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It was 1948, during Jackie Robinson’s second season in Major League Baseball, when some bigots in Cincinnati were really giving him the business.
Just the previous year, Robinson had been the one with the monumental courage to break the color barrier as the first African American of the modern era to play in baseball’s highest league. He had endured unthinkable cruelty and injustice for de-segregating the game, and he was succeeding on the field and off. Not only did he bat just a shade under .300 in 1947, and was named Rookie of the Year, but he was holding his tongue, and fists, and not fighting back.
But now, in his second campaign, some still weren’t convinced. Eric Metaxas tells the story of the “signature moment” that happened in 1948.
At one game in Cincinnati, when spectators in the stands were shouting racist comments at Robinson, his teammate Pee Wee Reese pointedly walked over to him and put his arm around him, as though to say to the bigots in the crowd “if you are against him, you’re against all of us.” It was a signature moment, and a statue commemorating it stands today in Brooklyn’s minor-league KeySpan Park. (Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, 128–129)No Small Feat
The story of Jackie Robinson (1919–1972) — and with him Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey (1881–1965) — is one of the most powerful tales American athletics has to tell. Robinson overcame what seemed like insurmountable obstacles not only by playing outstanding baseball, but even more significantly, by not retaliating when treated with rank injustice and racism. According to Metaxas, “Jackie’s not fighting back against such filth and injustice was as heroic an accomplishment as anything the sports world had ever witnessed” (126).
It is easy to miss the historical magnitude of that moment in 1947 for the advance of civil rights in America. Consider that when Rickey signed Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in baseball, it was a year before President Truman ordered the U.S. military desegregated, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, eight years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, 10 years before President Eisenhower used the U.S. military to enable the Little Rock Nine to attend Central High School in Arkansas, 16 years before MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, 17 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 18 years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (David Prince, Ferocious Christian Gentleman)The Shared Faith of Robinson and Branch
Many tellings of the Robinson-Branch story omit the importance of their shared Christian faith, but a few biographers have endeavored to draw this out.
Robinson was a Christian [and] his Christian faith was at the very center of his decision to accept Branch Rickey’s invitation to play for the all-white Brooklyn Dodgers. . . . Branch Rickey himself was a Bible-thumping Methodist whose faith led him to find an African American ballplayer to break the color barrier. . . .[A]t the center of one of the most important civil rights stories in America [lies] two men of passionate Christian faith. (Metaxas, 109)
Branch’s strategy for de-segregation was “non-retaliation” — a precursor to the vision of non-violence to come later in the Civil Rights Movement. But it would not just do to try to follow Jesus’s pattern. Branch was looking for someone with deep faith and proven character. Nothing less than emotionally excruciating work lay ahead. When Branch and Robinson met for the first time to explore the possibility, Branch
grilled him for hours and made him commit to three years of non-retaliation. Rickey . . . pointed him to the biblical account of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Rickey told Robinson, “We can’t fight our way through this, Robinson. We’ve got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owners. No umpires. Very few newspapermen. And I’m afraid many fans will be hostile.” (Prince)Guts Enough to Not Fight Back
Branch needed a man committed to living the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:38–41 — the teaching that Jesus himself embodied in going to the cross.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:38–41)
Metaxas narrates it like this:
Rickey saw that Robinson had plenty of experience playing with white players and that — like Rickey — he was a serious Bible-believing Christian with a strong moral character. In the struggle that lay ahead, these characteristics would be crucial. He felt strongly that if the person he chose for this extraordinary task could be goaded into saying the wrong thing or appearing in any way as less than noble and dignified, the press would have a field day and the whole project would go up in flames. What was worse, if that were to happen, the whole idea of integrating baseball would likely be set back another ten or fifteen years. Rickey had to be sure he was choosing someone who understood the tremendous import of not fighting back, despite what he would hear — and he would hear plenty. But in the end, he felt he had found the man for the job. (120)
Rickey issued Robinson this pointed challenge: “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough to not fight back” (122).Not Reviling in Return
Robinson accepted, and by God’s grace, he was able to live out the vision against the onslaught of horrible racism and what Branch called “odious injustice.”
And now the rest is history — and told in book and motion picture alike. Robinson played 10 Major-League seasons. In 1949, his third season, he batted an astounding .342, drove in 124 runs, and stole 37 bases. That season he started in the All-Star game and won the National League MVP Award. He batted .329 in 1953. When it was all said and done, he had played in six consecutive All-Star games and led his team to six World-Series appearances, including a seven-game World-Series win in 1955. He retired from the game after the 1956 season at the age of 37.
Robinson was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, and tragically died of a heart attack a decade later in 1972. He was only 53.
In April of 1997, Major League Baseball “universally retired” Robinson’s number 42, which means the number is now specially set aside in honor of him. No other player, on any team, can wear number 42 — except on April 15 of each year, “Jackie Robinson Day,” when every player dons the 42. This is likely the highest possible honor in the sport.The Heart of Jackie’s Story
“The heart of the Jackie Robinson story,” says Metaxas, is that “he changed America by successfully living out, both on and off the baseball field, the revolutionary and world-changing words of Jesus” (133).
What made all the difference was both Branch’s recognition of the power of Jesus’s model of non-retaliation in Matthew 5:38–41, and Robinson’s grace-given ability to echo the almost superhuman pattern of Jesus: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
For more on the Christian faith of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey:
Chapter 5, “Jackie Robinson” in Seven Men, by Eric Metaxas
One moving testimony to me as I ended my ministry at Bethlehem on March 31 was that of a young woman who has battled cancer. She thanked God for my cancer. She had listened to the messages leading up to my surgery in February 2006. They were life for her.
God knows what pastors must endure to be useful to their people. It is sobering to read in 2 Corinthians 1:6, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.” That is one reason the ministry is as hard as it is. We are afflicted so that in our afflictions our people will be saved.
Charles Spurgeon suffered repeatedly from depression. But he had an unwavering belief in the sovereignty of God in all his afflictions. This was his salvation in depression.
It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity. (Christian History, Issue 29, Vol. 10, No. 1, 25)
For Spurgeon the sovereignty of God was not first argument for debate, it was a means of survival. He was not joking when he quipped, “I dare say the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. . . . Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister's library.” (An All Round Ministry, 384)
Of the many purposes he saw in the suffering of his bleak depression, one has mainly to do with the good of his flock. It gave him an unusual power in preaching to the despairing soul.
One Sabbath morning, I preached from the text, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?” and though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow-prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself.
On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand up right, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me, after a little parleying, “I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case; but on Sunday morning you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.”
By God’s grace I saved that man from suicide, and led him into gospel light and liberty; but I know I could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay.
I tell you the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God’s servants? You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge. . . .
You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with desponding minds. (An All Round Ministry, 221–222)
From my vantage point after thirty-three years, there is no doubt that troubles of every kind in the ministry are God’s bitter medicine for the survival of our own faith and our people’s.
Recent posts from John Piper:
God has given us a mouth to speak, a heart to feel, and gospel joy to share. He has taken away every excuse for not spreading gospel grace in our words every day to those around us (Ephesians 4:29).
So what corks the flow of grace speech to others?
One answer is grudges. Not always big grudges, like the ones we hold towards those who have wronged us personally. The kinds of grudges that hinder our generosity are typically subtle ones, grudges towards those who seem less significant than us, or grudges towards those who seem more significant than us. Either way, we like to compare ourselves with others. We withhold grace like a miser withholds money. We are natural-born begrudgers.The Roots of Grudges
Jonathan Edwards pulled out a gospel spade and dug up the roots of grudges in his sermon “The Terms of Prayer.” He discovered three reasons why we withhold blessings from others: envy, contempt, and resentment.
Envy. Envy is withholding blessings from others in order to preserve my own joy-stature. It is “a spirit of opposition against another’s comparative happiness.” We like to be distinguished. We like to be superior to others. We want to stand out. We seek happiness and that often means we want to be happier than others, so we begrudge others, lest they match or exceed us in happiness. Or we can twist our envy in the other direction. Others have more happiness than me already, so what need is there for me to share? Either way, envy chokes off generosity.
Contempt. Contempt is more personal, a withholding of blessings from others because they are too lowly, or too unworthy of the blessings I have to offer them. It is revolt at the thought of my blessing resting in their unworthy hands. Of course, we would never say it that way. This subtle contempt, this looking down on others, chokes off generosity.
Resentment. Resentment is withholding blessings from others because they have wronged me or, merely by some known offense or guilt, are unworthy of my generosity. Once we have been wronged, we may not look for opportunities to return wrongs, but we often stop looking for opportunities to bless. Thus resentment is effective at cutting off generosity.
We are “naturally selfish and pernicious in our benevolence,” writes Edwards. We are quick to begrudge.
We could beat up on ourselves all day long. We are envious, contemptuous, sinners quick to resent, and we find it hard to let go. But Edwards is not interested in beating us up. He’s interested in gospel theology, and in turning our attention to the God who holds no envy, contempt, or resentment against his children. And to that end, he lets our eyes adjust to the darkness before turning our heads to the glory.God’s Unfettered Generosity
Edwards’s points about envy, contempt, and resentment are all about theology.
God is not envious of his children. He holds no contempt towards us (Psalm 8:3). He holds no resentment towards us. We are poor, desperate, and shortsighted, but God's generosity to us is not stopped.
At this point in the sermon, Edwards centers on the grand display of God’s generosity in the gospel. The gospel is the work of God to which all of God's other works are subordinated, even the work of creation. And here in the gospel we see the riches of God's abundant grace (Ephesians 1:7–8). The gospel is intended to show us God’s infinite and boundless grace.
Thus, for Edwards, “The doctrines of the gospel teach us how far Jesus Christ was from grudging us anything which he could do for or give to us.” Edwards gets his gospel logic from Paul: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
So, let me ask: if you are truly convinced that God withholds nothing from you out of envy (he doesn't want to share his joy), or out of contempt (you are too small for his joy), or out of resentment (you have wronged him and are therefore unworthy of his joy), would you pray differently?
Edwards thinks so.Timid Knuckles
Once we discover the unfettered generosity of God, we are prepared to turn where Edwards was leading us the whole time, into a deeper experience and expectation in our prayer life. His sermon text is taken from David’s autobiographical words in Psalm 21:4.
He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
length of days forever and ever.
David’s request: Life.
God’s answer: Eternal life.
Edwards wants us to see two things. First, life here is more than the ability to draw in breath. David asked for life and he got abundant, overflowing life, joy, and blessing extending out in eternal dimensions.
Second, Edwards wants us to see the superlative goodness of the answer in comparison to the request. God is eager to bless his children. He is “more ready to open than we are to knock.” His hand is on the doorknob before our knuckles hit the wood.
Yet we are begrudging people, and we project that on God, making every excuse in our head for why God will withhold his blessings from us. We knock with timid knuckles.No Grudge
Edwards summarizes the sermon takeaway in one sentence: “God never begrudges his people anything they desire, or are capable of, as being too good for them.”
There is nothing you can ask of God that is too good for you. Nothing! You want life? How many years do you seek? One more year? Or 10, or 30, or 60, or 80 more years? How about eternal life that stretches to infinity!
Or have you ever asked him for inexpressible joy full of glory (1 Peter 1:8)? We all have huge appetites for personal happiness. “Godly men’s desires of happiness are no less large than others,” Edwards writes, “Godliness regulates men’s desires of happiness, and directs them to right objects; but it doesn't diminish and confine them, or reduce them to straiter limits.”
Added to this, our mountain of de-merits before God are covered in Christ. “And wherever there is that that seems to be any obstacle, any meanness, or any unworthiness [in us]; all is overtopped, overwhelmed, and swallowed up in this infinite deluge [from God].” God’s generosity — his “infinite deluge” — drowns out all our unworthiness like ocean waters drowned the mountaintops in Noah’s day.
Does that mean we get everything we want? No. God withholds from us whatever gets in the way of our ultimate and eternal happiness.
Does that mean we are guaranteed 80 years of life here? No.
Does this mean we will never suffer? No.
Does this mean there will never be periods of darkness in our lives? No.
But it does mean that if you are a child of God, there is no envy, contempt, or resentment in the heart of God towards you. Therefore no blessing you can receive from God, and no request you can make to God, is ever too good for you.
Knowing this will make us a praying people, a bold, praying people in pursuit of full joy in God.
Jonathan Edwards's sermon, “The Terms of Prayer,” was preached in May 1738. It was published in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 19, Sermons and Discourses 1734–1738 (Yale: 2001), pages 771–91, and can be read online here.
Recent posts from Tony Reinke —
If you think spiritual warfare is irrelevant to you, you may already be losing the battle. At least you’re ripe for Satan’s picking.
Demons have a notorious way of acclimatizing to where they are, warns Tope Koleoso, pastor of Jubilee Church in London. And in secular Western society, this means playing right into our neglect and diminishing of the supernatural.
But Ephesians 6, and the rest of the Scriptures, would have us stay aware of the unseen realm, and remember that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). It is not Christian to suppress the supernatural.
In this new episode of Theology Refresh, Koleoso talks frankly about our tendency to be skeptical, and practically about the process of spiritual warfare for the Christian leader. He challenges us to prayer and patience when the Holy Spirit prompts us that something is not ordinary and that perhaps demonic forces may be involved. He also addresses the role of the plurality of leaders, as well as the importance of unity among the leaders in the enterprise of spiritual warfare. You’ll appreciate how wise and careful he is, and how practical he gets.
Some previous episodes of Theology Refresh:
[To subscribe or see the full list of over 30 episodes, visit Theology Refresh in the iTunes store]
Here is the theological summary of one preacher’s lifetime of investment in a local church: Doctrine Matters: Ten Theological Trademarks from a Lifetime of Preaching, from John Piper.
Preaching, you could say, is where the rubber begins to meet the road on what a church believes. It is the living statement of faith. And in the case of John Piper, we have this statement captured online in over 1,200 sermons, including a whole series where he devotes a single message to the main theological emphases of his near 33-year preaching tenure. These theological emphases, preached as ten sermons last year and now edited into this volume, embody the legacy Piper hopes to leave at Bethlehem Baptist.
But don’t think that these messages are the memoirs of a retired pastor. You don’t store these truths away to collect dust. The vision of God in these pages doesn’t take a pat on the head — it turns the world upside down.
These doctrines are, as Piper says, “wildly untamable, explosively uncontainable, and electrically future-creating.” They make a difference. When you read these truths and immerse yourself in this biblical vision of our great God, you will want to act. You will want to build something. You will want to start things. You will be compelled to dream big and risk bigger for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Though the legacy is local, it’s impact reaches much broader. This theology is for God’s people everywhere, and that’s why this new book exists.
To download Doctrine Matters, click on the following format options:
Download ebook as an EPUB file formatted for readers like the Nook, Sony Reader, and Apple iBooks (iPad, iPhone, iPod).
Download ebook as a MOBI file formatted for Kindle applications (this option works well on some mobile devices, and not so well on others).
Note: To load the ebook on a mobile device, it may be necessary to view this blog post from within your device and then to click the download option.
It’s every pitcher’s worst nightmare. For the Detroit Tigers’ Darin Downs, the nightmare became a reality, and almost meant the end of his life.
On August 17, 2009, he took a 103-mile-per-hour line drive off the left side of his head. In an instant, his skull was fractured, blood began pooling, his head was swelling, and he couldn’t speak. Soon he lay terrified in an ambulance en route to the hospital. But in that moment, he had a strange peace and hope. God was at work.
His fellow Tiger Donnie Kelly tells a similar story — though not as dramatic. For Kelly, it was a mysterious injury in 2004 that sidelined him from the game he loved and threatened to end his career almost before it began. But it was God’s severe mercy that not only preserved his body, and provided spiritual comfort, but exposed the idol of baseball for what it was, and put Jesus securely back at the center. (Minnesota Twin Josh Willingham tells a similar story.)
It’s a common narrative among professing Christians in professional athletics — indeed, Christians in every profession — and no less significant because it’s common. All too often it is the good things in life — work, athletics, family, success — that can so subtly displace what is most important. But God frequently shows himself kind in startling us wide awake with suffering and pain, and wooing us back to himself in his surprising timing.
So clear was God’s hand in Downs’s traumatic on-the-field head injury that he can say, “I’m truly glad it happened.”
The Tigers were in Minneapolis for the opening of the 2013 season, and a number joined us in worship at Bethlehem on Easter Sunday. We had the privilege to talk with Downs and Kelly on Tuesday, the morning after Opening Day. This time on Desiring God’s Behind the Blog podcast, we go into the dugout, and back into the clubhouse, to talk the Christian life and gospel advance outside the lines in Major League Baseball.
Here are the timestamps (counting backwards) for the topics we covered in our half hour together:
-32:45 What daily difference does faith in Jesus make in your profession?
-31:30 A common narrative: God saving Christian athletes from their sport
-30:35 Donnie’s story of God shattering his idol
-29:25 Darin’s story
-27:18 How Darin deals with the fear of getting hit again
-25:45 Christian camaraderie in baseball and life
-24:35 Corporate Bible study with fellow Christians on the team
-23:22 Gospel-advance behind the scenes in pro baseball
-21:50 Personal spiritual disciplines with major-league distractions
-19:50 The blessing Darin is receiving from John Piper’s ministry
-18:57 Getting to the Majors without making baseball god
-17:45 Advice for not letting athletics consume you
-15:00 Advice to young players about spiritual priorities and keeping God central
-12:45 How Darin deals with the pressure and difficulty of his utility role
-10:40 How faith makes a practical difference on the field
-9:25 Go-to verses and thoughts about God for pressured moments
-6:45 Navigating by the unseen in a game consumed with numbers
-4:25 Donnie’s journey in 2012
-2:00 Embracing God’s will in homeruns and strikeouts
-1:20 Closing prayer
Donnie Kelly, left; Darin Downs, right
The Gospels tell us what happened to Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. It is the testimony of history’s most important event and we can hold it in our hands. It is the testimony of four God-inspired authors whose words we’ve read and celebrated this spring. And then there’s the Book of Psalms.
Like the Gospels, the Psalms give us a fascinating picture of the Savior. Psalm 22 especially stands out. Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 on the cross and the whole narrative of his crucifixion draws imagery from “the afflicted one” found there. Not only is he forsaken (Psalm 22:1), he is also scorned and mocked by onlookers (Psalm 22:6–7), he thirsts (Psalm 22:15), he is surrounded by ruthless Gentiles (Psalm 22:16), his hands and feet are pierced (Psalm 22:16), his garments are divided and lots are cast for his clothing (Psalm 22:18).
As Christians, we simply can’t read Psalm 22 without seeing Jesus. Then Psalm 24 comes right behind it. If Psalm 22 is a Good Friday meditation, Psalm 24 is our Easter morning song. This kingly chorus is commonly associated with the reign of Jesus as our victorious ruler. But between Psalm 22 and Psalm 24 sits an even more famous psalm — the beloved 23rd. Many of us instantly recognize its first words: “The Lᴏʀᴅ is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). But what exactly is it getting at?
How do we read Psalm 23 together with Psalm 22 and Psalm 24?
I think these three psalms say something astounding about Jesus, and deeply inspiring for how we live. Jesus is the afflicted one, the anointed one, and the satisfied one — and this has everything to do with where we are right now in this world.The Afflicted One of Psalm 22
In an unparalleled way, Psalm 22 captures the suffering of the Messiah in the first person. David’s voice says, “Why have you forsaken me?” and, “I am a worm and not a man,” and, “I am poured out like water.” We step inside the mind of the afflicted man — of Jesus — to feel his pain and see his faith. Faith is an amazing theme here. The afflicted one is forsaken. But as we began to see, he’s not ultimately forsaken. “For [God] has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (Psalm 22:24). Affliction is not the end of the story. The suffering one will eventually eat and be satisfied (22:26).
And as we read on in Psalm 22, the sound of affliction turns to foreshadowing deliverance. Even in the thick of his pain and restlessness, the afflicted one knows that God can be trusted. He knows that God is faithful (Psalm 22:2–5). Right before our eyes we see the Messiah forsaken, but not utterly forsaken. Then suddenly there’s a twist: The entire world is going to worship the Lᴏʀᴅ one day! Just like that. “For kingship belongs to the Lᴏʀᴅ, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:27–28).
Psalm 22 gives us a vivid portrait of affliction, alludes to the resurrection, and then closes with a future-facing kingly reign. It’s all right here in a psalm that the Gospel writers show Jesus fulfilling.The Anointed One of Psalm 24
Jump to Psalm 24 where the theme of kingship gets even clearer.
To be sure, the kingship theme doesn’t begin in Psalm 24. We’ve already seen it starting triumphantly in Psalm 2:6. Just flipping back a couple pages from Psalm 24, the Messiah’s kingly reign is explicit in Psalm 18:50: “Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.” And then the theme plays again in Psalm 20:4 and Psalm 21:2, when God grants the king whatever he desires — just as God said he’ll do for the king in Psalm 2:7–8.
Psalm 24 comes at the high point when the king takes his place on the throne. That’s what is behind the epic chorus of “Who is this King of glory?” It is a coronation song. The righteous king of Psalm 24:4 (like the righteous man of Psalm 1:1–3 and Psalm 15:2–3) ascends to the Lᴏʀᴅ’s hill (like the hill in Psalm 2:6 and Psalm 15:1).
The king has triumphed, and he proceeds to the seat from where he will rule the nations, until every last one of his enemies become his footstool (Psalm 110:1–2).The Satisfied One of Psalm 23
So we see affliction and a glimmer of hope in Psalm 22. We celebrate a victorious monarchy in Psalm 24. And Psalm 23 comes right in the middle. So what’s its role?
Psalm 23 serves as the bridge between affliction and triumph. Both for Jesus, and for us.
The pain of the afflicted one in Psalm 22 is translated into contentment and trust in Psalm 23. There is pain, real pain. Darkness surrounds this suffering one. Insults are blasted. The mouth of the lion opens wide. The wild ox readies its head for a jab. But God is the rescuer. God is the shepherd. He leads and restores. Even though the afflicted one walks through the valley of the shadow of death, God is there to guide and rescue and comfort (Psalm 23:4).
The afflicted one is forsaken, but not utterly forsaken. And therefore, the afflicted one doesn’t fear. In fact, he’s satisfied, he “shall not want.” God prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies. They are so defeated that he will feast in front of them — he is more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). He is victorious, and God anoints him (Psalm 23:5). So he speaks, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Yes, even through the affliction. Even through the valley. Even through the grave. God’s goodness and steadfast love — God’s unswerving faithfulness — will pursue me to the uttermost.
He closes in Psalm 23:6, “I shall return to the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ forever.” The verb here “return” is often translated “dwell.” It is similar in the Hebrew, and the Greek version of the Old Testament renders it “dwell.” But the original Hebrew word is “return.” The speaker in Psalm 23 is going to return to the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ. This one who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death, who has felt the nearness of God, who has triumphed over his enemies, who has been anointed — this one will return to the temple. So lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors that the King of glory may come in! (Psalm 24:7).The Middle Then and Now
Seen in its context, Psalm 23 is the story of the Messiah in the middle of the cross of Psalm 22 and the throne of Psalm 24.
I take it to be about how the Father sustained Jesus through his suffering to the victory of his resurrection. And how when Jesus was raised, he was vindicated. He was declared to be who he truly is — God’s unique Son (Romans 1:4; Philippians 2:9). He ascended in a triumphal procession and assumed his seat as the enthroned king over all the nations. It is where he is right now, reigning over all the earth in the advance of his word and Spirit through his church.
He is reigning until he returns to judge the living and the dead, like the Apostles’ Creed reminds us. And on that day we will reign with him (2 Timothy 2:12). We will be raised, too (1 Corinthians 15:20–23). We will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). We will join him in Psalm 24.
But not yet. Not now. Not here. Today we walk in Psalm 23.
Though we’ve been raised spiritually in Christ (Ephesians 2:6), our complete, end-time resurrection is still in the future. We are still looking forward to that day (1 Peter 1:13; Romans 8:23). In the big picture of things, our lives right now sort of feel like the valley — more acutely at some times than others. We experience real pain. We walk through affliction. We are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
Psalm 23 is happening now. And we know, even in the deepest hurt, that God himself is the only source of indomitable joy. We’re learning to keep our eyes on Jesus and that in him our souls do not want.
In him, and like him, though we’re in the valley, we fear no evil.
Recent posts from Jonathan Parnell:
Over the last two weeks on the Ask Pastor John podcast we talked a lot about social media, about goals for Twitter and fasting from Facebook. Pastor John also addressed creativity in communication, and the meaning and importance of Easter. We talked about the value of Bible commentaries written by women, a practical suggestion for battling lust, and how our works exceed the works of Jesus.
What follows is a list of episodes, along with quotes pulled from each recording. Click on the titles to listen.
Jesus really is striking. Jesus really is amazing. Jesus really is worthy of the most wonderful — or the most surprising — ways of describing him truly. And the Holy Spirit regularly honors that effort by opening the eyes of the blind to see a truly-described Jesus.
We are sinners, which means we are spring-loaded to turn gifts into alternatives to God. And so what does God do? In this age between our fall and our perfection at the second coming, he uses pleasure and pain to provide us with revelations of his goodness and to protect us from loving substitutes.
The reason for saying, “I don’t permit a woman to teach or have authority over men” (1 Timothy 2:12), is not because she’s incompetent. It is not because she can’t have thoughts. In fact, the women in our church, and the woman you are married to, have many thoughts that you would do well to note and learn from. And so the issue there is not she doesn’t have thoughts, the issue is how manhood and womanhood works.
The reasoning of 1 Corinthians 15:17 is this: If Christ has not been raised, our gospel is in vain, your faith is in vain, we are found to be preaching a false gospel. We might as well eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Paul put all of his eggs in that basket. If the resurrection didn’t happen — physically, bodily, permanently — then Christianity is just a sham.
Don’t forget good Friday and Easter. Fix your heart as you wake up on Monday morning on the fact that, whether I feel it or not, and whether the evidences around me convince me of it or not, the cross means I am loved. And Easter means this love is victorious, and he will not stop loving me because the highest cost has been paid to obtain me for himself.
If a guy (or gal) is fighting a losing battle against lust, they know who they are. They also know they’re supposed to fight. But if someone is regularly losing this battle, they need to tell their small group, and then they need to pull out their iPhone and do this …
Using humble language to quote a tribute that you have just received, I see this all over Twitter. Everybody feels self-conscious about saying something that somebody said about them. And yet I see it everywhere. There is something inside of me that twists about that.
Practice a fast. Pick a period of time, say, a week. For me, two years ago, it was eight months. Zero Twitter. Zero blogging. And see what happens to your soul. See if your soul has become addicted to being known, being followed, being read.
Jesus said, I am going to give you the Holy Spirit, you disciples, you followers of me, every one of you. And the effect of this is going to be that you are going to witness to the crucified and risen Christ with such effectiveness that sins will be forgiven or withheld according to your message of the crucified and risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Now that had never been done before in the history of the world. Jesus himself had never done that because he hadn't been crucified yet. He hadn't been raised yet. He hadn't ascended yet. He hadn't poured out the Holy Spirit in fullness yet on these people as the Spirit of the risen Christ. ... In that sense these works are greater than even what he had done.Tuning In
The Ask Pastor John daily podcast is a series of 3–8 minute conversations released on weekdays at 11am (EST) via the DG Facebook and Twitter feeds. You can tune in to the new episodes through the new Ask Pastor John iPhone app, which can be donwloaded for free here. We’re currently hosting all the recordings on SoundCloud, a website that makes it easy to listen to several of the podcasts in one sitting. They’re also archived on the DG website and syndicated in iTunes.
We want to hear from you. To submit a question to Pastor John please include your first name, hometown, and question in an email to AskPastorJohn AT desiringGod DOT org.
Thanks for listening to the podcasts. We appreciate your engagement and interest.
The New Testament is full of commands for us to obey. Full of them. The Sermon on the Mount is no exception. Something like sixty-six commands sound from Jesus’s mouth as he calls us as his people to live a life in step with the gospel.
The Beatitudes, Jesus’s introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, are a different story. There you’ll not find a single imperative. Not one.
Jesus never tells us to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness. His beatitudes never demand that we be merciful, pure in heart, or peacemakers. And, of course, we aren’t commanded to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. That doesn’t even make any sense! You can’t control whether or not people will raise their eyebrows, or their fists, at you for your faith.
No commands here. Just declarations — declarations of who the blessed people are and where that blessedness leads them.
So then, what is Jesus doing as he introduces the greatest sermon ever given? If he’s not giving us a checklist to complete that will lead to a blessed life, if he’s not giving us the rungs on the ladder we ascend to true satisfaction with God, if he’s not telling us what we must do in order to experience life in the kingdom — then what on earth is he doing?What Happens When Grace Works
The context makes it clear that Jesus is describing what happens in a person’s life when they come to understand God’s grace in the gospel (see Matthew 4:23).
The grace of God produces two responses: infatuation or infuriation. Those who are infatuated by God’s grace display the beauty of the Beatitudes. Those who are infuriated with it, lash out at those whose very existence represents the futility of their project of self-salvation.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)
Jesus has called you to run a race. It’s a faith race. It’s long-distance and multi-terrain.
And you’ve been trying to run but you’re wondering why it’s so hard. Why do you get winded so quickly? Why are others running at a faster pace? What’s wrong?
Could it be that you’re not taking this race seriously enough? You can tell by how much extra weight you’re trying to run with.
An endurance race is hard enough when you’re running light. But it’s far harder, and often impossible, if you’re trying to run while lugging around extra stuff. Competitive long-distance runners lay aside everything except what’s absolutely necessary.
That’s what you need to do too. Because the stakes of winning or losing this race are far higher than an Olympic marathon.
Winning your race is going to require intentionality, focus, and training. That’s why Paul wrote,
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly… [but] I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)Intentionality
Run so that you may obtain the prize. To do this you must carefully examine what you’re wearing and carrying. The weights and sins the author of Hebrews is talking about in Hebrews 12:1 are wrong beliefs. The whole book’s exhortation could be summed up in Hebrews 2:1:
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
Pay close attention to what you’re believing. Wrong beliefs weigh down your heart, entangle your feet, distract your attention, and deplete your energy. They will take you out of the race. You must identify what your weights are and resolve to do whatever it takes to lay them aside.Focus
You can’t run aimlessly. Though all Christians share similarities in their races, the Lord gives each of us a unique race to run. And not everyone’s weights are the same. Remember, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). And God has assigned to each of us the measure of faith we need for our respective races (Romans 12:3). What may be a weight for you may not be a weight for someone else. So be careful comparing.
You’re responsible for your race. “Understand what the will of the Lord is” for your race (Ephesians 5:17), be content with the race you’ve been given (Hebrews 13:5), and focus hard on how to win it.Training
Serious runners discipline their bodies. They “[train] by constant practice” to discern how best to run their races (Hebrews 5:14). Laying aside weights and sins isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a skill acquired through constant practice. So don’t be discouraged that you haven’t mastered your race yet. Don’t give up. Keep at it. Do it again. And again. And again.
And even the most skilled runners need coaching. We aren’t always the best judge at identifying our weights and sins. God will provide you with coaches if you ask (usually they’re already there in your church). And in the weeks to come we’ll examine in this blog column some common weights and sins and how to lay them aside.Free Training Tonight & Tomorrow from John Piper
But I want you to know that there are two very helpful coaching sessions happening at the DG conference in Ft. Lauderdale
Tonight (8 PM - 9 PM EDT),
Tomorrow (9:30 AM - 10:30 AM EDT).
John Piper will be addressing the topic of Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God. The goal of these sessions will be to teach you how to lay aside the weights of wrong beliefs and gain energy and endurance for your race through right beliefs. You can watch these sessions for free at desiringGod.org/live, as well as a panel discussion with John Piper, Tullian Tchividjian, Felipe Assis, and Al Pino at 11 AM EDT tomorrow.
There comes a point when you realize that you’re not going to win the race you’re in if you don’t drop the weights. Be intentional, hone your focus, and get some training. Lay aside every weight (again) today.
Recent post from Jon Bloom: