The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God
Resource by John Piper (From his book, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God)
(Friends, please review yesterday’s article ‘so that’ your context remains fresh)
To the Praise of His Glorious Grace
Here’s the Biblical support, first from Ephesians 1 and then from Revelation 5. In Ephesians 1:4–6a, Paul says,
[God] chose us in him [that is, in Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace.
The goal of the entire history of redemption is to bring about the praise of the glory of the grace of God.
But notice that twice in these verses Paul says that this plan happened “in Christ” or “through Christ” before the foundation of the world. He says in verse 4: God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world in order to bring about the praise of the glory of his grace. And he says in verse 5: God predestined our adoption through Christ before the foundation of the world to bring about the praise of the glory of his grace. What does it mean that “in Christ” we were chosen and that our adoption was to happen “through Christ”? We know that in Paul’s mind, Christ suffered and died as a redeemer so that we might be adopted as children of God (Galatians 4:5). Our adoption could not happen apart from the death of Christ.
Therefore, what Paul means is that to choose us “in Christ” and to plan to adopt us “through Christ” was to plan the suffering and death of his Son before the foundation of the world. And verse 6 and 12 and 14 make plain that the goal of this plan was to bring about “the praise of the glory of the grace of God.” That is what God was aiming at. And that is why he planned the suffering and death of his Son for sinners before the creation of the world.
The Lamb Who Was Slain
Now consider the second biblical support for this from Revelation 5:9–12. Here the hosts of heaven are worshiping the Lamb precisely because he was slain — killed, slaughtered.
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. . . .” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne . . . myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
The hosts of heaven focus their worship not simply on the Lamb, but on the “Lamb who was slain.” And they are still singing this song in Revelation 15:3. Therefore we can conclude that the centerpiece of worship in heaven for all eternity will be the display of the glory of the grace of God in the slaughtered Lamb. Angels and all the redeemed will sing of the suffering of the Lamb forever and ever. The suffering of the Son of God will never be forgotten. The greatest suffering that ever was will be at the center of our worship and our wonder forever and ever. This is not an afterthought of God. This is the plan from before the foundation of the world.
Everything else is subordinate to this plan. Everything else is put in place for the sake of this plan: the display of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God in the suffering of the Beloved is the goal of the creation and the continuing of the universe.
God Ordains but Doesn’t Commit Sin
Do you see what this implies about sin and suffering in the universe? According to this divine plan, God permits sin to enter the world. God ordains that what he hates will come to pass. It is not sinful in God to will that there be sin. We do not need to fathom this mystery. We may content ourselves by saying over the sin of Adam and Eve what Joseph said over the sin of his brothers, when they sold him into slavery: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
As for you, Adam and Eve, you meant evil against God as you rejected him as your Father and Treasure, but oh what an infinite good he planned through your fall! The Seed of the woman will one day bruise the head of the great Serpent, and by his suffering he will display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. You have not undone his plan. Just as Joseph was sold sinfully into slavery, you have sold yourselves for an apple. You have fallen, and now the stage is set for the perfect display of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God.
For not only did sin enter the world, but through sin came suffering and death. Paul tells us that God subjected the world to futility and corruption under his holy curse. He put it like this in Romans 8:20–23:
The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
When sin entered the world, horrible, horrible things followed. Diseases, defects, disabilities, natural catastrophes, human atrocities — from the youngest infant to the oldest codger, from the vilest scoundrel to the sweetest saint — suffering is no respecter of persons. That’s why Paul said in Romans 8:23, “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Ezekiel tells us that God does not delight in this suffering. “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). But the plan remains, and Jeremiah gives us a glimpse into the mysterious complexity of the mind of God in Lamentations 3:32–33, “Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” Literally: “He does not from his heart [millibbô] afflict or grieve the children of men.” He ordains that suffering come — “though he cause grief” — but his delight is not in the suffering, but in the great purpose of creation: the display of the glory of the grace of God in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of sinners.
The stage has been set. The drama of redemptive history begins to unfold. Sin is now in its full and deadly force. Suffering and death are present and ready to consume the Son of God when he comes. All things are now in place for the greatest possible display of the glory of the grace of God.
Therefore, in the fullness of time, God sent his Son into the world to suffer in the place of sinners. Every dimension of his saving work was accomplished by suffering. In the life and death of Jesus Christ, suffering finds its ultimate purpose and ultimate explanation: suffering exists so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering in himself to overcome our suffering.
Everything — everything — that Christ accomplished for us sinners, he accomplished by suffering. Everything that we will ever enjoy will come to us because of suffering. (part 3 tomorrow)