Shortly after 4:30 this afternoon, the residents of Phillips neighborhood in south Minneapolis—the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the United States—may spot a familiar sight: a trim man in his upper sixties, bespectacled with thinning gray curly hair, leaving his two-story house to walk to church.

John Piper will make his way north across the bridge suspended above “Spaghetti Junction,” with its dull roar of freeway traffic, past the East Village Market grocery store, past Augustana Health Care Center for the elderly, past Andrew Residence for the mentally broken, and past the Elliott Twins apartments for low-income residents. And then he’ll arrive at a place he dearly loves, Bethlehem Baptist Church, where he has been preaching the glory of God in the gospel week in and week out for 33 years.

The walk takes seven minutes—six if he is running late, eight if he is especially enjoying the weather. He once counted his steps: exactly 600 paces from his front door to Bethlehem’s old main door. He has made this walk at least 10,000 times in the last 33 years—the equivalent of walking from the east coast to the west coast in the United States and back again. Six million steps.

It’s not the last time he will make this walk. But it is the last time he will do so as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Tucked into the coat pocket of his charcoal suit jacket will be his compact ESV Bible, and in his worn leather briefcase will be a cheap folder, and in the folder will be a 11-page double-spaced typewritten sermon manuscript, with an array of handwritten circles and connecting lines and underlines and exclamation points and notes.

Within a couple of hours the singing will cease, and he will rise from the front-row pew, place his sermon manuscript on the wooden pulpit, offer an introduction, and then read from Hebrews 13:20-21, the text for his Easter sermon that will double as his farewell sermon. After he reads the benedictory text that begins, “Now may the God of peace who brought again our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep,” Piper will undoubtedly remind his beloved flock that the transition from one undershepherd to another is undergirded by a dying and rising Great Shepherd who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Half a lifetime ago, at the age of 34, Piper preached his installation sermon, “The Wisdom of Men and the Power of God,” from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. The date was July 13, 1980, and the location was in the old sanctuary of the adjacent building (now converted into office space and classrooms). The young shepherd—who had preached a total of about 15 sermons in his entire life—looked out at a sea of gray hair and spoke with candor:

I come to you as your pastor today with weaknesses (which you will learn soon enough) and in much fear and trembling.

Not that I distrust the power and promise of God but that I distrust myself.

Not so much that I will fail—as the world counts failure—but that I might succeed in my own strength and wisdom and so fail as God counts failure.

But Piper has succeeded, in the biblical sense, as God has been glorified in his desperate and dependent servant.

Piper did not begin this pastoral ministry unaware of the challenges and the pain and the heartache and the struggles that lay ahead. His father, a lifelong evangelist, had written him a candid letter the year before, reeling off a litany of inevitable pressures and discouragements that come with being a pastor. He noted: “At times you will feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. Many pastors have broken under the strain.” But then he reminded his son that “there will be a thousand compensations.”

You’ll see that people trust Christ as Savior and Lord.

You’ll see these grow in the knowledge of Christ and his Word.

You’ll witness saints enabled by your preaching to face all manner of tests.

You’ll see God at work in human lives, and there is no joy comparable to this.

Just ask yourself, son, if you are prepared not only to preach and teach, but also to weep over men’s souls, to care for the sick and dying, and to bear the burdens carried today by the saints of God.

His father’s words proved to be prophetic. God has been greatly glorified as a people have sat week in and week out, year after year, not only under John Piper’s preaching but also his pastoral care.

When all is said and done, John Piper will be remembered for many things. But apart from his own relationship to God and his relationship to family, his most important vocation will remain serving as a faithful, worshipful, prayerful shepherd to a local body of believers.

We are witnessing the end of a remarkable pastoral ministry—but not the end of his Christian service and ministry. My prayer, and eager expectation, is that the Lord will continue to use John Piper and to keep him faithful in this next season of life as he finishes strong for the glory of God in Christ Jesus.

Thank you, God, for this gift.

Update: You can listen to, watch, or read the sermon here.

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Comments:


49 thoughts on “John Piper’s Farewell Sermon”

  1. Griffin Gulledge says:

    That was beautiful, Justin. Thank you. And thank God for Pastor John.

  2. Paula says:

    A fine, fitting tribute to a great and godly man.

  3. Andy Naselli says:

    Well said, Justin. I thank God for gifting us with this man.

  4. Beautifully written and well-deserved words. Only eternity will reveal the spiritual fruit in countless lives that God has brought through Dr. Piper’s life and work. I join you in eagerly watching what God will continue to do through this faithful servant. As we pray let us remember that this is also a time of transition for his dear Noel. And let us remember to pray for the godly young man who takes up this work. All of us who serve the Lord’s people will one day have a “last sermon.” May the Lord find us so faithful.

  5. Justin – You post says the live-stream is at 6:10 Eastern, but the DG site says 7:10 Eastern. Do you know which it is?

    Just don’t want anyone to miss it live.

    Thanks for the post. That man changed my whole life in college.

    1. Chris Zmuda says:

      Eric, maybe Justin’s post has been updated, but it reads 6:10 Central, so yes DG is right with 7:10 Eastern.

      1. Justin Taylor says:

        Thanks, Chris and Eric. DG and I both adjusted our posts. It is around 7:10 Eastern and 6:10 Central.

  6. Arminian says:

    Despite some sharp theological differences, I count John Piper as a great man and servant of God who has glorified the Lord and done much to build God’s kingdom, bless God’s people, and see souls saved. Praise God for his work in and through John Piper! May the Lord graciously bless and use his next stage of ministry. We know retirement into a life of leisure is not an option for Piper. He’s too hedonistic for that! I’m sure he will go after the joy of the Lord in yet more service with great vigor.

  7. Moe Bergeron says:

    Dear Justin, May our Lord continue to bless John Piper and the Word of God he has embraced for life eternal. He is a true gift of God to the community of saints and a lasting treasure in the hands of his Creator and Savior. He better not become idle or we will have to chase him down and encourage his repentance. Thank you for this Justin. – Moe

  8. Dana Olson says:

    Tears in my eyes, Justin. Thank you. I got to make that walk with him a few times, and remember it well. I think you were in elementary school then! It’s amazing what God has done.

  9. JRob says:

    Great news he’s retiring now! Excellent news. Best wishes……

  10. tricia says:

    This man challenged and changed my Christian life, thank you Pastor John.

  11. Matt Grotheer says:

    Great words. Thank you for this and I thank the Lord for all that he has done through John Piper.

  12. Jon says:

    ..and for every singular retirement of a good servant in a very public pulpit, there are countless more shepherds who serve their flocks in relative obscurity yet with no less selflessness and honor…nobody is counting their steps save the chief shepherd, who happens to be a very good mathematician…

  13. Thank you for this, Justin.

  14. Marc says:

    Thankful for the ministry of John Piper and how the Lord has used it mightily to help me see and love the beauty of Christ more.

  15. In the short few years that I have been exposed to the teaching and ministry of John Piper, God has taught me much and helped me to treasure Him much more. May the Lord use him until the end of his life, as I pray he would all of us.

  16. Randy Alcorn says:

    Very well said, Justin. A wonderful tribute from you, who served with John so faithfully and have seen him close up. I join you in being deeply touched not just by John’s words, but his life. I will be tuning in to his message. Thank you, Justin, for this post, and for serving us all week after week. God has touched me many times through your life and writings as well, my brother. I haven’t said thank you enough.

  17. Char Ransom says:

    AMEN, Justin. I have to admit reading your article as well as the one written by David Mathis has brought tears to my eyes. But, that’s happening often lately, not so much because I am sad, but because what you write and what I hear in these final days of John’s ministry at Bethlehem, brings with it so many memories. I’m so glad for the privilege of being on the calling committee with its accompanying interview process and to have been on staff with Pastor John, and to have been an eager student for 33 years.

  18. Jim Elmquist says:

    Thanks so much Justin, for this tribute…well written and well done…here is what I wrote when I shared your tribute with others…”I just thought this was worthy of reading…I have followed John Piper, surely from afar…but have followed in various ways since the 70’s or 80’s…maybe since he was teaching at Bethel College or maybe it was at the beginning of his ministry at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis…I don’t remember for sure…one of the first things I remember and made me take notice was his message, I think at a Baptist General Conference meeting in those years…

    It was following Abraham, Issac and Jacob…and how they lived their lives…Oh, it went something like this…Abraham when he settled down in a place, he build an alter then dug a well…Issac dug a well, then set up an alter…Jacob dug a well…you get the idea…it was something like that…and he then applied that to our lives…and to our generations…us, our kids, their kids…you get the drift…good stuff anyway…for the life of me I can’t find that article/magazine it was in…I think a General Baptist Conference magazine, I believe it was called “Harvest”…I had it for years but…enough of that…

    But aside from that, whether I have always agreed with Piper in everything doesn’t matter…he has been faithful to the Word of God…and to serving the Lord of Glory…and this brief article is certainly good to read…so enjoy…Jim E”

  19. Mike Adamson says:

    So many emotions tonight — all coming from a place of gratitude and respect. Then tomorrow we’ll all wake up, ask for mercy, yield to the power of the Spirit and look for what God has for us. And then again on Tuesday.

    Thank you John Piper from one of the many lives on which you’ve had a dramatic effect.

  20. Jeff Knight says:

    John’s book, “Let the Nation’s Be Glad,” is one the best books I have read and certainly one of my favorites; I’ve read it four times. I would share this and still believe this that anyone contemplating missions for a career or even to go on a short-term mission trip should read this book as well as, would be leaders (Elders and Deacons) in the church. John is a masterful thinker and so well learned regarding Scripture it is difficult to imagine anyone that does have a better base knowledge. I certainly pray for comfort, peace and enjoyment as he leaves his ministry. God bless you John for all you do.

  21. Maria Bennett says:

    For over 22 years the Lord has used Pastor John to point me to Jesus and show me the beauty of God’s soveignty. Thank you Jesus!

  22. Roger says:

    Why is he “retiring”? is he sick?

    1. Peter Newbury says:

      “retiring” is right! We know that John Piper doesn’t believe in retiring. The message he sent out about a year ago announcing his stepping down as lead teaching pastor spoke to his desire to be more involved in teaching at the college, writing books and being involved with conferences and organizations whose purpose is to spread God’s glory. It was awhile ago, but I believe this to be the gist of it.

      I thank God for the influential teaching of the Word through John Piper!

  23. Bob Meredith says:

    He has been my pastor for these last 6 years, and I will miss him more than I can say.

  24. Ken Temple says:

    Does anyone know if Dr. Piper is going to finish his series of the Gospel of John, if he fills in from time to time for Jason? (or at the Bethlehem Seminary ?) Dr. Piper only preached through John 14; he still had chapters 15-21 to go.

    Ken Temple

  25. Dan Erickson says:

    Tbanks Justin. Truly a beautiful essay! And so many of the previous comments are wonderful as well. John has been a blessing to so many. Praise God, for a life well live–by His grace!

  26. Sophia Norberg says:

    The first sermon I heard from Pastor John was about elders on June 2, 1991. I was a new believer and I was riveted to every word. It was a communion Sunday and he explained the gospel so clearly and so completely. I am so thankful to have sat under his teaching for these many years. This morning I will go hear his last sermon as our pastor. I praise the Lord for John’s ministry. He has been a wonderful shepherd always pointing to our perfect Shepherd.

  27. I loved his father’s words to him. What a wise man!

  28. I’ll never forget the summer I read his book Desiring God. I was a nanny in Mexico at the time, and I remember thinking, “This changes everything.” And it did. It changed my life. Years later, when my brother studied under Piper at BBC, I attended a service, and afterward Piper prayed for me as I had just signed my first book contract with Moody. He prayed with and for me that my words would be, above all, biblical. It was a precious prayer that was a great launch to the writing process. Love his ministry-both global and personal.

  29. Anon says:

    Hagiography.

    1. CG says:

      In the literal sense, or in the trolling sense?

  30. Pablo Sanchez Marquez says:

    We`re very blessed with John`s world wide ministry…Even here in South America. I Pray he may continue sharing such a deep passion for Christ with us all, and rejoice in God`s glory.

  31. Bill Walsh says:

    I cannot over-estimate the impact that God has made upon my life and my family through Pastor John’s ministry. He was the means of grace that God used to bring me deeper into the Gospel of Christ through reformed theology and the cause of global missions. I’m grateful for his life. May the Lord grant even more fruitful ministry in the upcoming years.

  32. Rick McKain says:

    April 11, 2013 I just listened to John Piper preach his final sermon at Bethlehem Baptist Church tonight. Frankly, I decided to listen as I thought there would be some moving comments about this being the last time he’d be before his congregation on a Sunday morning. I didn’t get what I wanted, but I do admire a man of principle. He said he would not preach a sermon on Sunday morning from that pulpit based on what man says. Which is exactly why I wanted to hear him talk. He honored God and his Word by preaching a resurrection Sunday sermon, from a Biblical text and let that text speak, and not his words of sentiment or reminiscence. I enjoyed the sermon very much and it exalted Christ and his Word. This speaks highly of John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church. I appreciate this servant of Christ.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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