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TEXT: Ephesians 5:2

SUBJECT: The Passion of Jesus Christ #3: To Please the Father

Tonight, we'll move on in our study of The Passion of Jesus Christ, a small devotional book by John Piper. I chose the word, 'devotional' with some hesitation because-even though it aims to warm our hearts and devote us more fully to Christ-the book is strongly doctrinal. It does not play on our emotions, but speaks straight to the mind-and this, in turn, warms our love for Christ and quickens our obedience.

The book does not describe the Lord's suffering and death; it explains them. It doesn't tell us what happened on the cross, but why it happened. The book is also God-centered: it doesn't tell us why Judas or Pilate did what they did, but why God did what He did. Not, 'why God allowed it', but why He did it. What was God up to at the cross?

Last time, we looked at Chapter One. Jesus Christ suffered and died.to absorb the wrath of God. What a magnificent word: absorb! It means to soak up. When water is spilled on a table, a paper towel is brought in to absorb it. When its work is done, the paper towel is wet and the table is dry. In the same way, the wrath of God is on sinners, but when Christ died for us, He soaked up the wrath and it's not on us any more. This means There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus! We will not be condemned on the Day of Judgment-and we are not condemned now! All because of the passion of Jesus Christ.

Before we move on to Chapter Two, I want to ask you: Have you been meditating on Chapter One? The sermon ended about 8:15 last Wednesday night. Has it crossed your mind since then? Have you thanked God for pouring out His wrath on Christ-instead of on you? Have you thanked Christ for soaking up that wrath-so you won't have to? When you sinned this week, did you feel guilty in a Christian way instead of in the sinner's way? Has the meaning of Romans 8:34 sunk in on you yet?

Who is he who condemns?
It is Christ who died!

Many believers feel guilty when they don't feel guilty! But the fact is: Believers are not guilty! Because Christ became guilty for us! There's always the fear of pride, but it's a bogus fear. No Christian can look at the cross and feel free to sin!

Ye who think of sin but lightly,

Nor suppose the evil great;

Here may view its nature rightly,

Here its guilt may estimate.

Mark the sacrifice appointed-

See who bears the awful load;

Tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed,

Son of Man and Son of God.

If Jesus Christ died to absorb the wrath of God, then believers won't absorb His wrath. Not now, not ever.

Free from the Law-

O happy condition;

Jesus has bled,

And there is remission.

THE TOPIC

That's enough review. Chapter Two is a bit shorter, and perhaps less moving-but every bit as important.

Christ suffered and died to please His Heavenly Father.

The title can be understood in two ways. It could mean our Lord went to the cross in obedience to His Father. That is taught in the Bible. John 8:29 says,

I do always those things which please Him.

Piper deals with this in the next chapter. But here, he means God planned the Lord's death. To borrow from the Early Church's prayer,

For truly against Your holy servant, Jesus, Whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your Hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.

Jesus Christ suffered-not against the will of God, or merely with God's leave-but just as His Father wanted Him to! Piper says,

What Jesus did when He suffered and died was the Father's idea.

THE TIMING

When did the Father come up with this idea? The old-line Dispensational teachers thought of the Crucifixion as God's Plan B. The Lord was sent to be the king of Israel, but because Israel did not accept its King, God sent Him to the cross to save the world, and postponed the kingdom until the Millennium, when Israel would accept Him.

Hardly any scholar now believes this, and thankfully, it's mostly dying out in the Church (it seems to me). Plan B's are for people who don't foresee things or cannot control them. But God foresees all and rules everything from the rise of Nebuchadnezzar to the fall of a sparrow.

Piper says of God's plan,

It was a breathtaking strategy, conceived even before creation, as God saw and planned the history of the world. That is why the Bible speaks of 'God's purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began' (II Timothy 1:9).

The cross was at the heart of God's plan. From the foundation of the world. Everything that came before it led to the cross. If the True Israelite was to die on the cross, there must be an Israel. And so, God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees. He gave him a son in his old age. He saved that son from a human sacrifice. He gave that son his own children, two in fact, one of whom started off as Jacob and became Israel. If He was to die on the cross, a crucifying people had to do it-and so the rise of the Roman Empire. Ancient history was a funnel, in which everything was flowing to the cross. If one detail is different, there is no cross. So God controls every detail and brings His eternal, all-encompassing plan to pass.

The main reason I reject human free will and accept a universal predestination is because the Bible says so (in my opinion). But, there's another reason, too: If everything isn't certain, nothing is. If Julius Caesar's mother had neglected the education of her son, he wouldn't have become Emperor. If he hadn't, there wouldn't have been a Roman Empire. If there hadn't, there would be no cross (for the Israelites stoned their criminals). If there hadn't been a cross, there would be no salvation.

Thus, the whole scheme was drawn up ahead of time. By God. And it unfolded just as He wanted it to. Christ suffered and died by the eternal plan of God.

THE PROPHECIES

I once saw a man slip and fall to the ground. He got up, brushed himself off, and said, I planned that. He was joking, of course, but the only way we'd know if he planned it or not was if he had said so ahead of time. The same thing applies to God. After the fact, the Apostles said He planned the crucifixion. And the Early Church believed them. For good reason. For, it was not only Peter, James, John, and the others who said so. They found the plan of God in the Scriptures that were written many years before. Piper says,

Already in the Jewish Scriptures the plan was unfolding. The prophet Isaiah foretold the sufferings of the Messiah, who was to take the place of sinners. He said that Christ would be 'smitten by God' in our place.

The passage he refers to is well-known, Isaiah 53,

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

This gives the general idea of our Lord's suffering. Other places in the Old Testament, hone in on the details. Psalm 22, for example, hears the Lord's cry a thousand years before He made it; it also anticipates the soldiers gambling for His garments, and even what the Jews would say to Him on the cross. Other verses say no bone of His would be broken (that's unlikely!), and what the disciples would do when He was taken.

For whatever their faults, the Jews of that day knew their Bibles! Many of them saw it fulfilled in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

THE ASTONISHMENT

We've all heard this so many times, maybe we've lost the wonder of it all. Thankfully, John Piper hasn't. He says,

What is most astonishing about this substitution of Christ for sinners is that it was God's idea. Christ did not intrude on God's plan to punish sinners. God planned for Him to be there.

I've heard the 'Gospel' preached in such as way as to suggest that God is against us and Christ is for us! Nonsense! I and my Father are one! Father and Son are equally just and equally loving. It wasn't that God was shooting at us, and the Lord took the bullet for us! No, to use the same figure, God had never aimed at us, but always at His Son. Christ was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. He died on a Friday afternoon, in the spring of about 30 A.D. But the plan was far older than that. It was older than time.

This means: God has always loved us, or to put it the other way, He has never not loved us. And the Father's great love for us planned the crucifixion and brought it off to the last jot and tittle.

Piper is right: this is astonishing! That God would love us before there was an 'us'; and that He would love us when we were in the most hideous sin. Yet this is precisely what the Bible teaches,

God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

THE PARADOX

Piper then comments on the Great Mystery,

This explains the paradox of the New Testament. On the one hand the suffering of Christ is an outpouring of God's wrath because of sin. But on the other hand, Christ's suffering is a beautiful act of submission and obedience to the will of the Father.

Christ is a sacrifice for sin. And because He is, He suffers the wrath of God in the place of sinners. And this sacrifice pleases God, and makes both Christ-and His people-acceptable to God, and more than that, a sweet smelling savor, well-pleasing to God.

THE CALL TO WORSHIP

Piper ends the chapter with a call to worship,

Oh that we might worship the terrible wonder of the love of God. It is not sentimental. It is not simple. For our sake, God did the impossible: He poured His wrath on His own Son-the One whose submission made Him infinitely unworthy to receive it. Yet the Son's very willingness to receive it was precious in God's sight. The wrath-bearer was infinitely loved.

In one place only, the justice of God and His love meet: at the cross. Thus, we should love the cross more than anything in the world. And we should live by it. God help us. For Christ's sake. Amen.

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