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Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

As we've noted, the temptations of the wilderness were a battle, not the whole war.  Luke 4:13 states, the devil left only to return at an opportune time.

What times were opportune?

Well in Matthew 16 we have another heavenly declaration of Jesus' identity.  This time it comes through the lips of Peter - "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v16).  But as with the baptismal declaration, this would be immediately tested by the question, What sort of Christ?  What sort of Son of God will Jesus be?

Verse 21: From this time on Jesus begins to show His disciples that He must suffer and die.  As soon as His divine identity becomes clear like this, Jesus immediately seeks to combat our natural theology of glory.  He 'shows' them that He must suffer.  That's interesting isn't it?  He doesn't simply tell them, He shows them - obviously from Scripture.  For the bible has never revealed a theology of glory - it has always revealed the theology of the cross.  Jesus makes this plain.  And Peter, who one minute previously has been a mouthpiece of heaven (v17), is now a mouthpiece of hell.

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you."

Immediately Jesus recognizes the devil's assault:

"Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Peter thought the things of God were the things of power, prestige, safety and comfort.  Jesus says, No, those things are the things of men.  And, shockingly, the things of men are the things of Satan.

It couldn't be clearer could it?  Satan's way is the way of all men - the way of comfort, the way of self, the way of safety.  Christ's way (which is God's way) is the way of the cross, and He calls every follower to it (v24ff).

The next time 'temptation' is mentioned in Matthew is in the garden of Gethsemane (26:41).  Here again the way of the cross was brought into an agonizing contrast with the way of all flesh.  Would Jesus let the cup pass (v39)?  Would He save Himself or save us?  Again He resolved to let His Father's will be done.  This is not something different from His resolve to save us - it is precisely the same thing.

At His arrest, again the chance came for the angels to rescue Him (v53), but the Scriptures must be fulfilled (v54).  Both the Father and the Scriptures speak with one voice - the Christ, the Son of God must suffer and must die.  And Christ submits.

So as He pours out His life on that cross, here is the final 'opportune time'.  The religious leaders called out to Him:

Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!" 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, `I am the Son of God.'"  (Matt 27:40-43)

Do you recognize those words?  "If you are the Son of God" began each of the wilderness temptations.  Here is Satan again using his mouthpieces to offer Jesus a way out.  Contrary to Martin Scorcese's imagination, the last temptation of Christ was not some lustful fantasy.  It was the much more seductive, much more truly carnal, temptation to save Himself.  Thank God He resisted.  For He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

And when He died, the most unlikely man of all suddenly got it.  A Roman centurion declares: "Truly this was the Son of God!" (v54)

That's been the issue ever since the baptism.  What does it mean to be the Son of God?  Satan threw everything at Jesus to make Him live like Adam, like Israel, like every other son in the history of the world.  But Jesus refuses to live for self.  Instead He dies for others and in this astonishing reversal a power is unleashed.  There's life from the dead (v51-53) and the man most likely to love vainglory and flesh and the way of Satan is turned around.  Even in the eyes of this Gentile, the wonder of the cross becomes the definition of true Sonship.  This is a power to overturn the world.

Satan is crushed.

Part 5



As we've seen, Satan's three temptations concern Christ's identity as Son of God.

Round 1:

3 The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." 4 Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matt 4:3-4)

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

But Jesus will not feed Himself.  He has come to die – and a death far worse than starvation – to feed others.  And so He says: I entrust Myself utterly to My Father, knowing I can abandon everything to My Father and live.  That’s round 1.

Round 2 is fought along similar lines:

5 Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "`He will command his angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.'"  7 Jesus answered him, "It is also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

The devil, like so many of his servants, is a preacher.  And 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.  Well then if you are the One of Psalm 91, you’ll be able to do this celestial bunjee jump and the angels will catch you.”

In a future post we'll consider Christ's rejection of this kind of PR stunt.

But the bottom line is, Jesus won’t cave.  He has come to hurl Himself down, and not simply to be dashed on the stones of the temple courts.  He had come to hurl Himself into the great Abyss for us.  And explicitly at His arrest He 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 of Him - He must be the One who dies.  Jesus will not test His Father but obey Him, even to the point of death.

Round 2 resisted.

Round 3:

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. 9 "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." 10 Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) - not by right but by popular choice.  The world does indeed follow the devil 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 here.  You know what it will cost you to dethrone me (Gen 3:15) – it will cost your life.  Let me offer you another way.  Let’s rule the world together.  Forget the painful business of eradicating evil, compromise with it and you can avoid the whole way of the cross."

But Jesus will receive the Kingdom from His Father, not the devil.  He will not bow to Satan, He will crush Him.  Though it cost Him His life, Jesus will not compromise with evil.  His heart is wholly for God His Father and so His heart is wholly for the cross.

Christ proves Himself to be exactly who the Father had declared.  He is the beloved Son of God because through every temptation to the contrary He resolves not to serve Himself but others.  He will not save Himself but save others.  This is the only power to defeat 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 must depart.

But as Luke says, Satan limps off only to regather his strength for future assaults (Luke 4:13).  We'll consider these in the next post (here).


Since the earthquake - more than one million have died worldwide.  150 000 per day.  Every day without fail a Haiti-sized disaster strikes.  This is not to play down the horror of this crisis.  It's to awaken us to a daily horror that we accept all too readily.  56 million people - that's almost the whole UK population - return to dust every year.  And I will be one of those statistics.  Sometime this century.  I live on a fault line every bit as treacherous as the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone.  No house could ever be structurally sound enough.  This world will be the death of me.

'Not one stone will be left on another, every one will be thrown down' said Jesus about the house of God (Mark 13:2).  This was just the start of a top-down judgement.  First the flesh and blood House of God was torn apart on the cross.  Then the brick and mortar house of God in AD70.  One day it will be God's house - the whole cosmos - that comes crashing down.  The stars from the heavens, the sky torn in two, the moon turned to blood.  It's scheduled for demolition.

Can you imagine how the disciples would have viewed the temple after Mark 13?  For the next 40 years they would visit the temple (e.g. Acts 2:46) but they would never again be taken in by its 'massive stones' and 'magnificent buildings (Mark 13:1).  They knew it was about to be shaken to its foundations.

We know that earth and heaven will be shaken (Heb 12:27-28).  And in the meantime, we see portents.  Earthquakes (Mark 13:8).  This is the world that we know.  Tsunamis destroy, volcanoes erupt, plagues devour, cyclones flatten, wildfires rage and the very earth upon which we stand quakes.

But here's a surprise.  Jesus doesn't call these 'death-throes'.  He calls them 'birth-pains'. (Mark 13:8)  Because the demolition to which we are heading is, in fact, a palingenesia - the renewal of all things. (Matt 19:28)  This top-down judgement is for the sake of a top-down resurrection.

We're heading towards 'the end' - the goal of all things (Mark 13:7,13); summer (v27); the cloud of His presence (v26); gathering (v27) and the power and glory of the Son of Man (v26).  We're heading for a new heavens and new earth - a kingdom that 'cannot be shaken' (Heb 12:28).

May this earthquake awaken true compassion in us - (here are some places to give money).  May the Body of Christ speak boldly of the Redeemer from all evil (Genesis 48:16) and demonstrate His suffering love in the midst.

But may we also reconsider our own precarious position.  This ground is not solid.  Not right now anyway.  It will be shaken and it groans under the weight of sin and curse.  It will rise up to strike me down and swallow me whole.  Yet so often I marvel at the 'massive stones' and' magnificent buildings' of 'this present evil age.'  I cosy up in the demolition site.

May we wake again to the reality of a whole world under judgement.  May seeing these deaths re-ignite our hatred of death.  Every day the tragedy of Haiti is repeated the world over.  But mostly we try to ignore that the last enemy is swallowing everything we love!  Let us wake up and snort with indignation at the grave the way Jesus did (John 11:33-38).

And then, through the lens of His resurrection may we look to the most audacious hope - a new Haiti, secure, prosperous, radiant, gathered under the wings of the Son of Man, every tear wiped away by the Father Himself.

The non-Christian can hope for nothing greater than 'safer' buildings on the same old fault line.  And as they labour admirably for this, many will ask why God does not seem to be cooperating with their desire to pretty up the demolition site.  They plan to build some lovely houses on this sand and they imagine God to be standing in the way of their saving purposes.  Of course it's the other way around.  And of course it's we who have a small view of redemption.

The Lord has a salvation so audacious He can call earthquakes 'birth-pains'.  (As can Paul - Rom 8:22).  Certainly they are birth-pains.  But they are birth-pains.  Jesus has a redemption so all-embracing that it will include even these evils.  It won't simply side-step Haiti, or make the best of a bad situation, it will (somehow!) lift Haiti through this calamity and birth something more glorious out of the pain.

We know this because Jesus began the cosmic shake-down with His own destruction.  And He was perfected through this suffering (Heb 2:10).  His death (Matt 27:54) and His resurrection (Matt 28:2) were attended by earthquakes - they were the original earth-shattering events.  And through this death and resurrection was birthed a new creation reality beyond death and decay (1 Cor 15:54-57).  Where the Head has gone, we will follow, and the whole creation with us.  And as Christ bears and exalts the wounds of His own suffering into eternity, somehow the evils of this last week will also be caught up into resurrection glory.

I don't pretend to know how and I don't pretend that this answers our grief or our questions.  It's the answer of faith and not sight.  But, unlike the answer according to 'sight', this answer takes us deeper into the tragedy - we all face this fate (Luke 13:4-5!).  And it points us much higher to its redemption.



My sermon on Mark 13 from last year




Last week Dave Kirkman helped me to distinguish between what Luther called God's 'alien work' and His 'proper work'.

Death is the alien work.  Life through death is gospel and God's proper work.  But it's extremely important not to view death and life as equivalents in God's eyes.  One is the alien work, transformed by the proper work of resurrection.  This has many implications for theodicy - the study of God's justice in the face of evil.  The LORD may indeed kill and make alive, yet He is not so capricious that they are both alike to Him.  Rather, they belong together as one redeeming work - the former being the alien, the latter being the proper. (cf Isaiah 28:21)

Anyway, I came across Calvin using a similar distinction between the 'proper' and the 'accidental' office of the gospel.  (And again 2 Corinthians 3 was important - just as it was to Luther).  Calvin discusses the fact from 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 that the gospel hardens unbelievers.  This we know.  But we also ought to know that this is not its proper work.  It's proper work is as a 'ministry of life' (2 Cor 3:6).  How do these relate?  The last sentence is fascinating.

The term odor is very emphatic. Such is the influence of the Gospel in both respects, that it either quickens or kills, not merely by its taste, but by its very smell. Whatever it may be, it is never preached in vain, but has invariably an effect, either for life, or for death.”  “We are the savor of death unto death. But it is asked, how this accords with the nature of the Gospel, which we shall find him, a little afterwards, calling the ministry of life? (2 Corinthians 3:6.) The answer is easy: The Gospel is preached for salvation: this is what properly belongs to it; but believers alone are partakers of that salvation. In the mean time, its being an occasion of condemnation to unbelievers — that arises from their own fault. Thus Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, (John 3:17,) for what need was there of this, inasmuch as without him we are all condemned? Yet he sends his apostles to bind, as well as to loose, and to retain sins, as well as remit them. (Matthew 18:18; John 20:23.) He is the light of the world, (John 8:12,) but he blinds unbelievers. (John 9:39.) He is a Rock, for a foundation, but he is also to many a stone of stumbling — “Of offense and stumbling.” (Isaiah 8:14.) We must always, therefore, distinguish between the proper office of the Gospel,  — “The proper and natural office of the Gospel.” and the accidental one (so to speak) which must be imputed to the depravity of mankind, to which it is owing, that life to them is turned into death.

Calvin on 2 Corinthians 2:15 in his commentary:


Satan must eat dust all his days (Gen 3:14)

Man is dust (Gen 3:19)

Satan is a maneater (1 Pet 5:8)

Yet Christ will join man to crush the maneater (Gen 3:15)

He does this by being Man eaten (John 6:51)

Only in this way does He swallow His enemies (1 Cor 15:54)

Those who don't eat (with) Christ get eaten (Rev 19:18)

Those who eat Christ join Him in crushing the maneater (Rom 16:20)

In this way Christ humbles Himself in order to be exalted (Luke 14:11)

Meanwhile Satan, who exalted himself will be humbled (Ezek 28:11-19)

Eating dust is the lot of the defeated enemy (Ps 72:9)

And Satan will eat dirt all the days of his life (Micah 7:17; Rev 20:10)


So eat dirt man eater!  There's one Man you couldn't swallow.  He's swallowed you.  Our food will be the Man eaten.  And you will eat dirt forever.



big-fish-eat-little-ones2 Mark 5:1-20

Jesus is stronger than the storms (Mark 4:35-41).  He is stronger than death (Mark 5:21-43).  In Mark 5:1-20 He takes on an army of demons to prove Himself stronger than the Strong Man (Mark 3:27).

Read the sermon here

Listen here


Sermon in brief...

The Before and After shots of this demonized man would be something to behold!

Before: living among tombs, naked, cutting himself, unable to be held by the strongest chains, screaming out night and day.

After: Seated, dressed, in his right mind.

How powerful is Jesus?

If one boxer knocks out another that shows a certain strength

But what if one boxer simply commanded his opponent and his opponent knocked himself out.  That's power.  That's what Jesus displays.

Jesus proves Himself much the bigger fish which makes Him incredibly scary

The locals want Him gone - that kind of power, that kind of liberation even is too threatening.  We are too attached to our little slaveries to naturally want Jesus' power around.

The stunning thing is - when they ask Him to leave, He goes.

Amazingly Jesus grants the requests of the unclean spirits, He grants the request of the hostile crowd, there's only one request He denies - that of the delivered man.

This man just wants to be with Jesus - isn't that a good request?  Shouldn't Jesus grant this?

Jesus says 'no'.  Why?  He sends the man back as a missionary.

He's like us - freed to witness.  We just want to be with Jesus but there's a job to be done first.

When Jesus returns to the region in Mark 7 and 8 He feeds the 4000.  You can imagine the reunion.  The man had been witnessing in the region and had perhaps brought many people to Jesus.  On that day they would feast together.  The man back in the company of his Redeemer, feasting with Christ and with those he's brought to Christ.

Same with us.  The only reason we're not with Jesus now is that we might tell others (beginning with our family) of the Lord's mercy.  But one day we'll be face to face and we'll feast.

And in the meantime know this: Jesus is more powerful that the strongest forces of destruction in your life.  You can't change yourself - you're the littlest fish.  But He is stronger.




In talking about Allah as an idol the question comes 'If Allah is a false god, does that make him nothing? something? a demon?'  I think Paul might say yes to all three questions:

"So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." (1 Cor 8:4-6)

Idols are nothing says Paul.  But then he goes on to say they are not just called 'gods' but are gods. And then in chapter 10 he says pagan sacrifices are offered to 'demons'. (1 Cor 10:20).

So are idols nothing? something? or demons?  It seems like Paul is saying 'all three.'  How can that be?  Well it's important that we take seriously the language of 'gods' (little 'g') and 'demons'.  (Ex 15:11, 1 Kings 8:25, Deut 10:17, Ps 82:1; Deut 32:16-21 - thanks Otepoti for these).

I think false gods are demonic. Their 'nothingness' is not a non-existence but rather an ontological lack. They are like a gaping hole - a nothing where there should be a something. A hole is not non-existent but it does have its existence in being a deficiency, a denigration. They are not unreal or non-existent. They are just 'nothing.' Their whole power and being is in being a negation.

Think of how John describes light and darkness. Light is something.  Darkness is not something - certainly not like Light is something.  Darkness is not unreal or non-existent but it still depends on being not light. On one hand it is a terrible power (a fearful something). But in another sense it is nothing - its whole existence is an existence in negation. I think idols are like this.

But again this is not to say the forces behind these dumb idols are impotent. Far from it - they have a fearsome dark power. Think of Deut 32

"16 They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. 17 They sacrificed to demons, which are not God--gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear. 18 You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. 19 The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters. 20 "I will hide my face from them," he said, "and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful. 21 They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols."

Here these gods 'recently appear'.  They are 'no god' and 'worthless idols' but nonetheless they are 'gods' - 'demons' even.  Can we say then that objects of worship that are not God are nothing in themselves but become spiritual realities when worshipped.  Demonic forces (which, again, are 'dark' forces - having their being in negating what is True) inhabit dumb idols when we invest them with power.  When we seek life in what is dead it is not a neutral spiritual issue - the powers of darkness are involved.

 So yes, idols are nothing.  And something.  And demons. 

What say you?


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