April 20, 2003
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
Blaise Pascal was a French mathematical genius who died in 1662. After running
from God until he was 31 years old, on November 23, 1654 at 10:30 pm, Pascal
met God and was profoundly and unshakably converted to Jesus Christ. He wrote
it down on a piece of parchment and sowed into his coat where it was found after
his death eight years later. It said,
Easter Sunday Message
Year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, feast of St. Clement . . . from about
half past ten at night to about half an hour after midnight, FIRE. God of Abraham,
God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certitude, heartfelt
joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. God of Jesus Christ. "My God and your
God." . . . Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy. . . Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.
May I never be separated from him.
In 1968 Pascal and C. S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards and Dan Fuller and the
Bible teamed up to change my life forever with those words, "Joy, Joy,
Joy, tears of joy." This little booklet, Quest for Joy, that you have in
your worship folder was born in those days. It wasn’t written for 15 years
or so. But it was born then.
Look inside the front cover. Here is Pascal’s blast against my fear of
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means
they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and
of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views.
This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
I suspected this was true. But I always feared that it was sin. That wanting
to be happy was a moral defect. That self-denial meant renouncing joy, not renouncing
lesser joys for greater joys. But then God conspired by these writers to force
me to reread the Bible. To give it a chance to have its true say. And what I
found there concerning joy changed me forever. I have been trying to understand
it and live it and teach it every since. It’s not new. It’s been
there for thousands of years.
What the Bible Says About Joy
Let me give you a taste from what the Bible says about joy.
Jesus’ aim in all he taught was the joy of his people.
John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and
that your joy may be full.
Joy is what God fills us with when we trust in Christ.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.
The kingdom of God is joy.
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking
but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Joy is the fruit of God’s Spirit within us.
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.
Joy is the aim of everything the apostles did and wrote.
2 Corinthians 1:24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you
for your joy.
Becoming a Christian is finding a joy that makes you willing to forsake everything.
Matthew 13:44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,
which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that
he has and buys that field."
Joy is nourished and sustained by the word of God in the Bible
Psalm 19:8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.
Joy will overtake all sorrow for those who trust Christ.
Psalm 126:5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
Psalm 30:5b Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
God himself is our joy.
Psalm 43:4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy.
Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is
fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Joy in God outstrips all earthly joy.
Psalm 4:7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain
and wine abound.
If your joy is in God, no one can take your joy from you.
John 16:22 You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will
rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
God calls all nations and peoples to join in the joy he offers to all who believe.
No racism. No ethnocentrism.
Psalm 67:4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.
Psalm 66:1 Shout for joy to God, all the earth.
The whole Christian message from beginning to end is good news of great joy.
Luke 2:10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you
good news of a great joy that will be for all the people."
Isaiah 51:11 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with
singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness
and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
When we meet Christ at his second coming we will enter into his indestructible
Matthew 25:23 His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant.
. . . Enter into the joy of your master."
Perhaps most shocking to me in 1968 was the simple and obvious observation
that this joy in God is commanded. You see it on the second page of the booklet:
Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of
Psalm 33:1 Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.
Psalm 32:11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy,
all you upright in heart!
It’s commanded because what is at stake is not just our joy but the glory
of God, the honor and reputation of God. If we do not rejoice in God –
if God is not our treasure and our delight and our satisfaction, then he his
dishonored. His glory is belittled. His reputation is tarnished. Therefore God
commands our joy both for our good and for his glory.
That discovery helped me understand the central message of Christianity, the
gospel – the good news – of Jesus Christ. And that’s what
this little booklet, Quest for Joy, is meant to do: to give a summary of the
Christian Gospel and how it saves sinners and gives everlasting joy.
It’s dangerous to try to put the ocean in a raindrop – to try to
put God’s righteousness and love in booklet. But I think it is not only
dangerous, it is loving, and it is necessary. God did it once. He put his infinite
self in a single human being, Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:9). This was far more
amazing than putting the an ocean in a raindrop. And it was love. Because he
was human as well as God, he could die for our own sins. But many did not recognize
God in him. And I risk many not seeing the gospel in this little booklet. And
my risk is great because I am not God and I am not infallible. But I do love
you and want you to see what God has done to save you.
So would you walk with me through this booklet? If you are not a believer in
Jesus, simply try to be open to what God might show about himself and yourself,
and ask him to confirm to you what is true and protect you from what is not.
If you are a believer, refresh what you have built your life on, and prepare
to share the best news in the world by this little booklet if God leads you
to use it. And may the risen Christ on this Easter Sunday be honored!
Consider the first two biblical truths together.
Biblical truth #1: God created us for his glory.
"Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the ear . .
. whom I created for my glory" (Isaiah 43:6-7)
Biblical truth #2: Every human should live for God’s glory.
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory
(1 Corinthians 10:31).
These are almost the same, aren’t they? What’s the difference? Why
does it matter to have two pages instead of collapsing them into one? This difference
is that Truth #1 speaks of God’s design, and Truth #2 speaks of our duty.
Keeping them separate and putting them in this order says something very crucial
about reality. If we don’t hear it, we will probably not see the gospel
as the precious news that it is. The gruesome death of Christ will probably
seem like a gross overreaction. The crucial point is that God is the origin
of all things and the measure of all things and the goal of all things. And
the universe is all about God.
My seven-year-old Talitha and I went on our Saturday date yesterday to the
Arby’s down on Lake Street for lunch. As we turned off of Hiawatha there
was a blue van in front of us, and I said to Talitha: "I don’t like
that bumper sticker." She couldn’t see it from where she was so I
read it to her: "It’s all about Me." Capital "M."
That is why the gospel of Jesus is so hard for many to understand. It is rooted
in a very different vision of reality. It is not all about us. It is all about
God designed us to live for his glory. This is all over the Bible. And it is
therefore our life-calling and our duty to live for his glory. Test yourself:
Does the love of God to you mean that he makes you the center, or does it mean
that he gives you everlasting joy – at great cost to himself – of
making him the center? That is what you were made for. That would be your joy
and that would be his glory.
Then consider the next two Biblical Truths together.
Biblical Truth #3: All of us have failed to glorify God as we should
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
Biblical Truth #4: All of us are subject to God’s just condemnation
"The wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23).
These, too, could be combined into one page, couldn’t they, just like
the first two? We could say, "Because we are all sinners, we deserve God’s
condemnation – we deserve punishment." But something crucial would
be lost if we said it that way. What would be lost is the emphasis in Truth
#3 that sin is not mainly the way we have treated people, but the way we have
The bumper sticker would be wrong even if it meant, "My sin is all about
ME." God is the center of his own design in creation. God is the center
of our duty as creatures. And God is the center of what it means to be sinners:
it means, as Romans 3:23 says, to fall short of the glory of God, that is, to
prefer and enjoy some other greatness to God’s greatness. Sin is first
and foremost about how we treat God, not other people.
We will never make sense out of the horror of hell or the bloody cross of Christ
if we do not feel the weight of sin as an insult to God. Sin is not just man
abusing man. It is mainly man abusing God. Man rejecting God. Man ignoring God.
Man preferring other things to God. And therefore man belittling God. This is
the ultimate outrage in the universe. We must feel this if the terrible punishment
of Truth #4 is not going to seem unjust.
We have all treated God with contempt, and his wrath is coming on us. That
is our biggest problem. Bigger than the economy. Bigger than international relations
with Iraq or North Korea. Bigger than the difficulties of marriage or the painful
cancer. This is what the Christian Gospel is meant to remedy first and mainly.
How can we be saved from God’s just judgment? There are many other wonderful
effects of the gospel! But this is crucial, and others are based on it.
Now the gospel. Let’s consider the last two Biblical Truths together.
Biblical Truth #5: God sent his only son Jesus to provide eternal life and
"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus
came into the world to save sinners... (1 Timothy 1:15).
Biblical Truth #6: The benefits purchased by the death of Christ belong to
those who repent and trust him.
"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out"
"Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).
And again we could combine these two pages. We could say: What is the remedy
for sin and guilt and condemnation? Answer: "Believe on the Lord Jesus
Christ, and you will be saved." But that would be profoundly incomplete
answer! If you are drowning, the remedy is not just your cry for help; it is
lifeguards and rescue lines and (if necessary) artificial respiration. The cry
for help just gets you connected with the saving work. If you are having a heart
attack, your call to 911 is not your main remedy. It’s ambulances and
paramedics and CPR and nurses and surgeons and medicines. The 911 call is just
the connection to the saving work.
That’s the way it is with repenting of your sin and believing on Jesus
(Truth #6). That’s your connection with the saving work of God in Christ.
Christ did something to save us 2000 years ago. He came, he lived a perfect
life as the Son of God. And he died as a substitute in the place of all who
will trust him. 1 Peter 3:18, "Christ suffered once for sin, the righteous
for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God." Our faith is not the
basis for our salvation. It connects us to the basis of our salvation. Christ
is the basis of our salvation.
His death and condemnation in the place of our condemnation; his perfect righteousness
in the place of our sin and imperfection. And his resurrection to validate and
secure our salvation and our joy forever and ever. The Bible says, "And
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your
sins. . . . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits
of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20). Because he
died for us and rose again, all who trust him have everlasting life and ever-increasing
Trust him with you life. Trust him with your marriage or your singleness. Trust
him with your business and your financial situation. Trust him with your health.
And, underneath all these, trust him with your sin and your guilt and your fear.
He has already acted to save. It is finished. He has died, and he has risen.
And his salvation can be yours by faith in him. And when it is, then will come
to pass the fulfillment of why you were made: God’s glory reflected in
your joy forever.
Copyright 2003 John Piper
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