John Piper on the Question: How Can We Be Thankful In The Midst of Suffering?

Thanksgiving in Suffering

“Since we have a great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God, who has passed through the heavens [or: gone into heaven], let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

I want to present Jesus to you as a sympathetic Go-between for you and God. I want you to understand how Jesus, the Son of God, is alive today, and stands ready to serve you as your advocate with God the Father. I want you to see why you can draw near to the throne of God with Jesus as your Go-between and Advocate, and expect to find mercy and grace to help in times of need. If it’s true that we can always go to God’s throne and find mercy and help in times of need, then there can always be thanksgiving, even in suffering—and that’s my theme, “Thanksgiving in Suffering.”

A Wrong Way to View Jesus as a Go-Between

Now when I call Jesus a “Go-between” for you and God, I realize that I might be creating a false picture in your mind. You might take me to mean that God is the bad guy and we are the victims and Jesus is the good guy, and Jesus comes between us and God the way a level-headed son comes in between a furious father and a helpless child and rescues the child by grabbing the father’s arms and saying, “Cool it! Cool it, dad.”

We Are Not Victims but Sinners

There are three things wrong with that picture. You and I are not victims of God, we are sinners against God. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Our consciences tell us plainly that we have not even lived up to our own standards, let alone God’s.

Sending Jesus Was God’s Idea

The second thing wrong with that picture is that Jesus did not intrude himself between us and God. He didn’t jump in to wrestle God away from us against God’s will. God put Jesus between us and himself. “For God so love the world that he GAVE his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on him might have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Go-between was God’s idea. He took the initiative to make a way for sinners to come to him through Jesus.

God Is Never Impulsive or Rash or Reckless

The third thing wrong with that picture is that God does not lose his cool. He is not impulsive or rash or reckless. He is perfectly righteous and unswervingly just and infinitely holy and pure. He never plays fast and loose with truth or with virtue. He upholds his law with unimpeachable equity and integrity. No shady deals. No bribery. No skeletons in the closet. “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

The Right Understanding of Jesus as a Go-Between

That’s why we need a Go-between. The Bible says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you” (Isaiah 59:2). God is like a blazing fire of light and truth and righteousness, and I am like a broken, dark, dead, dry piece of wood. If I get near him, I will be consumed.

And so God sends a Go-between—his Son. He takes on human nature, he lives a perfect life, he dies to bear the sins of many, and he rises to vindicate the saving power of his death. Now Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Jesus is the only true Go-between with God. The apostle Peter said, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Only Jesus can bring us to God. The apostle Paul said, “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). Only Jesus can save us from the separation and alienation that cuts us off from the Father. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It’s Jesus or alienation.

He came into the world and took on himself our human nature, our weaknesses, our pain, and our death. He was tested in every way like we are, and yet he didn’t sin. Since he didn’t sin, he can be a perfect High Priest—a Go-between—for us. And since he suffered and was tested and tempted, he can be a sympathetic Go-between.

The Amazing Invitation of Hebrews 4:16

I say all of this just to lay the foundation for the amazing invitation that God gives to us in Hebrews 4:16. He says, “Therefore, let us with confidence [not hesitation, not reluctance, but with confidence let us] draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” When Jesus is your Go-between, the throne of God is a throne of grace, not judgment, and what you find there is mercy and grace to help in time of need.

What this means is that when Jesus, the perfect Go-between, has met your need for forgiveness and acceptance with God, he doesn’t take off and say, “You’re on your own now; see you in heaven.” Instead, he stands ready to serve you all the rest of your life.

The Christian life begins with forgiveness and reconciliation with God. It’s like a great homecoming, with tears of repentance and hope and joy and acceptance. For some it’s almost too good to be true. But then the Christian life continues, and it’s a life of ongoing dependence on the grace of God. We don’t escape the pain and stress and disappointments and suffering and calamities and tragedies and frustrations and pressures of life in this world.

In fact, sometimes becoming a Christian and obeying the Word of the Lord increases our troubles rather than lessening them. But the difference now is, first, that the outcome of life is settled—it will be eternal life with infinite happiness (Romans 8:17–18)—and, second, all along the way in this world God helps us in times of need through our Go-between, Jesus. God’s invitation to everyone is, first, come to Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation with me, and then, second, “Draw near to the throne of grace, that you may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The Story of Sandra Tarlen

I want to illustrate this power and willingness of God to help you in time of need by introducing you to one more person who is living evidence that God gives mercy and grace to help in time of need.

This person is Sandra Tarlen. She has been part of our fellowship since early this year. Her story goes like this.

My major crisis started when I was four years old! I was burned in a gasoline fire. A little boy threw a can of gasoline into a fire and I was standing on the other side. The gas went through the fire and into my face and the flames followed. My face suffered 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree burns. These burns left ugly, disfiguring scars. When I started school it was very difficult. I felt different from the rest of the children and a lot of them were very cruel to me. I didn’t like school much, but I didn’t like summers either, because that always meant I would have to have another surgery on my face.

My father became an alcoholic and the word love or any action of love was not heard or seen in my family that I can ever remember. An old man who lived next door to us was always very nice and would buy or make me things—but there was a price to pay for gifts. He fondled and molested me repeatedly. One night when I was 13 years old, I was walking home from the show, and a gang of young men picked me up and raped me.

Although these things caused me to feel dirty and empty inside, they also gave me the feeling that at least somebody wanted me for something. I began to fill a lot of loneliness with sexual relationships. My heart began to get hard and bitter and full of hate. The hate began to eat at me from the inside out.

I became anorexic, then bulimic. I had chronic migraine headaches, ulcers, a hysterectomy, and other major surgeries. I was in and out of doctor’s offices constantly looking for a remedy. I experimented with alcohol, drugs and a couple of times even suicide! By the time I was 17 I already had two children and by the time I was 25 I had been married four times. Life seemed pretty hopeless.

I knew there had to be more to life than what I was living. In search for that, I went with my best friend Sherry to a Victorious Christian Living Conference. There I heard David Ritzenthaler talk about the Gospel. He explained how much God loved me, enough to send His own Son to die for me and save me from my sins. I knew that this God David was talking about was not the God of my life and I desperately wanted to know Him. Five days after hearing this, I called David. I went to his office and he shared with me the “Four Spiritual Laws.” That night on March 12, 1982, at 7:30 PM, I prayed and confessed I was a sinner in need of a Savior, I invited Jesus into my heart to be Lord of my life. At that very moment God gave me new life.

That was just the beginning of new life for Sandra. We will give her time to tell her story early next year. But there remained 11 more surgeries to bring the total to 32 in her life. She speaks of surgeries and scar tissue on the inside too. Broken relationships and broken dreams being healed. Amazingly Sandra writes,

He gave me new dreams as I continued to seek Him. Today after all those surgeries, I can honestly say with a joyful heart that I am thankful for the experiences I’ve gained as a result of them all. God has used each one to strengthen me and my relationship with Him and when I share my experience, it has helped to strengthen others.

The point of Sandra Tarlen’s story and the point of God’s word in Scripture is that Jesus is a very sympathetic, caring, and powerful Go-between with God. Because he loved us and died for us and rose from the dead, anyone—any one of you—who trusts him can draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.

Sermon/ Article Above Used by Permission. By Dr. John Piper. © 2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: Thanksgiving in Suffering is a synopisis of John Piper’s sermon in  a Celebration of Thanksgiving at Maranatha Hall on November 18,1990.

About Dr. John Piper

John Piper was pastor for preaching and vision for over thirty years at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.), and the University of Munich (D.theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 40 books and more than 30 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and twelve grandchildren.

It’s Friday, But Sunday is Coming! By Dr. David P. Craig

“Thank God for Sunday!”

I think the first time I ever heard the phrase, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is Coming!” was from a message that Tony Campolo delivered in Chapel in the mid 1980’s at Multnomah School of the Bible (Now called Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon).

Yesterday, I had a “procedure” a nicer and more sweet sounding term than “surgery” at a hospital in Irvine, CA. I was recently diagnosed with Cancer – Squamous Cell Carcinoma – that started on the back of my tongue and has resulted in a huge mass the size of a lemon in my neck.

I had a “G-tube” inserted in my stomach because doctors and former patients I’ve consulted with say that weeks 3-6 of radiation and chemotherapy will be “brutal” – my throat will hurt “200 times worse than strep throat” (Doctor’s exact words). Also, that I will not be able to eat or drink anything orally during that time because of the pain. I recently talked with a friend of a friend who had the exact same cancer two years ago (and by God’s grace is cancer free now), and he lost 80 pounds during treatment and had the G-tube “procedure” in a weakened state mid-way through treatment. His advice was “get the G-tube NOW!”

So yesterday – with a tube in my nose that went to my stomach and feeling like I was battling in a kick boxing match with Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan I was thinking of the aforementioned phrase by Tony Campolo, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.”

During surgery – I was awake during the “procedure” and in a lot of pain – I tried quoting Bible verses and singing hymns (I can never remember the new songs – only classics like “And Can It Be; “How Great Thou Art”; and “Amazing Grace”); and trying to take my focus off of the pain. Quoting verses or hymns just didn’t seem to work – I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the pain.

So the Holy Spirit  began take my focus off of my pain and on to Jesus – what He did for me on the cross 2000 years ago. I visualized the torture He endured – the lashes; the insults; the crown of thorns; suffocating; the blood, sweat, and tears. Ultimately being unrecognizable, forsaken, and dying for my sins. He was perfect and never did anything wrong – and yet He volunteered to endure more torture than I could imagine. I endured what seemed like torture for 45 minutes – and now its done. I didn’t accomplish any atoning work for anyone. Yet His righteousness was imputed to me, and His voluntary sacrifice in payment for my sin were absolutely necessary to make me right with a Holy and perfect God.

Jesus was crucified on a Friday, but rose again on Sunday. I can’t even come close to comparing my “torture” with His. However, I do have a deeper appreciation for what He endured in His 33 years on earth: facing temptation without sinning; completely obeying God the Father in every way; and becoming the “Lamb that was slain” so that He could be my Savior and Lord.

I don’t know what will become of my cancer, I hope and pray that God will take it away. One thing I do know, is that He has already wiped away my sin, and that everything He allows is for my good and ultimately for the Glory of His Son.  I hope and pray that God will use my cancer for the furtherance of the glorious Gospel. However, I know that even if I’m silent the rocks will cry out of His glorious works. I know that I am weak and frail and but a mere sinful vessel. I also know that Jesus was weak, suffered, and died in my place, and rose from the dead on Sunday. He is so strong that no one and nothing can defeat Him. Today is Friday. But Sunday is coming! Last time He came as a humble servant. Next time He comes as King!

Today may be a tough day for you my friend. But remember that anyone who comes to Him will not be cast away. Our confession of sin in exchange for His righteousness. We can never earn our salvation – but Jesus has earned the right to be trusted and believed in unto salvation. “The righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.”

Today, I’m doing better, but will continue down a rough road with radiation and chemotherapy ahead. However, I am grateful that because of the righteous life, death, burial, and resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that no matter how many “Friday’s” I will have in this trial – that because of Jesus finished work on the cross, my future hope is that “Sunday is coming!”

Some Scriptures God The Holy Spirit Used To Comfort Me in my Pain:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” – Psalm 22:1

“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:2-7

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. – Isaiah 53:10-12

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:21-25

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. – 1 Peter 3:17-18

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed…Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name [the name of Christ]. – 1 Peter 4:12-13, 16

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4:1-2

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2

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. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:56-58

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