Category Archives: God’s Power

“He gives rain on the earth” by John Piper

“‘God does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number. He gives rain on the earth.’ (Job 5:8-10) In Job’s mind rain really is one of the great, unsearchable wonders that God does. So when I read this a few weeks ago, I resolved not to treat it as meaningless pop musical lyrics. I decided to have a conversation with myself (which is what I mean by meditation).

Is rain a great and unsearchable wonder wrought by God? Picture yourself as a farmer in the Near East, far from any lake or stream. A few wells keep the family and animals supplied with water. But if the crops are to grow and the family is to be fed from month to month, water has to come from another source on the fields. From where?

Well, the sky. The sky? Water will come out of the clear blue sky? Well, not exactly. Water will have to be carried in the sky from the Mediterranean Sea over several hundred miles, and then be poured out on the fields from the sky. Carried? How much does it weigh? Well, if one inch of rain falls on one square mile of farmland during the night, that would be 2,323,200 cubic feet of water, which is 17,377,536 gallons, which is 144,735,360 pounds of water.

That’s heavy. So how does it get up in the sky and stay up there if it’s so heavy? Well, it gets up there by evaporation. Really? That’s a nice word. What’s it mean? It means that the water stops being water for a while so it can go up and not down. I see. Then how does it get down? Well, condensation happens. What’s that? The water starts becoming water again by gathering around little dust particles between .00001 and .0001 centimeters wide. That’s small.

What about the salt? Salt? Yes, the Mediterranean Sea is saltwater. That would kill the crops. What about the salt? Well, the salt has to be taken out. Oh. So the sky picks up millions of pounds of water from the sea, takes out the salt, carries the water (or whatever it is, when it is not water) for three hundred miles, and then dumps it (now turned into water again) on the farm?

Well, it doesn’t dump it. If it dumped millions of pounds of water on the farm, the wheat would be crushed. So the sky dribbles the millions of pounds of water down in little drops. And they have to be big enough to fall for one mile or so without evaporating, and small enough to keep from crushing the wheat stalks.

How do all these microscopic specks of water that weigh millions of pounds get heavy enough to fall (if that’s the way to ask the question)? Well, it’s called coalescence. What’s that? It means the specks of water start bumping into each other and join up and get bigger, and when they are big enough, they fall.

Just like that? Well, not exactly, because they would just bounce off each other instead of joining up if there were no electric field present. What? Never mind. Take my word for it.

I think, instead, I will just take Job’s word for it.”

–John Piper, Taste and See: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2005), 24–26.

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“The Empty Tomb” by Tom Wright

“Darkness on the face of the deep. The formless beginning, the chaos. The void. The beginning.

The wind and the word. God’s breath, God’s speech, summoning things never known before. Life and light. The first day. Creation.

In the beginning was the Word… and the Word became flesh.

The flesh has spoken, breathed, brought life and light. New creation has spilled out around Him wherever He has gone. ‘Here’s the man!’ The sixth day. Creation is complete. God saw all he had made, and it was very good.

Flesh dies. Chaos comes again. Darkness descends on the little weeping group at the cross. Two men in the fading light do what has to be done. Then the long sabbath, the rest in the cold tomb.

And now, still in the darkness, the first day of the week. The new week. The new creation. The eighth day. Eyes red from weeping and sleepless sabbath nights.

Women at the tomb; perhaps to bring more spices, perhaps just to weep, perhaps just to be there, because there was nowhere else to be, nothing else to do, nothing else that mattered, that would ever matter.

Mary Magdalene doesn’t feature in John’s gospel until her appearance, with the other Marys, at the foot of the cross. John has told us nothing of her history; the little we know, we know from the other gospels.

But her place here is spectacular. She is the first to bring the news that the tomb was empty. And, in the next section, a greater privilege yet: the first to see, to meet, to speak with the risen master Himself.

For the moment, the empty tomb is simply another twist of the knife. Chaos upon chaos. Someone’s taken Him away. No faith, no hope, no ‘maybe, after all …’. Just a cruel trick.

Some gardener, some labourer, some soldier, someone’s servant. But we must find out. It’s urgent. She runs back into the city, back to Peter in his hiding place, back to the young lad she had stood with by the cross, the one Jesus specially loved.

They run, too. (There is more running in these verses than in the rest of the gospels put together.) The younger man gets there first. Sure enough, the tomb is open and empty.

And here’s a curious thing: there are the linen cloths, lying there. Someone has not only taken the body away; they have first gone to the trouble of unwrapping it. Why on earth would you do that? Where has that happened before?

Peter, out of breath, arrives at the tomb a few moments later. He acts in character: no waiting, no beating about the bush, no shall-we-shan’t-we. In he goes.

And here’s an even more curious thing: the linen cloths are lying there; but the single cloth, the napkin that had been around Jesus’ head, isn’t with the others. It’s in a place by itself.

Someone, having unwrapped the body (a complicated task in itself), has gone to the trouble of laying out the cloths to create an effect. It looks as though the body wasn’t picked up and unwrapped, but had just disappeared, leaving the empty cloths, like a collapsed balloon when the air has gone out of it.

Then comes the moment. The younger man, the beloved disciple, goes into the tomb after Peter. And the idea they had had to that point about what must have happened—someone taking the body away, but unwrapping it first—suddenly looks stupid and irrelevant.

Something quite new surges up in the young disciple, a wild delight at God’s creative power. He remembers the moment ever afterwards. A different sensation. A bit like falling in love; a bit like sunrise; a bit like the sound of rain at the end of a long drought.

A bit like faith. Oh, he’d had faith before. He had believed that Jesus was the Messiah. He had believed that God had sent Him, that He was God’s man for God’s people and God’s world.

But this was different. ‘He saw, and believed.’ Believed that new creation had begun. Believed that the world had turned the corner, out of its long winter and into spring at last.

Believed that God had said ‘Yes’ to Jesus, to all that He had been and done. Believed that Jesus was alive again.

Not ‘believed that Jesus had gone to heaven’. People often still think that that’s what Christians mean when they say He was raised from the dead. John is quite clear, later on in this passage, that that’s not what he’s talking about (verse 17). He is talking about resurrection.

Everybody in the ancient world knew that resurrection didn’t happen. More: they knew it couldn’t happen. They spoke of it, in the classical world of Greece and Rome, as something one might imagine but which never actually occurred, and never could or would.

The Jews, though, began to believe that it would. Not all of them, mind; the Sadducees resolutely stuck out against it. And they weren’t all clear exactly what it would mean, what it would be like. But they believed, as we saw in 11:24, that when resurrection happened it would happen to all God’s people all at once. (Perhaps, even, to all people everywhere, as in 5:28–29.)

Not—this is the point—to one person in the middle of time. That would be an odd, outlandish event, unimagined, unheard-of.

When Jesus raised Lazarus, Lazarus returned to the present life. He came back again. The echoes of the Lazarus story in the present one are there partly to tell us that it was the same kind of event, but mostly to tell us that it wasn’t.

Lazarus needed someone to untie him from his cloths, and the napkin round his head. Jesus left His behind altogether. Lazarus came back into a world where death threats still mattered (12:10).

Jesus had gone on, through death and out into a new world, a new creation, a new life beyond, where death itself had been defeated and life, sheer life, life in all its fullness, could begin at last.

Ask people around the world what they think is the biggest day of the year for Christians. Most will say ‘Christmas’. That’s what our society has achieved: a romantic mid-winter festival (though we don’t actually know what time of the year Jesus was born) from which most of the things that really matter (the danger, the politics) are carefully excluded.

The true answer—and I wish the churches would find ways of making this clear—is Easter.

This is the moment of new creation. If it hadn’t been for Easter, nobody would ever have dreamed of celebrating Christmas.

This is the first day of God’s new week. The darkness has gone, and the sun is shining.”

–Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 140–143.

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“Behold the glory of God in the pieces of His art” by Stephen Charnock

“Study God in the creatures as well as in the Scriptures. The primary use of the creatures, is to acknowledge God in them.

They were made to be witnesses of Himself in His goodness, and heralds of His glory, which as the glory of God the Creator ‘shall endure forever’ (Psalm 104:31).

That whole psalm is a lecture of creation and providence. The world is a sacred temple. Man is introduced to contemplate it, and behold with praise the glory of God in the pieces of His art.

As grace doth not destroy nature, so the book of redemption blots not out that of creation. Had He not shown Himself in His creatures, He could never have shown Himself in His Christ. The order of things required it.

God must be read wherever He is legible. The creatures are one book, wherein He hath writ a part of the excellencey of His name, as many artists do in their works and watches.

God’s glory, like the filings of gold, is too precious to be lost wherever it drops. Nothing so vile and base in the world, but carries in it an instruction for man, and drives in further the notion of a God.

It’s as if He said of His cottage, ‘Enter here.’ God disdains not this place.

So the least creature speaks to man, as well as in the highest creature. Every shrub in the field, every fly in the air, every limb in a body: ‘Consider me, God disdains not to appear in me; He hath discovered in me His being and a part of His skill.’

The creatures manifest the being of God and part of His perfections.

We have indeed a more excellent way, a revelation setting Him forth in a more excellent manner, a firmer object of dependence, a brighter object of love, raising our hearts from self-confidence to a confidence in Him.

Though the appearance of God in the one be clearer than in the other, yet neither is to be neglected. The Scripture directs us to nature to view God.

It had been in vain else for the apostle to make use of natural arguments. Nature is not contrary to Scripture, nor Scripture to nature, unless we should think God contrary to Himself who is the Author of both.”

–Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 1 (Robert Carter & Brothers, 1682/1853), 86.

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“His measureless benevolence” by John Calvin

“Godly souls can gather great assurance and delight from this Sacrament. In it they have a witness of our growth into one body with Christ such that whatever is His may be called ours.

As a consequence, we may dare assure ourselves that eternal life, of which He is the heir, is ours. And that the Kingdom of Heaven, into which He has already entered, can no more be cut off from us than from Him.

And again that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from whose guilt He has absolved us, since He willed to take them upon Himself as if they were His own.

This is the wonderful exchange which, out of His measureless benevolence, He has made with us:

that, becoming Son of man with us, He has made us sons of God with Him;

that, by His descent to earth, He has prepared an ascent to heaven for us;

that, by taking on our mortality, He has conferred His immortality upon us;

that, accepting our weakness, He has strengthened us by His power;

that, receiving our poverty unto Himself, He has transferred His wealth to us;

that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon Himself (which oppressed us), He has clothed us with His righteousness.

In this Sacrament we have such full witness of all these things that we must certainly consider them as if Christ here present were Himself set before our eyes and touched by our hands.”

–John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; vols. 1-2; The Library of Christian Classics; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), (4.17.2-3), pp. 1361–1362.

[HT: Matt Merker]

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“The pillow of God’s omnipotence” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us mark, in the third place, the mighty principle which the angel Gabriel lays down to silence all objections about the incarnation. ‘With God nothing shall be impossible.’

A hearty reception of this great principle is of immense importance to our own inward peace. Questions and doubts will often arise in men’s minds about many subjects in religion. They are the natural result of our fallen estate of soul.

Our faith at the best is very feeble. Our knowledge at its highest is clouded with much infirmity.

And among many antidotes to a doubting, anxious, questioning state of mind, few will be found more useful than that before us now,—a thorough conviction of the almighty power of God.

With Him who called the world into being and formed it out of nothing, everything is possible. Nothing is too hard for the Lord.

There is no sin too black and bad to be pardoned. The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin.

There is no heart too hard and wicked to be changed. The heart of stone can be made a heart of flesh.

There is no work too hard for a believer to do. We may do all things through Christ strengthening us.

There is no trial too hard to be borne. The grace of God is sufficient for us.

There is no promise too great to be fulfilled. Christ’s words never pass away, and what He has promised He is able to perform.

There is no difficulty too great for a believer to overcome. When God is for us who shall be against us? The mountain shall become a plain.

Let principles like these be continually before our minds. The angel’s receipt is an invaluable remedy.

Faith never rests so calmly and peacefully as when it lays its head on the pillow of God’s omnipotence.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 1: 27-28. Ryle is commenting on Luke 1:34-38.

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“The universal fabric of the world” by John Calvin

“In the first place the Lord declares Himself to be the God who, having created heaven and earth, spread His grace and limitless bounty over the whole human race. Yet He has never for a moment ceased to nourish and support believers, and to sustain them with His special grace; in return He has been known and honoured by them.

By the same token He has, in the history of every age, demonstrated in a painting, so to speak, how unfailing is His goodness to believers, with what providence He watches over them, how read He is to do good to them, how mightily He aids them, how fervently He loves them, how patiently He bears with their faults, with what Fatherly gentleness He punishes them, and how He forever keeps His promises to them.

By contrast we see how severe is His wrath is kindled, and with what power His hand confounds and scatters them. This portrayal accords most closely with what we said was revealed in the universal fabric of the world.”

–John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (trans. Robert White; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1541/2014), 27.

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“God uses the winter for His own glorification” by Martin Luther

“Winter looks like death, anger, and everything bad, as compared with the summer, which looks like life, grace, and all good things.

In order that we may become stronger in faith and not doubt that God can easily and with one word create and do all things, David asks us to consider winter as compared with summer.

For in this contrast God portrays what He can do and how He always works. In winter He sends snow, rime, and frost, so that no man can bear it.

Surely nobody could survive a real winter if he had to do without fire and warmth and depend only on the sun, as he does in summer. The whole creation is powerless to make even a grain of wheat grow or any fruit ripen in winter, but God can change the winter, banish it, and bring the summer again, so that one forgets the winter.

And He does this so easily that it costs Him only one word. Shouldn’t you, then, the more easily believe that He can help you out of your winter and all distress, easily and with a single word?…

If God every year helps the entire world out of winter, its annual flood and death, should you not learn from this mighty example of God’s power, performed annually before your very eyes, to trust and believe in Him in every need?

Look how even the godless, who believe in nothing, are able to say in winter: ‘O yes, summer will come again,’ and are convinced that it will not be winter forever.

Therefore you and everyone should learn to say in the midst of his winter: ‘Very well, let there be snow, frost, and freezing. No matter how bad things get, summer will come again. God will not let it snow and freeze forever,’ as we are told in Ps. 55:22: ‘He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.’

And then the psalmist tells us something even more comforting. Snow, rime, and frost, he says, are the Lord’s. He Himself causes them, and they are not controlled by the devil or any hostile force.

He commands them. Therefore they cannot be colder or freeze us more than He wishes or than we can bear, just as St. Paul taught the Corinthians that God does not let us be tempted beyond our endurance but directs the temptation so that we may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13).

If the devil controlled the frost, there would not only be incessant winter and eternal frost with never again a summer; it would freeze so hard that we would all freeze to death in a single day and become nothing but chunks of ice.

But God’s winter and frost are not everlasting. And though the winter is hard and in itself hardly to be borne, still He gives us so much fire, warmth, straw, etc., that we can bear it until the summer puts an end to it…

He uses the winter for His own glorification, so that He can demonstrate His power by so easily transforming such a cold, hard, unfruitful time into a luxuriant, pleasant, and joyous summer.”

–Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 14: Selected Psalms III (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 14; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 125-126, 126-127, 128. Luther is commenting on Psalm 147:16-17.

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