The temptation of Jesus works backward and forward. It works backward because we see in the ways that Satan tempts Jesus the exact same ways he tempted Adam and Eve. If you remember, the serpent led Eve to believe that the forbidden fruit looked good for food. This parallels Satan tempting the hungry Jesus to turn the stones to bread. Then Eve saw that the fruit was “a delight to look at.” This is similar to Satan showing Jesus the dazzling cityscape of all the promised kingdoms. Finally, the serpent promised Eve that by taking the fruit, she could become like God, would become a kind of god herself. We see Satan tempting Jesus to exploit his own deity in Luke 4:9-11.
At each step of the way, the Accuser echoes the temptation of Adam and Eve in his temptation of Jesus. But where Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation, rebelling against God’s will and bringing death into the world, Jesus withstands the temptation, holding to the Father’s will. He thereby brings life into the world for all who will trust in him.
This is where you and I stand each day. Like Adam, we are passive. With Adam, we suffer from indwelling sin. Temptation rises up to meet us each day, in these same three ways. We are tempted to fulfill our appetites with money, with sex, with all kinds of fleeting pleasures, as if they will really satisfy the “rumbling tummies” of our flesh. We are tempted by the things we see, by what dazzles us—we want to look good, powerful, successful, put-together. And we are always tempted to put ourselves at the center of our lives, to exalt ourselves and live like little self-worshiping gods. This is all our fault, but it began thanks to Adam.
But Christ’s temptation works forward. We see in Adam’s fall our own sinfulness, but we see in Jesus’s obedience our righteousness. We are forgiven by his grace. We are filled by his grace. And we can withstand temptation by his grace (1 Cor. 10:13). Through faith, we even receive Christ’s perfect submission to the Father’s will as if it were our own! And at each point of temptation, when we set our minds to the perfect work of Christ, we find the strength to say “No” to the tempter and “Yes” to God’s glory. Unlike Eve, we don’t have to run out of “As it is written’s.”
When we go our own way, we prove we’ve still got Adam in us. But when our accuser comes calling, we can plead Christ’s obedience. Sin is all our fault, but it ends, thanks to Jesus.
Article by Sam Storms, Pastor, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
I’m a sucker for news articles with headlines such as “The 10 Most Enjoyable Places to Live” or “The Least Expensive Cities in the US” or “The Best Places in the US to Retire.” But it’s not because I want to know where my state or city ranks. My curiosity is focused on the reasons that are given: everything from climate to taxes to crime rates to job availability and other similar factors.
My wife and I are profoundly happy living in Oklahoma City, the occasional tornado notwithstanding. But neither here nor your place of residence can begin to compare with life in the new heaven and new earth. What is it that makes the prospect of our eternal abode so appealing? What makes heaven so heavenly?
He Will Be Our God
The apostle John declares that this present earth and the heavens above will pass away (Revelation 21:1) when Jesus Christ returns to destroy his enemies and consummate his kingdom. But this present earth gives way not to a purely spiritual existence somewhere in the clouds above. “The first heaven and the first earth” give way to “a new heaven and a new earth.”
“Our experience of joyful satisfaction in God will suffer from no limitations, and none will fathom the depths of our delight.”
Those who love to fish, sail, water-ski, and ponder the expanse and beauty of the ocean may be upset that in John’s vision “the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1). But this does not mean there won’t be bodies of water in the new earth for us to enjoy. In the Bible, the sea is often regarded as a symbol for evil, chaos, and anti-kingdom powers with whom Yahweh must contend (Isaiah 17:12–13; 27:1; 51:9–10; 57:20; Jeremiah 46:7–8; Job 26:7–13). The sea is the origin of the beast as well as the pagan and rebellious nations that oppose the kingdom of God (Revelation 13:1; 17:2, 15). It is also the place of the dead (Revelation 20:13) and the location of the world’s idolatrous trade activity (Revelation 18:10–19).
This, then, is John’s way of saying that in the new creation, all such evil and corruption and unbelief and darkness will be banished. Also absent are tears of sadness, death, mourning, crying, and all pain, whether emotional or physical (Revelation 21:4).
But what makes heaven heavenly isn’t the absence of the things that we dislike now on earth, but the presence of God. The new heaven and new earth will be glorious not primarily because there will be no sin or death or pain or tears, but because God is there. God will be with us. We will be his people, and he will be our God (Revelation 21:3).
No Greater Blessing
Two blessings in particular highlight the fact that life in the new heaven and new earth will be one of endless joy and satisfaction. “To the thirsty,” declares the Lord, “I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment” (Revelation 21:6). Why doesn’t he simply say, “to the one who believes”? Why “to the thirsty”? And why, at the end of the book, is water given to the one who “desires” it (Revelation 22:17)?
John’s point is that saving faith or belief is more than mere intellectual agreement with the truth of the gospel. Saving faith, the belief that leads to eternal life — the belief that slakes the thirst of the dry and desperate soul — is at its core a yearning and desiring for the satisfaction that only Christ can bring. Simply put, everyone in heaven will be a Christian Hedonist!
“In the new creation, all evil and corruption and unbelief and darkness will be banished.”
The second of the two blessings is God’s promise that he will be our God and we will be his children (Revelation 21:7). There is no blessing greater than this: to be a child of God. As his beloved sons and daughters, we get God and all that God has. Just like the father of the Prodigal, who cast aside concern for personal dignity and ran down that road to embrace his repentant child (Luke 15:20), God comes to us with a ring and a robe and a never-ending feast of every spiritual blessing.
But how can we know that this joy and deep delight in God will be endless? Countless things in this life satisfy, but only for a season. Virtually everything on which we depend comes and goes. No matter how much of an experience we relish, it eventually fades. Over time it loses its capacity to enthrall and excite. Will our joy not also suffer from entropy? How could God possibly sustain in us not simply the presence of joy in the new heaven and new earth but its endless, incessant, expansive increase?
The answer is rooted in God’s infinity. He is the one Being in the universe of whom it can never be said, “That’s all there is; there isn’t any more.” Given enough time and patience, we could eventually count every grain of sand on the shores of earth. They are not infinite in number. The same can be said of the stars in the sky. Though there are undoubtedly trillions and trillions of them, they are not limitless or without number.
But God is! He is truly without limit. There is in God an inexhaustible plenitude of power and perfection. There is no end to his attributes. And with each attribute there is an infinite height, depth, width, and breadth. If at any time anything about God were to reach a conclusion or be exhaustively comprehended, he would cease to be God. God is by definition infinite in goodness, beauty, power, and majesty — and these are only the beginning of a never-ending supply of characteristics and attributes and features.
This means that what can be seen, known, and experienced of God is likewise without limit. And if our sight, knowledge, and experience never cease, never fully exhaust all there is in him, so too it must be with our enjoyment of all that he is and does. With each revelation of yet one more facet of his immeasurably complex being comes more joy, more fascination, more excitement, more love, more worship.
Joy in a Glorified Body
If you live in fear that the never-ending revelation of God’s splendor will overwhelm and eventually short-circuit your faculties of comprehension and enjoyment, recall the words of Jonathan Edwards, who said,
Without doubt God can contrive matter so that there shall be other sort of proportions, that may be quite of a different kind, and may raise another sort of pleasure in the sense, and in a manner to us inconceivable, that shall be vastly more ravishing and exquisite. . . . Our animal spirits [i.e., our physical senses] will also be capable of immensely more, fine and exquisite proportions in their motions than now they are. (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 13:328)
Or again, in the new heaven and new earth, “every perceptive faculty shall be an inlet of delight” (Works, 18:721).
At Christ’s return, our bodies will be glorified and thus delivered of weakness and frailty and obscurity. Our intellect and senses will be heightened and magnified, and their capacity to see, touch, feel, hear, and smell greatly increased and no longer hindered by disease or distraction. Our experience of joyful satisfaction in God will then suffer from no limitations, and none will fathom the depths of our delight.
More Sight, More Delight
Joy in the new heaven and new earth never occurs in a vacuum, but is the inevitable fruit of our ever-increasing comprehension of God and his love, grace, beauty, and kindness. With each new revelation comes a corresponding insight that in turn fuels the flame of delight and exhilaration.
“What makes heaven heavenly isn’t the absence of the things that we dislike now on earth, but the presence of God.”
Joy will increase forever because there will never be a moment when God’s greatness diminishes or runs dry. Throughout the ages to come, forever and ever, we will be the recipients each instant of an ever-increasing and more stunning, more fascinating, and thus inescapably more enjoyable display of God’s grace and glory than before.
If our ideas and thoughts of God increase in heaven, then so also must the joy, delight, and fascination that those ideas and thoughts generate. As understanding grows, so too does affection and fascination. Edwards put it this way:
Therefore, their knowledge will increase to eternity; and if their knowledge, doubtless their holiness. For as they increase in the knowledge of God and of the works of God, the more they will see of his excellency; and the more they see of his excellency . . . the more will they love him; and the more they love God, the more delight and happiness . . . will they have in him. (Works, 13:105).
Trustworthy and True
But how can we be so certain? How do we know it isn’t all a pipe dream? How can we be sure that if we put our hope in this promise, it won’t come crashing down on us and leave us disappointed, as has happened in so many other instances in this life? John provides the answer in Revelation 21:5: “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
And we know they are trustworthy and true because they are the words of him who is “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 21:6). God has staked his reputation on it. His honor and fidelity hang in the balance. He said it, and therefore it will come to pass.
Unclean spirits stir. Demonic thrones and dominions gather. Cosmic powers over this present darkness come to attention. And the devil himself, ready to devour and destroy, ignites his fiery darts and stretches his legs for the lion’s prowl.
As All Hallows’ Eve draws nigh, the spiritual forces of evil align, and Satan prepares his hordes for the party of the year — that grand harvest festival, celebration of darkness and death, when they pretend to be their strongest.
Halloween is almost here. And so is their final defeat. Jesus haunts their Halloween.
One Little Word
As the demonic rulers and authorities make ready, the one who sits in the heavens laughs (Psalm 2:4). The devil is no threat, with all his orcs and goblins and the wickedest of witches. This is no evenly matched bout. If the incarnate Christ, in his humblest state, commands unclean spirits and they obey him (Mark 1:27) — how much more the risen and glorified Lord? It is Jesus who does the real haunting.
“Jesus came to conquer fear, to truly haunt whatever haunts us.”
Even as his adversaries marshal their best, they can’t escape serving his purposes. It is all through him and for him. “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth . . . whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). Jesus haunts their Halloween.
No demon lurks apart from his will. No spirit pounces apart from his plan. He is sovereign over even the movements of evil minds. “God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled” (Revelation 17:17).
Luther nailed it — one little word shall fell them. Jesus haunts their Halloween.
He Put Them to Shame
It was precisely when the devil feigned to be his fiercest that Jesus delivered the deathblow. It was a Halloween-like gathering of ghouls and goblins at Golgotha when “he disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15).
Jesus came to conquer fear, to truly haunt whatever haunts us. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). He stooped to share in our flesh and blood “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14–15).
Every Single Inch
Those who are in Christ have no need to fear the night. This is now our day. He has won it for us, and will not leave us to fend for ourselves in the devil’s domain. God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). This we know: “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
“It was precisely when the devil feigned to be his fiercest that Jesus delivered the deathblow.”
“Take heart; I have overcome the world,” he says (John 16:33). Every inch of this universe — every single one — is his. And that includes All Hallows’ Eve and all its worst, and all the pretense. He is the one who empowers us to “withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). And he says that just as he squashed the Serpent’s skull with his heel, so “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). Our feet. Get your boots.
Jesus haunts their Halloween. And so too he must haunt ours.
Dressed Up for Real
When Jesus haunts our Halloween, we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14) and “put on the new self” (Colossians 3:10). Dressed in the full armor of God, we “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11) on the exact night when he’d most want us to circle the wagons. We have a Book and will “not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). We “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
When Jesus haunts our Halloween, we pour in the extra energy and creativity to capitalize on this opportunity to meet new neighbors and go deep with the old — whether we’re ushering our kids from house to house or leaving our lights on and giving out the best candy.
Sent into the Harvest
When Jesus haunts our Halloween, we remember that our enemy is not the scariest-clad Halloween reveler, but “the god of this world” who has blinded their minds and keeps them “from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We war not against unbelievers but “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).
When Jesus haunts our Halloween, we look on the cheekiest carousers with compassion — as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). On this night, as much as any, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” and so we “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37–38). And we walk in faith to be those workers.
Freed from Fear
And when Jesus haunts our Halloween, we fight not only Satan, but fear in our souls. We see that our Halloween horrors reveal our lack of faith in who Jesus is, what he has accomplished, and that he has commissioned us so clearly.
When Jesus haunts our Halloween, we do not flee, but go on the offensive. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). We don’t retreat, but resist — with level heads and open eyes. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8–9). We engage, with care and with courage.
Staring Death in the Face
“Those who are in Christ have no need to fear the night.”
When Jesus haunts our Halloween, we remember that the forces of evil, which we can be so prone to fear, are actually terrified of Jesus. Everyday is a spook for the devil and his demons, and Jesus does the haunting. The decisive blow has been dealt, and soon we will land the final punch.
Jesus has promised his gospel will advance (Matthew 24:14). He will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail (Matthew 16:18). And so when Jesus haunts our Halloween, we join the triumphant anthem:
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55–57)
Article by Greg Morse, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org
As children, we love stories. We lie in bed, or curl up on our parent’s knee, as the voice of our mother or father takes us into fictional worlds. We explore Where the Wild Things Are. We join the inquiry, Are You My Mother? We doff our hats with Babar, learn life lessons from Charlotte’s Web, stand with outstretched arms towards The Giving Tree. We wonder what Green Eggs and Ham actually taste like.
Then we grow older. But hopefully not too old to pass through wardrobes into Narnia, or dig our five-by-five Holes with Stanley Yelnats, or live in them with The Hobbit. We might imagine seeing color the first time with The Giver or soaring on a Nimbus 2000 with the boy bearing the thunderbolt scar. We humans are creatures of story.
As such, we are born with a unique skill: the ability to detect off-notes in narrative. Like the wrong key struck on the piano. Little ones tell their dad, “That’s not how it’s supposed to go!” But sadly, many hear God’s story, and give the same protest when he reads that chapter which spans eternity.
Truth Some Hearts Can’t Bear
As many wrestle with the existence of hell — or as we ourselves wrestle with it — that innate sense resurfaces. Many read, “These will go away into eternal punishment” — to be tormented with fire and sulfur, day and night, without any reprieve or rest, forever (Matthew 25:46; Revelation 14:9–11) — and reflexively say, “That’s not how it’s supposed to go.” They shake their heads, How is that a good story? Such try to rescue us from orthodoxy with Rob Bell, who writes,
Telling a story about a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people because they didn’t do or say or believe the correct things in a brief window of time called life isn’t a very good story. (Love Wins, 110)
For Bell and company, the lack of a happily ever after for all — or even most — sounds off. Even annihilation, to them, seems like a better ending. A God that would punish humans for an eternity is devastating, crushing, unbearable, traumatizing, terrifying, cruel, wrong, untenable, unacceptable, awful, unlovable. Hear it from Bell, this God is a being that no amount of good music or coffee can cover.
“Heaven will not be heaven without the reminder of God’s righteous condemnation.”
The challenge, then, is not to merely prove the existence of hell from one’s exegesis, but to answer why God’s story is better than we would have authored — because it is. We must try to reason with the heart, for Jesus taught us an extraordinary truth when he exposed that the mind will misunderstand what the heart detests: “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word” (John 8:43). So it is with many today when considering hell.
Four Truths About Hell
We should not come to this subject lightly. We are talking about a real hell for real people for a real eternity. A place it would have been better to never have been born than to enter. A place of fire. Punishment. Banishment. Outer darkness. Curse. Destruction. Anguish. Second death. A place where worms feast, strong men weep, and teeth gnash. The four letters describe an unending punishment for those we have, for a brief time, known.
How Paul considered the lostness of his kinsmen, and how Jesus lamented the unbelief of Israel teaches that we need not lay aside our love for the lost in discussing the eternal lostness being an appropriate punishment for their sin. Consider four truths.
1. Who Will Be in Hell
The hatred of God, the impatience, the lustful thoughts, the greed, the slander, the viciousness, all will stampede forth. The evil that showed itself in seed form on earth will grow to be forests.
We can see ungodliness ripen in our own life span. Little Adolf, sleeping in his crib, becomes Hitler. Jezebel casts aside her dolls to slay prophets. But these do not compare with the change to be seen when hearts fully harden, and they’re faced with the Master they hate. God cut down our life span to prevent such ripening (Genesis 6:3). While citizens of heaven are their most fallen on earth, citizens of hell are their most human.
John casts a ray of light upon the tormented in the book of Revelation. These creatures will still hate God, still curse the name of our Lord, still blaspheme the Holy Spirit who eternally dwells within us — even while under the pain of judgment.
The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. (Revelation 16:8–11)
Between gnawing themselves in anguish, they still move their chewed tongues to curse our God. “Immortal horrors,” C.S. Lewis rightly called them. Preferring to be scorched than saved, they will share the fate of their father, the devil. What fellowship shall children of light share with these creatures when both are seen as they truly will be?
2. What Hell Says About God
Some, like Bell, believe that God cannot be glorified in hell. “The belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory. Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t. Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t. Renewal and return cause God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t” (Love Wins, 108).
Behold the wisdom of man. To which the apostle Paul responds,
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22–24)
Hell, like all of creation, tells of the glory of God. Bell says it doesn’t; God says it most certainly does. The Almighty is not embarrassed by it. God’s righteous vengeance against those who exchanged his glory and rejected him for a lifetime will not be conducted in back alleys. He shows his wrath and makes known his power. Why? In order to communicate the full riches of his glory to his children.
Contrary to how we might write redemption’s story, the lake of fire warms us with the reminder that our God is powerful, righteously severe, and abundantly merciful toward his own. Heaven will not be heaven, in God’s perfect plan, without the reminder of God’s righteous condemnation — this beyond, even, eternally exposing the scars of Christ. We will be sobered. We will be amazed. We will be thankful for God’s mercy to us.
“Hell, like all of creation, tells of the glory of God. The Almighty is not embarrassed by it.”
The unredeemed hate this. They begin to gnash their teeth already. Starting with men as the end of all things, they will not allow God the right of his deity: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15). They show how presumptuous the creature can be when he tells God that he must save all men; when they are shocked — not that God would have mercy on any, but that he won’t show blood-bought mercy to all.
3. What Hell Says About Christ
In all discussions of hell, we must remember that God the Son knows it better than anyone else ever will — including all submerged in it forever. A thousand lifetimes later, no closer to the end than when they began, they shall not inch any closer to saying those words we find upon the Savior’s lips in the Gospels: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). With all the torment they experience, they remain but near the surface of that burning lake which Christ, out of love for his people, plunged to the bottom.
When Paul, the apostle who experienced unceasing anguish for his unsaved kinsmen (Romans 9:1–3) and labored for their salvation (Romans 10:1–4), considered the refusal of the creature to his Lord’s hell-assuming love, he said, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22). In other words, when he considered the refused proposal of Jesus Christ — who did not merely stoop to one knee to ask but stooped to the grave — he said, it is proper for such a one to be damned.
Did the King of glory travel from the celestial throne to a beastly stable to the garbage dump of a cross to submerge under the fire of God’s wrath — to be rejected by ants who prefer their lusts, appetites, and self to him? What must be the result when a world scrolls past the King of glory for lives of pornography and ESPN? Hell. God calls to the angels, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate. . . . They have forsaken me [and now my Son], the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:12–13). Hades testifies that preferring anything to Christ — not hell itself — is eternally horrifying.
4. What We Learn from Fairy Tales
Perhaps we should pay more attention to our children’s stories. The pattern is familiar: The pristine kingdom falls, the land is cursed, evil gains the upper hand. This sets the stage for the hero to defy the curse, and, at great cost to himself (self-sacrifice), conquer the dragon, ushering in the last state that surpasses the first — the light shining best for those who have seen darkness.
Yet remember how these stories end: the witch, the monster, the evil king and his henchmen, stand vanquished and banished from the kingdom. Have you ever witnessed a child cry for them? No child I have known protests the demise of Scar, Lord Voldemort, or the Witch-king of Angmar. While the analogy breaks down, as all analogies inevitably do, we should still ask why that is. Because we know the rightness of the villains being punished. We just don’t like the fact that we — and those we love — are by nature the villains of the narrative.
Both Old and New Testament writers exalt in something peculiar to our modern ears: God, the man of war, slaying his enemies. Modern man, made more in the image of secular humanism than the Holy One of Israel, wonders, Singing about God’s drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the sea — how can this be? (Exodus 15). Our spiritual ancestors celebrated God’s holiness, his power, and his love to save his people from their enemies — while the Egyptians deemed him unlovable.
“We are talking about a real hell for real people for a real eternity.”
But is this heartless? Unfeeling? Will we not be able to enjoy heaven while ones we knew are in hell? God’s Book, along with the fairy tales and great epics, teaches us that the death of the wicked defines romances and comedies, not tragedies. One day, the lake of fire will be filled, the evil warlord and all his minions will be conquered, and we will celebrate our King’s victory over those who cursed his Son’s name and devoured his people.
When we consider the story of eternity, we must silence that carnal protest that throws God in the dock to give his defense before our felt sensibilities. He is the potter; we are the clay. He is all-wise; we are all-foolish, apart from him. He is the Judge of the world; he will surely do right. And right includes hell; the casting of Sauron and his orcs into the utter darkness of Mount Doom. In so doing, he communicates the full range of his power and glory to his people, the full loveliness of his Son, and the perfect harmony of his purpose and plan — of which the redeemed will not detect a single off-note.
What do you do when you have tried everything, but joy still feels far away?
You have read your Bible — silently and aloud, five verses at a time, even whole books at a time. You have pasted promises on note cards, and whiteboards, and on the back of your hand. You have gathered with God’s people, unburdened yourself to friends, searched for unrepentant sin. You have prayed — oh, have you prayed — by yourself and with others, in your room and on long walks. Perhaps, in desperation, you have gone on spiritual retreats, fasted for extended periods, heeded impressions you thought might be from God.
But still, darkness. Silence. Doubt.
Does he hear me? Does he know me? Is he there? Am I his?
Sometimes, when joy feels far away, we need to hear some simple reminders.
By simple reminders, I do not mean simplistic solutions. You may have heard your fair share of those by now — counsel from people who, though well-intentioned, assume the problem is not that bad, the solution not that difficult. “Just do x,” they say. If they only knew.
“Seasons of darkness are normal for God’s people.”
The Bible never hands us such simplistic solutions. It does, however, remind us again and again of simple truths we are prone to forget. Such truths may not lift the darkness. But they may shine out to us like stars between the clouds, reminding us there is a world of light we cannot see, strengthening us to keep walking till dawn.
In Psalm 40, King David gives four simple reminders for those whose joy feels far away: Darkness is normal. God is near. Joy is coming. Hope in him.
Darkness Is Normal
David reminds us, first, that seasons of darkness are normal for God’s people. And seasons is the right word there. Psalm 40 does not describe an afternoon’s sadness, but rather a long and stubborn darkness.
Notice, for example, the length of David’s darkness. “I waited patiently for the Lord,” he begins (Psalm 40:1). We never learn how long David sat in the shadows. We know only that, for a time, he cried to the Lord and received in return that miserable word: wait.
Mark also the persistence of David’s darkness. At the midpoint of the psalm, David seems to have escaped “the pit of destruction” and “the miry bog” (Psalm 40:2). But then, unexpectedly, he falls back in (Psalm 40:11–13). His return to the pit almost undoes him: “My heart fails me” (Psalm 40:12).
Finally, observe the ongoing presence of David’s darkness. By the psalm’s end, David still finds himself engulfed in shadows. Instead of rejoicing, he laments: “I am poor and needy.” And instead of praising, he pleads: “Do not delay, O my God!” (Psalm 40:17).
David’s song of happiness lost, found, and lost again chastens our expectations for joy in this age. His experience, alongside that of so many others, reminds us that we must not grasp for heaven too soon. All things are not yet made new; all emotions are not yet whole; all joy is not yet ours. As long as we walk in a frail body, and carry within us a mortal enemy, our joy, though real, will be mixed with darkness.
The darkness, agonizing as it can feel, is a shared darkness. Shared with psalmists, prophets, and apostles. Shared with saints before us and beside us. And shared, of course, with our Savior. “We are not on an untrodden path,” C.S. Lewis reminds us. “Rather, on the main-road” (Letters to Malcolm, 44).
God Is Near
Black is not the only color on David’s paintbrush, however. This psalm, so full of melancholy, is nevertheless more than balanced by hope. Darkness is normal, yes. But God is near.
Even when David’s prayers seemed to sail unheard into the sky, they were in fact caught by the God who never left his side (Psalm 40:1). Even when David found himself in the pit again, God drew near to him with steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 40:11). Even when David felt poor and needy, his heart nearly failing him (Psalm 40:12), he could nevertheless say, “The Lord takes thought for me” (Psalm 40:17).
“All things are not yet made new; all emotions are not yet whole; all joy is not yet ours.”
“But if God is so near,” we might ask, “why is darkness normal?” Sometimes, of course, the darkness is our own fault, as David’s was, at least in part (Psalm 40:12). God has always been near, but we have walked into the pit ourselves. Often, however, God’s people sit in darkness through no fault of their own. And in those moments, we remember that the Lord who loves us — indeed, who has loved us unto death — has some purposes that can be fashioned only at midnight.
We need look no further than David’s greater Son, whose footsteps echo through this psalm (Psalm 40:6–8; Hebrews 10:5–7). Compared to the darkness Jesus endured, David’s was just a passing shadow. No one was nearer to God than his own Son. Yet no one’s path was darker.
Resist judging God’s nearness to you by the brightness of your sky. If you belong to Jesus, you are not forsaken or forgotten; your Lord, infinite as he is, takes thought for you (Psalm 40:17).
Joy Is Coming
God’s nearness, then, does not mean we will never walk in darkness. It does mean, however, that darkness is never an end, but only ever a means: the tracks, not the station; the pathway home, not the fireside. In the darkness, God tunes the strings of our souls, readying them for the coming praise.
In God’s time, the joy that seemed so far away from David returned: “He drew me up . . . and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:2–3). The memory of joy lost and restored then emboldens him to pray at the end of the psalm, when joy has once again fled from him, “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’” (Psalm 40:16).
David’s confidence in the coming joy does not mean his darkness was not so deep after all; it means that joy, for those in Christ, is always deeper and surer than the darkness — everlastingly deeper, infinitely surer. You may not feel the truth of it right now. But can you, in hope against hope, imagine yourself singing again, laughing again, telling everyone who will listen, “Great is the Lord!”?
Lost joy need not stay lost. For those in Christ, it will not. Though your joy in Christ seems barely to flicker right now, it will one day burst back into full flame. Even if darkness lingers in great measure for the rest of your earthly pilgrimage, you will one day stand firmly on the rock, your feet no longer slipping; you will one day sing a new song, your mouth no longer sighing. However much darkness you face in this battle for joy in God, it is, as Samuel Rutherford puts it, “not worthy to be compared with our first night’s welcome home in heaven” (The Loveliness of Christ, 21). Fullness of joy is coming, Christian. Exceeding joy, everlasting joy, world without end.
Hope in Him
The promise of coming joy does not belong to all who walk in darkness, however. It belongs to those who, even in their darkness, never stop seeking God. Notice the qualifying phrase in David’s prayer: “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you” (Psalm 40:16). David’s last reminder, then, comes to us as an exhortation: hope in God.
“Wait, cling, pray, seek, and trust that your God will come.”
Keep waiting for your God, even when he tarries long. Keep clinging to his promises, even when it feels like he’s abandoned them. Keep crying out to him, even when you’re unsure he hears. Keep seeking his face, even when you want to least. Refuse the temptation, when you find yourself tired of waiting, to “go astray after a lie” (Psalm 40:4) — some refuge other than God that promises immediate relief. Wait, cling, pray, seek, and trust that your God will come.
Soon, darkness will not be normal, but nonexistent. God will not be merely near, but visible. Joy will not only be real, but full, and forever. As Thomas Kelly writes in “Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him,”
Then we shall be where we would be, Then we shall be what we should be, Things that are not now, nor could be, Soon shall be our own.
Article by Jon Bloom, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org
The wisdom of God is often only fully seen in retrospect. When man’s wisdom has passed as a fad, the mountain of God’s truth remains. Whereas time exposes the world’s wisdom, it will only vindicate God’s — and anyone who faithfully declared it to the world.
If you want a good picture of what the church looks like before the world, think of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Put yourself as an observer in the governor’s headquarters that morning, witnessing the interaction between the two. Who appeared weak and who appeared strong? Who sounded foolish and who sounded sensible? Which one seemed to be pursuing the best outcome for all involved?
You have got to be kidding! Pilate rubbed his eyes in exasperation.
For Pontius Pilate, the man standing before him was a major inconvenience. The Roman governor’s agenda for the day hadn’t included trying some renegade rabbi in trouble with the Sanhedrin. And first thing in the morning! The council wanted him to pronounce this man guilty of capital treason. Today. Before the Passover. Pilate resented the pressure. His patience strained at the seams.
He’d heard of this controversial Jesus before, but hadn’t felt a need to bother with him. The intelligence he’d received profiled just another Jewish mystical teacher. Some claimed he had miracle powers. But there’d been no reports of Jesus denouncing the emperor or calling for revolt against Rome. Apparently, he had even inspired some Roman soldiers, but there were no accounts of disloyalty as a result.
Easy Way Out
It wasn’t that Pilate had qualms over dispatching a Jewish troublemaker when needed. But this situation gave him a bad feeling. Jerusalem was swelling with Passover celebrants — not a good time for a political “dispatch.” If Jesus himself hadn’t called for revolt, executing him just might. He was popular with the peasants, and the Jewish zealots would seize any opportune moment.
Yet Jesus wasn’t helping his own cause. Had he no political savvy at all? In asking, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate had essentially offered him a quick exit from execution. All Jesus needed to give were a couple quick, clear denials and he’d be off Rome’s excruciating hook. The Sanhedrin would have to solve their own problem, and the governor could get on with the day’s important work.
But Jesus’s reply — “My kingdom is not of this world” — just made the unnecessary situation worse. Come on, man. If you don’t want to die, don’t mention a kingdom — imaginary or not — to the Roman governor! Now Pilate was forced to probe further.
Who Was Delusional?
“So you are a king?” Pilate asked. Jesus answered him, “You [rightly] say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).
Pilate couldn’t help a sardonic snort. Just what he thought: a Jewish mystic with his head in the clouds. Delusional? Clearly. But a real political threat to Rome or anyone else? Clearly not. Jesus was a King of Truth whose only subjects were those willing to listen to his voice. Pilate figured they would never amount to enough for a rebellion. Plus, Jesus’s servants didn’t want to fight worldly powers (John 18:36). This was religious madness, not treason. Jesus didn’t need to be killed.
Then Pilate had an idea. There was a way out of this mess, a way to release Jesus so Rome looked benevolent, the Sanhedrin saved face, and the Jewish masses would be placated: the Passover prisoner release! As he got up to pitch the idea to the Jews, he sarcastically remarked to the King of Truth, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)
World and Church
Sitting in his headquarters that morning, Pilate had the full authority of the Roman Empire behind him. Jesus appeared to have no one; he stood there “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3).
Pilate’s words must have sounded reasonable, given the apparent context. Jesus’s words must have sounded delusional and strange. Pilate seemed to be pursuing a politically pragmatic course that would stave off an unjust execution, frustrating but not alienating the Jewish council, and keeping the civil peace in Jerusalem. Jesus inexplicably seemed to do nothing to avoid crucifixion.
However, with the benefit of retrospect, we see that Jesus was strong and Pilate was weak: Pilate only wielded authority by God’s decree (John 19:11). We see that Jesus was wise and Pilate was foolish: the governor only found Jesus’s words unintelligible because he heard them as a “natural man” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NASB). And we see that Jesus, not Pilate, knew what would make for the best outcome of all involved: Pilate had no idea of the peace Jesus was pursuing for billions as he sought merely to keep the peace of the city.
This is the position of the church in the world. Though God will station his people in places of governmental influence as “Josephs” and “Daniels” and “those of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22), the church will not wield the power of the world. It will stand in the weak places, saying truths that sound delusional to worldly authorities, and pursuing aims that will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. But its position will, in reality, be strong, because “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
You Will Be My Witnesses
As Jesus witnessed to his governing authorities, and as Paul witnessed to his (and was told, “Paul, you are out of your mind,” Acts 26:24), so Jesus tells us, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). For some of us, that will literally mean “stand[ing] before governors and kings for [his] sake” (Mark 13:9).
But whether we’re called to stand before government officials or coworkers or neighbors or family members, what we have to say often will, in the immediate context, sound strange. We will feel how foolish it sounds to them, and we will feel our apparently weak position.
That’s when we need to remember Jesus before Pilate. What matters is not how things appear and sound in the awkward or even deathly serious moment. What matters is being faithful to the truth — even if that audacious-sounding claim only elicits a sardonic snort. What is ultimately significant, what God is actually doing in and through that moment, is frequently only seen in retrospect.
If you are a Christian, you know what it feels like to live with a madman. “The hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live” (Ecclesiastes 9:3). If we feel prone to doubt such a bleak judgment, one sin in particular should convince us that Solomon was right: pride.
We are, every one of us, creatures of the dust. Yet we somehow find a way, overtly or subtly, to strut through the streets of the earth as if our strength were not fragile, our knowledge not narrow, our lungs not rising only because God gives us breath. Madness is the right word.
“Eventually, we must come back to saying, ‘I am a Christian because God made me one.’”
To be sure, every Christian has received a new heart — clean and pure, rather than evil and insane (Ezekiel 36:25–27). But we are not yet through with the madman. Pride, though forgiven, defeated, and doomed, still follows at the elbow. We wake, work, talk, play, and sleep with madness in our flesh.
Lately, the apostle Paul has been helping me to argue with my pride. In 1 Corinthians 1–4, he reminds us again and again of the madness of pride and the happy sanity of humility.
1. The pride of man murdered God’s Son.
We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7–8)
Paul would have us remember, first, that the pride of man murdered God’s Son. The “rulers of this age” include not only Herod and Pilate, but also those Paul calls the “wise,” the “scribe,” and the “debater of this age” — in a word, the proud (1 Corinthians 1:20). When people like this meet a Savior like Jesus and a message like the gospel, they reach for wood and nails.
If we would see pride rightly, we need to remember the body count in its wake. Once fully grown, pride does not balk at murder — in the heart, if not with the hand (Matthew 5:21–22). Those who nurture and relish their own pride follow Cain into the field (Genesis 4:8); they ask Jezebel to advise them (1 Kings 21:5–14); they dine with Herod the Great (Mark 6:25–27).
The beginnings of pride look harmless enough — a posed shot on social media, a hidden hunger for approval, a contemptuous thought toward those whose opinions differ from our own. But here Paul shows us the beast all grown up, unable to recognize the Lord of glory though he stands before our face.
Destroy in me every lofty thought, Break pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds, Annihilate each clinging shred of self-righteousness. . . . Open in me a fount of penitential tears, Break me, then bind me up.
“Pride reigns only where the cross has been forgotten or distorted. Pride cannot breathe Golgotha’s air.”
Prideful men may have murdered Christ, but they accomplished only what God’s “hand and . . . plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). In God’s wise providence, pride crucified Christ — and the crucifixion of Christ destroys all pride.
Throughout 1 Corinthians 1–4, Paul takes us to the cross, bidding us to feel the splinters of the wood and the steel of the nails. “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” he says (1 Corinthians 2:2). He knows that pride reigns only where the cross has been forgotten or distorted. Pride cannot breathe Golgotha’s air.
But how does the cross destroy pride? First, by reminding us that ours was the sin that nailed him to the tree. “Christ died for our sins” — our toxic mouths, our secret lusts, our strutting shoulders, our lofty eyes (1 Corinthians 15:3). John Stott writes, “Before we can see the cross as something done for us, we must see it as something done by us” (The Cross of Christ, 63).
Second, the cross destroys pride by putting a better boast in our mouths. Christ crucified does not remove our boasting, but rather redirects it from ourselves to him. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord,” Paul writes (1 Corinthians 1:31). Make your boast in sins forgiven, devils defeated, death undone, wrath removed, righteousness given, heaven opened. Breathe in the love of Jesus Christ, and breathe out the sanity of praise.
Christ was crucified for me; therefore, I cannot boast in myself. Christ was crucified for me; therefore, I have every reason to boast in him.
3. You are a Christian because God made you one.
Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
Once, Jesus was just another name from history, the gospel just another memory from Sunday school, salvation just another religious idea. Until I became a Christian. Then, Jesus became the sweetest sound, the gospel the best news, salvation a gift better than all the world’s wealth. How did that happen?
“Pride offers us something, only in exchange for all things.”
We are in Christ Jesus, Paul reminds us, not ultimately because we were born into a believing family, nor because we were smart enough to discern Jesus’s true identity, nor even because we were self-aware enough to see our need for a Savior, but rather “because of him.” Behind any outward circumstance that led us to repentance and faith is the Father who called us, the Son who sought us, the Spirit who claimed us. Eventually, we must come back to saying, “I am a Christian because God made me one.”
And, as Paul goes on to say, the middle and the end of the Christian life follow the beginning. We plant and water in ministry, but “only God . . . gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). We labor for holiness, but every exertion comes from “the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). We believe because God gives us new birth; we mature because God grows us; we reach the end because he keeps us (1 Corinthians 1:7–9).
When pride deludes us into thinking we are the author of some gift or victory, one question can snap us back to reality: “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). When we cannot take ultimate credit for anything, we can finally give thanks for everything. All of life becomes a gift of grace, a reason for praise.
4. All things are already yours.
All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21–23)
We find pride persuasive for a reason. For a moment at least, pride gives us what we’ve grasped for: the admiration of our peers, the eyes of passing admirers, the laughter of the crowd, the pleasure of being part of the in-group. But the purchase is costlier than it appears, for pride offers us something only in exchange for all things.
D.A. Carson explains the startling logic behind Paul’s simple statement “all things are yours”: “If we truly belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God, then we belong to God. . . . Everything belongs to our heavenly Father, and we are his children; so everything belongs to us” (The Cross and Christian Ministry, 87).
When pride tells us that we are deprived of some good thing, Christians remember that our Father owns all things, and will so arrange our circumstances so that we can say with David, “I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). When Christians indulge their pride, we are like a prince who scrambles for a two-acre lot in his father’s kingdom, forgetting all that his father owns is already his.
Pride offers us something, but only for a moment. God offers to work all things now for our good and, in the end, to give us the whole earth (Matthew 5:5; Romans 8:16–17). For we belong to Christ. Christ, as the Son of the Father, belongs to God. And God owns the world. “Let the humble hear and be glad” (Psalm 34:2).