Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fifty reasons why Jesus came to die

Book review: Fifty reasons why Jesus came to die, John Piper

I discovered this book around Easter time, when a fellow blogger suggested reading itin the lead up to Easter. I decided to give it a go. I started the week before Easter, and read one 'reason' after each time I read my bible. It took a bit more than 50 days, but not too much more!

It was great. If you are like me you may struggle to articulate 10 reasons why Jesus died, let alone 50! However each one made me see afresh another part of Jesus' death, why it was essential and why I can be so thankful for his sacrifice.

Each reason is only 2 pages long - one open spread (you can see a sample, and download the whole book for free from here). So it could be tempting to read the whole book quite quickly, as the whole book is pretty short. However, I really benefitted from reading only one reason per day. It helped me to focus on that one reason alone and think about it a little more. Another thing which I personally found very helpful was to 'rewrite' the reason in my own words in one sentence. It helped me to clarify my own thoughts on each one.

I found the whole book very helpful, but here are a few highlights:

1. Reasons 9 & 10 - summarised by me as '9 - so that we can be forgiven' and '10 - so that we can be justified'. Now these are two truths I know and trust in. But reading them one day after the other pointed out that:
- being forgiven means that something needs to be forgiven - we are guilty
- being justified declares that someone is just - declared innocent

As Piper put it
Being forgiven implies that I am guilty and my crime is not counted. Being justified implies that I have been tried and found innocent (p38)
I appreciated the two being contrasted so clearly, to me it just highlighted again what Jesus did on the cross, we are both forgiven and justified. Not one or the other, but both. Without going into a theological treatise - perhaps one or the other would have been enough - but Jesus accomplished both.

2. Reason 22 - To bring us to God. Piper explains how the gospel means good news, then asks,
But what is the ultimate good in the good news? It all ends in one thing: God himself. All the words of the gospel lead to him, or they are not gospel. For example, salvation is not good news if it only saves from hell and not for God. Forgiveness is not good news if it only gives relief from guilt and doesn’t open the way to God. Justification is not good news if it only makes us legally acceptable to God but doesn’t bring fellowship with God. Redemption is not good news if it only liberates us from bondage but doesn’t bring us to God. Adoption is not good news if it only puts us in the Father’s family but not in his arms. (p22)
This really struck me - it all has to lead to God, or it goes nowhere.

3. Reason 27 - to become a sympathetic and helpful priest. Piper makes a helpful point here about temptation and how Jesus understands it:
Christ was tempted like every human is tempted. True, he never sinned. But wise people have pointed out that this means his temptations were stronger than ours, not weaker. If a person gives in to temptation, it never reaches its fullest and longest assault. We capitulate while the pressure is still building. But Jesus never did. So he endured the full pressure to the end and never caved. He knows what it is to be tempted with fullest force. (p72)
Jesus does understand our struggles and our temptations, as Hebrews 4:15-16 makes clear:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
4. Reason 39 - To free us from bondage to the fear of death. This chapter had some powerful comments about Satan:
The one lethal weapon he has is the power to deceive us. His chief lie is that self-exaltation is more to be desired than Christ-exaltation, and sin preferable to righteousness. If that weapon could be taken out of his hand, he would no longer have the power of eternal death.

That is what Christ came to do - take that weapon out of Satan's hand. To do this, Christ took our sins on himself and suffered for them. When that happened, they could be used no more by the devil to destroy us. Taunt us? Yes. Mock us? Yes. But damn us? No. Christ bore the curse in our place. Try as he will, Satan cannot destroy us. The wrath of God is removed. His mercy is our shield. And Satan cannot succeed against us. (p96-7)
5. Reason 49 - So that he would be crowned with glory and honour. Piper lifts our eyes to see that Jesus died for his glory, not for ours:
Our happiest moments have not been self-saturated moments, but self-forgetful moments. There have been times when we stood beside the Grand Canyon, or at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, or viewed a stunning sunset over the Sahara, and for a fleeting moment felt the joy of sheer wonder. This is what we were made for. Paradise will not be a hall of mirrors. It will be a display of majesty. And it won’t be ours. (p117)

The only thing that felt odd to me in this book was the introduction, titled "Christ and the Concentration Camps", where he addresses some issues related to the holocaust and Jesus' death. It seemed like a strange way to introduce a book. I suspect Piper is dealing with some issue here for a reason, but I don't really know what the issue is, so it felt a little out of place. I wondered if it would have been better as an appendix.

This book is well worth reading, and reading well.

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