Laying out what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty over the spectacular sins and terrible tragedies of human history, John Piper encourages readers to trust in God’s plan and purposes. Newly redesigned.
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About the Author
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.organd the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God;Don’t Waste Your Life;This Momentary Marriage;A Peculiar Glory;andReading the Bible Supernaturally.
Read an Excerpt
GOD SOVEREIGN OVER HUMAN SIN
The Impulses Behind This Book
The king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by God.
2 CHRONICLES 10:15
"Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets. The LORD has declared disaster concerning you."
2 CHRONICLES 18:22
Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies, because they had sought the gods of Edom.
2 CHRONICLES 25:20
The first impulse to write this book came when we were on vacation in 2007. I was sitting on a porch in Asheville, North Carolina. It was midsummer, and that means I was in 2 Chronicles. My through-the-Bible-in-a-year reading plan had put me in the same place in the Bible that it does every summer. Reading the Bible with the same plan every year makes for some interesting associations in my mind between towns and texts. The association with Asheville that year was God's sovereignty over demonic evil and human sin.
WHAT I SAW IN ASHEVILLE
Here's a glimpse of what I was seeing and what I mean by God's sovereignty over sin. I'm sitting there on the porch looking out over the Blue Ridge Mountains (and they really are blue at certain times of day), and I am reading things like this:
A Turn of Affairs Brought about by God
First, Solomon, king of Israel, had died. His son Rehoboam was about to be made king. Jeroboam, who had opposed Solomon and was driven into exile in Egypt, returned quickly and gathered the people behind him as a popular leader. He took the people and stood before Rehoboam and offered to serve him if he would lighten their load. "Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you" (2 Chron. 10:4).
Rehoboam sought counsel from the old men. They counseled wisely, "If you will be good to this people and please them and speak good words to them, they will be your servants forever" (2 Chron. 10:7).
But Rehoboam abandoned the counsel of the old men and sought counsel from "the young men who had grown up with him." They gave foolish counsel: "Thus shall you speak to the people ... 'My little finger is thicker than my father's thighs. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions'" (2 Chron. 10:10–11).
Rehoboam embraced the foolish counsel of the young men. The result was the tragic split of Israel into two warring kingdoms — ten tribes in the north and two tribes in the south. Why did Rehoboam react in this sinful and foolish way? There are layers of answers. But the writer of 2 Chronicles tells us the ultimate answer: "The king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by God" (2 Chron. 10:15).
This is what I mean by God's sovereignty over sin.
God Put a Lying Spirit in the Mouths of the Prophets
Second, a few chapters later Ahab, king of the northern tribes of Israel, made an alliance with Jehoshaphat, the king of the southern tribes. They would go to war together against Syria. Before going they sought counsel from the prophets. Four hundred prophets counseled them to go up against Syria. God would give it into their hands, they said (2 Chron. 18:11).
But these prophets were deceived. The one true prophet, Micaiah, described to the kings what had happened. He gave a window into heaven. He explained that among the hosts gathered before God there was a "lying spirit" who volunteered to deceive the prophets. "I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets" (2 Chron. 18:21). So God says, "You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so." Then the true prophet Micaiah said to Ahab, "Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets. The LORD has declared disaster concerning you" (2 Chron. 18:22). Why did the prophets give false and destructive counsel to King Ahab? There are layers of answers. But the writer of 2 Chronicles gives the ultimate one: "The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets."
It Was of God
Third, one more illustration from what I was reading on the porch in Asheville. Seven chapters later in 2 Chronicles, Amaziah, the king of Judah, became bigheaded by a recent victory over the nation of Edom. In his pride, he decided to press his authority on the northern kingdom ruled by Joash.
Joash resisted and pointed out Amaziah's pride: "You say, 'See, I have struck down Edom,' and your heart has lifted you up in boastfulness." Then he gave him wise counsel: "Stay at home. Why should you provoke trouble so that you fall, you and Judah with you?" (2 Chron. 25:19).
But Amaziah would not forsake his pride and aggression. Why? Again the answer has many layers. But the writer of 2 Chronicles gives us the ultimate answer: "Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies, because they had sought the gods of Edom" (2 Chron. 25:20).
This is what I mean by the sovereignty of God over sin.
THE IMPULSES GIVING RISE TO THIS BOOK
Why Does God Want Us to Know His Sovereignty over Sin?
Why does God think it is good for us to know this? Why does God tell us repeatedly in the Bible that, in some unfathomable way, he governs the sinful acts of men? We know that God himself never sins or does anything evil or unholy. If there is one thing the Bible is clear about, it is that God is holy and does not sin. "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" (Rev. 4:8; see Isa. 6:3). "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). "God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one" (Jas. 1:13). "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Gen. 18:25). Yes. That is not up for grabs. God is just and holy and eternally without sin.
So why does God tell us about his sovereignty over sin? It troubles people. Why does he want us to know this? There must be some good reason. I want to know what that is. That's the first impulse that gives rise to this book.
Why Does God Not Restrain Sin More Often?
The second impulse behind this book is the overwhelming evil in the world. Whatever month of the year you choose, heart-rending calamities fill the news from coast to coast and around the world. And if we had the connections to know about them, we would see that they fill our churches as well. Calamities strike the world of unbelievers and the children of God every day with mind-numbing pain. Some of these tragedies come directly from natural disasters, and some come directly from the sinful acts of man against man.
Just when you think violent crime in one state is decreasing, you read about a major city where the murder rate is up 50 percent in the last seven years. Just when you hear that drug use is on the decline among teenagers, you read about execution-style murders among our youth. Somewhere in the news miners are trapped deep underground, and family members are huddled in a church hoping against hope. An interstate bridge collapses, and a just-married husband doesn't arrive home for supper — ever. Planes collide, and bodies fall from the sky. Trains explode in flesh-burning balls of flame. The most stable countries suddenly burst into ethnic violence, and headlines venture the term genocide. A father throws his children off a bridge to spite his wife. Little girls are kidnapped and made to serve as sex slaves. Ethnic and religious minorities are systematically starved out of existence. Tsunamis sweep away whole villages and churches. Earthquakes bury thirty thousand people in a night. Suddenly twenty million people are displaced with South Asian flooding. And forty-six million pre-born babies are killed every year around the world.
Does this have anything to do with Jesus Christ — the risen king of the universe who stops the threatening wind and waves with a single word (Luke 8:24–25), who commands the dead and they live (John 11:43–44), who makes the lame walk and the blind see and the deaf hear (Matt. 11:5), who feeds five thousand with a few loaves of bread (Mark 6:41–42), who created the universe and everything in it (John 1:3), and who upholds the universe with the word of his power (Heb. 1:3) and says, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18)?
Surely, this Jesus can stop a tsunami, and make the wind blow a jet off its deadly course toward a crowded tower, and loosen the stranglehold of an umbilical cord from around an infant's neck, and blind the eyes of torturers, and stop a drought. Surely he can do this and a thousand other acts of restraint and rescue. He has done it before. He could do it now. What is his reason for not doing it more often than he does? That is the second impulse that gives rise to this book.
How Can We Have Faith and Joy during the Severity of the Last Days?
Third, the Bible itself tells us that in the last days things will be difficult and severe. There will be much suffering, and it will not exclude the followers of Jesus. In 2 Timothy 3:1 Paul says, "Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty." This statement is meant as a warning for Christians to expect trouble. Lots of trouble.
He goes on to explain that the source of this difficulty will be pervasive sin. "People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (2 Tim. 3:2–5).
Together with human sinfulness, the last days will be permeated with natural calamities. It will be as though the earth is in the heavings of childbirth. "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains" (Matt. 24:7–8).
There will be sweeping hostilities toward Christians: "They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake" (Matt. 24:9). "Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold" (Matt. 24:12).
Tragedies and calamities and horrific suffering and sinful atrocities should not take Christians off guard. "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" (1 Pet. 4:12). They are foreseen by God, and he foretold them for us to know. God sees them coming and does not intend to stop them. Therefore, it appears that they somehow fit into his purposes.
Indeed, he says as much about the murder of his saints in Revelation 6:10–11. Those who had already been killed cry out in heaven, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" John describes the answer they receive: "They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been."
There is a number of martyrs to be filled. God knows how many murders of his children there must be. And God reigns over every one of them. He does not spare his children physical death, but he does save them eternally: "Some of you they will put to death. ... But not a hair of your head will perish" (Luke 21:16, 18).
As a pastor, I do not think it is my job to entertain you during the last days. It is not my calling to help you have chipper feelings while the whole creation groans. My job is to put the kind of ballast in the belly of your boat so that when these waves crash against your life, you will not capsize but make it to the harbor of heaven — battered and wounded, but full of faith and joy. That's the third impulse that gives rise to this book.
How Is Christ Glorified in a World of Sin?
The fourth impulse behind this book is the ultimate aim of my life and ministry. Recently I went back almost three decades and listened to my candidating sermon at the church I still serve. It was January 27, 1980. I told that old and graying downtown church that I had one supreme passion and one simple goal. I learned it from my father, and I learned it from the apostle Paul.
I exist to magnify Jesus Christ. That is, I am on this planet for one ultimate reason: to do whatever I can to make Jesus Christ known and treasured — a knowing and a treasuring that accords with his infinite beauty and immeasurable worth. My text that Sunday was the clearest statement of this passion and goal in the Bible. The text was Philippians 1:20: "It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death." Paul's "eager expectation" is that Christ be made to look as great as he really is by the way Paul lives and dies. That's my passion too.
This is the fourth impulse behind this book. How is Christ magnified in a world like ours? Or a world like 2 Chronicles? How is Christ magnified in the fall of Satan from his position of perfection? In the sin of Adam and the fall of the entire human race into sin and misery? In the tower of Babel and the fracturing of the human race into thousands of languages? In the sale of Joseph into slavery in Egypt? In Israel's treason against God in demanding a human king to be like the nations? In the betrayal of the Son of God by the kiss of his friend?
SORROWFUL, YET ALWAYS REJOICING
Between Asheville and this book, I preached a series of messages under the title "Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ." It marked the beginning of my twenty-eighth year of preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church. There was death that autumn, just like there had been death in the spring. My father and my granddaughter. The I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed. Darkness overcame the young. And steady-state suffering kept its inexorable pace. I write out of the way I experience the word of God. And what I experience almost every day is someone's pain. Sometimes my own. Always someone else's that, in part, becomes mine.
We are Christian Hedonists at Bethlehem. That means we believe and pursue the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. But we also know that in this life, joy in God is never unmixed with sorrow. Never. Love won't allow that. Our banner bears the seal of 2 Corinthians 6:10, "sorrowful yet always rejoicing." We are pushing our way through a blood-spattered life that makes us feel connected to the world and disconnected at the same time. We are here but not here. Love binds us to the tragic earth, and love binds us to the Treasure of heaven. Christians are strange. Our emotions are inexplicable in ordinary terms. "[Let] those who [mourn] mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who [rejoice] rejoice as though they were not rejoicing" (1 Cor. 7:30). That is our experience. That is the daily context of this book.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Spectacular Sins"
Copyright © 2008 Desiring God Foundation.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Times Are Changing When the Bruised Heart Needs a Tire Iron,
1 God Sovereign over Human Sin The Impulses Behind This Book,
2 Christ Sovereign over All Hostile Powers All Things Were Created for Him,
3 The Fall of Satan and the Victory of Christ Why Does God Permit Satan to Live?,
4 The Fatal Disobedience of Adam and the Triumphant Obedience of Christ How Adam's Sin Serves the Supremacy of Christ,
5 The Pride of Babel and the Praise of Christ How the Judgment of God Brings Joyful Acclaim to Jesus,
6 The Sale of Joseph and the Son of God How Salvation Comes through Slavery,
7 The Sinful Origin of the Son of David How the God-Man Becomes the King of Kings,
8 Judas Iscariot, the Suicide of Satan, and the Salvation of the World How God Conquered Sin through Sin,
A Closing Prayer,
Desiring God: A Note on Resources,
What People are Saying About This
"When it comes to holocausts or other horrors, most of us assume God has his hands tied and his back to the wall. We figure the devil wreaks havoc when God's not looking; we rationalize the Lord's 'mistakes,' figuring he absentmindedly took his hands off the wheel when tragedies happen. But John Piper paints a different picture from the pages of Scripture that will strengthen your heart, bolster your faith, and deepen your understanding of the 'largeness' of God's sovereignty."
Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder, Joni and Friends
"I had to read this book twice. The weighty truths about the sovereign wisdom and power of God unpacked in these pages created in me an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and ultimate safety. To be reminded of his might over everything is priceless, and I don't think I'll ever be able to preach the same again."
Matt Chandler,Lead Pastor, The Village Church, Dallas, Texas; President, Acts 29 Church Planting Network; author, The Mingling of Souls and The Explicit Gospel
"Pastors, make sure your people read this book! I know of no one who has so clearly addressed the relationship of man's sin and God's sovereignty as John has done in Spectacular Sins."
Randy Pope, Pastor, Perimeter Church, Duluth, GA
"Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. Wow! Spectacular and sin! I've never seen those words together before. And who but John Piper could so brilliantly weave them into the same lyric as the global, purposeful glory of Christ! This man never ceases to inspire me to be more awestruck with the supremacy of Jesus."
Chris Tomlin, Recording Artist, Song-writer and Lead Worshiper
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am blessed to be able to belong to John Piper's church, and I was present for the original sermons that this booked is based on, and I am so very glad that Pastor John decided to write this book. Sin and evil are terribly hard things to understand, hard to reconcile with our sometimes faulty image of God. This book does a fabulous job of explaining God's sovereignty in ALL things, even the most spectacular sin of all, the Crucifixion.
"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him"--we at Bethlehem hear this phrase frequently. "Spectacular Sins" helps us to see how that is possible in our fallen world.
As I close a finished book, few leave me wanting to start at page one and read it again. But, the impact of John Piper¿s "Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ" was so profound that as I read the last page, I immediately wanted to soak more of its truth into my bones, starting again with the first page. Apparently I am not alone in my admiration. In 2009, Piper¿s work in this small gem won the prestigious Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Medallion of Excellence Christian Book Award. With good reason. Piper¿s ability to interpret heady doctrinal beliefs into soul language that translates into practical application has established him as one of the great Christian thinkers of modern time.Piper tackles God¿s sovereignty over sin and evil, always with a finger in the Bible, in a way that was truly paradigm-shifting for me. Using Colossians 1:16 as his key passage, Piper gives us a glimpse into why God allows evil to even exist: ¿For by Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by Him and for Him.¿ Indeed, he continues, even evil rulers and authorities were created by God with full knowledge of ¿what they would become and how it is that precisely in that evil role they would glorify Christ.¿ This author lays his groundwork in the first couple chapters of Spectacular Sins to demonstrate that ¿spectacular sins do not just fail to nullify God¿s purpose to glorify Christ, they succeed, by God¿s unfathomable providence, in making [H]is gracious purpose come to pass.¿In the remainder of this book, this engaging author examines some of history¿s greatest sins ¿ from Satan¿s rebellion against God to Judas¿ spectacular betrayal of Jesus Christ . As Piper visits these most famous of all sins, he continually points us to God¿s greater purpose and hand in using evil to ultimately ¿magnify the glory of our Savior and increase the gladness of [H]is people in [H]im.¿Through "Spectacular Sins", Piper provided me with a fresh glimpse into God¿s great plan of salvation, established before the foundation of the world. Jesus¿ death and resurrection was not an afterthought; it was not God¿s answer to the waywardness of humanity. The Cross was and is, the ultimate display of His incredible grace, mercy and love, made all the more beautiful in light of evil¿s intentions. When wounded by others¿ sin, may I stand with Joseph, the man whose brothers sold him into slavery and who eventually saved the nation of Israel, in saying, ¿You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.¿
One of Piper's recent books talking God's sovereignty in ordaining some of the most sinful acts in history.Key Quote = "The death of Jesus Christ was murder. It was the most spectacular sin ever committed...God did not just overcome evil at the cross. He made evil serve the overcoming of evil."
Life changing. Beautiful.