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EFAC Australia

Bible exposition

Mark Calder is Rector of the Anglican Church in Noosa, QLD

I invite you to read one of the very challenging statements of Jesus in Matthew 10:32-36. On first reading, this is so upsetting. It’s very provocative. The inference is that Jesus has come to divide the human family — the closest and most loving of relationships. But isn’t Jesus called the Prince of Peace? Surely he did come to bring peace! Didn’t the angels proclaim at his birth in Luke 2 – ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom his favour rests’?
Of course, we understand from elsewhere in our Bibles, that Jesus came so that through his perfect life and sacrificial death we might have peace with God. We also take on board what else we know of God’s will for us and for families. He is responsible for what we could argue is the greatest of all divine inventions, and he commands us to honour our mother and father and to love and care for our children. So then, how do we understand Jesus’ teaching here? Let’s explore:

Luke 4:1-13

What exactly does Jesus resist when he stands against the Devil’s temptations in the wilderness? The history of the reception of this passage and its parallels offers a number of possible answers to this question. Chrysostom is representative of the fathers in seeing here a rejection of specific sins – gluttony, vain ambition and the desire for riches.1  Calvin charts a different course as an explicit correction of this exegetical tradition, taking the Devil’s offers as an attempt to provoke Jesus to doubt God, to rise up in rivalry against him, and to seize his gifts apart from him.2 Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov famously perceives in Christ a refusal to adopt a tactic of coercion whereby allegiance would be forced through an irrefutable display of miracle, spectacle, and power, and instead a commitment to the preservation of human freedom. These readings ought not to be dismissed out of hand; yet what none of them seems explicitly to reflect (with the one possible exception being Calvin’s reading) is the extent to which it is Jesus’ sonship that is at stake in the wilderness (‘If you are the Son of God…). Here we might offer another answer to the question of what Jesus rejects that seeks to take this into account, specifically by reading the temptation narrative in the light of what immediately precedes it – the account of Jesus’ baptism.

In Jesus’ baptism, a paradox is revealed to be lying at the heart of his identity and task, and it is a paradox of sonship.

On the one hand, at the Jordan, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is publically manifested – he is the one who stands in unique relationship to the Father, and who comes as his king and judge.3 On the other hand, it is also revealed that this sonship doesn’t secure for Jesus a path of ease and comfort; on the contrary, it calls him to the work of suffering in the place of his people. This is made clear both by the second half of the heavenly announcement of Lk. 3:22, with its allusion to the servant song of Isaiah 42, and by the action of the baptism itself, in which Jesus the judge adopts the posture of a sinful and repentant Israelite, and so stands in solidarity with the judged. Jesus’ sonship, then, far from promising him the earthly career that one might expect for so exalted a figure, delivers him into its opposite; his will not be an impervious life marked by an immediacy of glory, but rather one of weakness and affliction in the self-giving service of his own.

With this in mind, the Devil’s temptations that follow may be seen as each offering Jesus an alternative way of being the Son to that revealed in his baptism. We may take each temptation in turn, to see how this is so. The first temptation, to turn a stone into bread, invites Jesus to prove his sonship, not simply by performing a mighty deed, but one that will do away with his own hunger and lack – for surely, if he is God’s Son, God wouldn’t let him starve?4 The second temptation,  proposing universal sovereignty in exchange for a shift in Jesus’ allegiance, offers him something that the Father has, in fact, already promised his Son,5 but offers it now, with no expectation that the path by which the Father has determined the Kingdom will come – the path of rejection and crucifixion – need be trod. The third temptation, to put God to the test, goads Jesus in a way similar to the first to evidence his sonship through a demonstration of an automatic divine protection that will spare him harm in all circumstances. Each temptation, then, coaxes Jesus to act on the basis of a very different vision of what it means to be the Son of God to that which has been revealed and embodied in his baptism – one which doesn’t direct him into the passion for the sake of his people and commit him to trusting God through it, but instead spares him such things, proffering entitlement, safety and suffering-free glory.

Jesus, of course, resists these temptations through God’s word. In doing so, he reaffirms that vocation which, though manifested in his baptism, is grounded in the depths of eternity; his “No” to the Devil is in fact a “Yes” to the Father, and in this he triumphs over the one who would turn him from the Father’s course. This triumph, however, is not so much for himself, as for us; and it is such in at least two ways.

Firstly, as is often noted, Jesus triumphs for us in that the battle he wins is one that had previously been lost – by Adam, by Israel, and with them, by all of us. Luke tells the story of the temptations expressly to show that where those ‘sons of God’ failed,6 here the true Son of God – the true Adam, the true Israel – resists temptation, refuses to yield to sin and to Satan, and so undoes the knot that we had tied.

Secondly, Jesus triumphs for us in that his refusal to turn from suffering is a refusal to turn from the path by which he will redeem us. Jesus suffering isn’t, of course, something arbitrary that the Father has set upon him; it is the means of our salvation. This is how Jesus will bring not only himself, but us with him into his kingdom – by refusing to insist that his sonship ought to afford and preserve him certain rights and privileges, and instead committing to relinquish such things for us. Therefore, when Jesus says “No” to the devil in the wilderness, he says “Yes” to God, but as such he also says “Yes” to us. Jesus will not abandon the way of the cross, because he will not abandon us. He will not be Son simply for himself; no matter the cost, he refuses to be king without his people.


1 Homilies on Matthew, 8.5

2 See the comments on Luke 4:1-13 in the Harmony of the Evangelists

3 cp. Pss. 2:7; Lk. 3:22

4 Notice that in Luke’s account, it is specifically one loaf that Jesus is tempted to produce – in contrast to the later miracle of the loaves and fishes, this would be a purely self-serving act.

5 Pss. 2:7-8; Lk. 1:32-33

6 Exod. 4:22-23; Lk. 3:38

God’s Modus Operandi

Mark Peterson is the Music Minister at Holy Trinity Church, Adelaide

Do you enjoy vision-setting meetings?  Perhaps brainstorming, or presentations of vision, mission and key values?  Sometimes these events invigorate me; other times they bore me.

If King David was casting a vision for Israel, 2 Samuel 7 describes a stunning and sudden overturning of the strategy. 

He was settled in a palace, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies.  It was time for some development on the domestic front.  Admirably, God’s chosen king chooses to honour God.  He will build him a house that would be more appropriate than the travelling tent.  The king is established in Jerusalem: now the Lord needs a temple. 

The Lord, however, wipes the whiteboard.  Actually, this is not the plan.  I will tell you the plan.  You will not build me a house; I will build you a house, and it will never be destroyed. 

It is not uncommon for our strengths to become our weaknesses. Could this be a problem with our love for a rigorous exegetical method of preparing sermons?

Ministers are sometimes told that there is no need for a devotional reading of the Bible since all our reading and preparation should engage us with God. I believe this is a half- truth which can so easily lead us away from one of our great evangelical strengths. The strength of a warm devotion to the Lord Jesus has nurtured and strengthened the hearts of evangelical Christians and pastors alike. The daily quiet time has been an essential expression of this devotion.
The very concept of a regular time alone with God has often been branded legalism. A moment’s reflection ought to dispel this as unwise, unbiblical (Lam 3:21-23 and Matt 6:11) and singularly unhelpful since we regularly make time to eat our evening meal with our family and applaud the husband who arranges a regular date with his wife. Anything worthwhile requires planning and discipline.

Pastors who forget that they are Christians before they are pastors are at great risk in many areas of their life. Perhaps the chief danger is that of a professional approach to the Scriptures that is content with a knowledge and careful handling of the Bible rather than a growing loving relationship with God.

The advice given to me by one of my parish leaders shortly after I was converted was both wise and helpful. “Peter, try to read the Bible every day and expect God to speak to you”. Reading the Bible is more than reading the Bible. It is to engage in relationship with the living God who loves to speak to His children. This is a prior responsibility to our role as pastor, meeting as children with our Father rather than as servants with our Master. The primary purpose is not to prepare a sermon,  but to be trained, corrected, encouraged, led, indwelt and nurtured by our loving Triune God.

A number of blessings follow this prayerful expectation. The first is that the Bible will always be seen and experienced as a living book. Devotional reading will always keep our preaching  and pastoring fresh because our relationship with God will always be growing. The S.U chorus will be at the heart of our approach to Scripture. “Make the Book live to me O Lord, Show me Yourself within Your Word; Show me myself and show me my Saviour, And make the book live to me”.

Our evangelical tendency to exalt the objective above the subjective will be moderated as we expect God to speak to us in this way. We will not only preach the third day resurrection of Jesus, but remind ourselves that every day He lives to be our great understanding High Priest and our Friend. We will take great heart from His desire to fellowship with us, that abiding antidote to lukewarmness (Rev. 3:20), that persistent enemy of western Christians and zealous pastors alike.

One of our dangers is to slip into a “Christism”, as devastatingly erroneous and unhelpful as deism.   This is the trap of so focussing on the propositions of scripture as to neglect the three Persons to whom the propositions testify. The recent trend to speak of “gospel ministers” as the way of describing our role rather than “ministers of the Lord Jesus” could be an unintentional way of robbing ourselves of the joy of being called into and involved intimately with our Lord in our Father’s business.

At a very practical level of encouragement in ministry, meeting with our Heavenly Father is surely more important than simply reading or studying the Bible. Devotional reading will expect God to speak to us through the text rather than our exegetical methods. Our Lord’s “do not be afraid” to His disciples on the lake becomes a timely word to us when buffeted with life’s demands and problems. The fearful Israelites quaking in their boots at Goliath’s taunts will be a rebuke to our fears just as David’s boldness, a spur to action, along with biblical theology’s insight that David represents Christ who has won the battle for us. Would we argue with the doyen of 18/19th century expository preachers, Charles Simeon, finding strength from our Lord, when, following prayer for God’s comfort from a plain verse of scripture upon opening his Greek Testament, put his finger on the text “they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; they compelled to carry his cross” (Matt.27:32)? It may not be pure exegesis but it is does express the love of our Father for His son who was in need of encouragement to press on in His faithful exegetical ministry. If we expect our fellow Christians to apply all the exegetical skills of homiletics which we apply to sermon preparation might we in effect be closing the Book to them and missing out on God’s comfort ourselves?

Marital unfaithfulness and addiction to pornography are more likely to be kept at bay by those who engage in “a devotional pattern that places us starkly in awe before a fearsome God. A God-angled view of sin and its consequences.” (Bill Halstead).

We are far less likely to sin against One with whom we meet daily and far more likely to find the strength and pleasure of obedience from our gracious Lord who lovingly encourages us every time we meet with Him.

Our heritage is as priceless as it is satisfying. And herein lies our greatest danger when we can so easily be satisfied with our heritage rather than the One who has so graciously blessed us with it. As we remember that the same Holy Spirit who guided the Biblical authors to write the Scriptures also dwells in us we should not be at all surprised that He will make God’s written Word alive for us every time we make the time to meet with Him. 

Peter Brain is the former Bishop of Armidale and presently Rector of the parish of Rockingham in the Diocese of Perth.

Michael Flynn is the Vicar of St Columb’s Hawthorn, Vic.

Last year I had the privilege of speaking at the Melbourne Diocesan Curate’s conference on the charges given in the ordinal. We considered how the charge, ‘Be a pastor after the pattern of Christ the Great Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep’, can become a heavy burden in long-term ordained ministry and we turned to 1 John 3:16-24 for wisdom.

The key text is: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16). The context of the apostle John’s letter is schism. The church had split, people had left (2:19) but those who had left were still in the local community accusing and misleading those who remained in the church. John’s treatment for a difficult pastoral situation is to provide theological guidance based on tested authority (1.1-4) because we need meaning that is reliable. That is how we hope. John provides four interwoven tests of genuine Christianity to encourage those who remain. Three are observable tests and one is a subjective test. They are:

1. The social test or test of love. Love is defined as the love God showed us in Christ - self sacrificial love. (2:9-11; 3:13,16-18; 4:10-12)

2. The theological test of Christology and Incarnation. That Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ the Son of God. Or, to put that another way, the Jesus of history is the Christ of faith. (2:22,23; 3:23; 4:1-6)

3. The moral test. John is realistic; where there is pastoral and theological confusion there will be moral failure. (1:8-10; 2:3-6; 3:7-10)

4. The subjective experience of the Holy Spirit and answered prayer. (3:21,22,24)

What is of interest to pastors under pressure is how John applies these tests to our consciences and motivations. In 3:16-21 John is practical and unsentimental about love. Love means to share possessions, because that is literally to lay down life by giving up livelihood (time and the possessions gained by our time) to serve others. John applies the cross of Christ, the atonement, directly to his people as a model of Christian living (3:18). He then goes on to apply this evidence of practical, atoning love to his people’s consciences. The living out of atoning love, by the practical sharing of material possessions and giving life is evidence to our consciences that we belong to Christ.

This is a hard thought for biblical believers as we are nervous of any hint that our works may contribute to our salvation. Our mental habit is to discount the value of the Christ-like works we do but, it turns out, that is to dishonour the work of God. John is clear; our attempt to imitate the atonement of Christ in practical love is not evidence that we can save ourselves. In 2:2, Jesus alone is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, in 4:19 we love only because he first loved us. However, our love is evidence that we have been saved, that God is at work in and with us. So, when our hearts condemn us (3:21) we can set out hearts at rest in his presence (3:19). This is akin to the kind of spiritual self-talk we see modelled in the Psalms, when the Psalmist gathers up the evidence of God’s promises and actions to rebuke his discouraged soul (eg. Psalms 37, 42). In 1 John, part of God’s action is the stumbling practical love he enables us to do; we can speak to our conscience even when it wavers and condemns us and tell it no, we belong here, in the presence of the living God.

Because having an argument with your conscience is one of the toughest, long-term debates we ever have — especially if others around us are also accusing us (2:26), John adds to the evidence of sacrificial love the evidence of belief; belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He weaves together the social test (love as Christ loved) and the theological test (what we believe about Jesus, 3:23) into a practical outcome; that we will see answered prayer in the life of the church (3:22) and experience the presence of Christ through his Holy Spirit (3:24. It is worth noting that for John this fourth subjective test accompanies the objective ones or it is not true. 2:20-27).

I am deeply encouraged that though John was not writing to perfect people (2:1) in a perfect church, nevertheless their hard won growth in Christ seen in the tests of sacrificial love, theological understanding, moral effort and the experience of God’s Spirit can be held up to their consciences as evidence of God amongst them. Ladies and gentlemen, here is how to measure ministry success. Here is help for sustaining the long-term work of laying down our lives for the sheep. Rebuke your conscience.

In Psalm 148 we hear a great cosmic role call in which the entire creation is addressed and summoned to its place in the circle of God’s praise. The cry, “Praise the LORD!”, pours down over the universe from top to bottom like a flood, as the different spheres of God’s creative work are each invited to lend their voices to the song. The exhortation is first given to the heights of heaven, the angelic armies, and the sun, moon and stars (vv.1-4); from there it descends to the creatures of earth and the depths of the sea, as weather and geography and flora and fauna are all addressed (vv. 7-10); and finally the whole human creation, of every age and position, is commanded to lift its voice and exult in the Maker of all things (vv.11-12). There is no planet, no grain of soil, no tadpole, no oxygen molecule, no man, woman or child, to whom this joyful summons isn’t issued, and who is not to yield to it in raptured obedience.

This command isn’t, however, one that is bare and irrational; there are three crucial reasons given as to why we and all things are to praise the LORD.

First of all, it is because he is the creator and preserver of the universe. The LORD is the one who with total freedom and ease, and therefore with sheer delight, has called absolutely everything that is into being from nothing by his word of command, and in every given moment he is the one who holds it back from chaos – it is established (vv.5-6). The irreducible dependence of all created things upon the LORD that follows from this, and the divine power, wisdom and goodness that are displayed by the very fact of creation’s existence, are the logic of this liturgy: it is the grateful chorus that must erupt from those who recognise they are, only inasmuch as the LORD in his ungrudging generosity is pleased that they are. This is the wholly spontaneous and necessary joy of the creature that is summoned in mercy before the presence of its Maker – necessary in that such praise constitutes the creature’s conformity to its nature, spontaneous in that such conformity constitutes the creature’s freedom as the creature of this God. What is more, that the cosmos in its entirety is called to share in this praise removes the possibility of such conformity and freedom being found in some end other than the LORD. As long as all things are called to worship, not one of them can be ultimate; as all things are made by the LORD, so all things are made for him, and for him only; and so the final end of each of creation’s members cannot ultimately be found within creation’s bounds. A key guard, then, against the idolatry that would posit just such an immanent end, is this universal doxology.

The second reason for the LORD’s praise is the uniquely exalted glory of his name (v.13). There is none other like him, none that can match the perfection and bright beauty of his transcendent holiness, none that sits upon a higher throne. Hence it is fitting that kings, princes and rulers are specifically included within the summons to praise him (v.11). Before this God, there is no earthly power that can legitimately claim an absolute position, and so the proper posture of even the highest political ruler is not that of a god, but of a servant – one standing not over the people, be they man or woman, young or old, but rather prostrate alongside them, acknowledging the high glory of the one in whose hands the government truly rests.

And thirdly, the people of the LORD praise him because he has “raised up a Horn for them” (v.14) – that is, a strong Saviour, who has delivered them (cp. Lk. 1:69). The one who is so highly exalted is the very same one who has also come near in order to bring his people close to him, to redeem them, and to make them his own – the LORD of creation is also the LORD of the covenant. And in fact, when that LORD acts to execute this deliverance definitively, it will be revealed that the Horn who is raised up to rescue God’s covenant people, and the Word of command through which everything has been created, are one and the same – Jesus the Word, who is the firstborn over all creation, and the firstborn from the dead (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-20).

And that is not all. In this psalm, worship rings out from what seems to be every conceivable corner, and yet when the deliverer finally comes the theatre of praise is opened even more widely. Here in Psalm 148, three spheres of the cosmos are summoned to the song: the heavens, the sea, and the earth. There is one that is missing: Sheol, the place of the dead, under the earth. Of course, from the perspective of the Psalter, this isn’t all that surprising – part of what makes Sheol Sheol is the fact that it is specifically the place where the LORD is not praised (Pss. 6:5; 30:9; 115:17; cf. Isa. 38:18). And yet, as Peter Leithart has recently noticed, when in the fullness of time and in fulfilment of his word the LORD raises the Horn up, not just figuratively by really – from the dead, from Sheol, and to his right hand – then at last this fourth sphere is also burst open, and the tongues within it are unloosed, as it too is swept into the praise of the One seated on the throne and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13; cp. Phil. 2:9-11). The Psalmist asks, ‘Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?’ (Pss. 88:10-11). When the Horn is raised up, the answer is finally given, in fulfilment of the deepest longing of Psalter itself (Pss. 16:10; 49:15), and what is in fact an almost universal call to praise begun in Psalm 148 is at last made complete.

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