Saturday, March 15, 2014

John Piper on Whether Or Not God Wanted Jesus To Be Killed Unjustly

In his essay, Does God Desire All To Be Saved (2013), John Piper faces mystery and paradox in the Bible head-on. As he does so, he soberly admits that "some of the paths in this book are steep," (p. 9) and that "God’s emotional life is infinitely complex beyond our ability to fully comprehend," (p. 45).

The excerpt that I quote below (p. 19-21) is part of a larger argument in his essay, but here I think it can stand alone with integrity.

In this quote, Piper gives his answer to the question, Did God want Jesus to suffer and be killed unjustly or does God not want people killed unjustly? Piper finds that the answer is both.

(Italicized emphasis below is his.)

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The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act inspired immediately by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet, in Acts 2:23, Peter says, “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” The betrayal was sin, and it involved the instrumentality of Satan, but it was part of God’s ordained plan. That is, there is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though Judas’s act was sin.

Moreover, Herod’s contempt for Jesus (Luke 23:11), the Jews’ cry, “Crucify, crucify him!” (v. 21), Pilate’s spineless expediency (v. 24), and the Gentile soldiers’ mockery (v. 36) were also sinful attitudes and deeds. Yet in Acts 4:27–28, Luke expresses his understanding of the sovereignty of God in these acts by recording the prayer of the Jerusalem saints:
Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Herod, the Jewish crowds, Pilate, and the soldiers lifted their hands to rebel against the Most High, only to find that their rebellion was, in fact, unwitting (sinful) service in the inscrutable designs of God.

The appalling death of Christ was the will and work of God the Father. Isaiah writes, “We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God. . . . It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isa. 53:4, 10). God’s will was very much engaged in the events that brought his Son to death on the cross. God considered it “fitting . . . [to] make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Yet, as Jonathan Edwards points out, Christ’s suffering “could not come to pass but by sin. For contempt and disgrace was one thing he was to suffer.”

It goes almost without saying that God wills obedience to his moral law, and that he wills this in a way that can be rejected by many. This is evident from numerous texts: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21); “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (12:50); “Whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). “The will of God” in these texts is the revealed, moral instruction of the Old and New Testaments, which forbids sin.

Therefore, we know it was not the “will of God” that Judas, Herod, the Jewish crowds, Pilate, and the Gentile soldiers disobeyed the moral law of God by sinning in delivering Jesus up to be crucified. But we also know that it was the will of God that this should come to pass. Therefore, we know that God wills in one sense what he does not will in another sense. I. Howard Marshall’s statement, quoted in chapter 1, is confirmed by the death of Jesus: “We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen.”

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My next post will discuss the basis for this paradox from a slightly different perspective.

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