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Archive for June, 2013

It is written

I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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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!’

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Happy Friday

Some ukulele love…

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The heavens opened

I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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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.

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Baptism of fire

I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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Matthew 3:1-12

When the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were decimated at Gallipoli, it was said to be a baptism of fire.  Much less tragically, a baptism of fire might refer to a stormy first year of marriage or a difficult first match for a football manager.  It is the birthing of something new through affliction.

John the Baptist preached that all of us need a baptism of fire.  In fact, he argues that fire will either be the birth or the death of us.

9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  (Matthew 3:10-12)

According to verses 9-10, the whole Abrahamic tree is headed for the flames.  In fact, Israel stands at the head of a human race destined for fiery judgement (e.g. Zephaniah 1:18; 3:8).  And, according to verse 12, Christ the Judge will burn up all the unfruitful “with unquenchable fire.”

So with the flames beckoning, what are we to do?  Fight fire with fire!  Verse 11: We must be baptised by Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  What does that mean?

Well the next thing to happen is for Jesus Himself to be baptised by John (Matthew 3:13-17).  The Messiah joins the queue of sinners at the Jordan river.  As the Abrahamites confess their sins and repent, Jesus goes to the head of the queue and is baptised Himself.  He identifies with the bad trees who recognise themselves as such.  But instead of burning them down He comes in solidarity, to be with them and for them.  Jesus is baptised into our kind of life.

And He carries that solidarity with us throughout His life.  Indeed He carries it all the way to the cross.  There Jesus stands at the Head of Israel – the Head of the human race – and He bows His head to the fiery judgement we all deserve.  He is consumed on the cross – offered up as a whole burnt offering.  He endures the unquenchable fire… and comes through the other side.  Interestingly, when John sees Him in Revelation he says “his feet [were] like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.” (Revelation 1:15).  Jesus bears the fiery judgement owed to us, and He passes through it.

On the other side of the furnace, Jesus offers us His own baptism.  He was baptised into our kind of life – and now we can be baptised into His kind of life.

If we accept His baptism, we will not escape the fires of affliction.  We will, as the Apostle Paul writes, fellowship in His sufferings, (Philippians 3:10).  But with Christ, this baptism of fire will truly be a birth.  In Him, the flames are not deadly but only refining.

The whole world is heading for the flames.  But will the fires be our birth or our death?  Will we be baptised into the Suffering Christ or will we face the furnace alone?

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I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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John 2:1-11

Here’s a phrase, like “David and Goliath” or “the writing is on the wall“.  It doesn’t strictly occur in the Bible.  Instead it arises as a short-hand to describe a famous story.

It’s the first of Jesus’ miracles as recorded by John.  And verse 11 tells us the purpose of it: Jesus “manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”

As a guest at this wedding, how might Jesus have felt? Engaged couples at another wedding can’t help but have a critical eye for detail.  When the service orders are smudged, they make a mental note not to make the same mistake.

Jesus, as the ultimate Bridegroom, has His eyes firmly fixed on the wedding banquet at the end of history.  He longs for the day when He will be united to His bride, the church.  As such, perhaps he could have sympathised more than most with the “ruler of this feast” (v9). He and the bridegroom were presiding over an unmitigated disaster.

In modern weddings if the wine runs out it’s a little embarrassing.  In the first century however, it was utterly shameful – a reflection on the groom and his family.  Unless Jesus can step in, questions will be asked not just about the groom’s hosting skills, but also his ability to provide for his new bride.

Jesus acts – but with reluctance (v3-4).  Not because he isn’t concerned for the groom – but because “manifesting” His glory will release the handbrake on His public ministry.  It will set in chain a series of events that will lead to the cross.  Nonetheless He rises to the occasion.  And He does far more than anyone could ask or imagine.

Consider first, the quantity of wine produced:

“six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece (v6).”

A firkin is about 10 gallons.  So that’s around 150 gallons or 570 litres of water.  Jesus turns it into the equivalent of 760 bottles of wine.  And, as the “ruler of the feast” calls it, it’s “good wine” – not plonk (v9-10).  Jesus proves Himself to be the true Bridegroom and Ruler of the Feast.

Isaiah spoke of the days of the Messiah in which

the LORD of hosts [shall] make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.  (Isaiah 25:6)

And Amos promised that:

the mountains shall drop sweet wine.  (Amos 9:13)

Here, in little Cana, the Messiah floods this wedding with a “feast of wines.”  It is one aspect of the “glory” which Jesus manifested here: wine represents the new age of the Messiah’s reign.

But wine also means blood.  Indeed, from Genesis, wine is called “the blood of the grape” (Genesis 49:11).  At the end of His life, Jesus would pick up a cup of wine, saying “This is my blood.”  (Matthew 26:28).

In this miracle, Jesus has transformed water used for “the purifying of the Jews” and made it into the blood of the grape.  The old cleansing ritual is gone – replaced with a reminder of blood.  In this way Jesus brings in His new age of blessings and feasting.  Through His blood, He makes us clean and brings us to the ultimate banquet.

The bridegroom from Cana failed to provide.  He is a picture of all us failing husbands.  But in inviting Jesus to their wedding the couple got something right!  The Bridegroom from heaven does not merely make up the shortfall.  He floods them with a superabundance of new life and true cleansing.  He provides lavishly and lovingly for His bride, the church.  And He makes us hungry for that Wedding Feast to come.  Without Jesus we’re drinking water.  With Him, it’s the finest of wine.

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I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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John 1:29-51

John the Baptist was a wild and holy prophet whose mission in life was to prepare the way for the LORD Jesus.  John was foretold in the Old Testament as one who would cry out in the wilderness and introduce Jesus to the world.  (Isaiah 40:3ff; Malachi 3:1)  So, when his big moment came, what did John say?

Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Think of all the ways John could have described Jesus.  He could have said “Behold the Word of God”, “Behold the Christ of God”, “Behold the King of God.”  “Behold the Priest of God”, “Behold the Light of the World,” “Behold the Heavenly Bridegroom”, “Behold the great I AM”.  But here’s what John thought we needed to know first:  “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Behold the Sacrifice.  Behold God’s Bleeding Victim.  That’s the most fundamental introduction to Jesus.

Remember Genesis 22?  It’s 2000BC and Abraham is walking up a hill in the region of Jerusalem with “his son, his only son Isaac whom he loves.”  He’s told to put a knife to his son as a sacrifice of atonement.  Isaac asks, “Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”  Abraham replies: “God Himself will provide the Lamb.”  And on that occasion, the LORD provides a ram.  The ram dies instead of Isaac.  But from that day onwards that mountain was called “The LORD will provide”(Genesis 22:14).  What will the LORD provide?  The Lamb.  The LORD will provide the Lamb on that mountain in the region of Jerusalem.

Fast forward 500 years to the first Passover.  The LORD’s final plague on Egypt strikes both Egyptians and Israelites alike.  He passes through the land and strikes down the firstborn son of each household – unless a lamb dies instead.  The blood of this lamb must be painted on each household’s door with hyssop.  Then they will be saved.  Israel is redeemed by sheltering under the blood of the lamb.  And Passover becomes the most important festival of the calendar.

500 years on, we’re listening in to a prayer of King David.  He’s just committed adultery and murder and in his famous Psalm 51, he’s praying for forgiveness.  He says to God “Cleanse me with hyssop and I shall be clean.” (Psalm 51:7)  God has hyssop it seems.  Does God also have a Lamb, a sacrifice that averts judgement?  David prays with confidence, knowing that the Lamb of God can cover even his sins.

Fast forward another 500 years and Isaiah foretells the coming of the Messiah: He would be led ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’.  In this way Christ would be sacrificed to bring us peace.

Fast forward another 500 years.  We are on the hillside outside Bethlehem.  And the angels appear, not to dignitaries, butto shepherds.  Just as Norfolk is known in Britain as the place that rears our Christmas turkeys, Bethlehem was known as the place that produced Passover lambs.  The angels are telling them: Do you want to see a real passover lamb?  Hurry to the stable!

Now come forward 33 years and Jesus is entering Jerusalem on a donkey.  It’s the tenth day of the first month – and as all of Israel are bringing their Passover lambs into their houses, Jesus enters into God’s house.  On the 14th day of the 1st month, while everyone else is holding their Passover meals, Jesus is hosting His last supper.  He’s meant to be carving the lamb and passing it around.  But there is no lamb on the menu – not that we’re told of.  There is a Lamb at the table though.  And on that Friday, Jesus is slaughtered.

No wonder the Apostle Paul says, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” (1 Corinthians 5:7).

No wonder the Apostle Peter calls us redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

The Apostle John hears the song of heaven, and it’s the Lamb they are singing about:

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”  (Revelation 5:12)

In fact, Revelation has a wonderful phrase that’s repeated: “the Lamb in the midst of the throne” (Rev 5;6; 7:17).  The throne represents the power and authority of God.  And Jesus our Lamb is at the centre.  Where do we see the Godness of God shining at full strength?  In the slaughter of Jesus, our Lamb.  The Lamb is at the centre of the throne.

Do you ever worry that behind lovely Jesus lurks a stern God ?  Do you ever think that the cross was a nice gesture from the Son, but who knows about the Father?  No: Behold the Lamb.  When you see Jesus your Lamb you see to the very centre of the throne – the very centre of God.  God’s eternal nature is revealed in the Lamb: bleeding for you.

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Shining light

I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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John 1:19-28

Surely the adjective “shining” is redundant when attached to the word “light”?  After all, what else does a light do  What can it do except shine?

Surely there’s no such thing as a light that doesn’t shine.  Well Jesus, as we’ll soon see, speaks of people who “put their light under a bushel” (Matthew 5:14-15).  Christians are the light of the world, and yet many are lights that do not shine.

Not so with John the Baptist.  He is described by Jesus as a “shining light.”

“Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.”  (John 5:33-35)

How did John shine?  Was it through his talents? Yes, he was talented(Matthew 11:11), but that’s not why he was a shining light.  Was it because of his achievements?  No, the very opposite.  John shone by pointing away from himself entirely.  In paintings which depict John, he is identified by his pointing finger.  This was the secret of his radiance – he pointed to Jesus.

Jesus tells us the secret of John’s brilliance:  “he bare witness unto the truth.”  As John 1 says:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light…  The true Light, which lighteth every man… cometh into the world.  (John 1:6-9)

Christ is the uncreated Light of the world.  John shines as he points away from himself to the true Light.  John’s light is not a light that draws attention to itself, rather his light spotlights the true Light.

We’re all meant to shine (Matthew 5:15) but John shows us the way.  We’re all witnesses (Acts 1:8) but John is the ultimate human witness.  And what do we learn from his example?  We learn to point away from ourselves to Jesus.  We shine the most, when we forget ourselves and turn to the true Light of the world.  May his self-appraisal be ours:

I am not the Christ. (John 1:19)

I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, (John 1:23)

[The] shoe’s latchet [of Jesus] I am not worthy to unloose. (John 1:27)

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

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