3 Emphases That Have Become More Central to John Piper’s Preaching Over the Years

(PHOTO: SCREEN GRAB VIA VIMEO/DESIRINGGOD.ORG) Theologian, John Piper.
(PHOTO: SCREEN GRAB VIA VIMEO/DESIRINGGOD.ORG)
Theologian, John Piper.

Jonathan Edwards has not only remained one of my primary inspirations, but he has also brought increasing clarity and focus to some things that were less clear to me in the early days—things that are essential for good preaching.

In December 1744, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon foreshadowing his book The End for Which God Created the World, which he completed eleven years later, three years before he died. The sermon’s title is “Approaching the End of God’s Grand Design.” It is the kind of sermon that draws me back again and again to Edwards, to rescue me from the spiritual stranglehold of small things. It’s this kind of seeing that creates a seedbed of Big-God Theology and Big-God Preaching.

Reflecting on this sermon, here are three emphases that have become clearer and more central to my preaching over the years.

1. A Clearer Sight of the Centrality of Christ

The first emphasis is the supremacy of Christ, the centrality of Christ, in the final end of God’s purpose in creation and history. The longer I have preached, the more prominent the Christological dimension of God’s purposes has become. Is it not remarkable that Edwards defines the “great design that God has in view in all his works and dispensations” as “to present to his Son a spouse” and “so to communicate himself through Jesus Christ, God-man”?

Or as he says later, “The one grand medium by which God glorifies himself in all is Jesus Christ, God-man.” It is not easy for a preacher to discern week in and week out whether his emphases are properly theocentric or Christocentric. Part of the problem here is with our spatial metaphors: –centric. There are times when God the Father, or God per se, is “central” to a text and to our perception of reality. And there are times when God the Son is “central” to a text and to our perception of reality.

Changing the metaphor from “center” to “end” or “ultimate goal,” what Edwards clarifies is that this emphasis on the centrality of Christ in God’s “grand design” is preserved not by making Christ the ultimate “end” but rather the ever-present, essential, indispensable, divine agent through whom God communicates himself and glorifies himself as the ultimate end.

This is clearly biblical.

God exalted Jesus Christ with a name above every name, so that “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). The glory of the Father is the ultimate end through the exaltation of Jesus. “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:11).

Whoever serves, [let him serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 4:11)

But what became clearer to me as my ministry matured is the utter indispensability of highlighting Jesus Christ, the God-man, as essential to the way God makes himself the grand design of creation.

These days I hear Paul’s words with greater weight than ever: “We preach Christ” (1 Cor. 1:23). “Him we proclaim” (Col. 1:28). “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor. 4:5). “To me . . . this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

I don’t hear this summons to preach Christ only in relation to one work of Christ, but in relation to the great end of all creation and history and redemption and consummation. It all really is “centered” on Jesus as the Great Actor of God’s design. All things—absolutely all things—“were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). This role in creation and all of history and eternity must be lifted up again and again in preaching. As plain as it is in the Bible, Edwards helped clarify that for me.

 

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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition
John Piper