Isaiah 42:1-9 Sermon — “Behold God’s Servant”

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The Eternal Marks of the Risen Savior

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will certainly not believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, behold, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “You have believed because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
–John 20:24-29

The above passage from John’s Gospel displays a number of remarkable features, each of which could ably serve as a  launching point for an entire book of doctrinal study:

  • In the first place, there is Jesus’ immeasurable compassion in returning to the disciples specifically to redeem the faith of one of them–and he a shamefully stubborn doubter, no less.  
  • There is the clear demonstration of Jesus’ omniscience, having known the demands and indeed the exact words of Thomas while bodily absent.  
  • There is the immense theological significance of Jesus’ continuing to have a truly human nature and form even after His resurrection.  
  • There is the incarnational paradox evident in Thomas’ response to seeing Jesus’ physical body: “My Lord and my God.”  
  • There is even a direct reference to John’s readers in the historical words of Jesus, as He calls them blessed who have believed on the basis of His apostles’ witness without requiring to see the risen Christ.

Again, any of these facets of the text could amply fill a dozen blog posts, but there is one other element that specifically caught my eye today.  (Behold, visual puns!)  While it may not seem like much at first glance, it is absolutely astounding that Jesus’ glorified resurrection body forever retains the marks of His crucifixion.  Taken together, the descriptions we have in the Scriptures of the post-resurrection human body (cf. Rom 8:21-25; 1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 5:1-5; etc.) indicate a perfect wholeness, an ideal beauty, and a functional perfection.  The word Paul uses over and over in 1 Corinthians 15 is phthartos (a mouthful even for native Greek speakers, I reckon), which can be rendered either imperishable or incorruptible.  The teaching is clear: When our bodies are transformed into their everlasting, glorified forms at the dawn of the new heavens and new earth, they will be without blemish or defect, a stainless reflection of our finally-stainless hearts.

Such will be the blessed estate of all who belong to Jesus by faith–but not, it seems, of Jesus Himself.  In the irony of ironies, the Lord will bear the physical marks of His execution forevermore.  Why should this be?  It seems altogether unfitting for Jesus’ eternal body to have any defects–let alone to be the only body with defects.  That’s shameful and backward!

Well…

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
–Philippians 2:5-11

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,
     “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
          and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
–1 Corinthians 1:18-25

In God’s economy, the way up is the way down.  The Philippians passage above confirms for us that Jesus’ exaltation is in fact a result of His humiliation on the cross.  Ultimately, there is nothing more glorifying to God than the redemption of His people, as appointed by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Spirit.  Thus, Jesus retains the marks of His crucifixion on His resurrected body, as a permanent sign of that eternally efficacious sacrifice which purchased and purifies His heavenly bride.  Because of Jesus’ character and work, the marks of the nails and spear are neither a blemish nor defect; indeed, they are the richest testaments to His perfect wholeness, ideal beauty, and absolute perfection as our Savior and Lord.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Amen.

“Can God Be Selfish?” Answering Objections to Soli Deo Gloria

Having defined and explored the scriptural basis for Soli Deo Gloria, it is desirable now to address briefly a pair of common objections to the doctrine, which will in turn lead to a more solid understanding of God’s great zeal for His glory and its consequences for His creatures.

The first objection, as phrased by Edwards, is “that to suppose God makes himself his highest and last end is dishonorable to him, as it in effect supposes that God does everything from a selfish spirit.”[1]  This objection comes from common human observation as well as the teachings of Scripture, both of which attest that supreme selfishness and supreme goodness cannot possibly coincide in one soul.  However true this may be for the lowly creature, though, it does not translate to the divine Creator; as a matter of fact, God’s concern for Himself above all else is derived from His divine goodness!  As Piper explains, “God would be unrighteous (just as we would) if he valued anything more than what is supremely valuable.  But he himself is supremely valuable.  If he did not take infinite delight in the worth of his own glory he would be unrighteous.”[2]  In a magnificent turn of phrase, Piper remarks that “God’s esteeming himself supremely is not contrary to his esteeming human happiness, since he is that happiness”; consequently, “Nothing is more loving than for God to exalt himself for the enjoyment of man.”[3]  Indeed, it should come as no surprise that the all-powerful, all-wise, sovereign Creator God would have formed for Himself a world in which His ultimate end coincides perfectly with the greatest benefit of His creatures.

A second common objection to Soli Deo Gloria regards the supposed danger of positing a God who is not complete or fulfilled in Himself, needing the glory given to Him by creation in order to be complete.  Such a God would thus be dependent on creatures.  Bavinck expresses the objection thusly: “Since the world serves as an instrument of his glorification, there is something lacking in his perfection and blessedness.  Creation must meet a need in God and contributes to his perfection.”[4]  Well, in the first place, God’s supposed dependence upon creation or lack of perfection must be rejected outright.  God did not create from necessity but from His good pleasure; and this good pleasure was not constrained to find outlet in creation.  One is wise to note that infinity cannot be improved, and it certainly is not deficient.  In short, the divine fellowship and mutual glorification of the Trinity leave no room to suppose that God should ever be in want.  However, Edwards offers a healthy corrective to such a one-dimensional response:

Though it be true that God’s glory and happiness are in and of himself, are infinite and cannot be added to, and unchangeable, for the whole and every part of which he is perfectly independent of the creature; yet it does not hence follow, nor is it true, that God has no real and proper delight, pleasure, or happiness in any of his acts or communications relative to the creature or effects he produces in them, or in any thing he sees in the creature’s qualifications, dispositions, actions and state.[5]

The key to understanding this two-sided reality is to be found in this: that any glory or pleasure God finds in his creatures was not of their invention but His.[6]  Recalling Romans 11, all things which are “to him” were first “from him” and “through him.”[7]  Therefore, as always, all the glory belongs to God.

We’ve got one more post simmering in the proverbial crock pot for this miniseries on Soli Deo Gloria, but before diving into some juicy implications of the doctrine for our daily lives, it behooves us to pause and make certain that we’re all on the same page.  Is this all making sense?  Is there anything that needs to be explained in greater detail?  Are there other objections to Soli Deo Gloria that ought to be addressed?  Does the biblical evidence hold up?  If you’ve got a question, an observation, a rejoinder, a non sequitur, or a “yo mamma’s so Reformed” joke, I reckon we’d all benefit from hearing it.  So leave a comment below!  (That’s right, you!  Take it personally!)


[1] Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, ¶ 93.

[2] Piper, Desiring God, 32.

[3] John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), 169-170. Emphasis added.

[4] Bavinck, God and Creation, 434.

[5] Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, ¶ 79.

[6] Westminster Confession of Faith, II.II.

[7] Rom 11:36, ESV.

The Chief End of God: Soli Deo Gloria

The fundamental doctrines which guided and distinguished the early Protestant movement are generally called the five “Solas”–namely, Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone).  Of these five, the last one may seem a little peculiar.  Compared to the others, the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria is noteworthy in that no Protestant/Catholic contrast readily presents itself.  How then did this doctrine—which did not quite fit the “protesting” mold due to its lack of uniqueness to the Reformation movement—become elevated by the Reformers to the same iconic status as controversial doctrines like Sola Fide and Sola Gratia?

Through their thorough investigation of the Scriptures, the Reformers rediscovered the theme of God’s glory interwoven throughout the biblical witness as His most preeminent concern and fundamental motivation in every word and deed.  In response to this realization, notes Herman Bavinck, “The Reformed tradition made the honor of God the fundamental principle of all doctrine and conduct, of dogmatics and family, of society and the state, of science and art.  Nowhere was this principle of the glory of God more universally applied than among the confessors of the Reformed religion.”[1]

To reiterate, the importance of the glory of God to both the Christian and to God Himself would not be denied by any stream of the Christian tradition; at the same time, the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria is not one to which all professed Christians would readily subscribe.  Thus it is beneficial to define the doctrine, discuss its scriptural support, address several prominent objections to it, and examine its practical relevance to the Christian life (each in successive posts).  Of course, as a means of introduction to the doctrine, one would also do well to acquaint himself with a general biblical understanding of God’s glory.

Defining Soli Deo Gloria

Though the Bible includes a number of genres of literature, the ‘dictionary’ genre is not to be found among them; therefore, while readers of the Scriptures may encounter terms like glory with such frequency as to develop general ideas of their meanings, there is much to be gained from seeking to establish a proper definition for such important theological concepts (or, better stated, such significant metaphysical realities).  In the case of the glory of God, the difficulty of constructing a definition is amplified by the fact of its partial incomprehensibility to the finite minds of human beings; in fact, this may be where any accurate definition must start: the acknowledgment that the divine quality of God’s glory makes it altogether too lofty to be captured in full by pen or tongue.  Having granted this limitation, John Piper defines God’s glory as “the beauty of his manifold perfections.  It can refer to the bright and awesome radiance that sometimes breaks forth in visible manifestations.  Or it can refer to the infinite moral excellence of his character.  In either case it signifies a reality of infinite greatness and worth.”[2]  Bruce Milne defines the glory of God in similar terms—“the visible manifestation of God’s being”; he elaborates, “His glory carries us into the heart of all that is essential to his being as God, his divine majesty, his sheer Godness….  His glory refers to that by and in which he alone is God.”[3]

Both of the definitions given above seem to imply two subtly distinct meanings of glory: one an objective, intrinsic quality of God’s being (“moral excellence”; “that in which he is God”) and the other a corresponding outward display of His qualities.  Some dispute has arisen over whether the former understanding of glory as likened to an attribute of God is in fact biblical.  H. P. Smith argues persuasively that the Scriptures only ever speak of God’s glory with the attending notion of manifestation or communication; for the present purposes, Smith’s case is more than satisfactory.[4]  While not altogether abandoning the notion of an internal quality of glory, Jonathan Edwards is careful to distinguish between the two and to emphasize the external aspect as it pertains to Soli Deo Gloria:

The thing signified by that name, the glory of God, when spoken of as the supreme and ultimate end of all God’s works, is the emanation and true external expression of God’s internal glory and fullness; meaning by his fullness what has already been explained; or, in other words, God’s internal glory, in a true and just exhibition, or external existence of it.[5]

Having thus briefly surveyed a number of baseline definitions, it is clear that God’s glory is indeed magnificent and divinely splendorous.  The doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria begins with the notion that God finds no greater pleasure than in His own glory.  As Piper explains, “God’s own glory is uppermost in his own affections….  He puts a greater value on it than on anything else.  He delights in his glory above all things….  He loves his glory infinitely.”[6]  It follows naturally that God’s highest joy would be His highest priority; it also follows that God would be consumed with righteous jealousy were anyone else to grasp at the glory which only He deserves.  Such is the essence of Soli Deo Gloria: that God’s foremost motivation and intention in every work is His own glory alone.  Even at its best formulation, the syntax here may lend itself to some confusion; while the word alone indicates God’s unwillingness to forfeit His glory to another, it does not mean that God’s glory is the only end for which He works.  The fact of God’s glory being His ultimate end does not preclude Him from also having proximate ends for His works; it does however subordinate all other ends to that glory.  As Piper explains, “God has many other goals in what he does.  But none of them is more ultimate than this….  God’s overwhelming passion is to exalt the value of his glory.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith reflects the primacy of glory among God’s divine aims by placing the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria among the very first expressions of God’s character and activity in the confession:

There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory….[7]

It can rightly be reasoned that such a doctrine would not achieve this prominent placement in such a significant and enduring confessional statement without having been first established on a defensible scriptural basis.  In our next post, we will briefly survey several major texts in which the glory of God can be seen as His predominating motivation and goal across a number of significant biblical contexts.

The Lord bless you and keep you.


[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation (ed. John Bolt; trans. John Vriend; Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 2; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004), 434.  To clarify, Bavinck is not here confusing Reformation theology with Reformed theology, nor is the author.  It so happened that the Reformed theologians would retain this particular zeal for the doctrine as Protestantism differentiated.

[2] John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press, 1986), 31.

[3] Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief (rev. ed.; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 81.

[4] H. P. Smith, “The Scriptural Conception of the Glory of God,” The Old Testament Student Vol. 3 no. 9 (May 1884): 325-326.

[5] Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, ¶ 265.

[6] Piper, Desiring God, 31-32.

[7] Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, II.I.