that gladness. He created everything that there is in order to show that gladness, including us. Out of his gladness he made us such that our gladness would be found in his own — not once or twice, but forever.
To The Extreme
So “hedonism taken to the extreme” isn’t found in a good supercar. And it’s not even in a good quiet time every now and then. Lasting joy is more than an existential buzz, whatever the source. Hedonism taken to the extreme is the day-in, day-out life of redeemed sinners who know they were created for another world.
Hedonism taken to the extreme is everyday forsaking the jewels of Egypt because our eyes are set on a better Treasure.
Hedonism taken to the extreme is the steady road of enjoying gifts as gifts from God in Christ, tributaries of joy that lead us to his fullness.
Hedonism taken to the extreme is what says, even when darkness veils his lovely face, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). God. Forever.
1 Fifty Cars That Changed the World, (Kindle Locations 702–703).
More posts from Jonathan Parnell:
Spiritually and Emotionally, How Far Is Too Far Before Marriage? (Ask Pastor John)
ESPN analyst Chris Broussard on homosexuality. C.S. Lewis on joy. Choosing a seminary. Processing a tragedy. And how far is too far in dating. It’s all in a fortnight of Ask Pastor John episodes.
What follows are excerpts from each episode (click on hyperlinked titles to listen).
How Far Is Too Far Before Marriage, Spiritually and Emotionally? (Episode 84):
A man especially needs to stay awake to what is happening emotionally and spiritually and personally in the relationship. Don’t take yourself into a depth of spiritual and emotional bonding that will not consummate in marriage and sexual union. Be alert that every step deeper into emotional and spiritual union with a woman’s soul is a step toward physical union, that is, towards marriage. Don’t take her there if this is not moving toward a marriage relationship. It will deeply wound her and you if you awaken depths of oneness in each other emotionally and then try to just walk away from it. Those depths are meant to lead somewhere, namely sexual intercourse in marriage.
How Do You Process Public Tragedy? (Episode 85):
The first assumption here is this: when I see tragedy, and believe that God is totally in control, or say to myself instinctively, “God controlled that, God ruled that, God either planned or permitted or ordained that,” this is in conflict with my compassion. Feeling compassion and feeling the sovereignty of God in its fullest sense are at odds. That seems to be an assumption. And here is the second assumption: that God, being the ultimate cause, would somehow exclude our feeling hurt or our weeping or our helping or our outrage at the sin involved. God’s sovereignty implicitly in their minds is excluding that or pushing that aside. Now I don’t share either of those assumptions. Let me explain why ...
How Did Lewis Prepare You for Edwards? (Episode 86):
C.S. Lewis and Clyde Kilby, my lit professor at Wheaton (1964–68), put the intellectual and aesthetic kindling in place. And it was a very big pile of dry and unbelievably flammable sticks: the sticks of logic, the sticks of aesthetic awareness, the sticks of longing and aching and yearning, the sticks of awareness of beauty and the desire to see it and know it. All of those sticks were put in place so that when the fire of reformed theology — namely Dan Fuller, Jonathan Edwards, and the Puritans — fell in the years 1968–71, they had sticks ready to burn.
Appreciating Creation While Anticipating New Creation (Episode 87):
C.S. Lewis is a good guide for us in cherishing the eternal, cherishing the unseen, cherishing God as the source and goal of all things, as well as being able to see the this-ness and the beauty of this world. God had brought him to faith through an appreciation of the this-ness of things, and then showed him that they were all thick with God, they were all pointing toward God, they were all created by God. They were ways of knowing God. And unless you saw deep enough into them to get to the bottom of them, and saw high enough over them to get to what they are pointing to, they will always disappoint you.
Was C.S. Lewis a Christian Hedonist? (Episode 88):
I remember standing at a book table in the fall of 1968 on Colorado Avenue in Pasadena, California, looking down at a little blue paperback called The Weight of Glory. Author: C.S. Lewis. I never picked it up in my life. I picked it up, opened, and read the first page. And the impact of that page on my Christian Hedonism is huge, because that is the page where he basically says everybody is questing and pursuing joy. The problem, he said, is not that we are pursuing happiness, but that we are far too easily pleased. And I thought, yes, yes! That is right. The problem is not that I want to be happy. The problem is that I am settling on happinesses that are — to use his language — like a little child making mud pies in the slum because he can’t imagine what a holiday at the sea is like.
Choosing a Seminary (Episode 89):
Don’t look for a building. Don’t look for a campus. Don’t look for a library. Don’t look for a location. Look for a faculty.
A Mother’s Role in Raising Boys (Episode 90):
In the home I grew up in, my dad was away two thirds of the year. My mother did everything. She was omnicompetent. She taught me just about everything I know when he was away, and she never once gave me the impression she couldn’t do anything. She could paint the house. She could push a wheelbarrow. I watched the sweat drip off the end of her long nose as she weeded the Bermuda grass out, and showed me how to take care of the yard. She taught me how to make French fries in deep grease and wait until it is hot, otherwise they are going to get soggy. She taught me how to flip pancakes and wait until the bubbles appear around the edge. And when my dad came home, my mother beamed with joy that he could now lead in prayer at the table. He could now say, ‘Let’s go to church.’ He could now say, ‘Let’s go out to eat.’ He could pull the chair out for her when he sat her down. He would open the door for her when she went through. And I watched that dance, that choreography, and I marveled at my mother. In his absence, she could be everything, and in his presence, she loved it when he took the initiative.
Facing Death Faithfully (Episode 91):
This is a calamity for this man. Nobody is going to minimize it. It is huge. It is painful. You cry about it. You ought to cry about it. Your wife is going to cry about it if you are married. Your kids will cry about it. All that crying is appropriate because it hurts. But if Christ is supremely valuable, then our affections are transformed and we love his glory, his grace, and his presence more than we love this life.
Was Chris Broussard Right? (Episode 92):
I listened to the excerpt. I didn’t hear the whole program. And my answer is yes, he is right. And I think he would agree with a few clarifying comments. So let me expand the simple yes answer, just so that people can hear my heart and I think his heart behind that and, I think, a richer, fuller, biblical understanding. ...
What Does Opposition to Chris Broussard Tell Us? (Episode 93):
The upshot of this for the Church is that we not become embittered or cranky, but that we return good for evil, that we love our enemies, that we boldly proclaim the gospel and make the main thing the main thing, and that we expose the darkness. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” And I think the exposure happens not mainly by having a website that is totally negative and points out problem, problem, problem. Mainly darkness is exposed by light, by contrast.
The Ask Pastor John daily podcast is a series of 3–8 minute conversations released on weekdays at 10:30am (EST) via the DG Facebook and Twitter feeds. You can tune in to the new episodes through the new Ask Pastor John iPhone app, which can be downloaded for free here. We’re currently hosting all the recordings on SoundCloud, a website that makes it easy to listen to several of the podcasts in one sitting. They’re also archived on the DG website and syndicated in iTunes.
We want to hear from you. To submit a question to Pastor John please include your first name, hometown, and question in an email to AskPastorJohn AT desiringGod DOT org.
Thanks for listening to the podcasts. We appreciate your engagement and interest.
A Pentecost to Celebrate
If it weren’t for Pentecost, we wouldn’t know about Easter.
For most of us, tomorrow isn’t flagged on our calendars as Pentecost Sunday. But it is a big deal for Christians, and there are at least three reasons why it’s a day worth celebrating.
Catching Up on the Context
First, the back-story. Recall that Jesus spent forty days after his resurrection with his disciples (Acts 1:3). Imagine those moments — the risen Savior in a glorified body talking and praying with his close friends (Luke 24:39–43). But it cannot last. Jesus must ascend to the Father and establish his everlasting reign by receiving, as the God-man, all dominion, power, and authority (Luke 24:44–51; cf. Daniel 7:13–14).
Watching Jesus ascend to heaven (Acts 1:11), the disciples must have felt an immediate sense of loss. But Jesus steadied them with an important promise: “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).
Remembering Israel’s Deliverance
So, on the seventh day after the ascension, we find the disciples gathered in Jerusalem, praying, waiting, and celebrating the Feast of Weeks. This important annual festival was observed on the seventh Sabbath after Passover.
At the conclusion of Passover, the first sheaf of the barley harvest would be offered before God in the temple, anticipating the greater harvest that was to follow in the summer. On the fiftieth day after Passover (Pentecost comes from the Greek word for fifty), all Israel would come to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate in God’s presence. Parents, children, male and female servants, sojourners, the fatherless, and widows would all give thanks and feast in memory of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage (Deuteronomy 16:9–12).
Luke tells us that when the disciples were gathered on the day of Pentecost,
suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2–4)
According to Luke, Jews from every tribe under heaven were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Learning what had happened, an international multitude gathered to find the disciples declaring the gospel in languages that each person could understand. As they marveled, Peter explained the miracle as the fulfillment of God’s word:
This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:16–18)
Peter goes on to proclaim that what has happened in their hearing is the validation of the lordship of Jesus the Messiah and the realization of the promises of God (Acts 2:29–36). Those gathered are “cut to the heart,” and three thousand of them receive the good news of Jesus as Messiah and are baptized (Acts 2:41). The rest of the Book of Acts develops the world-transforming changes that have begun in these moments at Pentecost.
Three Reasons to Celebrate
How, then, is Pentecost important for us?
1. Pentecost fulfills Jesus’s promise to never forsake his own.
As painful as the parting at the ascension might have been, Jesus assured the disciples that it was to their advantage that he would go away,
“for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. . . . When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7, 13–14)
The fulfillment of the promise of Jesus was the outpouring of the gift of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and, as Peter proclaimed, on all of God’s people in this new era (Acts 2:38).
The promises of the new covenant are ours through the indwelling Spirit (Jeremiah 31:33ff; Ezekiel 36:26ff). Jesus did not end his work on earth with the ascension — he continues it now through his Spirit-indwelt church. We, therefore, can take fresh courage in Jesus’s words, “Behold, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
2. Pentecost launches the global proclamation of the gospel.
Jesus’s death at Passover and his mighty resurrection three days later signaled the “firstfruit” of God’s victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:20–24). Jesus had accomplished everything necessary for the gospel to run and triumph (Hebrews 2:14–15; cf. Revelation 20:1–3) and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost signals that the greater harvest has begun.
The three thousand souls added to the church on Pentecost hailed from all corners of the Roman world. They, in turn, would carry the gospel to their families and communities. The narrative arc of Acts follows the Spirit-indwelt disciples as they carry the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). You heard about Easter because of Pentecost. The fields are white with harvest and, as part of the church of the risen Christ, we too can “go, therefore, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18).
3. Pentecost signals the coming of fuller restoration and a greater celebration.
At Pentecost, Peter proclaims that the prophecy of Joel 2:28–31 has come to pass. Intriguingly, this prophecy of the eschatological gift of the Spirit comes immediately after another striking promise from God in Joel 2:25–27:
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
While Jesus’s reign is secure and eternal, it has yet to come to its fullest expression on the earth. While death has been decisively defeated, it has yet to be put to a final end (1 Corinthians 15:24–26). Paul reminds us that creation longs for its final restoration and that even we ourselves, who “have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).
Pentecost is a pointer that history is inexorably moving towards the restoration of all things. The bridegroom has come; his bride is making herself ready. We await the greatest celebration of all.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9)
Recap of Recent Piper Messages
We have never known days like these at Desiring God.
John Piper is now on staff full-time at DG and has begun a more unfettered ministry to the wider world through writing and speaking.
Along the way, we want to make it easy for you to see what he’s up to and hear what he’s been saying lately. Here’s a rich baker’s dozen of new messages from Pastor John so far in 2013.
1. “Joy As the Power to Suffer in the Path of Love for the Sake of Liberation”
Passion Conference | Atlanta, GA
The year began with a bang, as John addressed more than 60,000 college students in the Georgia Dome on how our joy in God frees us to suffer the sake of others’ freedom.
2. “Sailing to the Nations to Finish the Task, Part 1”
Resolute Conference | Southern Baptist Theological Seminary | Louisville, KY
In these two messages on missions, John aimed to set the boats of these students’ lives toward the nations, raise the sail of their faith in Jesus, and fill their boats with the ballast of God’s glory.
3. “Sailing to the Nations to Finish the Task, Part 2”
Resolute Conference | Southern Baptist Theological Seminary | Louisville, KY
Here’s the second part of John’s two messages at the Resolute Conference at Southern Seminary. Also, while there, he spoke in chapel on Thursday, February 14, from 2 Timothy 4, under the title “The Sadness and Beauty of Paul’s Final Words.”
4. “All Scripture Is Breathed Out by God: Continue in It”
Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville | Louisville, KY
While in Louisville, we joined our friend C.J. Mahaney and his church plant for corporate worship. In his message, John wanted to help us know how to relate to God’s book. He gives six reasons to believe and remain in the Bible.
5. “Cities of Ruthless Nations Will Fear the Lord”
The Summit Church | Durham, NC
The Summit has a goal to plant 1,000 churches among unreached peoples worldwide by 2050. In the face of persecution and hostility to Christianity around the globe, John breathed fresh hope into this bold vision from the radical promises of Isaiah 25.
6. “A Hunger for God: The Foundation for Faithful and Effective Ministry”
Advance13 | Raleigh, NC
John prepared a God-filled banquet for Christian leaders coming together under the banner of Advance to think about the relationship between faithfulness and fruitfulness in ministry. If your people will be glad in God, he said, you must first be glad in God.
7. “The Essential and Prominent Place of Preaching in Worship”
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary | Wake Forest, NC
Why does the somewhat peculiar practice of preaching still exist in the church today? Pastor John gives four reasons why the preaching of the word of God is absolutely vital to the life and corporate worship of the church.
8. “The Heart of God in the Call to Proclaim: A Joyfully Serious Courage in the Cause of World Missions”
TGC Pre-conference on Missions | Orlando, FL
John’s first trip in “retirement,” was to Florida, but it was not to collect seashells. In addition to their national conference, The Gospel Coalition held a pre-conference on missions. The meat of John’s message was four ways 2 Corinthians 5 awakens and sustains a joyfully serious courage in the cause of missions (realism, resurrection, reunion, and reward).
9. “Jesus the Son of God, the Son of Mary”
TGC National Conference | Orlando, FL
The conference focused on the Gospel of Luke, unfolding large portions of the book from beginning to end in ten messages. John kicked it off with Luke 1–2 and underlines several massive, unshakable realities about which we should have certainty.
10. “The Life and Ministry of Charles Spurgeon”
Reformed Theological Seminary | Orlando, FL
The Nicole Institute of Baptist Studies at RTS-Orlando will hold a biannual Spurgeon lecture. They kindly asked John to give the inaugural address. He focused first on Spurgeon’s love for God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated truth and preaching. Then he turned to Spurgeon’s love for people and his commitment to win and build them.
11. “What Happens in the New Birth?”
ReachLife Conference | Los Angeles, CA
Reach Records is making an effort with the ReachLife Institute to train and disciple young believers excited about Christian hip-hop in the Bible and doctrine. Pastor John stood before an incredibly diverse group to explain what God does in our new birth.
12. “Jesus Is Most Magnified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him”
Community of Faith Bible Church | Los Angeles, CA
He may not have been speaking to thousands of people, but this fresh summary of Christian Hedonism in a local church context might have been my personal favorite message from this list.
13. “God Works for Those Who Wait for Him”
Christ Redeemer Church | Woodbury, MN
Christ Redeemer is one of a growing number of churches planted from Bethlehem Baptist in the Twin Cities metro. Pastor John turns to Isaiah 64, which God uniquely used early in his life. We learn that God does not need our help, but glorifies himself by providing constant, strong help to us, his children.
We will continue to draw attention to fresh new messages from Pastor John as he speaks across the country and around the world over the next months. Pray with us that God will continue to use John to help people everywhere understand and embrace the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
Grace Forfeited: A New Start for an Old Tradition
It’s a new start for an old tradition in American Journalism, says Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of World Magazine. The news poem. Says Olasky,
Hardly a vile murder or a military victory went by without colonial poets bemoaning or celebrating the occasion in verse, with the work then published on a single page “broadside” and sold for a penny. Happily, my favorite pastor/theologian, John Piper, is also a poet, and below are his thoughts on justice in regard to Connecticut’s school shooting and Boston’s Marathon bombing.
Worldmag.com has posted Piper’s news poem “Grace Forfeited: Adam, Tamerlan, and the Lady” with the short introduction by Olasky.
Also, here at Desiring God, you can read and listen to a two-minute recording of Piper reading the poem, and hear Piper explain the background of the poem and the biblical categories he explores in it in a special 5-minute episode of Ask Pastor John.
Recent poems by John Piper:
God’s Mercy in Making Us Face the Impossible
God is not content for us just to understand the idea that nothing is too hard for the Lᴏʀᴅ (Jeremiah 32:17). He wants us to have the overwhelming joy of experiencing it. But the sometimes agonizing period between his promise and his provision can push us to the brink of what we think we can believe, as it did for Abraham and Sarah.
[This imaginative conversation takes place shortly after Genesis 17:22.]
Abram entered the tent, his eyes on the ground, his mind a world away. He was breathing hard. Sarai was repairing a cloak. She watched him as he walked to the back corner and collapsed on the cushions with a sigh. She recognized the bodily weariness of a divine encounter.
“The Lᴏʀᴅ has spoken to you again, hasn’t he?”
There was a pause.
It usually took Abram a while before he could talk about these encounters, so Sarai pulled her threadwork up close again where she could see. Another reminder of her aging body. But now her hands were trembling. She dropped them back into her lap. What had the Lᴏʀᴅ said?
“Ishmael!” The name pierced through Sarai like an arrow. She looked through the open flap and saw Hagar hand her son supplies to carry to the cooking fire. The boy was thirteen and beginning to look like a man. He was his father’s delight, the flesh of his flesh. But not of hers. The Lᴏʀᴅ had promised Abram offspring. But it was a deep, bewildering grief that he had granted it through Hagar, her own maidservant. And it had been her own idea.
She looked over at Abram. What had he just called her?
“Yes, I called you Sarah. The Lᴏʀᴅ has changed your name.”
The Lᴏʀᴅ spoke of her? Her heart sped with a rush of hope-fueled adrenaline.
“He changed my name? What do you mean?”
“You are not merely a princess. You will be the mother of kings.”
Sarah just stared. His words didn’t register. A childless mother of kings?
“The Lᴏʀᴅ said, ‘I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her’ (Genesis 17:16). Sarah, God is going to give you a son, and through him, nations.”
Sarah’s whole being staggered. She steadied herself with her left hand and cupped her mouth with her right. Tears streamed. Grief, hope, and confusion churned inside her. A child? She had tried to bury this desire and she felt fear at resurrecting it. And she was ninety. She hadn’t had a feminine cycle for years. How could this possibly…
“I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing. When God spoke it, it was too much to take in and I said, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’”
The familiar pain shot through Sarah.
“But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.’”
Isaac. Her desire now had a name. Sarah mouthed it but still had no voice.
“Yes. Because the whole idea seemed so ludicrous that I laughed to myself.”
“But… I can’t… Husband… I’m ninety years old.” Sarah began sobbing. “My body is no longer able to bear children. My time has passed.”
Abram walked over and enveloped his wife in his arms. “I know, Sarah. We are powerless to have children. Now more than ever. But if we’ve learned anything these twenty-five years it’s that our hope doesn’t rest on our power to do anything. Our hope rests on the Lᴏʀᴅ’s power. Our entire lives are built on what he’s promised. And the lives of our descendants must be built on his promises for generations before they ever occupy this land. Their survival will depend on them trusting the Lᴏʀᴅ’s promises and not their own power. Should it really surprise us that the first descendant the Lᴏʀᴅ gives us is a reminder of this?”
Sarah leaned into her husband.
“And, my precious wife, our Isaac will always remind us, and many after us, that the Lᴏʀᴅ makes us laugh at the impossible.”
“Your faith strengthens mine, Abram.”
Sarah looked up at him puzzled again.
“Yes, the Lᴏʀᴅ changed my name too.” Abraham smiled. “A mother of nations needs a father of nations, doesn’t she?”
There are times when God orders our circumstances in such a way that from a human standpoint his promises are impossible to fulfill. And if at that point we find these promises almost unbelievable, as did Abraham (Genesis 17:17–18) and Sarah (Genesis 18:11–14), what God has exposed are the boundaries of our faith — boundaries he means to expand.
Resting in the promises of God is learned in the crucible of wrestling with unbelief — seasons, sometimes long seasons, when everything hangs on believing that God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17) and there is no safety net.
If you’re in such a season, as difficult as it feels, God is being incredibly kind to you. Because such seasons are when we really learn that nothing is too hard for the Lᴏʀᴅ (Genesis 18:14). And the joy in God that results makes any agony endured not even worth comparing.
Abraham and Sarah “grew strong in [their] faith” (Romans 4:20) because God pushed them to believe more than they thought was possible. For the sake of our joy he does the same for you and me.
Recent posts from Jon Bloom:
Love Letter to a Lesbian
I just want you to know that I understand.
I understand how it feels to be in love with a woman. To want nothing more than to be with her forever. Feeling as if the universe has played a cruel joke on your heart by allowing it to fall into the hands of a creature that looks just like you.
I too was a lesbian. I had same-sex attractions as early as five-years old. As I grew up, those feelings never subsided. They only grew. I would find myself having crushes on my female best friends, but I was far too ashamed to admit it to them — let alone to myself.
At the age of 17, I finally made the decision to pursue these desires. I entered into a relationship with a young lady who became my “first.” The first time we kissed, it felt extremely natural, as if this feeling is what I had been missing all along. After her came another woman and then another woman. Both relationships were very serious, each lasting over a year. I enjoyed these relationships and loved these women a lot. And it came to the point that I was willing to forsake all, including my soul, to enjoy their love on earth.
In October 2008, at the age of 19, my superficial reality was shaken up by a deeper love — one from the outside, one that I’d heard of before but never experienced. For the first time, I was convicted of my sin in a way that made me consider everything I loved (idolized), and its consequences. I looked at my life, and saw that I had been in love with everything except God, and these decisions would ultimately be the death of me, eternally. My eyes were opened, and I began to believe everything God says in his word. I began to believe that what he says about sin, death, and hell were completely true.
And amazingly, at the same time that the penalty of my sin became true to me, so did the preciousness of the cross. A vision of God’s Son crucified, bearing the wrath I deserved, and an empty tomb displaying his power over death — all things I had heard before without any interest had become the most glorious revelation of love imaginable.
After realizing all of what I would have to give up, I said to God, “I cannot let these things or people go on my own. I love them too much. But I know you are good and strong enough to help me.”
Now, at the age of 23, I can say with all honesty that God has done just that. He has helped me love him more than anything.
Now why did I just tell you about this? I gave you a glimpse of my story because I want you to understand that I understand. But I also want you to know that I also understand how it feels to be in love with the Creator of the universe. To want nothing more than to be with him forever. To feel his grace, the best news ever announced to mankind. To see his forgiveness, that he would take such a wicked heart into his hands of mercy.
But with that in mind, we’re in a culture where stories like mine either seem impossible or hilarious, depending on the audience. Homosexuality is everywhere — from music, to TV, even sports. If you’d believe all that society had to say about homosexuality, you’d come to the conclusion that it is completely normal, even somewhat admirable. But that is far from the truth. God tells us that homosexuality is sinful, abominable, and unnatural (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:18–32; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11; 1 Timothy 1:8–10). But if I were to be honest, sometimes homosexual attractions can seem natural to me.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this may be your dilemma as well. You see what God has to say about homosexuality, but your heart doesn’t utter the same sentiments. God’s word says it’s sinful; your heart says it feels right. God’s word says it’s abominable; your heart says it’s delightful. God’s word says it’s unnatural; your heart says it’s totally normal. Do you see that there is a clear divide between what God’s word says and how your heart feels?
So which voice should you believe?
There was a time in my walk with Christ where I experienced a lot of temptation about falling back into lesbianism. These temptations caused me to doubt God’s word. My temptations and desires began to become more real to me than the truth of the Bible. As I was praying and meditating on these things, God put this impression on my heart: “Jackie, you have to believe that my word is true even if it contradicts how you feel.” Wow! This is right. Either I trust in his word or I trust my own feelings. Either I look to him for the pleasure my soul craves or I search for it in lesser things. Either I walk in obedience to what he says or I reject his truth as if it were a lie.
The struggle with homosexuality is a battle of faith. Is God my joy? Is he good enough? Or am I still looking to broken cisterns to quench a thirst only he can satisfy? That is the battle. It is for me, and it is for you.
The choice is yours, my friend. I pray you put your faith in Christ and flee from the lies of our society that coincide with the voices of your heart — a heart that Scripture says is wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). Run to Jesus instead.
You were made for him (Romans 11:36). He is ultimately all that you need! He is good and wise (Psalm 145:9). He is the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). He is kind and patient (2 Peter 3:9). He is righteous and faithful (Psalm 33:4). He is holy and just (1 John 1:9). He is our true King (Psalm 47:7). He is our Savior (Jude 1:25). And he is inviting you to be not just his servant, but also his friend. If lasting love is what you’re looking for anywhere else, you are chasing the wind, seeking what you will never find, slowly being destroyed by your pursuit.
But in Jesus, there is fullness of joy. In Jesus, there is a relationship worth everything, because he is everything. Run to him.