A version of this article previously appeared on the desiringGod.org website. This sermon was preached on April 3, 1983.
The Universal Longing for Beauty
Why are millions of mood posters with magnificent landscapes and little philosophic sayings sold each year in America? Why did I feel happy when I looked at purple snapdragons and distant mountains on an Easter card this week? Why did Ayn Rand, who died last year, apparently as a convinced atheist, say that admiration is one of the greatest and rarest pleasures? And she meant the pleasure of admiring greatness, not being admired. Why is there such a thing as stardom in the world of popular music and theater and sports? Why are scenic cruises and scenic tours and $45 coffee-table scenic books a multi-million dollar business? I believe the answer is that the essence of humanness is the appetite for great beauty. Or, to put it in a more God-centered way, God has made us with a hunger to worship him.
The great tragedy of the human race is that we were made to find infinite joy by admiring God, but have become so blind and so foolish that we spend energy and time and money seeking out things in the world to satisfy our insatiable craving to admire greatness and beauty. The irony of our human condition (and nobody here is an exception) is that God put us within sight of the Himalayas, and we have chosen to pull down the blinds of our chalet and show slides of Buck Hill. But every single person here knows that it hasn’t worked. Our posters and post cards and rock stars and scenic tours and glossy books have never satisfied the deepest longings of our heart. They give some pleasure, and make the drudgery of life a little more livable. But they can never compare to the times when you walk to the window, raise the blinds, throw open the shutters, and see the Himalayan glory of the risen Christ.
If your life is flat, empty, without exhilaration, without significance, without a single and fulfilling orientation, it is because you do not see the risen Christ for who he really is. Some of you see him scarcely at all, perhaps. Others have such a pitifully small and sentimental picture of him on the wall of your mind that you are starving for the real thing. So what I want to do today is take you to the window of God’s Word and point to Christ. For if we could keep in view the risen Christ as he really is, our bottomless appetite for beauty and greatness and wonder would find satisfaction, and our lives would be unending worship and joyful obedience.
The last chapter of Matthew is a window that opens onto the sunrise glory of the risen Christ. Through it you can see at least three massive peaks in the mountain range of Christ’s character: the peak of his power; the peak of his kindness; and the peak of his purposefulness. And we all know in our hearts that if the risen Christ is going to satisfy our desire to admire greatness, that is the way he has to be. People who are too weak to accomplish their purposes can’t satisfy our desire to admire greatness. We admire people even less who have no purpose in life. And still less those whose purposes are merely selfish and unkind. What we long to see and know is a Person whose power is unlimited, whose kindness is tender, and whose purpose is single and unflinching. Novelists and poets and movie-makers and TV writers now and then create a shadow of this Person. But they can no more fill our longing to worship than this month’s National Geographic can satisfy my longing for the Chattooga River. We must have the real thing. We must see the Original of all power and kindness and purposefulness. We must see and worship the risen Christ.
A Window onto Glory and of Worship
Let me show you why I think Matthew 28 aims to help us do this. In Matthew, Jesus makes two appearances after his resurrection. First, to the women in verse 9, “And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Hail!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.” The second appearance was to the eleven disciples in Galilee. Verse 17: “And when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” It seems clear that what Matthew wants to say is that the proper response to the risen Christ is worship. Matthew has opened a window onto the glory of the risen Christ, and he means for it to be a window of worship.
Don’t miss how astonishing this is! Recall how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness three years earlier. In Matthew 4:9 he said, “‘All (the kingdoms of the world) I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! for it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”‘” Do you see what it implies that Jesus receives the worship of his people in Matthew 28? The resurrection of Christ should certify once for all that Jesus is the Son of God, not in the sense that Israel was the son of God or in the sense that you and I are children of God, but in the sense that he himself is God. Jesus said, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” And when he rises from the dead, men and women bow at his feet and worship him, and he receives it without rebuke. Easter is a great day for reaffirming our conviction that Jesus Christ is no mere man, no mere angel, no mere creature, but from everlasting to everlasting he is God through whom and for whom all things exist.
Therefore, when Matthew calls us to worship the risen Christ, do not shrink back saying, “God only should be worshipped.” For Christ is God, one in essence with the Father and the Spirit. That’s why Matthew brings his book to a close in verse 19 by saying that disciples should be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” These three persons are one God, and when we worship the one, we worship them all.
So Matthew means for chapter 28 to be a window onto the glory of the risen Christ; and he aims for it to be a window of worship. Now what do we see in the mountain range of Christ’s character that should fill us with admiration and worship?
The Power of the Risen Christ
The first thing we see is the peak of power. Notice verse 18. Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” I wish that there was a way with words to make you feel that the risen Christ has more authority than President Reagan, more authority than all the powers of Moscow and Peking, that if you gathered all the authority of all the governments and armies of the world and put them in the scales with the authority of the risen Christ, they would go up in the balance like air. All authority on earth has been given to the risen Christ. All of it! The risen Christ has the right to tell every man, woman, and child on this planet today what they should do and think and feel. He has absolute and total authority over your life and over cities and states and nations. The risen Christ is great—greater than you have ever imagined.
Here is our Easter witness to the world: The risen Christ is your king and has absolute, unlimited authority over your life. If you do not bow and worship him and trust him and obey him, you commit high treason against Christ the King, who is God over all. Easter is God’s open declaration that he lays claim on every person and tribe and tongue and nation. Easter has to do with power and authority. Easter is the claim of the risen Christ on every life that breathes. “All authority on earth is mine.” Your sex life is his to rule; your business is his to rule; your career is his to rule; your home is his; your children are his; your vacation is his; your body is his; He is God! So if you resist his claim, feel no admiration for his infinite power and authority, and turn finally to seek satisfaction from thrills that allow you to be your own master, then you will be executed for treason in the last day. And it will appear so reasonable and so right that you should be executed for your disloyalty to your Maker and Redeemer that there will be no appeals and no objections. Your life of indifference to the risen Christ and of half-hearted attention now and then (perhaps on Easter) to a few of his commandments will appear on that day as supremely blameworthy and infinitely foolish, and you will remember this sermon and weep that you did not change.
The risen Christ has all authority not only on earth but also in heaven. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” I think Matthew wants us to see a glimpse of this in verses 2–4. “And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.” What is the meaning of this? It means at least that angels stand in the service of the risen Christ. I don’t know what you see when you picture angels in your mind. Perhaps flying creatures with long golden hair and delicate feathery wings, or cherubim-like little fat babies. If so, it isn’t going to impress you that the risen Christ has all authority in heaven so that all the angels offer him unquestioned obedience. But, if you could imagine how powerful an angel is, and how many angels there are, and what it is going to be like when the Son of man rides his great white stallion at the head of countless armies of heaven against the mutiny of this world, then you would be impressed.
O, how we need to pray for the gift of imagination, so that we could feel what it means that the risen Christ is the Commander-in-Chief of countless angels, who are mightier than men and indestructible because of their immortality. When they gather for salvation and destruction, no laser beams and no space-age nuclear technology will have any effect on them at all.
Consider some biblical images of the risen Christ and his angels and let them shape your mental pictures. “Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:30, 31). “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations” (Matthew 25:31). “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52–53). “The Lord Jesus (will be) revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8). “Jesus Christ has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him” (1 Peter 3:22).
When the angel in Matthew 28 descends with the power of an earthquake and the appearance of lightning to announce the resurrection of the Son of God, the meaning is this: all authority in heaven has been given to the risen Christ, and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of indestructible angels obey his every word. O, that Ayn Rand would have opened her eyes to see the risen Christ! Then the great pleasure of admiration would not have been so rare. And the great John Galt would look like Tweety Bird in comparison to Jesus.
The Kindness of the Risen Christ
The second peak in the mountain range of Christ’s glory that we see through the window of Matthew 28 is the peak of his kindness. I see it first in verses 5–10. The angel first tells the women not to fear (v. 5), and then in verse 7 commands them to go and tell the disciples that he is risen and will meet them in Galilee. Verse 8 says they ran to do just that “with fear and great joy.” And then the wonderful thing happens: Jesus intercepts them. Why? They were on their way to obey the angel’s word. And Jesus seems to just repeat the angel’s command in verse 10: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Why did he stop them? I think the answer is kindness — pure, pressed-down, shaken-together, overflowing kindness. An unnecessary bonus from the big heart of the risen Christ. Those kinds of things happen when you follow the Word of God. Some of you may have asked, “Where is the kindness of the risen Christ?” I think Mary Magdalene would answer: “He will meet you seven steps down the road of obedience.”
But the kindness of Christ is also for his other disciples. The angel had said in verse 5: “Don’t be afraid.” But verse 8 says, “They departed quickly from the tomb with fear.” When Jesus meets them he says, “Hail!” which literally means, “Rejoice!” And he repeats the angel’s command: “Do not be afraid.” You know what I think the women were apprehensive about? If Jesus is really risen with all authority on earth and is ready now (as they probably thought) to establish the world-wide reign of the Messiah, what might he do to those turncoat disciples who denied and deserted him in his hour of greatest trial? Might there not be judgment in Galilee?
But the risen Christ is not only powerful; he is kind beyond human measure. With one word he stilled their fears. The angel had said in verse 7, “Go tell his disciples.” But Jesus said in verse 10, “Go tell my brothers.” Has anybody today ever deserted the Savior in an hour of testing? Do not despair. If you will meet him in Galilee, he will call you a brother or a sister. If you will go in your heart to the place of repentance, he will meet you with the words, “Rejoice! Do not be afraid!” And, as if that were not evidence enough of his kindness, Matthew leaves it ringing in our ears by closing his gospel with these words, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
The Purposefulness of the Risen Christ
The risen Christ is infinitely powerful, and the risen Christ is immeasurably kind. And now finally we see through the window of Matthew 28 the peak of his purposefulness. In order to admire and worship the risen Christ, we have to see that his power and kindness have purpose and goal. You can’t admire someone who doesn’t know where he is going. One of the reasons there are so few admirable people in the world today is that so few people stick to anything for very long. How many people can you point to and say, “There is a life that is unwaveringly devoted to one great goal”?
Verse 19 shows that the risen Christ has a purpose. He knows why he reigns. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” The purpose of the risen Christ is to empower his church to make his authority known in every culture on earth. He wouldn’t have said, “Lo, I am with you always,” unless our mission were his business. Wherever people bow the knee to Christ through our witness, it is because he is with us. He aims to fill his kingdom with worshipers from Argentina and Liberia and Uganda and Ecuador and Cameroon and Mexico and the Philippines and Japan and Egypt and Brazil and the Coffman Union. The risen Christ is not going in circles; he is not fumbling through the manual of operation. He wrote the book. And he is unswerving in his great purpose.
Do you not hunger to admire such a Person? Infinite power! Immeasurable kindness! Unswerving purpose! Perhaps your appetite for his beauty is just beginning. If so, confess the blindness and dullness of your former days. Set yourself on the road of faith and obedience and expect him to meet you on the way.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org 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 “Reading the Bible Supernaturally.”
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