Hardship (Matthew 4:8-9)

Photo by Clique Images on Unsplash

Jesus has been led by the Spirit into the desert. After He’s fasted forty days  and forty  nights, the tempter comes to Him and begins the trial. Jesus is subsequently tested through temptation to satiate His own very real and very intense hunger. He refuses. Then the devil takes Him to the highest point of the temple and encourages Him to attempt suicide, knowing full well that the angels will protect Him. Jesus sees through the prompt and notes that it is best not to test God, who He knows is faithful.

Hidden within the verses that tell the story are the emotions and mental anguish of the moments they gloss over. For Christ, this has been no walk in the park. Most of us are tempted by the smallest thought of food when we are barely less than stuffed. Most of us would cave, given the force of sudden demonic transport and the prompting of the least of Satan’s generals. But though the chief enemy of God has twice personally approached Him, and though He was even physically manhandled to the temple and brought to its highest point, Christ has stood firm. 

What He has just endured is completely beyond words. Yet when we read in Matthew of Jesus overcoming the second temptation, we find right after it one of the most frightful words one can imagine: “Again.”  

There are times in life when we endure great hardship, and at the conclusion of that hardship we find not the rest and peace of a different season, but a still greater torment of our souls. Jesus knows that feeling, for He endured it also. 

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 

This temptation is not like the first two. Now the devil lays down his cards. The time for wordplay and deceit is over. He flat out offers all he has, which is what he believes Jesus is after. For what more could anyone want than everything? 

To a starving man – tired from the trip to the temple peak, exhausted from the climb up the mountain and no doubt thought too weary to think clearly – it ought to be a slam dunk. Everything – all the wealth, all the power, all the authority, all the honor, all the glory, all the service of every other human being. Everything is offered to Him, and all at Jesus’ weakest moment. 

One imagines there must have been at least the briefest of pauses. But to pause now is to consider, and to consider is to muse on the idea, and to muse on the idea is to flirt with the temptation. Jesus will have none of that. He has trained His mind in the holy Word of God and He has allowed the Spirit to fill His soul. Such practices will not let Him down now, at this most critical moment. The filling of our souls with God’s Holy Spirit and the filling of our minds with His Holy Word are not only infallible defences against the error of satan’s promptings, they are infallible helps to us who are being assailed on the front line of the Holy War.

God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.

C.S. Lewis

APPLICATION: Intentionality

How are you training your mind for those moments of weakness? How full is your soul with the Holy Spirit? Will you be ready when the Lord gives you your assignment on the front line of His Holy War?

Testing (Matthew 4:7)

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

While He was clouded by the emotion and vertigo of standing on the highest point of the temple to look upon Jerusalem, Jesus was confronted with a verse of Scripture, misapplied to tempt Him into jumping. His response at this tense moment is revealing. “Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” As He did at the first prompt of Satan, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy. 

Jesus was not reciting an obscure text or little known verse. It was a familiar passage following the reiteration of the ten commandments. It was a passage about which Israel had been instructed, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” 

During the exodus from Egypt, the people had became hungry and had longed for the meat they used to eat in Egypt. In doing so, they had grumbled against Moses and Aaron. Moses took that complaint to the Lord, and the Lord subsequently gave all the people quail that night, and manna in the morning. Setting out from there, the people became thirsty. Yet in spite of having seen God’s great deliverance from Egypt, and in spite of having food miraculously provided, and again seeing that provision every single morning, they did not wait for God to do right by them. Instead, “they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”  

God subsequently tells Moses to strike the rock at Horeb, and water gushed forth to satiate the people. Exodus 17:7 ends the story, “And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?””  So when Moses later reminds Israel of the ten commandments and gives them instructions for living (Duet 5-6), he says, “Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah.” It is that remembrance that Jesus now quotes back to Satan in response to his promptings. 

It is the most rudimentary of things to recognize that God is, and that God is faithful. We do not need to test Him, least of all when we are being tested. Indeed, a son who knows his father loves him does not need to put on a show to see if his father loves him. He can be secure in that love, and he can know that his father will care for him and meet his needs. So when he hears a voice encouraging him to do something foolish, he can know that it is not God’s prompting, nor a godly act being suggested. It is the devil’s voice spoken on the devil’s behalf, seeking to do the devil’s work. Thankfully, it is a voice that ceases its prompting the moment God’s Word is rightly remembered, rightly applied and rightly used.

The Lord, when he gave us the Scriptures, did not intend either to gratify our curiosity, or to encourage ostentation, or to give occasion for chatting and talking, but to do us good; and, therefore, the right use of Scripture must always tend to what is profitable.

John Calvin

APPLICATION: Intentionality

To spot a misapplication of God’s Word, we only need to know the text and context. Fortunately, Scripture is written, so even if we do not have it memorized, we can reference it and study it to ensure we are not misled. What tools (online or not) do you use for that?

Context (Matthew 4:5-6)

Photo by Cam Adams on Unsplash

A good general does not immediately resort to full-on war. War is costly. You  always have at least a possibility that you will loose, and at the very least it will cost much in time and the lives of your soldiers. In fact, it is so costly that even if you believe you can win, you must try every tactic you can to avoid war first. So when tactic fails, you try new one, until the only tactic left is full out conflict.   

The devil’s first tactic defeated, he changes his approach. He is trying to indict God incarnate, so he can lay claim to all that God has. He no fool. Ever the consummate persecutor, he notes that Jesus used the Word of God to defend Himself. So the tempter now uses the Word of God as a weapon; “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “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.’” 

The devil did not take Jesus to Jerusalem and the top of the temple without forethought. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is a city that Jesus loves, for it – and the temple He now stands upon – are the centre of Jewish identity. The highest point of the temple is a location that would evoke deep emotion – both love for Israel, and perhaps a very human concern of the danger of falling. While Jesus wrestles with those emotions, the devil throws a Scriptural text at Him. 

Psalm 91 rightly says, “If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the Lord, who is my refuge— then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” What Satan said in quoting the Father is actually textually accurate. That makes this temptation materially different than the last. This is not just an appeal to Jesus’ great physical need. The evil one mixes truth with elements of both emotional and mental confusion. Not only will Jesus need to remember the Word, He will need to discern between interpretations of the Word, and do so while emotion clouds His thinking.

Fortunately, Jesus’ preparation over the previous 40 days has been thorough. He remembers the text and the context. He perceives that Satan has applied Psalm 91 to personal protection from one’s own foolish behavior – but that is not what the Psalm is actually about. It is about God’s protection of His own during seasons of corporate judgment. It is a song of the Father’s love and care for His children during His own war against the wicked. What Satan is doing is suggesting that Jesus accept a complete distortion of the Word as accurate merely because the textual quote was accurate. Worse, he suggests that Jesus do that because He is the Son of God. As though Sonship provides the right to lift the Father’s Word out of context for one’s own purposes! What a damnable thought. 

 The Scripture even warns us against using God’s Word out of context. 2Tim 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  Rightly handling it means considering its full meaning in application, lest we dishonour God by mishandling it! 

When we come to tightly reasoned passages of Scripture, the most appropriate Bible study method is to trace the writer’s line of argument. That is, we must study carefully to follow his train of thought. This approach will guard us from taking a verse out of context, and interpreting it as if it stood alone.

Lawrence O. Richards

APPLICATION: Intentionality

We are always needing to prepare for the next spiritual battle we fight. How have you grown in learning to study the Scriptures in the last year?

Hungry (Matthew 4:3-4)

Photo by Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash

Jesus grew up in a town. His stepdad was a carpenter, and carpenters worked  where the  people were, near the street where it’d be easier to unload and load heavy pieces of wood. Fasting in the quiet of the wilderness for an extended period of time – as Jesus did at the start of His ministry – would’ve been a very different experience for a city dweller. One can only imagine what Jesus was experiencing. He had been led into the wilderness of the desert by the Spirit of God. He had been fasting for forty days and forty nights. On the forty-first day, in what might be seen as the Scripture’s greatest understatement, Matthew records, “He was hungry.”  

The Spirit might have well said, “He was lonely,” or, “He was tired.” But feelings of loneliness or wearisomeness can be displaced by distraction. True hunger cannot – it hangs with you through every minute of every day, constantly reminding you of the peril of your condition. Of course, we who read Matthew’s Gospel can understand that His trial is almost done, but in the moment, Jesus would’ve been solely aware of His hunger. 

It is at this vulnerable point that the tempter comes to Him. Matthew records, “The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 

The temptation is to satisfy oneself through personal application of both spiritual authority (as God’s son) and spiritual gift (the gift of signs & wonders). As per his historic tried and true method, the devil’s temptation comes across as something that can be done (just as Adam and Eve were able to pick and eat from the forbidden tree), something one would naturally want to do (given our innate appetite) and something that seems reasonable given the circumstance (God the Father not obviously providing what we want). It is a fiendish combination of timing and circumstance, orchestrated to allow the maximum level of temptation (from the devil’s perspective) and the deepest of trial (from God’s sovereign viewpoint). Humanly speaking, it would be all but impossible to overcome. Except that Jesus has been using the very same circumstance to prepare Himself for this very moment.

From satan’s viewpoint, Jesus was growing weaker and weaker – and physically He was. But in His mind, Jesus was meditating on the purpose and meaning of Scripture. So in His weakest physical moment so far, Jesus is still spiritually sound. Sound enough to consider what satan is getting at and to remember something that God wrote down a long time ago that directly speaks to what the enemy is proposing. “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’””  

To that, there is no counter-argument – satan’s tactic has been utterly rebuffed. The correct application of the timeless Word of God always has that effect. 

The devil will need to try something else. Fortunately, Jesus’ preparation in fasting and prayer will prove more than sufficient.

No spiritual battle can be fought and won without our greatest weapon—the Word of God. […] It is a defensive as well as offensive weapon. As prayer warriors, we need both.

Stormie Omartian

APPLICATION: Intentionality

We are always needing to prepare for the next spiritual battle we fight. What was the last verse  of Scripture you memorized? How many did you learn last year?

Fasting (Mathew 4:2)

Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash

One of the hallmarks of modern western culture is that we need to exercise not only to   stay fit, but to keep our weight in check. That’s not something everyone in the world has to worry about – many worry about trying to get enough calories to sustain life at all. For most of them, fasting (going without food) is normative. For many, going without food for the purpose of spiritual enrichment is normative. For most of us in the west, neither is – even though Jesus Himself modelled fasting. Matthew 4:2 states, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” 

We might not all be called to fast for forty days and forty nights, but we are all called to fast – even if it is a small fast. Forty days is not a small fast. A small fast is skipping a meal. A 24 hour fast is significant for most, and in our culture, a three day fast is unusual. A seven or ten day fast is almost unheard of in Western circles. Forty days is not only unusual to the point of being bizarre, it is pretty much the limit before death by starvation becomes an imminent threat. 

Yet this is what Jesus does. 

Why is that? Possibly because it is an echo of the forty days and forty nights Moses spent fasting before God on Mount Sinai to receive the Mosaic Law, “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.”  Possibly because it is an echo of the forty years Isreal spent in the wilderness for their subsequent disobedience. As Dueteronomy 8:2-3 says, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  

Or possibly – just possibly – it is because Jesus took that long to think, meditate and pray  through His own response to Moses’ exhortation to Israel, especially in light of the fact that He was shortly to engage in a dramatic spiritual war for the glory of the Father: 

“Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah. Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.”  

Shortly, Jesus would need all these Scriptures to overcome His enemy.  If He needed that so early in His ministry, and if He found fasting useful to that end, how much more so do we?  The late Rev. Julio Ruibal once noted, “Fasting provides an environment for tuning our lives to God. It is not that the Lord speaks louder when we fast, but that we are better able to hear what God is saying.” Fasting is not unlike the old tuner dial on a receiver. It allows us to better perceive what is happening in the spiritual plane.

No one can doubt that Jesus could do that well and that He could hear God well, even without fasting. But we see in that He fasted – and in that He fasted so long – the Lord identifying with us and our great need (just as He did in baptism), His own determination to make the incarnation a most holy act (just as He was baptized to fulfill  all righteousness), and a stark reminder of our great need to likewise and in very practical ways prepare ourselves for spiritual conflict by making the Father the greatest priority of our lives. 

Let us use all aids which can advance us in likeness to Christ, and remember that all religious services which have not this result, whatever else they may have to recommend them, are but as “sounding brass and a tinkling cymbol.”

J.G. Rogers

APPLICATION: Intentionality

When did you last fast? What happened as a result? Is the Lord calling you to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting on a more regular basis? 

Trials (Matthew 4:1)

Photo by Jared Verdi on Unsplash

It is the honor of any king to protect his people, and the hallmark of a good  king is that  he rules in such a way as to not only protect his people, but to also bless his people. So, one must expect that the King of Kings would certainly be about protecting His people. Indeed, did Jesus not instruct us to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one’?  So it is a challenging piece of Scripture to read the Holy Spirit leading God’s own into a place of temptation! Yet that is exactly what Matthew 4:1 says, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” 

The initial affront to our common sense only dissipates when we start to examine the text closer and realize that the Holy Spirit does not lead Jesus into temptation, but into the dry and barren wilderness. The Spirit led Him into a place – the desert, where He would be tempted – not into temptation per se. That is a critical difference, and most helpful to understanding just what is going on when we too are tempted. One is immediately reminded of what James said, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” 

What the Spirit leads Jesus into is not a temptation, but a trial. In fact, this is the epitome of a trial. For it is there in the wilderness – free from the eyes of onlookers – that Jesus must confront any impurity within Himself, and it is there – apart from the support of family and friends – that Jesus must stand against the lies the evil one tells Him. 

The truth is that trials – even very difficult trials – are something the Spirit does lead God’s people into, and not uncommonly. That is because trials are meant to be a blessing, for they allow us to see something we might not otherwise see. A trial lets you see the impurity within yourself. Friend, know that the devil cannot plant an impurity within you, it must already exist. All our enemy can do is suggest we act on it. Remember that John 16:13a says, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” All the truth includes truth not only about God Most High and the world around you, but also truth about you. Even the truth about your inner self, and the most hidden parts of your soul. For when you are in a trial, the evil one’s lies will be to prompt you to act out the impurity within. But we don’t have to listen to the evil one. We can instead perceive and repent of that impurity. That is a very personal blessing – both because it provides self-awareness of vindication, and also because God rewards those He knows are trustworthy. 

Trials will come. Embrace them, knowing that God is allowing you to see and repent of the impurity within so that He might bless you all the more as you reflect Him better in days to come. After all, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  

Trials help to strengthen us. It is impossible for a Christian to be very strong—in certain ways, at any rate—unless he grapple with difficulties and endure hardships. There is no proving your courage and prowess in war, except you smell gunpowder, and are exposed to the dread artillery. My arm would soon weary if I had to lift the blacksmith’s hammer for an hour or two, and make horseshoes. I am afraid I should soon give up the business. But the blacksmith’s arm does not ache, for he has been at it so many years, and he rings out a tune on the anvil, so joyfully does his strong arm do the work. Practice has strengthened him. And so, when we have become inured to trial and trouble, faith is to us a far more simple matter than it was before, and we become “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”

Charles Spurgeon

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Reflect on the trial you are either experiencing now or have recently come through. What impurity have you been are or being delivered from? How can you best cooperate with God in that process? 

Sonship (Matthew 3:16-17)

Photo by piqsels.com

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment   heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 

Even if we’ve read it a thousand times, these are not words we should skip over lightly. Not only because we’ll loose the intended impact (it would’ve been a wildly unanticipated revelation to any overhearing it at the time), but because sooner or later we all need to hear the same things said of us. 

Today many people question their identity. They do so because they have not yet heard from their Father in heaven. Identity comes from Him. He is our God, our Creator and our Father, and it is His voice to us that assigns our identity and calling. Apart of His voice we do not truly know either. Apart from His affirmation of us we come to question who and what we are, and consequently we cannot minister in confidence or power, but only in boasting and fear.  

Teaching pastor Jeff Vanderstelt once said, “Before Jesus began His ministry, He heard the Father say to Him, “This is my beloved Son, in Him I am well pleased.”  Have you heard Him say that to you?  Has the Spirit of God – as Paul says in Romans 5 – poured the love of the Father into your heart?  Has He – as Paul says in Romans 8 – given that you can call God, Abba – Daddy – Father?  Because if He hasn’t, most of you will do ministry so that the Father will love you, instead of doing ministry because you know the Father loves you. You will use people to gain love instead of serving people to give love.” 

That is not to say that we cannot be used of God apart from hearing His Voice. God uses all of us, all the time. But what Jeff articulated is a powerful truth that many have had to find out the hard way, living ministry lives that bear little fruitfulness externally because there has been little fruitfulness internally. It is a great and necessary step forward in the Kingdom of God to fully realize your identity as a child of God and heir of the King, and to begin to serve Him from that position of value instead of trying to earn value in the eyes of others. 

Indeed, Jesus’ example comes before He even starts His ministry. Everything we know about how He accomplished His mission comes after He had been baptized, after He had seen the Kingdom of God (for heaven was opened for Him), after He knew the Spirit was upon Him (for He saw the Spirit alighting upon Him) and after He had heard the Voice of God speaking to Him. Quite simply, Jesus waited to do ministry till after He was baptized both by water and by Spirit.  From this point on, we can be certain that Jesus was certain about who He was, who the Father was and about what He was do to.  

It is no wonder He was a confident minister. 

Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially ‘deify.’ We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion, even if we think ourselves as highly irreligious.

Tim Keller

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

Consider all that God has spoken about you. That is reality. That is the basis upon which you can do all that He has asked you to do. Are you certain of who you are before God?  Are you ministering out of that identity?

Identity (Matthew 3:16-17)

Stained Glass by piqsels.com

It is custom in many cultures for those closest to you to express words of  encouragement and blessing at the most meaningful times of life. For this reason speeches are made at weddings and graduations, and eulogies are made at funerals.  But there are other occasions that are equally important, and one of those is your baptism. On this side of the cross we understand baptism as a public ratification of God’s new covenant in Christ. Of course, back in John the Baptist’s days, Christ’s sacrifice had not yet been accomplished, yet baptism was hardly less significant. 

Water baptism is representative of being born anew, because it signifies both death to the old self (going under the water) and life of the new self (rising up from the water). Such a thing cannot be undone. So it is not, nor is it meant to be, a small decision. It is done in sight of both the community and in the sight of God. It should be no surprise then, that just as at a wedding or a graduation, emotions can run high.    

We can hear that emotion in the Father’s voice as Jesus gets baptized. “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”” 

Listen to the emotion of those words! Hearing a blessing from your father is always an impactful and emotional moment.  Hearing a blessing from God Most High is much more so. The Father imparts to Jesus three things; Firstly, a statement of His identity and role; Jesus is the Father’s Son. No doubt Jesus knew that, but it is still a powerfully impactful statement that the Father identifies Himself with Jesus. Then the Father affirms His love for Jesus, and then the Father confers His approval upon Him. It is almost as thought the Father is gushing with pride for seeing His Son so embrace His mission.  

S.K. Weber writes, “This scene is something like a family reunion—all three members of the Trinity manifesting their presence in such a way that bystanders could see or hear them. This was a testimony to human witnesses about the identity of Jesus, the Messiah. It serves as one of hundreds of exhibits in Matthew’s Gospel for Jesus as the Messiah. It was also a personal affirmation from the first and third members of the Trinity to the Son. This fact reminds us of the emotional-relational side of the Godhead, a side we often forget. Even God the Son enjoyed personal affirmation from his family.” 

As the Father and Spirit affirmed the Son, so also they affirm those who are in Christ. His Word says to us, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” As though to emphasize the point and ensure we  get it, The Lord calls us “dear children” over two dozen times in Scripture. Beyond that and even more personally, often one of the first things Christians hear when they learn to truly hear God’s voice is  Him calling their name. The Father is Our Father too, and He is not afraid to show it in ways we understand as personal  and profoundly moving.  

God’s love for us […] dates back to a time before we were born,—aye, even to eternity past. It is a love which was fastened upon us, although God knew the worst of us. It is unchanging, because founded upon his infinite and eternal love to Christ.

AH Strong

APPLICATION: Thanksgiving

God loves you. Truly, deeply and profoundly loves you. Prayerfully meditate on that reality, and respond accordingly.  As 1John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.”

Submission (Matthew 3:13-15)

Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

 The people of Israel have been coming from all over to receive the baptism of  repentance by John. Not only the common folk, but the spiritual leaders as well.  John warns each of them to take it seriously. Then John gets yet another visitor. Matthew writes, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.” 

John is apparently instantly aware that Jesus has no need for a baptism of repentance.  His perception is spot on – the situation is very much reverse of what it ought to be; As righteous as John is, he stands yet in need of Jesus’ ministry, not the other way around. 

But Jesus – knowing that the people around them do not yet know who He is – instructs John to proceed all the same. One commentator writes, “The words “to fulfill all righteousness” mean that Jesus, with John’s cooperation, is to do all that is right for the completion of his mission.”  That completion depended on Jesus’ incarnation and ministry among sinners, but also His complete identification with the sinners He came to save. And Jesus’ identification is so much so that He feels the need to be baptized.  

What Jesus did in submitting to John’s ministry is the very definition of intercession: To so identify with those you are ministering to, that before God you repent on their behalf, crying out to Him for mercy on them. Such is the depth of Jesus’ love for the lost He is surrounded by, and such is the length of His humility in modelling righteousness for them.

That is not just a note of interest. It is a tremendously practical and tremendously profound object lesson for us. For the mission Jesus revealed during this personal conversation with John is also our mission. We know that because much later, Jesus will say, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We are sent with the same objective as He was sent (to reconcile others to God), and we are reminded of that fact every time someone refers to us as a Christian (which means, literally ‘little Christ’). We are therefore obligated to also identify with those God sends to us, and those He sends us to. We are to get to know them, to practice their language and invest in their lives, so that we can pray to God for them and intercede on their behalf. 

After all, they cannot do so on their own accord – they are spiritually dead and unable to respond to the things of heaven until mercy is put upon them

We are priests, which is far more than being a king or queen, because the priesthood makes us worthy to stand before God and to intercede for others.

Martin Luther


Today, pray for the lost around you. Intercede for them, and call on God to have mercy toward them. Then, pray for them that they too will hear God’s voice calling them to repentance. PTL, mercy triumphs over judgment!

How It Ends (Matthew 3:12)

Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

A garden is much more orderly than the wild outdoors. Though there is beauty in both,   and though mankind can find a certain satisfaction in the outdoors, our inherent tendency is to tame it and structure it. It’s a reflection of man’s first job. Adam was tasked with working and taking care of the garden (Gen 2:15). So it is not hard to understand that every person has the ability to choose (what belongs where) and the ability to organize (this from that), perhaps even a built-in need to do that on some level.  God made us to bring a certain kind of order to the created world. One might even say that human life consists of using discernment and making decisions to affect the environment around us. With these tools we build cities as well as gardens, and with these tools we determine the lives of the plants and animals in our environment. We weed and tend our gardens, and we govern and police our cities. 

We are like that because we made in the image of God, and Sovereign God does likewise. He determines what to create, and He discerns who is to live and when, and who must be given yet another opportunity to thrive, and who must perish. Our times and lives are in His hands, always.

John the Baptist has already given us five reasons why repentance should be sought wholeheartedly.  As Matthew wraps up John’s message, the Baptist gives us two more. Speaking of Christ who is to come after him, John says He will go about, “…gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  As with the earlier analogies of threshing and winnowing, ‘gathering into the barn’ and ‘burning the chaff’ are metaphors easily understood by an agrarian society. Everyone can know that you store what you value and can use, and you burn what is useless. John’s final two reasons both have to do with our final state.  One result – that of being gathered and kept by God, is for the repentant. The other result – that of being burned to ash – is for the unrepentant. 

To modern ears that can all sound more than a little harsh. But then again, is it not harsh to commit treason against the King of Kings? Is it not even harsher to reject the sacrifice of God incarnate, made on account of your treason that you might be cleared of your sin? 

The modern reader might think that God would want to lead with love, not a call to repentance. But God has already lead with love. He has provided us a world that has everything we need and more. He has give us life to enjoy, a society to thrive in and His Word to rightly guide us in both, and He did not do all that for nothing. It was all to lead us to repentance. As Paul wrote, “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”

John is right to emphasize repentance and to keep hounding us about it. Without repentance, we are but chaff awaiting fire. With it, we are blessed of God and welcome in His household. 

God gives us time enough to turn and live. When a teacher sets a task of a few pages to his scholar, and says, “I give you a week to do it in,” he allows him a “long time,” for the task is one which might be done in an hour. So, when God says, “Seek ye Me, and ye shall live,” or “Acquaint thyself now with God, and be at peace,” and gives us a lifetime for this, He is giving us “a long time.” We delay, and linger, and loiter; so that year after year passes by, and we are no nearer God than at first. But our delays do not change the long time. We make it a short one by our folly; but it was really long for the thing that was to be done.

Horatius Bonar


There is always something more of ourselves to loose, and something more of God to gain. For that reason alone we have more than enough to seek His face in repentance.