The Excellency That Not Everyone Saw

[T]here were many who saw Jesus and did not see the glory of God. They saw a glutton and a drunkard (Matt. 11:19). They saw Beelzebul, the prince of demons (Matt. 10:25; 12:24). They saw an impostor (Matt. 27:63). “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear” (Matt. 13:13). The glory of God in the life and ministry of Jesus was not the blinding glory that we will see when he comes the second time with “his face . . . like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev. 1:16; cf. Luke 9:29). His glory, in his first coming, was the incomparably exquisite array of spiritual, moral, intellectual, verbal, and practical perfections that manifest themselves in a kind of meek miracle-working and unanswerable teaching and humble action that set Jesus apart from all men.

What I am trying to express here is that the glory of Christ, as he appeared among us, consisted not in one attribute or another, and not in one act or another, but in what Jonathan Edwards called “an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies…” These excellencies are so diverse that they “would have seemed to us utterly incompatible in the same subject.” In other words,

  • we admire him for his glory, but even more because his glory is mingled with humility;
  • we admire him for his transcendence, but even more because his transcendence is accompanied by condescension;
  • we admire him for his uncompromising justice, but even more because it is tempered with mercy;
  • we admire him for his majesty, but even more because it is a majesty in meekness;
  • we admire him because of his equality with God, but even more because as God’s equal he nevertheless has a deep reverence for God;
  • we admire him because of how worthy he was of all good, but even more because this was accompanied by an amazing patience to suffer evil;
  • we admire him because of his sovereign dominion over the world, but even more because this dominion was clothed with a spirit of obedience and submission;
  • we love the way he stumped the proud scribes with his wis- dom, and we love it even more because he could be simple enough to like children and spend time with them;
  • and we admire him because he could still the storm, but even more because he refused to use that power to strike the Samaritans with lightning (Luke 9:54-55) and he refused to use it to get himself down from the cross.

The list could go on and on. But this is enough to illustrate that beauty and excellency in Christ is not a simple thing. It is complex. It is a coming together in one person of the perfect balance and proportion of extremely diverse qualities. And that’s what makes Jesus Christ uniquely glorious, excellent, and admirable. The human heart was made to stand in awe of such ultimate excellence. We were made to admire Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself, pp. 51-53

Proud, Devoted and Dead

During Jesus’ incarnation, the religious elite of His day, the scribes and Pharisees, would follow Him around and seek to trap Him, discredit Him and have Him arrested and killed.

The Pharisees honestly get a bad rap sometimes. During the 400 year silence prior to John the Baptist’s arrival on the scene, these men saw the godlessness of their countrymen and wanted to do something about it. They wanted Israel to live according to the Law.

So the strove to obey the Law as closely as possible. To obey God as His people.

The problem is they started adding to the Law.

The most common place was with the Sabbath. They had a lot of extra rules, particularly that there was to be no healing on the Sabbath.

So one day, Jesus is at Bethesda and sees a man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. (John 5:6-9a)

Jesus performs an amazing miracle in the life of this man. People should be celebrating, right?

Here’s the problem: “Now that day was the Sabbath” (v. 9b).

So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (v. 10-17)

The Pharisees sought to persecute Jesus because “he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (v. 16).

They did it because He broke their rules.

And they became so blind with pride that they could not see who Jesus was or what He was doing. Read More about Proud, Devoted and Dead

Truth, Love and Jonathan Edwards

Continuing to think about Sinclair Ferguson’s talk from the 2008 Desiring God National Conference; in particular, about a reference he made that left an impression.

In his message, Ferguson shares four of Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions, a series of seventy commitments he made in pursuit of living a life of godliness. These four, all dealing with the tongue, are as follows:

31. Resolved, Never to say anything at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.

34. Resolved, In narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

36. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it.

70. Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.

These resolutions, so simply stated, hold such deep wisdom. And they’re integral to Christian character.

James 3:2-3 says that, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well” (emphasis mine).

We all stumble, particularly with our words, and no man but Christ has ever had perfect control over his tongue. But what is the “bit” by which we can guide it?

Love. Read More about Truth, Love and Jonathan Edwards

Taming the Tongue: Sinclair Ferguson on James 3

A conversation with a good friend got me thinking about this message from the 2008 Desiring God National Conference.

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more about “The Tongue, the Bridle, and the Bless…“, posted with vodpod

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James 3:1-12

The mature person is able to “bridle” his tongue. The person who can do this is master of the whole body. The spiritual masters of the past understood this to have a double reference. The control of the tongue has both negative and positive aspects. It involves the ability to restrain the tongue in silence. But it also means being able to control it in gracious speech when that is required. Sanctification in any area of our lives always expresses this double dimension—a putting off and a putting on, as it were. Speech and silence, appropriately expressed, are together the mark of the mature.

Sinclair Ferguson, “The Bit, The Bridle and the Blessing,” The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, page 48

The tongue is “set among our members, staining the whole body.” How careful you are as you put on a dress for a wedding, especially if it is your own. How nervous about that new silk tie during dinner. The spot need only be a small one, but it ruins everything. So it is with the tongue and its words. No matter what graces you may have developed, if you have not gained tongue mastery, you can besmirch them all by an unguarded and ill-disciplined comment. Graces are fragile; therefore guard your tongue lest it destroy them.

Sinclair Ferguson, “The Bit, The Bridle and the Blessing,” The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, page 51

John Piper: Smiting Morality with Gospel Joy

A powerful excerpt from Piper’s lecture at the 2010 Desiring God Conference for Pastors, “Lessons from an Inconsolable Soul: Learning from the Mind and Heart of C. S. Lewis.”

The abbreviated transcript follows:

Until we are gripped with the joyful impulses of gospel grace from the inside, we will always be thinking in terms of doing external duties as pressures from outside. This is called morality. But here is what I discovered with Lewis’s help:

A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits etc.) can do the journey on their own.

The implications of this for my own pursuit of holiness and my teaching on sanctification have been pervasive. Lewis brings this insight to bear on the Puritans and William Tyndale in particular in a way this is profoundly illuminating:

In reality Tyndale is trying to express an obstinate fact which meets us long before we venture into the realm of theology; the fact that morality or duty (what he calls ‘the Law’) never yet made a man happy in himself or dear to others. It is shocking, but it is undeniable. We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind. The mere suspicion that what seemed an act of spontaneous friendliness or generosity was really done as a duty subtly poisons it. In philosophical language, the ethical category is self-destructive; morality is healthy only when it is trying to abolish itself. In theological language, no man can be saved by works. The whole purpose of the “Gospel,” for Tyndale, is to deliver us from morality. Thus, paradoxically, the “Puritan” of modern imagination—the cold, gloomy heart, doing as duty what happier and richer souls do without thinking of it—is precisely the enemy which historical Protestantism arose and smote.

This is what I want to keep smiting with Christian Hedonism: The gospel is designed to make forgiven sinners love righteousness, not do it against all their inclinations.

By John Piper. © Desiring God