Jesus taught us some important things about the devil. Firstly, Jesus knew he was real.
Immaterial yes, but Jesus lets us know the accuser is very real in a spiritual sense. Secondly, the accuser’s main goal is to spread ruin in our souls and in our societies. The third things we learn from Jesus is that the Satan’s (Accusers) main method for doing this is through lies (John 8:44).
How much of our society is laid waste by lies?
For example, there’s a lie in our society that pornography is ok as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. What the lie doesn’t tell us is that when we expose ourselves to this, we are going to school.
What we are taught is that one person is not enough. They are only a body to be enjoyed. We can easily be fooled into the lie that this false intimacy can fill an actual good need that God has placed within us.
That’s the catch, temptation plays to usually a legitimate need for, rest, acceptance, intimacy, hunger or emotions like anger, sadness, grief or loneliness.
It’s not that these are wrong in themselves, but the accuser is the most cunning adversary and will use any to make us falter.
Temptation starts as a thought. Maybe it plays to one of these areas for you. Usually, temptation is a short cut to a legitimate need. It’s meeting a legitimate need but not God’s way.
Jesus gets this, he understands all to well. In Matthew Chapter 4 we read that Jesus was tempted in the desert after forty days of fasting.
Only then did the accuser approach Him. The accuser starts in the same way he did on Eve in the garden in Genesis 3. ‘If you really are the Son of God….’
Satan tries to undermine the fact the Father had only just said to all who witnessed Jesus’ baptism ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased Matthew 3:17.
The enemy after all is wanting to destroy your soul. The first attack is at your identity in God. A beloved child. Eve fell for this and so do we.
Jesus though, coming as the second Adam, does what Adam and Eve didn’t achieve. He lives the life free from sin even though he was tempted.
Jesus’ temptation wasn’t for bread or to be saved from throwing himself down into the temple for everyone to see God save him, or even to gain the cities and kingdoms of the world.
Jesus’ temptation centred on the desire he had to bring about God’s kingdom, but to gain it quickly through other means. If Jesus turned stones into bread, he could have won hungry crowds, if He threw himself into the temple and God stopped him from even a scratch all the religious leaders would herald him as the Messiah, if he had worshipped the accuser and gained all the kingdoms and been king, Jesus would have forfeited bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth through the redemption of mankind.
Jesus stood firm when the serious battle of temptation came in on Him. He did so by combatting the enemy with God’s word. Scripture to keep His focus on God’s ways.
How do we fare when temptation arises?
Are we filling our minds with the enemy’s pervasive tsunami of worldly thinking that is all around us as we entertain ourselves or wind down?
Or do we simply find God’s point of view to enable us to stand firm when temptation arises.
Evagrius was a monastic Monk in the second century who went into the desert to learn from the experience from Jesus. He wrote down a collection of his most personal battles with temptation. He later wrote ‘Talking back’ A Monastic Handbook for Combatting Demons’. That must be the best by line ever.
Evagrius’ approach echoed Pauls 2 Corinthians 10:5,
We take every thought prisoner and make it obey the Messiah.
Evagrius’ wrote down the temptation, be it a feeling, thought, sensation.
After that he would write ‘What’s the lie here that reveals my attachment?’ and he would examine himself to see what the temptation highlighted.
Then Evagrius would then ask the Holy Spirit for a scripture to combat this, to show Him God’s way. Then he would write this down.
This simple approach helps the rubber meet the road as Christians. A practical way in which we can deploy the use of scripture as Jesus did and have victory in our lives and enjoy the freedom from Sin that Jesus paid for us. Living free from guilt, shame and lies of the enemy is what Kingdom living is all about.
To my thirteen-year-old mind having a facsimile of the Magna Carta or the signed confession of Guy Fawkes was the coolest thing out. Somewhere in the world in a museum, was the original, but I had an exact photographic copy of it. I still have them; I still think they are cool.
We make copies of important things, things that matter. Either we are trying to emulate a great bit of craftsmanship, or we desire to replicate something great to share copying, emulating is a big part of each of our lives.
Who taught you to tie your shoes? Who taught you to bake, garden, drive, play cards, fish? Often, we each have traits made up of a whole load of influences.
If someone was to watch you for a while, your interactions with others, the way you handle situations and stresses, your routines, and the time you spend with the Lord, would they know from your life how to follow Jesus?
Now, as a parent, I’m inevitably going to find out the answer to that question one day as to whether I have passed on my love for Jesus to my kids, not by what I have said, but more than likely from what they see me do.
Our attitudes, our decisions and whether we prioritise meeting with other Christians is something only we can pass onto those coming behind. You might be out of the having kids season and be empty nesters, or enjoying grand kids, but there is still scope in your life to pass on to those coming behind you your faith and love for Jesus and what you have learned.
The apostle Paul’s letter to the friends and Jesus followers at the Corinthian church encouraging them by saying:
16 Therefore I urge you, be imitators of me. 1 Cor 4:16
Why? Imitators of Paul?
Yes, Paul would say, imitate me as I imitate Jesus our Lord. I’m living it out in front of you, just as one day, you will live it out in front of others.
As disciples of Jesus, we are living out what we learn, what we see of Jesus in those around us. This is how we pass on our heritage of faith.
There’s a good chance that you understand faith built largely on what you have learnt by either doing or seeing other Christians doing.
Passing onto the next generation our faith isn’t just teaching them the Bible. Knowledge is largely useless if it’s not complimented by action. There are many learned scholars of the Bible that have never had a personal encounter with the subject material that could have changed their lives. There are also those who know little of God’s word yet put even the smallest part into action.
Learning to serve, knowing that serving is beneficial is something we can tell someone, but will only be fully realised when that person engages in the act of service.
Our kids will learn to love church when we make it a priority and express our desire and love for His idea of gathering His people.
Paul was able to say ‘Do what you see me doing’ as he set an example. It’s something worth striving for, something that you can leave as a legacy to those coming on behind you. It’s not about being the ‘best Christian’, it’s about being authentically you and showing through your life that there is a God who loves you and you showing you love Him by what you do, that’s infectious, that’s worth copying.
Vs 6 ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel’? In essence this question needs to be understood from the perspective of the Jewish followers of Jesus. Since their exile to Babylon six hundred years before the Jewish people never felt like they had fully returned. Yes, they had a second temple that wasn’t as glorious as the first, but they always had an overlord. A foreign power had always sat over them. The prophecy was that a Jewish King ‘David’ would sit on the throne again (Jeremiah 33:14-26). Autonomy. In control of their destiny with the Lord backing them.
That was the hope. So here is the risen Jesus who has just pulled off the most incredible display of power, He must be God. Who else could raise themselves from the dead?
One of the bravest disciples asks Jesus ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel’?
Jesus reply here is the same to us today,
‘It is not for you to know the times or epochs (A particular period in time) which the Father has fixed by His own authority.’
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth’
Acts 1:6-8 NASB.
Just like in the disciple’s day the prophetic of the Bible can get some excited. Some predict we are living in the ‘end times.
In truth we have never been closer to the return of Jesus as of today.
While there is a lot of speculation around ‘signs’ and end times floating around on the internet I think Jesus words here once again speak to us as they did to the disciples two thousand years ago.
Only the Father knows the end date, to speculate would be to know more than Jesus, vs 7.
Jesus does however point to where our focus should be; undertaking the task He has set before us. Being witnesses to the good news to all the earth. That includes doing that where He has called you too today.
To punctuate this idea, as the disciples stood around looking up into the air watching Jesus go, there appeared to them two angels who spoke to them and brought their focus back to the mission Jesus had just spoken to them.
‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into the sky? vs 11
Jesus told many parables about inaction. The ten virgins probably sum it up best. In Matthew 25 Ten virgins are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive and collect them, they are all there for the same purpose. Five of them were wise and five were foolish. Five wise ones took their lamps and extra oil, five only took their lamps. The bridegroom took a long time. At midnight the cry went out ‘Here is the bridegroom’! The five wise virgins trimmed their wicks on their lamps and had oil to get going straight away. The five foolish asked for oil from the wise ones but there was not enough for all. Go and buy some oil the wise told the foolish. Time was wasted and the five foolish virgins miss out because of there unpreparedness.
Jesus, when finishing this story that Matthew recalls ends with this:
Therefore, keep watch because you don’t know the day or the hour. Matthew 25:13
Jesus has set us a task to undertake, in spreading the gospel. Jesus’ brother James later in Acts 15 suggests when it comes to sharing the gospel, that this is our major priority.
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. - Acts 15:19 NIV
I believe it is therefore all too easy to get caught up in the ‘End is nigh’ mentality when our focus should be on who needs to know the good news that they can be saved.
When Christ returns (and He will) be found on task. Sharing His message and removing anything that hinders people coming to faith.
Jonathan, we read in 1 Samuel 14, was a warrior, a fighting man, a professional soldier. He was also the heir to the throne of Israel and a prince. His father, Saul, was the first king of Israel. As we find in chapter 14, Jonathan took God at his word. He inquired of God before taking risks and held fast to the principle that his God was faithful and could win any battle. He was much different to his father Saul.
When the shepherd David stood up in a national emergency and defeated the giant Goliath in the valley at Elah, the people of Israel saw the national leader they all wanted. Saul had been frozen with fear and lacked trust in God. Seeing this, Saul’s son Jonathan comes to David and this beautiful exchange of friendship happens.
18 When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.
1 Samuel 18:1-3 NLT
What Jonathan did that day was an incredible act of self-sacrifice. In committing himself to friendship with David and giving him his own robe, Jonathan did the unthinkable. Jonathan laid his royal princely robe and his armour which symbolised his privilege and position onto David.
Effectively Jonathan actions said to David ‘I recognise that you are God’s man to rule this country’, not me, even though I am rightfully in line to the throne, I have heard you have been anointed by God to be our king, I have seen you lead this nation through a crisis where my father failed, I am your servant’.
Putting others needs before yourself was something Jesus desired his followers to do (Matthew 6, 25, John 12:26, 14) this example set by Jonathan shows that loving others means there is more action than just words. It cost nothing to be a superficial friend, to be a great friend (and a disciple) it will cost us.
Jesus taught us in Luke 14:28 that we are to count the cost before we start something. Jonathan again shows us a calculated love to commit himself to David even though it would mean he wouldn’t inherit the throne.
Being a great friend at time will cost us. It means we will be required to be like Jesus and go that extra mile, wade into the messiness of someone else’s life, put our needs to one side so that we can meet another’s.
I think Jonathan would tell us the cost was worth it. He had to go the extra mile on numerous times, trying to reconcile his jealous father and David, rescuing David from plot to kill David. But Jonathan experienced a deep connection and relationship with another likeminded warrior, someone else who loved God deeply and showed extraordinary courage and faith in following that God.
The two friends were cut from the same cloth and enjoyed a deep God cantered friendship that resonated the teaching of Jesus many centuries later.
What can we learn from this incredible man from so long ago that may bless us today in our friendships and lead us into the richness of self-sacrifice and being known?
Take your pick from loyalty, intentionality, self-sacrifice and a desire to see others succeed. Jonathan was and is God’s man from beginning to end and even though he was a co-star in the bible, his example was so profound he’s worth emulating.
My relationship with Jesus is my responsibility:
Like any relationship, It’s always better when you’re in proximity. I don’t benefit from a quiet time unless I do it. Unless I read God’s word, the Holy Spirit has little to draw on.
It’s discipline and not just desire that determines where my heart and mind will go. That sounds awfully regimented, but what I discovered was that God loves it when we are intentional about spending time with Him, even when we don’t feel like it, we are tired.
At the end of the day, it’s you that puts your head on your pillow. God is with you every day and when we prioritise time with Him it provides God with opportunity.
The biggest part of your walk with Jesus happens outside of Sunday:
When you can’t go to church regularly either because of geography or lockdowns or the pause button’s been pushed, remember that you don’t stop being a follower of Jesus just because you can’t meet on a Sunday.
Think about this for a moment. (Luke 10)
Jesus ran the classic first century Jewish Rabbi model with the twelve that went something like this:
Rabbi: Hey guys, watch me do this a couple of times.
To Students: Now you all have a go while I (Rabbi) watch. 10:1
Rabbi to Students: Let’s talk about how that went. 10:17-24
When the Rabbi is satisfied that the students are living and doing as he has shown them then he would send them out to make their own students and they would become Rabbi’s.
This is the model Jesus set for us (Matt 28:11). Sometimes coming to church can just become an intellectual exercise with no real profit because there is no ‘doing’ during the week. This is like reading the best book you can buy on weightlifting, reading up on technique, safety, challenging yourself and then never touching the weights or engaging with them. You may know everything there is to know about weightlifting and even debate the best methods but never know the strength that comes with using them.
You may have heard the classic line of ‘I didn’t get much out of church today’. More than likely there wasn’t something there to be had for that person because God is still waiting for them to implement something He spoke to them about some time ago, though God is patient, He does allow us to wander around the same mountain a few times until we are ready for a change.
Being a disciple doesn’t mean that we are theologically or even ministerially trained. You only need a little information about Jesus to follow Him and well, maybe that’s why some look back so fondly at their first few years of being a Christian, it was simple and enjoyable before their spiritual formation got bogged down.
In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says to us Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Italics mine).
The biggest part of our Christian lives happens outside of two hours on a Sunday, whilst we don’t want to neglect meeting together, we can still do that, it may just mean being that little more disciplined and intentional about meeting with others and stepping out into what God’s next step for you is this week.
Gabriel carried a message to Mary that would change her destiny forever. It wasn’t an easy message. One of carrying a son, which would be good news to anyone who was married, but she wasn’t yet married. This news would be scandalous, she would be ostracised, disgraced and shunned by friends’, family and neighbours. In Jewish law being pregnant outside of marriage was a stonable offense. Even her fiancé would need Gabriel’s intervention to prevent him from sending her away so she wouldn’t be disgraced or worse.
What did Mary feel as she digested the news? The angel Gabriel’s news wasn’t one where everything would be ok, if anything the news put Mary into an extremely awkward position that threatened her life and reputation. Mary’s answer though was to believe the angel and with a simple ‘I am God’s servant, let it be done to me as you have said’ (Luke 1:38).
Maybe Mary’s servant heart towards God is what He saw in this rural teenage girl, her humble attitude to say to God, 'even if it costs me and my reputation is ruined and my life is threatened, I will obey you because You say you love me’.
Gabriel’s opening statement to Mary was one of surprise; ‘Greetings favoured one!’ (Luke 1:28) this warm greeting would have taken anyone by surprised. It implies not only has God thought about Mary, but He favours her, He’s taken the time to see her and has a fondness for her.
As a woman who had not had relations with a man, let alone her fiancé, this must have been more than puzzling for Mary. Why would the coming King, the angel talked about, be required to be born of a virgin?
Unlike their male counterparts, women weren't required to learn the scriptures. Most were illiterate, but there was opportunity for women to hear God’s word at synagogue. Had Mary heard where in scriptures several hundred years prior Isaiah proclaimed:
"Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).
Jesus’ birth to a virgin teenage girl in rural Israel surprised most and is still shocking today. God took the tradesman’s entrance into the world He created. By humble means, the Saviour not conceived by the corrupted sinful seed of man but pure and clean of the Holy Spirit, produced the coming Saviour and King bringing God’s coming kingdom into the world.
If we could ask Mary today what lessons she learned from her life as a servant of God, maybe just maybe she would say ‘Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him’.
An idea so radical most missed its significance. Who would be your best friend?
What makes that friendship special to you? Is it the way in which you connect over a hobby or a sport? Perhaps you both share an array of shared experiences or adventures together? Maybe it was forged over a lot of years or over a common interest or in a short amount of time on a shared experience. Whatever it was, there was sure to be a certain amount of chemistry involved with the two of you.
A good friendship endures. It walks in sunshine and rain. It will stick around when the going gets tough and celebrates in good times. A great friend will laugh and cry with you, it will seek out restitution and will tell you the things you probably don’t want to hear about yourself. Friends care for friends.
Jesus close friend John thought back to the night before the crucifixion. He thought about the words Jesus had used as he neared the end of the supper that night. Jesus leaned back and looked at the men gathered with Him in the upper room. Jesus knew what was about to come, they had no idea that in a few hours they would be scattered to the wind after Jesus’ arrest.
“You are my friends if you do what I have commanded you.
I no longer call you servants, for a servant doesn’t know what His master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” John 15: 14-15
John is the only one who recorded this part of the conversation. He never calls himself in his gospel by name but calls himself the ‘disciple that Jesus loved’. John’s memory here swirls back to that night and he picks up a key part of the conversation that reveals the heart of God. Jesus shows us that God desires an intimate relationship with us, not a superficial one. Not a relationship of obligation or of service and duty, but one where our love compels us to love others because of what Christ has done for us.
Jesus’ invitation here is to more than a servant relationship. Jesus desires for us is to share that chemistry of friendship. That deep close connection that sustains and allows us to be who we really are, say what is on our hearts and minds and still be loved for it.
Jesus’ invitation to become more than just a follower is still extended today to each one of us. His heart has huge capacity for friendship as we follow our Lord and Saviour.
I always try and look for what God wants to show me during times of disruption, or when things cause friction with me. This time one positive was that I got to spend some really good time with my two kids. They love having Daddy around more and I always got invited into a game, or spending time on the floor playing with them in their little worlds. This was a great blessing.
Part of being a Dad has been the way in which God has shown me how He loves to get down on the floor (so to speak) and be in our world.
Quite often we can fall into a place where prayer becomes more about what we do at a prescribed time or part of our routine rather than part of who we are. Real connection with someone is spontaneous, fun, insightful. All relationships in which we communicate can share ideas, can reach decisions, can build a consensus, agreements can be formed, dreams can be revealed, information exchanged, advice given, concerns addressed, attitudes influenced; Best of all intimacy can be built.
Can you see the list of things above and equate that with what God desires in your life? God is way more interested in you and your world than He is in a list of things you need, even though those things are important to you and Him. Psalm 134 reminds us that He [God] knows every word on your tongue before you speak it’ but he still desires to hear you say it!
There is something in speaking out that transacts in us our ability to live in the freedom God has given us. In any relationship we have there must be a two-way exchange.
A man and a woman go to see a counsellor about marriage difficulties. The counsellor asks the woman from her perspective what is wrong? She replies that her husband has never said that he loves her. The counsellor asks the husband why this is. He pauses for a moment and then says that he does love his wife dearly, the reason he hasn’t said it is because she doesn’t stop talking long enough for him to tell her.
Do we spend enough time listening to God? He sure spends time listening to us. If there was one thing, I believe God would say to you today, I guarantee it would start with ‘I love you’. Not just a trite we “know God loves me”, but God being able to creatively tell you everyday in a different way just how much He loves you. Because it’s God’s love and the revelation of that for us that changes us. That warms out hearts, that changes attitudes, that enables us to understand that He is in control and has our best interests at heart.
God is the God that gets down on the floor with us His beloved children to interact with us, and ensure we know that as a loving Daddy we are important to Him. Prayer or connecting with God isn’t an obligation, it’s an invitation to a deeper relationship with God.
When Matthew writes, he starts with the beatitudes and like climbing a mountain follows the route markers up to the top. You are salt, you are light, what the law really speaks to, giving to the poor, fasting, true wealth and treasure, the cure for anxiety, judgement of others, prayer, the wide and narrow gates and distinguishing the fruit in believers’ lives.
There are different markers on the way up pointing out the path the king was laying out. At the summit and conclusion of the sermon on the mount we see Jesus issuing a challenge to all the people crowded around to listen.
Jesus, the king talks about what foundation we build our lives upon.
‘Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the wind blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell and, and the floods came, and the wind blew and slammed against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall. – Matthew 7:24-27 NASB
We live in an age that the media has dubbed the ‘post truth’ age. Whether it is news/politics or whether it is online content, we are now bombarded with information from a lot of competing sources. How do we know and distinguish what is right and true to build our lives on?
We all know that a computer will only put out what it has been programmed to do. The same applies to us we will only put out what we program ourselves with input.
What are we programming ourselves on? Are we certain the influences we are ascribing to are rock steady or shifting sand? Jesus taught us that sometimes it’s not until the storm comes that we find out if our foundation we are basing our decisions and future on are sure or shifting sands.
Jesus gave us the clearest indication in this parable of what we can be certain to build our lives upon. His words and teachings will never fail to lead us to build strong foundations that cannot be eroded by the storms of life.
I know personally that when the chips are down how much erodes away as chaff and that what you cling to is the life-giving words only Jesus gives.
Wisdom and truth in situations can be sought from God. He still speaks to us today. Sometimes we need to come to Him, not to affirm our assumptions or preconceived ideas but with an open heart and mind to hear from Him, His wisdom which He freely gives to all those who ask.
I delight in my son and daughter. I’m delighted that they exist and that has nothing to do with their behaviour. They do things I ask them not to and sometimes we have to have words with them but I love them passionately. Since having kids and delighting in them I have marvelled at how much this is how God sees us.
Look at Psalm 139
1O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
Here we have an intimate picture of King David writing his view behind the curtain and seeing God’s delight in him.
Wouldn’t we be much better followers of Jesus when we realised that God delights in us. Prayer would be more about spending quality time with our beloved Lord and less like a shopping list of needs/wants or anxious thoughts.
Our obedience wouldn’t be something we measure or critique ourselves on, but rather our obedience would be a fruit of us loving and enjoying being with the Lord.
That inspires us to see what Jesus really came for. It reminds us that we can all fall into the trap of beating ourselves up about the things we do wrong rather than delighting the God who is delighting in us and removed our sins from us on the cross by the blood of His son Jesus.
When we chose to follow the promptings of God’s Spirit and walk beside Him in step, we are saying to God, I love you and I chose to delight in You. God desires people who love Him over people that try to get every part of life right. It’s never been about performance but rather about resting in His love and delight in us. When we do that, our love for Jesus increases and we find ourselves naturally desiring to do the things that please God. Prayer becomes a wonderful interaction rather than just a something to do, or guilty because we haven’t.
In Luke 11:9-13 we hear the words of Jesus say to us, Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be open to you… How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?
What a promise.