Ever sat in a discussion about spiritual gifts and ended up wondering why it sounded like an episode of the XMen? I have Continue reading
Is there anything as unstoppable as unity? Is there anything as divisive as language? These are issues tackled in Genesis 11. In response to the towering rebellion, God confounded the language of the builders. The reason? When people are united, they’re unstoppable (Genesis 11:6). Though unity makes humanity unstoppable, it is incredibly fragile as it stands on shaky ground: shared understanding; the holy grail of all communication. Thus, by pulling out that single strand, God demolished their daring enterprise and off they went… divided.
In Acts 2, God’s people need unity to be unstoppable in the spread of the gospel thus, God returns the indispensable shared understanding to his people. People from all over are stunned as they hear the message in their own languages, its clarity turning their hearts to Jesus. The message will spread just as Jesus predicted at the beginning of Acts – first in Jerusalem, then in Samaria just before it goes to the whole world. Finally, it seems God will have a growing community of people who love him for who he is and not what he can give. Continue reading
Throughout the gospels, Jesus went to great pains to tell the people about the “kingdom of/from Heaven. Sometimes it was a mustard seed, sometimes a woman mixing yeast and even a pearl merchant. This must have excited the crowds who were looking forward to a Messiah who would eject the Romans. The disciples themselves were not immune from this excitement and each secretly hoped that he would be second in command as they eagerly spread the message that Jesus sent them with… The Kingdom of Heaven is here! Continue reading
What sort of person will enter the Kingdom of God? This is the question that Jesus answered in Matthew 5-7. Expecting a Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and set up an eternal kingdom on earth, the Jews were filled with anticipation as they listened to Jesus. Christ chose not to directly attack their misconceptions but to hint at His kingdom’s nature by describing the type of people who would qualify for it. Continue reading
Jesus will not prove Himself by performing miracles to skip hardship nor by forcing God’s hand by stepping into hardship. That leaves Jesus with no option but the bitter cup of scorn from enemies mingled with doubting friends and family and finally, a horrible and agonizing death. The devil realizing this offers Jesus a shortcut… if Jesus will simply worship the devil, he will give Him the world that He seeks to redeem.
How irresistible shortcuts always seem to be. Who wants the long hard way when things can be done in an instant? Yet Jesus rejects it. He sends Satan packing with a quote pointing to why these very nations have failed: they pointed their worship away from God. Their apostasy is precisely why they need to be redeemed. They need to be pointed back to God. There is no other way to achieve this but to reveal God’s character to a hostile world. Having been accused of having things easy because He can fall back on the divinity that He denies everyone else, God must come in the flesh and shine in the midst of pain and hardship. There can be no shortcut.
It is interesting to note that at no time does Jesus refer Satan to the Voice that spoke at His baptism. As spectacular as that event was, Jesus chooses not to invoke it as evidence of His relationship to God; He chooses to point to the Bible. Of course, merely regurgitating scripture is not nearly enough (even Satan does the same). Jesus understands the Bible and perceives it as a whole. He doesn’t see it as a mere formula book with dogmatic concise statements. Jesus sees the Bible as a book meant to guide his perception of the world around Him.
It is popular in Christian circles to curtly quote a verse to put a stop to discussion but we forget that it was only in medieval times that the Bible was divided into chapters and verses. Thus, when Jesus (or anyone in the Bible for that matter) quotes what appears to be a verse, He is directing his audience to an entire passage; He is pointing to an entire story or discourse. The Bible as presented in the battle in the wilderness is not a book of dogma to be memorized but a narrative meant to guide our perception of reality. It is in reading the Bible in this light that we too can conquer temptation.
There’s nothing wrong with dividing the Bible into chapters and verses as long as we do it for reference purposes. It is when we turn the verse into a cage in which we train God’s word to say whatever we want it to that we get into trouble. The Bible is ultimately a story of God’s love and patience with humanity. A love and patience that is still at work today. By learning to trace it in the Bible story, we may learn to trace it in the world today and act accordingly.
Fine then, if Jesus is as dependent on His Father as He says He is, He should willing to participate in that trusty activity of all leadership camps… the trust fall. Satan even goes so far as to give a “plain literal reading” of scripture, quoting Psalm 91:11-12. The challenge is simple: if God is on your side, He will perform a miraculous wonder to protect your life.
Jesus then quotes another comment of Moses, a comment that reminded Israel not to tempt God as they had done when thirst parched their throats and refreshed their doubts. Wondering out loud if God was among them or not, the Hebrews challenged Him to provide them with water. God rose to the occasion yet the fact that those people died in the desert reveals something important about miracles: they don’t convert sinners. Perfidy is not driven by the absence of evidence but the refusal to acknowledge its demands on one’s life.
Expecting God to perform miracles to countermand irresponsibility is nothing more than arrogant presumption because it reduces God to the level of sinful humanity. At times, God will bail us out but He will not always do so. It would be irresponsible for God to shield us from every consequence of sin because we would never leave it alone. God doesn’t subsidize stupidity. Enough trouble will come looking for you, you don’t have to seek trouble. Psalm 91 tells us not to test God but to trust Him to do what’s best for us.
What do miracles prove anyway? God is powerful, that’s not what the devil disputed in the beginning. The devil actually accused God of holding onto too much power (remember his fateful discussion with Eve in Genesis 3). If God were to run around raining non-stop miracles, He would be helping Satan’s case. He would also have another problem on His hands… spoilt brats.
God invites us to rest in Him. Children usually trust their parents to do what’s good for them. Trusting in God is a better sign that we are His children instead of expecting Him to subsidize our foolishness. Bungee jumping is much more fun when you don’t cut the cord.
Just over a month after God’s declaration of Jesus as His Son, we find Jesus famished in the wilderness. This fills the mind with questions: How can the Son of God be so hungry, weary and worn? If God is “well-pleased” with Him, why then is Jesus not living it up? Was there, perhaps, a mistake? Maybe Jesus isn’t the Son of God or God is no longer “well-pleased” with Him. Could it be that Christ said something, did something, that didn’t go down well with God?
What is in Jesus’ mind though? Is He plagued by insecurity? Does He know who He is? It is very easy to say you’re the Son of God when your notable prophet cousin baptizes you and a voice from Heaven declares it for all to hear. It is a different story however when you haven’t eaten in weeks and hunger gnaws at you in the heat of the day. It isn’t too much to wonder if hardship hasn’t loosened Jesus’ grip on God.
So the devil approaches with doubt in His words, challenging Jesus to prove Himself. The Son of God wouldn’t sit starving when all around Him, stones waited to be turned into bread. Had not God’s firstborn son, the nation of Israel (Exodus 4:22-23), feasted on miracle bread in the barren wilderness? Surely, Jesus could repeat that and prove that He was the Son of God.
Jesus quotes Moses’ commentary on the miraculous manna in the desert – God provided the manna to show the people that they were ultimately dependent on Him. Just as the Israelites had been expected to depend on God totally before they could emerge from the desert to conquer the Promised Land, Jesus is to do the same, except that He will triumph gloriously where they failed so dismally. Life is found in creation but originates and is sustained by God Himself. No amount of hardship ever warrants forgetting that God is the giver and sustainer of life.
What about you? Do you feast on rocky bread? Do you doubt that God is your Father when times get tough? Are you tempted to go it alone when it seems God has abandoned you? Don’t give up! Work hard but don’t ever think that it all depends on you. God is you Father and He is busy working for your good, even when you feel He’s away on holiday.