How God Used Jesus To Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat


“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 2:9-11).

Christmas marked the beginning of God’s most successful setback.

He has always delighted to show his power through apparent defeat. He makes tactical retreats in order to win strategic victories.

In the Old Testament, Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, was promised glory and power in his dream (Genesis 37:5–11).

But to achieve that victory he had to become a slave in Egypt. And, as if that were not enough, when his conditions improved because of his integrity, he was made worse than a slave: a prisoner.

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But it was all planned. Planned by God for his good and the good of his family, and eventually for the good of the whole world!

For there in prison, he met Pharaoh’s butler, who eventually brought him to Pharaoh, who put him over Egypt. And finally, his dream came true. His brothers bowed before him, and he saved them from starvation. What an unlikely route to glory!

But that is God’s way — even for his Son. He emptied himself and took the form of a slave.

Worse than a slave — a prisoner — and was executed. But like Joseph, he kept his integrity.

“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” (Philippians 2:9–10).

And this is God’s way for us too. We are promised glory — if we will suffer with him as it says in Romans 8:17. The way up is down. The way forward is backward.

The way to success is through divinely appointed setbacks. They will always look and feel like failure.

But if Joseph and Jesus teach us anything this Christmas it is this: What Satan and sinful men meant for evil, “God meant it for good!” (Genesis 50:20).

“You fearful saints fresh courage take // The clouds you so much dread // Are big with mercy and will break // In blessings on your head.”

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John Piper is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, and most recently Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship.

A version of this article appeared on the Desiring God website under the headline “God’s Most Successful Setback.”

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Desiring God produces God-centered resources from the ministry of John Piper. Its mission is to produce and distribute resources that spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.