Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy

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Deuteronomy 10:14-22; Matthew 5:7

We all know the sayings:

- Credit where none is due.

- Don’t get mad, get reconciled.

- God helps those who are helpless themselves.

- Every lunch is a free lunch.

- It’s a dog help dog world.

- Survival of the feeblest…

Alright I made those ones up.

But if they sound ridiculous, they’re only as “ridiculous” as Christ’s beatitudes in which all our assumptions about earning, deserving, paying and paying back are turned on their heads.  In Christ’s Kingdom mercy and not merit is the currency.

According to Jesus there is a future coming in which His followers own the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3), are comforted by God Himself (v4), are filled with righteousness (v5), see God (v7) and are called His children (v9).  And on what basis do they receive such blessings?  Verse 6: Mercy!  Sheer unmerited kindness from the overflowing heart of our Heavenly Father.

How should kingdom people respond?  Well, won by mercy, we become merciful.  Does our human mercy earn divine mercy?  Not at all – or else mercy is not mercy.

Instead divine mercy wins human mercy.  The forgiven forgive.  The graced become gracious.

In Christ’s Kingdom it’s not money that makes the world go round.  It’s mercy.

How does this blessing bless you?  How will it bless others through you?

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled

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Genesis 15:1-6; Matthew 5:6

From the Bible we can think of “righteousness” in these terms:

- the goodness of God.

- the blessed life in action.

- setting the world to rights.

When seen in its true light, righteousness is incredibly attractive.  And incredibly elusive.

From its first mention in the Bible, “righteousness” is a consuming passion.  In Genesis 15, Abraham is taken outside for some star-gazing by the Word of the LORD.  Abraham is reassured of the promise of seed and he trusts this appearing LORD:

“he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”  (Genesis 15:6)

Abraham is declared righteous for trusting in the LORD Christ.  This is the foundation of everything the Bible teaches on “righteousness.”  It’s what makes Abraham our father in the faith (Galatians 3:6ff).

And in Matthew 5 Jesus reiterates the teaching using an analogy drawn from eating:  those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” will be “filled.”

It does not speak of “Those who have righteousness…” or “Those who act righteously…”  Christ’s illustration speaks of a lack of righteousness – a lack that’s felt very keenly.  The person poor in spirit, who mourns over their sin, who understands that they are not strong but meek – such a person knows their need for righteousness.  And precisely because of their hunger and thirst, they are filled.

This filling is not an earning, not a payment, not a reward.  The blessed person is a beggar through and through.  This filling does not come because we have something to offer.  It comes because we have nothing.

When does the filling happen?  Well there is a present and a future dimension.  We must take this beatitude in parallel with the others.  For all the beatitudes the blessing is present, but only because of a future state of affairs – a time when we “inherit the earth”, when we “see God”, etc, etc.  And so the “filling” most properly happens when Christ returns.  On that day we will no longer simply hunger and thirst for righteousness.  At that time Christ will establish His righteous reign on the earth and raise us to righteous, resurrection living.  But in the meantime we live with the certain promise of that future.  And we know the present blessing of our Father, brought as we are into Christ’s Kingdom.

Notice how this righteousness comes to us from outside ourselves.  Jesus does not speak of a “seed of righteousness” growing from within us or a “spark of righteousness” that needs fanning into flame.  When it comes to “our righteousness”, the only appropriate analogies are ones of desperate need.  But the famished are filled by Christ.

It’s a wonderful truth.  But all this teaching about righteousness “imputed/filled/credited/counted” to the believer has recently fallen on hard times.  It seems so impersonal.  Is righteousness really like internet banking?  Can it really be “credited” into my spiritual account?  Is it really like food and drink?  Can I just “fill up” on a meal of righteousness?  What sense does that make?

Well Jesus is not teaching us about some spiritual stuff called righteousness here.  He’s speaking about a reality that is incredibly personal. How personal?  Just read on a few verses to the last two beatitudes and notice the reasons why Christ’s people might be persecuted:

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you… for my sake.”  (Matthew 5:10-11)

Do you see the parallel?  Righteousness is equivalent to Jesus Himself.  Jesus is Righteousness.

“Righteousness” might be likened to a money transfer or to food and drink.  But that’s only because, in those illustrations, our own spiritual bankruptcy or hunger is being highlighted.  Most fundamentally, righteousness is Jesus.  He is the Goodness of God.  He is the Blessed Life in Action.  He is the Setting to Rights of the Whole World.  Righteousness is not fundamentally a state of affairs, He’s a Person.  To enter into righteousness (and for righteousness to enter into us) is not about possessing a moral quality but about possessing (and being possessed by) the LORD our Righteousness.

The Christian is simply the person who comes to the end of themselves.  They say “There is no goodness, blessedness or justice in me.”  Instead we crave Christ.  And we are filled.

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth

Psalm 37; Matthew 5:5

In The Life of Brian we join the outskirts of Christ’s audience for the sermon on the mount.  “The meek shall inherit the earth” filters through to one listener:

“Oh that’s nice innit, I’m glad they get something cos they have a hell of a time.”

It’s a brilliant line.  But Jesus isn’t throwing out a twee consolation to the downtrodden.  He’s preaching revolution.  This is all about world domination.  Who will take over the earth?  Rupert Murdoch?  One World Government?  Militant Islam?  Google?  No, the meek.

It’s a laughable prospect.  It sounds as absurd as yesterday’s blessed mourners.  But that’s the nature of the beatitudes, they turn the world right-side-up.  To the world’s ears though, it can only sound ridiculous.

Listen to how Frank Zappa lampooned the phrase in his song: The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing

Some take the Bible for what it’s worth
When it says that the meek shall inherit the earth
Well, I heard some sheik has bought New Jersey last week
And you suckers aint gettin nothin’!

We laugh because we recognize the picture Zappa paints of this world.  It’s dog eat dog and the strong eat the weak.  Fortune favours the brave.  Only the strong survive right?  Well apparently not.  Jesus is saying that everything we thought we knew about power is wrong.  In fact we’re wrong about the whole way in which the world works.

Jesus is not giving us a verse to be cross-stitched onto wall-hangings.  It’s an infallible prophecy of cosmic proportions.  In this dog eat dog world there will be one power that comes out on top.  At the end of all history, emerging from the interplay of a million forces and vested interests, one group will emerge with absolute dominion: the meek.

You could translate it as “gentle” or “friendly” or “humble”.  After millennia of cut and thrust, the winner-takes-all-victors will be the lowly.

Do you have a hard time believing that?  I do.  And an even harder time living it.  Why?  Well I wonder if my problem is that I don’t really believe that this is Christ’s universe.  As we considered on the first day of the year, we imagine that the power behind this world is “nothingness” or “chaos” or “a lonely god.”  And if that really were what was “in the beginning” then the meek have no future at the end.  But if Jesus really is Lord, then the Suffering Servant really is the Power behind this universe.

Jesus describes Himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29) and He meets the power-plays of the earth with perfect peace.  As He lay in the grave on Easter Saturday, nothing looked more foolish than His beatitudes.  And yet on Easter Sunday it wasn’t just Jesus who was vindicated.  His whole project of world-domination-by-meekness was established.  It’s not just that the meek will “get something.”  Those who stop exalting themselves and take refuge in Jesus will be the only ones who get anything. In fact, they’ll get everything.  Because the future really does belong to Christ.

Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted

Psalm 55; Matthew 5:4

What could be more nonsensical than this?  Or insensitive?  “Blessed are they that mourn”?

In my Greek lexicons the word that invariably appears next to “Blessed” is “Happy”.  It’s a word denoting a prosperous and favourable condition.  Some dictionaries list “blissful” as a synonym!  So how on earth can Jesus call mourners “blessed”?

Well it’s all a part of “the beatitudes” (taken from the Latin word for blessed: “beatus”).  These are the 8 or 9 opening sentences of the sermon on the mount, beginning with “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  In each of them, Jesus pronounces a people “blessed” in the present because of a future state of affairs which is promised.  So in this beatitude present mourners are blessed because there is a comfort coming.

Now we can understand mourning on two levels.  Firstly our present age, under the dominion of sin, is death-bound. All that we do is in the shadow of death.  But secondly, if we are “poor in spirit” then we will mourn not only our mortality but our sin.  Kingdom people are very aware of the presence of death “out there” as well as death at work “in here” too!  Yet, nonetheless Jesus says “Blessed are they that mourn:  for they shall be comforted.”  (Matthew 5:4)  There is an answer to death coming – an answer for death out there as well as death in here.

In a single sentence Jesus manages to condense three distinct forces in the Christian life and to show their inter-relationships.  A member of Christ’s kingdom is someone who simultaneously mourns and is blessed.  It’s not that they forget about mourning because suddenly they are blessed.  Their blessedness occurs precisely in their mourning.  And this is because Christ’s promised future is making its presence felt in the here and now.  Tomorrow breaks into today, not to exempt me from the reality of today, but to transform my experience of it.

In this way Jesus teaches the in-breaking nature of the kingdom of heaven.  Christ brings a kingdom that will right every wrong.  But even in advance of this dramatic over-turning, the prospect of it transforms the present.  Mourning is still mourning, but it’s blessed mourning.

This is the way that Christ enters the world.  He does not sweep aside the present order, shot through with death and grief.  He enters into it, transforming it from the inside, establishing His new life in its midst.  Members of His kingdom cannot expect to be beamed up from our afflictions.  Instead we enter into His death and resurrection – participating in His suffering and glory through His risen presence with us.

Paul speaks poetically of this interplay of death and hope in 2 Corinthians chapter 4:

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.  For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.  So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Isaiah 61; Matthew 5:3

According to Matthew, Jesus comes as King to bring the true end to exile (Matthew 1:1-17).   He is named as “Saviour” and “God with us” (Matthew 1:18-25).  He is the desire of all nations (Matthew 2:1-12) who is also the true Israel – going down into Egypt and rising back up again (Matthew 2:13-23).  He is the Coming Lord proclaimed by all the prophets – culminating with John (Matthew 3:1-12).  He is baptised into our situation (Matthew 3:13-17), coming through the waters and into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).  As our Champion, He defeats our enemy then proclaims the good news of His kingdom.  Everywhere He goes He brings righteousness, peace and restoration and the world flocks to Him (Matthew 4:12-25).

In response, Jesus re-enacts mount Sinai:

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain:  and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:  And he opened his mouth, and taught them.”  (Matthew 5:1-2)

As a true and better Moses, Jesus proclaims the kingdom which He establishes in Himself.  Everything the Old Testament pointed towards is finding its fulfilment.  Every law, every prophet, every priest and every king was a shadow cast by this great Light.  But He is more than just the true Ruler come into the world.  Christ is also the true people of God.  This is such good news.  The Messiah has come as both King and Subject.  He is both Law-giver and Law-fulfiller.  He is both Lord and Israel in one.  He commands it and does it!

So when He preaches the kingdom, Jesus doesn’t simply preach the law of the kingdom as a new Moses.  He preaches “the good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:22) because He is also the new Israel!  If the kingdom were only as good as its subjects then it would not be a kingdom of heaven.  But the kingdom holds good in the King who is also its Chief Subject.  To read of the character of Christ’s Kingdom is to read, first and foremost, of the character of the King.  If we try to strip Jesus Himself out of the sermon on the mount we will be left with a utopian kingdom of men.  And such a thing would resemble the kingdom of hell more than the kingdom of heaven.

It’s so important to note how Matthew has introduced the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7).  Christ is the King who makes this kingdom.  He is not trying to inspire human enthusiasm for a bold new political enterprise.  The reign of Christ is a fait accompli, not a social experiment in need of volunteers.

And so Jesus simply invites us into a super-natural kingdom beyond the abilities of natural man.  He does not begin by rallying the people towards a vision for change.  He simply proclaims who His kingdom belongs to:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit:  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:3)

Here, at the gateway to the sermon on the mount, Jesus bars the way to all the proud.  Anyone who thinks they are equal to the challenge of heavenly living is disqualified.  The kingdom of heaven does not belong to the moral, religious or political elites.  It does not belong to those who are spiritually “up to the job”.  It belongs to the spiritual no-hopers, the spiritual destitutes, the spiritual bankrupts.

It is no accident that the sermon on the mount begins on this note.  The most sublime ethical teaching known to man is not designed to inspire us to greater investments in our own spiritual powers.  We are meant, at all points, to confess our spiritual poverty and entrust ourselves wholly to the King in whom alone this kingdom holds good.

We are not “up to” the kingdom of heaven.  No, the kingdom of heaven comes down to us, because the King has stooped.  We must not try to raise ourselves from the gutter or else we’ll find we’ve missed the rendezvous.  He meets us where we are, and where we are is “poor in spirit”.

Do you acknowledge that you are poor in spirit?  Are you a spiritual no-hoper in desperate need of blessing?  Then the King and His kingdom are for you.

Verily, verily I say unto thee

John 1:35-51

It’s a phrase that sounds quintessentially “King James” – quintessentially 17th century.  But, as with so many “King James” phrases, it originates with Tyndale in the 16th century.

“Verily” (meaning truly) translates the word “Amen” which is a Hebrew word left untranslated in the Greek New Testament.  So, most literally, Jesus says “Amen, Amen I say to you.”

Only Jesus speaks like this in the Bible.  Countless times He says “Amen, I say to you”.  In John His sayings double the certainty:  “Amen, Amen I say to you.”  And on every occasion it’s the preface to His teaching.

A moment’s thought will reveal how remarkable this is.

If we ever say “Amen” it’s a response to what someone else has said or prayed.  And it’s usually after their saying.  And only if it’s really good do we repeat it:  “Amen, Amen!”

But when Jesus speaks He gives Amens to His own sayings:  30 times in Matthew alone!  And in John’s Gospel He gives a double Amen to 25 of His own teachings!

What is Jesus doing by prefacing His teaching with “Amen, Amen”?  Well let me put words to what this means.  Jesus is basically saying:

“You don’t stand in judgment on my word.  I won’t even wait for your Amen.  Your Amen could only ever be the faint echo of my own Amen!  You do not and cannot stand in judgment on my word.  Before you’ve even heard a syllable of it, I tell you on my own authority that this is truth.  This is the only authentication or approval these words ever could or should have – my own.  This is true because I say it, not because you have some vantage point from which to assess these words.  Let my Amen recalibrate everything you consider to be truth.  You must simply accept my words as the gold standard of truth because it is I who speak them.  In short:  It doesn’t matter what you think – this is the truth, deal with it!”

Who speaks like this?  Only God’s Faithful and True Amen (Revelation 3:14).  Jesus does not need our votes of confidence.  He is Himself the true response to God.  He is our response to God.  Our Amens are belated at best.

We are about to study Christ’s most famous teaching – the sermon on the mount.  As we do so we are not sitting back to assess His words, wondering whether we can give our Amen to Christ.  Instead we receive His Amens in glad submission.

May we hear His word in the Spirit in which it was spoken – as truth itself. (John 17:17)

Physician, heal thyself

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Luke 4:14-30

- The chain-smoker, warning her son about cigarettes…

- The bankrupt, lecturing on good business practices…

- The divorce-riven church, preaching ‘family values’ to the culture…

In all these situations we might use this saying: “Physician heal thyself.”  We expect that those promoting healing powers should be the best advertisements for their cure.  So what about Jesus?

Jesus quotes this proverb while preaching in his home town.  He unrolls the scroll of Isaiah the prophet and proclaims His mission statement  from Isaiah 61:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. 22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son? 23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. 24 And he said, “Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.” (Luke 4:18-24).

Jesus is claiming to be the Servant of the LORD who is proclaimed by Isaiah – the One who ‘binds up the brokenhearted’.  Initially the people are very receptive.  They wonder at his gracious words.

But they are not at all prepared for how gracious this Physician is!  Jesus is about to expand their concept of grace well beyond the respectable boundaries they set for it:

25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; 26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. 27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. 28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. 30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way.  (Luke 4:25-29)

This Physician doesn’t prove Himself by keeping His powers to Himself.  He proves His powers by giving them away.  By the Spirit, He continues to bring the Lord’s healing to those well beyond the borders of Israel.   His grace has always been for outsiders – even Sidonians and Syrians.  He is the true Physician not because He heals Himself, or simply those close to Him.  He is the Physician because He heals the world.

The first hearers of this message were “filled with wrath.”  They wanted to control the grace of God and turn it into a meritocracy (with themselves at the top of course!).  But Jesus’ self-abandoning grace refuses to be contained.  In spite of continual opposition from the religious, Jesus proves Himself the Lord’s Anointed by giving Himself away.  He is the Physician who does not heal Himself, rather He goes to the cross. And “with his stripes we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:5).

Whether it’s Peter (Matthew 16:21-23) or the passers-by at Golgotha (Matthew 27:39-43), the wisdom of men always imagines that  Jesus should save Himself.  But His glory is to give Himself away, in total dependence upon the Father.  This is how the Physician heals the world:

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.  (Matthew 20:28)

Fishers of men

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Matthew 4:12-22

What images spring to mind when you picture an evangelist?

Sometimes we think of an adrenaline junkie, who could sell ice to the eskimos.  Yet when we consider the people who helped us to faith – we are reminded of very different character traits!

Simon Peter can be thought of as an arch evangelist.  But in the Gospels, we see a journey from a brash loud-mouth to a loving pastor.  Only at the end, is Peter finally the evangelist Christ wants him to be.

It all begins in Luke 5 with Christ calling him from catching fish to catching people:

Jesus saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.  (Luke 5:2-11).

Simon is not called because of his great Bible knowledge, his professional religious qualifications or his incredible oratory skills.  In fact he’s not even a good man.  He’s a sinner and he knows it, falling at Jesus’ knees and wanting Him to leave.

Jesus does not find a good preacher and change him into a fisher.  He finds a fisherman – a bad fisherman at that! – and makes him a preacher.  It’s not in Peter’s power to make himself an evangelist.  But when the Lord says “Thou shalt”, it has to happen.

Perhaps Peter started reading popular paperbacks on the work of evangelism, because he starts acting with all the bravado we associate with “the evangelist.”  The epitome of his self-assurance emerges in the upper room on the night before Jesus dies:

Peter said unto Jesus, “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I”. And Jesus saith unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice”.  But he spake the more vehemently, “If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise”. Likewise also said they all.  (Matthew 27:29-31).

Peter is as bold as brass and leads the disciples in utter self-confidence.  Yet Jesus knows that this pride will be his undoing.  The man proclaiming his lifelong fidelity to Christ would deny Him three times within a matter of hours.  Bold Peter is exposed as an evangelistic failure.  But broken Peter would show us the way.

After Christ’s resurrection we read a very touching scene (John 21).  It’s the reversal of Luke 5 and of Peter’s denials.

Again we see a miraculous catch of fish, but on this occasion Peter does not want distance from Jesus.  He races towards the One he has just betrayed so terribly.  Something has happened.  Peter knows that there is forgiveness in this Crucified and Risen Master.  His sins don’t make him flee.  Instead he swims ashore with all his might, as Jesus stands, cooking breakfast for his faithless friends.

Right here, over a fellowship meal, Jesus recommissions Peter:

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee”. He saith unto him, “Feed my lambs”. He saith to him again the second time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee”. He saith unto him, “Feed my sheep”. He saith unto him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee”. Jesus saith unto him, “Feed my sheep”.  (John 21:15-18)

Peter would be, not only a fisher of people, but a shepherd too.  He would be a pastoral evangelist.  And this ministry would be founded, not on his brash resolve, but on his broken-hearted love.

The world needs more fishers of men.  But may they be pastoral fishermen.  May they be those whose ministry is founded, not on gifting or qualifications or resolve or righteousness, but on a brokenness over sin, a fleeing to Christ for grace and a love of Jesus confessed to the world

It is written

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Matthew 4:1-11

After His baptism, Christ is driven by the Spirit into the desert. (Matthew 4:1-11)

In His battle with Satan, Christ is like Adam, like Israel and like David.

Like Adam, the devil tempts Him to doubt God’s word and eat.  And like Adam the fate of humanity rests on His shoulders.

Like Israel, He is called ‘Son of God’, and goes through the waters straight into a wilderness trial.  Yet where they caved in to temptation over 40 years, Christ would be the true Israel, resisting temptation over 40 days.

Like David, He’s just been anointed and now faces a giant, man-to-man, whose 40 days of taunts reproach the God of Heaven.  And like David, Christ’s victory would mean victory for His people.

Adam failed.  Israel failed.  But Christ, the anointed King goes to battle for His people.  He steps up as Adam – the True Man; as the Son of God – the True Israel; as David – our Spirit-filled Champion.  And through apparent weakness He slays the giant who has dismayed and defeated us at every turn.  His triumph is our triumph.

Let’s watch the battle unfold…

Round 1:

And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.  (Matt 4:3-4)

The devil assumes that Jesus can produce miraculous bread in the wilderness.   This is what the Son of God has always done (e.g. the Bread of Heaven, Exodus 16).  And it’s what He would do again (Matthew 14 and 15).  But in those cases, the Son of God provided bread for others. In doing so He proved Himself to be the true Bread, torn apart to feed the world (John 6:48-51).

Jesus feeds others – but will not feed Himself.  He has come to die – and a death far worse than starvation.  He does it to feed others.  Thus He says: I entrust Myself utterly to My Father, knowing I can abandon everything to Him and live.

Round 2 echoes the first:

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone”. Jesus said unto him, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”.

The devil, like so many of his servants, is a preacher.  He knows enough of the Bible to know that the Psalms proclaim the Son of God.  So he says to Jesus – “Psalm 91, as everyone knows, concerns the Son of God.  If that’s you, then you’ll be able to perform this celestial bunjee jump and the angels will catch you.”

But Jesus rejects this PR stunt.  He has come to hurl Himself down – and not simply to be dashed on the stones of the temple courts.  He came to hurl Himself into the great Abyss for us.  At His arrest He explicitly refuses the help of angels to prevent it (Matthew 26:53-54).   As Son of God He must die on that cross and though 12 legions of angels are on 24 hour stand-by, the Scriptures must be fulfilled.  The Son of Man must go as it is written– He must die.  Jesus refuses to test His Father. He will obey Him, even to the point of death.

Round 3:

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) – not by right but by popular choice.  The world follows him and his lying, self-serving, death-dealing ways.  So Satan offers Jesus the chance to form a coalition government.  Satan says, “Let’s not be enemies.  To dethrone me (Genesis 3:15) –will cost your life.  Let’s rule the world together.  Forget the painful business of eradicating evil – there’s another way. Compromise and avoid the way of the cross.”

Despite the Devil’s words, Jesus will receive the Kingdom from His Father, not the devil.  Instead of bowing to Satan, He will crush Him.  Though it costs Him His life, Jesus will never compromise with evil.  His heart is wholly committed to God His Father and so His heart is wholly committed to the cross.

Christ proves Himself to be exactly who the Father declared Him to be.  He is the beloved Son of God because through every temptation He serves others instead of Himself.  The true Son of God proves Himself divine through His utter self-giving.

This is the power that defeats the ultimate Egotist.  Everyone else in the history of the world has failed Satan’s tests.  No-one has ever walked the way of the cross like this. But the True Son of God did.  And Satan is sent packing.

As we read of ‘the master tempter’ and the ‘Lord our righteousness’ going head to head, we are not participants, only spectators.  We watch like David’s brothers watched when their champion went out to fell Goliath.

Christ’s temptations are not, basically, a three point primer in spiritual warfare.  They narrate for us the actual victory of our Anointed Champion.  Jesus is not foremost our Example.  He has taken our humanity to Himself, He has become Himself the true people of God and He has won victory on our behalf.

In our own temptations we must not look within for the power to fight.  Instead we must point ourselves, and the accuser, to Christ and His victory.

‘Yes, I am tempted Devil.  And yes I have fallen, times without number.  But it is written – “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”  (1 John 3:8)  In Him I claim victory!’

The heavens opened

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Matthew 3:13-17

For us it’s a description of rain (cf Genesis 7:11).  For Ezekiel it enabled him to see “visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1).  In the Gospels, the heavens open for Jesus in order that He sees the Spirit descend:

Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:  And lo a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (Matthew 3:16-17).

As Jesus unites Himself to our life in baptism, He is affirmed as the Christ, the Son of God.  Entering our humanity does not cost Him His divinity.  Joining us in our estrangement has not distanced Him from the Father.  No – the Gift and love of the Father continues to pour down on Him.  And the veil that separates us from God is torn down for Jesus.  He walks under an open heaven.

In fact, Scripture doesn’t say that the heavens were closed again for Jesus.  Perhaps we are to infer that, from then on, the heavens were always open to Him.  Certainly He always had the Father’s love and the Spirit’s anointing.

But then on Good Friday, He cried out: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me.” (Matthew 27:45-46).  The heavens were black and silent before God’s Son. And yet at that very moment, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Matthew 27:51).  The heavens were shut for Him, yet opened for us!

Now, with Christ risen again – vindicated by the Spirit and ascended into heaven – He invites us to be baptised into His life.  In Christ we too have the Father’s love and the Spirit’s anointing.   Which means this: today you walk under an open heaven.