New & Old Treasures (Matthew 13:52)

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I’ve known people over the years who are always looking for something new. Whether it’s clothes, technology, music or motorcycles, but they pretty much live by the motto, ‘Out with the old; in with the new.’

There have also been people I’ve known who reject anything new and hang on to what’s old as much as they can. The old is familiar, safe and comfortable, so they don’t see any reason to change from the old ways they know and love.

If we think about a spectrum with a desire for the new at the one end and hanging on to the old at the other, where do you think Jesus would be?

I’ve heard people argue that Jesus was all about the new. He came to teach us a new way of relating to God and living as God’s people that was very different from the religious people of his time and place. Where the old ways were about the rule of law and threats of punishment, people like to point to Jesus teaching a new way of grace, love and peace. They can argue that the parables of Matthew 13 are an example of Jesus rejecting the old, law-based ways of religion, and initiating a new relational way of knowing God.

When we get to the end of this series of Jesus’ parable, though, we find that Jesus was not in favour of rejecting the old in pursuing the new, but neither was he ignoring the new in order to hang on to the old. Instead, in verse 52 we hear Jesus say that people who have been schooled in the old ways who are then discipled in Jesus’ new teachings about the Kingdom of God have both new and old treasures.

For Jesus, what’s important is not whether it is old or new. What’s important to Jesus is the treasure itself.

The treasure he is talking about is the Kingdom of God. Jesus has already described the Kingdom as a treasure that a person would sell everything they have to possess in verse 44. This Kingdom is so valuable to us because it gifts us with ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17 NIV). We receive this Kingdom through the presence of Jesus, because he brings the Kingdom to us through the gospel (see Matthew 4:17).

We can find this good news in the Old Testament when we read it through the lens of the gospel of Jesus, and so he doesn’t get rid of the old. Instead we can re-interpret the old ways in the light of Christ to find the ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ there as well. Ultimately, whether the ways are old or new, what matters is Jesus and the coming of his Kingdom through the gospel, because he is the one that gives us life and brings us into a new relationship with God as his children.

This is really important for us to hear as a congregation. We are currently talking about simplifying what we do around a strong discipling focus, as well as re-thinking our ministry to young people by working through the material contained in Growing Young. Some people might see these conversations as an opportunity to discard some of the ‘old ways’ of doing church to embrace new approaches or practices. Others might be afraid that we intend to discard the old ways, and so hang on to them more tightly.

It is critical that we hear what Jesus is saying: what’s important is not whether our treasure is old or new. What’s important is the treasure itself – Jesus and the coming of God’s Kingdom through the gospel.

This treasure is what will gift all people, both old and young, with the grace and love of God. This treasure is what will give us purpose and direction as we seek to communicate God’s goodness to our young and older people alike. This treasure is what will create faith, hope and love in people’s hearts and transform us into the people God is calling us to be. This treasure will grow us as Jesus’ disciples and equip us to participate in his mission in the world. This treasure – the good news of Jesus and the coming of his Kingdom – will give us everything we need for our future in this world and in the next.

Whether we prefer old or new ways of thinking or practice, what matters is the Treasure himself – Jesus Christ and the Kingdom he brings through the gospel. When we treasure him, we find the riches of God’s righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. As we grow with these riches in our life, God’s Treasure spills out from us into the lives of the people around us.

More to think about:

  • Generally, do you tend to prefer things that are new or old? Why is that?
  • What about in your church – do you prefer old traditions or new innovations? Can you explain why they are important to you?
  • Where do you imagine Jesus sitting in the spectrum between the old & new? Closer to one end or the other? In the middle? Can you explain why you think that way
  • What might be the ‘new’ treasures Jesus says the homeowner (NLT) in his parable brings out of the storeroom? What might the ‘new’ treasures might be?
  • If you were to focus on the ‘Treasure’ of Christ & the coming of his Kingdom in your congregation, instead of whether the ‘treasure’ is old or new, how might things be different?

‘Welcoming God’ (Matthew 10:40-42)

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It’s always good to feel welcome. I’m really thankful whenever I am visiting people that, firstly, I have the right address, but also that people are generally welcoming to me. It’s a real blessing to be invited into a people’s homes, to spend time with them over a coffee, and to talk with them about life and the journey of faith that we’re all on. That is why it is important for us as a congregation to be a welcoming community, so that people can feel at ease when they connect with us, and they can find a sense of belonging with us through the welcome we offer.

This text from Matthew 10 comes at the end of Jesus’ instructions to his Twelve Disciples before he sent them out on their first missionary journey. Jesus warned them that not everyone would welcome them and receive the message they brought (vv13b,14). However, Jesus said that those households that did receive them would also receive the peace of God (v13a). Then, at the end of his instructions, Jesus went even further by saying that those who welcomed his disciples also welcomed him, and by receiving him, they even welcomed the presence of God among them.

Stop and think about that for a moment…

On the one hand, these were Jesus’ specific instructions to a certain group of people at a particular time and place. However, as followers of Jesus whom he also sends out into our time and place, Jesus is also saying that when people welcome us, they welcome him and the presence of God with us.

This becomes really important because so often I have heard people ask where God is in the world. When people are hurting, confused, struggling or broken by life’s circumstances, God can often seem to be absent and uncaring. Jesus is saying here that God is present in the struggles, pain, uncertainty and joys of life in the presence of his people. As we live in the good news of God’s present and coming Kingdom, and as we participate in God’s mission to bring his peace into the world, God is present in the living, breathing body of his Son in the world. God makes himself known and extends his healing, life, cleansing and freedom through our words and actions.

This leads me to ask: do our words and actions reflect the grace and love of Jesus and our heavenly Father? As people welcome us into their homes and lives, is the presence of our forgiving and peace-giving God made real in their lives through us?

This becomes our goal as Jesus’ disciples: to grow in the peace of God as members of his Kingdom so that we can be bringing his peace, grace and love to everyone that we meet. The aim of being Jesus’ disciples is less about getting to heaven, and more about making the Kingdom of God real in our world by extending God’s gracious and life-giving presence to everyone who welcomes us. This might be in our homes, our work places, our schools or universities, anywhere we are welcomed and received by other people. The promise of Jesus is that as they welcome him as they welcome us, and by welcoming him they also receive the presence of God who is the source of all life. This is the same God who forgives sinners, who shows grace to those who need it the most but deserve it the least, who brings the light of new life out of the darkness of death, who washes the feet of his followers, and who gives us his all in his self-sacrificing love of the cross.

As we begin a new week, spend some time thinking about who will be welcoming you this week. How can you be the peace-filled and grace-giving presence of God in their lives? Ask the Spirit of God to keep you close with Jesus through faith so that, as people welcome you this week, they might also welcome Jesus in you, and through you they might find peace in the presence of our gracious and loving God.

Disciples Making Disciples (Matthew 28:16-20)

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For the last six months I’ve been talking a lot about discipleship. We have followed the journey of Jesus’ disciples as he called them to follow him, as he taught and equipped them, and as he led them to the cross and empty grave to witness his grace and life-giving love. Now, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, the disciples’ journey culminates with what is often known as Jesus’ Great Commission.

It’s important to realise that the emphasis in Jesus’ words is not on ‘Go’ as a lot of translations suggest. Instead, the main point of Jesus’ instruction is for his disciples to make disciples. He assumes that they will be ‘going’ as a natural part of their lives. Wherever they might be going, Jesus wants them to make disciples. He then explains that the two main elements in making disciples is by receiving people into Christian community through baptism, and then teaching them ‘to obey all the commands’ he has given us (v20).

We are generally pretty good at the baptising part of the Great Commission. However, I get a little uneasy whenever we use this text in our baptism order because I wonder how well we really do in teaching others to obey Jesus’ commands, especially when Jesus’ commands look like this:

  • Repent & turn to God (Matthew 4:17)
  • Love your enemies (5:44)
  • Don’t worry … seek the Kingdom of God above all else (6:25-34)
  • Come to me … & I will give you rest (11:28-30)
  • Turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me (16:24-27)
  • Love God with all your heart, soul & mind … love your neighbour (22:37-40)

How well do these teachings of Jesus reflect your experience of Christian community? Are we living according to Jesus’ teachings? Are we equipping each other to teach others to live in the same way?

Jesus doesn’t give us a set of rules to live by. Instead, he is leading us in a new way of living that leads to life to the full (John 10:10). This is the narrow gate and the difficult road that he describes in Matthew 7:14. It is the solid rock he talks about in Matthew 7:24-27 on which we can build our lives so that, when the storms come, we can remain secure and upright instead of our lives crashing down around us. Learning to live in the way of Jesus is about learning ‘the unforced rhythms of grace’ (Matthew 11:29 MSG) that give us rest and flow into the lives of others through us.

What might our congregation be like if we took Jesus’ instruction to make disciples seriously? What might it look like if all we did was focus on learning to live the way of Jesus teaches? What might it be like if everything we did was focused on learning to live the way Jesus teaches and to help others live in the same way? This is what lies at the heart of our conversation about becoming a Simple Church. This is the challenge I would like to continue to keep in front of us as we plan for the future God has for us. If the one instruction Jesus gave to his disciples before he left them in Matthew’s gospel, if the one thing he wants us to do, is to make disciples who live in the way Jesus teaches, how do that faithfully?

There are a number of short video clips on YouTube which explain what discipleship can look like in a congregation like ours. You can look at one of them by following this link.

There is a lot more to talk about as we think about how we faithfully follow Jesus’ instructions to disciple others in the way Jesus teaches. For now, it’s worth asking the question: are we willing to live in the way Jesus teaches as his disciples, even if it means giving up some of the ways we think about church? How can we help others learn ‘the unforced rhythm of grace’ so together we can find faith, hope and love as Jesus’ disciples?

The conversation will continue…

More to think about:

  • There’s a lot of talk about discipleship in the church at the moment. If someone who wasn’t a Christian asked you what it means to be a follower of Jesus, how would you explain it to them (in 25 words or less)?
  • When you have heard the Great Commission in the past, have you focused on the ‘go’ or the ‘make disciples’ part? How might focusing on the ‘making disciples’ rather than the ‘go’ change the way you apply Jesus’ instruction in your life?
  • How is the way you have understood Jesus’ teaching similar or different to the 6 examples I included above? What might your life be like if you lived in the way these 6 examples teach us?
  • Discuss why living Jesus’ way is important, especially when you read Matthew 7:13-14 and 24-27? What is Jesus’ promise to us when we live in the way he teaches?
  • How well have you been taught to live in the way Jesus’ teaches? How can we do a better job at helping you to live in the way Jesus’ teaches? How can we help you disciple others to live in the way of Jesus?

Son of David (Matthew 21:1-11)

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Over the season of Lent, people from our congregation have been reading through the gospel of Matthew and listening to what Jesus teaches us about discipleship. From the very beginning of book, we saw that Matthew points us to Jesus as King David’s descendant who was promised in the Old Testament to reign over God’s people and establish his eternal kingdom.

This theme began in chapter one when Matthew used Jesus’ family history to show Jesus’ connection with David and the royal house of Judah. When we come to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in today’s reading, then, we see the crowds welcome Jesus in the hopeful expectation that he really is the king they have been waiting for, and that he will establish the kingdom of God on earth.

As we have read through Matthew’s gospel, I’ve been thinking about how the two themes of discipleship and the kingdom of God fit together. It seems to me that…

Discipleship is … living with Jesus as our king.

We can often think of kings as being tyrants who are removed from the everyday life of their subjects and who only use their power for their own self-interest. Especially in Australia, we tend to have a strongly anti-authoritarian views of those in positions of power, and so we can be suspicious and cynical of anyone who claims to be a king.

Jesus is a totally different kind of king. It is important to hear the crowds in Jerusalem welcome Jesus as the descendant of David, who was to rule in the same way that David ruled. When we read the stories of David’s reign in 2 Samuel, we see a king who made mistakes and who didn’t always use his power wisely. However, David was thought of as being the greatest king of Israel because he was a king who looked after God’s people like a shepherd looks after the sheep entrusted to him.

This is the kind of king Jesus is. He uses his authority and power for the benefit of those in his care, not for his own personal gain. Like a shepherd, he provides for his people, protects his people from harm and danger, leads his people to green pastures and good waters, and takes care of them in all their needs. When we read through the great shepherd psalm composed by David, Psalm 23, we have a great picture of what our shepherd-king does for us as he provides us with everything we need for this life and the next.

That was why the crowds in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus with the cry ‘Hosanna!’ (v9) which literally means ‘Save us!’ They were hoping that the shepherd-king would save them from their enemies and bring in a new era of peace for God’s people. As a people who were occupied by a foreign and often brutal empire, they looked to Jesus as the promised deliverer who would free them from their oppression.

This is what our shepherd-king does for us. Jesus brings us saving help, not just for the life to come, but also in all the circumstances of life in this world. Matthew points to Jesus as the king who is with us in every situation of life (see Matthew 1:23 & 28:20b) to give us the help we need. We can find freedom from fear, guilt, shame and worry through faith in Jesus the shepherd-king who has all authority in heaven and earth (28:18) and who uses his authority to forgive, heal, make clean and bless. All the way through the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is bringing life to people as their shepherd—king as he gives his saving help to everyone who needs it.

To live as Jesus’ disciple and a member of his kingdom is to look to him and trust in him as the one who brings God’s saving help to us, whatever we might need. We can be critical of the people of Jerusalem who were welcoming Jesus as their king on that first Palm Sunday, but who then called out for his crucifixion only five days later. We are not that different if we turn up to worship, or even in our own private worship, sing Jesus’ praises as our king, but then fail to look to him as the source of our saving help in other aspects of our lives. It is too easy for us to look to ourselves, other people or other places for the help we need instead of to Jesus. To live with Jesus as our king is to live each moment of each day, looking to him, our shepherd-king, as he brings us saving help in all the circumstances of life.

As we journey through Holy Week towards the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, we witness what our shepherd-king was willing and able to do for us to provide us with the freedom and saving help that we need. Jesus isn’t a king who sits on a throne in a castle and sends others to fight his battles for him. Jesus is a king who enters into our battles, who embraces our suffering, to take on the enemies we face that would rob us of the life God wants to give us, and who triumphs over them on the cross and in the empty tomb. As we celebrate the events of Easter, we see what our shepherd-king did for us in defeating sin, death and the devil’s power, and the victory he gives to us as his disciples and citizens of his kingdom.

With Jesus as our king, his victory is ours, every day of our lives.

More to think about:

  • What comes to your mind when you think about a ‘king’? Do you usually think of kings in positive or negative ways?
  • When the crowds in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday welcomed Jesus as their king, what do you think they were hoping for?
  • Why do you think public opinion towards Jesus changed so dramatically between this event on Sunday and his crucifixion on Friday? What changed their minds?
  • What do you think of the image of Jesus as a shepherd-king who has saving help for us in all the circumstances of our lives? In what areas of life do you need help right now? How might Jesus be able to help you as your shepherd-king?
  • If you were to live everyday with Jesus as your king, would it make a difference? In what ways? or Why not?

Discipleship is Believing (John 11:1-45)

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I wonder what Jesus’ disciples were thinking as they stood with him outside Lazarus’s tomb and heard him call the dead man to come out.

As they followed Jesus through John’s gospel, his disciples had seen him do some amazing things. He had turned water into wine (2:1-12), heal the son of a government official (4:43-54) and a man who could not walk (5:1-15), feed 5,000 men plus women and children (6:1-13), walk on water (6:16-21), and give sight to a man who had been born blind (9:1-41). However, raising a man who had been dead for at least four days was different. In the moments that followed Jesus calling Lazarus out of his tomb, I wonder if they believed he could do it, or if some of them were thinking that this time Jesus had gone too far.

One theme that runs through this story, and in fact the whole gospel of John, is believing in Jesus (see 20:30,31). Early in the story, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe’ (v15 NLT). It sounds pretty harsh that a person had to die so that Jesus’ disciples could believe in him, but it also tells us something about the nature of Jesus’ work. He wasn’t just a great moral teacher. Jesus is in the business of raising dead people to new life.

We can Jesus’ words in the same way Martha understood them. When Jesus was talking to her about resurrection, she replied, ‘he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day’ (v24 NLT). However, Jesus seemed to have something else in mind when he answered her,

‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.
Do you believe this, Martha?’ (vv25,26 NLT)

The Apostle Paul saw resurrection as more than what would happen at the end of time when Jesus will return. Paul understood resurrection as something real for believers in Jesus now. In Ephesians 2:5 he writes, ‘even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead’ (NLT). Paul shifts our focus from the disciples outside of Lazarus’ tomb to the dead man inside the tomb and points to his story becoming our story through faith in Jesus. Again, in Colossians 3:1, Paul writes,
‘Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honour at God’s right hand’ (NLT).

Paul is saying that, like Lazarus, we have been raised with Christ who calls us out of our tombs to live a new life as his disciples by believing in him.

We can understand this spiritually, in terms of sin and redemption, but this also makes an impact on how we live our lives here and now. When Lazarus lay in his tomb, he was alone, in the dark, and tied up in his grave-clothes. In one way or another, at different times in our lives I think we can probably identify with Lazarus. We may have known loneliness and isolation from others. Maybe we have felt like we have been trapped in the dark, with no light to shine on us or guide our way. It is possible that we have been tied up or bound in our lives by fear, guilt, shame, addiction, or something else that has robbed us of the life that Jesus came to give us (see John 10:10).

The good news of this story for us is that when we identify with Lazarus, Jesus calls us to come out of our tombs and into the light of new life with him. Believing isn’t just standing outside the tomb and trusting that Jesus can do what he says. Believing is hearing Jesus calling us our from our tombs, from our loneliness and isolation, our darkness, and the things that tie us up and bind us. Jesus calls us into a new relationship with our heavenly Father and into the community of believers who become our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus calls us into the light of his love and grace, given to us in his death and resurrection for us. Jesus calls us into the freedom that comes through faith in his forgiveness, acceptance, approval and peace. Jesus’ answer to Martha, and Paul’s emphasis that we have already been raised to new life, point us to the reality that the resurrection has already begun in Jesus, and we are a part of it by believing in Jesus.

All this helps us see that, even before we do anything as Jesus’ followers,

Discipleship is … believing that Jesus calls us into a new life with him.

As we stand with Jesus’ disciples in the time between hearing Jesus words to come out of the tomb and the final resurrection of the dead at the end of time, I wonder what we will think. Will we assume that Jesus has gone too far this time, and that he can’t really do what he says? Or will we hear him calling us out of our isolation into community, out of our darkness into the light of his love and grace, and out of what binds into his freedom? And in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, will be believe and follow him into the new life he has for us?

More to think about:

  • What would you have been thinking if you were standing with Jesus’ disciples hearing him call Lazarus to come out of his tomb? Would you be expecting Lazarus to come out? Explain why.
  • Do you think of resurrection as something that will only happen at the end of time when Jesus returns, or as something we participate in now? How do you understand Paul’s words about having been raised with Christ from Colossians 3:1?
  • In what ways might you be able to identify with Lazarus’ experience of loneliness/isolation, or darkness, or being tied up/bound?
  • In the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9) the voice from heaven said to listen to Jesus (v5). What do you think of the idea that when Jesus told Lazarus to come out of his tomb, he also calls us out of our isolation, darkness and bonds to a new life in him?
  • By believing that Jesus calls you into a new life as his follower, how might your life be different?

Born Again (John 3:1-17)

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A couple of weeks ago I saw a movie called Fury about an American tank crew towards the end of the Second World War. At the start of the movie, one of their crew members had been killed and he was replaced by a recruit called Norman who was trained to be a clerk typist. As he was being introduced to the rest of the tank crew, one member, nicknamed ‘Bible’, asked him if he was born again. Norman looked a bit puzzled before answering that he grew up a Roman Catholic. So ‘Bible’ asked him again if he was born again.

It got me thinking – if someone asked me if I was ‘born again’, what would I say? If someone asked you if you were ‘born again’, what would you say?

The reason I ask is because the term ‘born again’ can be understood in a few different ways. For some, being ‘born again’ means having a particular conversion experience, displaying certain gifts of the Holy Spirit, or belonging to a specific branch of the Christian family. However, when we hear Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in this reading from John’s gospel, it sounds like his understanding of being ‘born again’ is broader than how we might understand it.

When each of our three children were born, it really hit me that life is a gift. None of us chose to be born, or worked for it, or made a commitment to be born. We talk about ‘giving birth’ because life is a gift that was given to us when we were born. In the same way, Jesus is saying here that the new life we have as God’s children is given to us by our heavenly Father. It comes from him as he begins a new relationship with us as his children.

This new birth is given to us through water and the Spirit of God (v5). We understand Jesus’ reference to water and the Spirit as pointing to baptism. This is where we believe God gives new life to us. We don’t make a distinction between water baptism and baptism of the Holy Spirit, but believe that in the gift of baptism, we are ‘born again’ as God’s children through water used with God’s Spirit in his word. That is why, in Galatians 3:26,27 Paul writes,

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. (NLT)

Paul identifies here that in baptism we are made children of God and are ‘clothed’ in Christ’s righteousness and goodness. As baptised people, we have been born into a new relationship with our heavenly Father, given new identities as his people, and given a new life to live as God’s children.

Another thing that really struck me as I held each of our three children just after they were born was that they have a whole life to grow into. Birth is the start of something new, a journey that will take a lifetime and, by the grace of God, will continue after they leave this world and go on to the next. The new life we have as God’s ‘born again’ children is the same. Baptism is not just about a once-off event. Baptism is the start of something new that we grow into every day of our lives.

There are a lot of different ideas about what this life looks like, and what it means to live by the Spirit of God. Paul again gives us a good idea of what living by God’s Spirit looks like when he writes this in Galatians 5:22-25:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (NLT)

According to Paul, then, to live according to the Spirit of God as people who have been born again by water the Spirit, is to be growing in and displaying the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. It means producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives and in our relationships with each other. To live the new lives God has given us as his born again children is to be growing in these qualities every day, moment by moment.

This is the journey of disciples of Jesus who have been given this new life through water and God’s Spirit. As we continue to explore Discipleship, then, we can be thinking that

Discipleship is …
… following Jesus into the new life God gives us as his born-again children by the power of the Holy Spirit.

By following Jesus, we can learn how to live as God’s children who live by the Spirit and bring God’s goodness into the world.

If we think about being ‘born again’ as people who are given a new life to live as children of God, then being ‘born again’ is much broader than how some Christians understand it. Being ‘born again’ is about our identity as God’s children and growing into his gift of new life to us through Jesus by the power of his Spirit. The life of a disciple, then, begins at our baptism where this new life is given, as Matthew says (28:19), and is a lifelong journey of growing into the life the Spirit gives us.

More to think about & discuss:

  • If someone asked you if you are ‘born again’ how would you answer that person?
  • What would your answer say about how you understand what it means to be ‘born again’?
  • List a few words that describe the life of Jesus. If we think of birth as the start of a new life, what does it mean to you that his life is now your life? (see Galatians 2:20)
  • When we look at Jesus, we get a picture of what it means to live as God’s child. How might keeping your eyes on Jesus and following him help you grow into the new life God has given you as his born-again child?
  • If you had the chance to start your life over, what would you do differently? As a born-again child of God we are able to start every day fresh. How will you live your life differently today?

Duel (Matthew 4:1-11)

I am intrigued by the way people represent the temptation of Jesus in art and movies. Many times, the devil is portrayed as the embodiment of evil, with cloven hoofs, horns, tail and wings. At other times, however, I have seen the devil represented as a well-dressed, respectable-looking person, just like we might see around us every day. Sometimes, the tempter looks obvious, but at other times he seems to be a long way from what we think of evil.

We all face temptation in our lives. Sometimes, like the representations of the devil with hoofs, horns and a tail, those temptations are obvious. At other times, like the well-dressed, respectable-looking devil, those temptations are much subtler. Like the temptations Jesus faced, they can be to put our appetites and desires before trusting in God to provide. They can be the desire for something spectacular so we can know for sure that God is real, instead of trusting in his word of promise. We might be tempted to take the easy road to power, control and glory instead of the way of humility, sacrifice and suffering through service and self-giving love. The temptations we face might look different, but they have one thing in common – to give up trusting God and take control for ourselves.

One way we can understand the stories of Jesus’ temptations is to learn from him how to battle temptation in our own lives. As we watch the duel between the devil and the Son of God, one thing is clear – the use of God’s word. Last week, as we celebrated the transfiguration of Jesus, we heard the voice of God tell us as Jesus’ disciples to listen to him. Here, in Jesus’ temptation, we see the importance of God’s word in our lives. The only way to resist temptation is by being anchored in God’s word. Each time the devil tempts Jesus, he responds with a word from Scripture which brought God’s truth into the situation. In the same way, when we are anchored in God’s word and living in the promises it gives us, God’s word will also give us what we need to resist temptation and live in the peace God gives to us.

Even when the devil tries to misuse God’s word in the second temptation, Jesus corrects what the devil says by relying on what God has said in Scripture. This is important for us: not everyone who uses God’s word uses it to bring us into a closer relationship with God. God’s word can be used to lure us away from the truth. That is why, as we talked about last week, it is important that we learn the art of listening rightly to God’s word together so we can find the truth and grace of Jesus in it.

It is important that we don’t just read the stories of Jesus’ duel with the devil as an example to follow, but also as the gift he gives us. As people who are one with Jesus through faith in him, we need to read this story as a duel he fights for us and a victory he gives to us. If we were to try to resist the devil on our own, we will fail. That is largely what these temptations are about – relying on ourselves rather than God. Faith in God as the story of Jesus’ temptation presents it is about trusting that Jesus has already duelled with the devil and won! Because of his identity as God’s Son and his perfect trust in God’s word, Jesus does for us what we can’t do for ourselves and resists the devil and his temptations. Jesus gives his victory to us as a gift through faith by the power of God’s Spirit. Jesus’ victory over the devil is now your victory, so when temptation comes, we are already declared to be righteous and victorious over those temptations.

This means that God’s grace in temptation is much greater than simply thinking that we will be forgiven if, or when, we fail. God’s grace to us, what he does for us which we can’t do for ourselves, is Jesus’ victory over the devil’ temptations. When temptations come, then, instead of thinking that we have to try hard to resist temptation, we can be anchored in God’s word and live in Jesus’ victory. We can tell the devil he has no power over us, and find what we need in our relationship with Jesus. When we find our identity in Jesus as God’s children whom he loves and with whom he pleased (Matt 3:17), the verse which comes directly before the temptation of Jesus, then we stand with Jesus in his victory. When we are sure of God’s unconditional love and acceptance in Jesus, and when the Spirit of God fills us with the assurance of God’s grace to us in Jesus, we can resist temptation and live faithfully in the live Christ gives us.

What that means for us as followers of Jesus, then, can be thought of as:

Discipleship is …
… resisting temptation by being anchored in God’s word and our identity as his children.

I know from my own journey as a follower of Jesus how difficult it is to struggle with temptation. Sometimes, temptations can be very subtle. Other times, they can be obviously against what God wants, but still look appealing or attractive. And then there are the times when the temptations we face look like they are the best option, and maybe even what we think God wants. It can get complicated, and working out what God wants for us can be hard. That is why we need to not just read this story as an example of how to resist temptation. We need to find God’s grace in this story: in Jesus, God was doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves by defeating the devil and his temptations. This victory is now yours as God gives you Jesus’ victory through the Holy Spirit’s power.

The next time you are tempted, the devil has already lost. The victory over temptation is already yours in Jesus.

More to think about & discuss:

  • If you were making a movie about Jesus’ temptation how would you portray the devil – as someone who was obviously evil, or something more subtle?
  • What is a temptation you have faced in the past or might be facing at the present time? How did you deal with that temptation? Were you able to overcome it or did you give in to it?
  • What do you think Jesus meant when he said that people can’t live on bread alone (v4)? How can being anchored in God’s word help you when you are tempted?
  • We can understand grace as not just being forgiven when we give in to temptation, but God giving us Christ’s victory over temptation through his Spirit even before we are tempted. How might Jesus’ victory over the devil help you when you are tempted?
  • How can finding a strong sense of your identity in Jesus help you when the devil tries to tempt you away from trusting in God?